SGU Episode 907

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SGU Episode 907
November 26th 2022
907 chiclids.jpg

Cichlids from the crater lake Xiloá in Nicaragua. A study team discovered fish in the crater lake in 2018 that resembled hybrids of the two cichlid species.[1][2]

SGU 906                      SGU 908

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Science and art can touch one another, like two pieces of the jigsaw puzzle which is our human life, and that contact may be made across the borderline between the two respective domains.

M. C. Escher, Dutch graphic artist

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, SGU on Media Bias Chart[edit]

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Thursday, 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 everyone!

S: So guys, did you see this media bias chart on Facebook?

B: You know we did, we were just talking about it. (laughter)

E: But only before we turned on the switch, Bob. It only counts if we turn on the switch.

S: It's not real unless we're recording.

B: Oh, I see.

E: Clearly, according to this chart that we wound up being a part of.

S: Yeah, it's fine. So I do like these sort of media bias charts. I look at them a lot. Hopefully the source is reliable. It basically says there's two axes left right is politically left right and then up down is some measure of quality. Objectivity or whatever. In this chart they have at the top, it's a little odd that you have the top is fact reporting. And then one notch below that is mostly analysis or or mix of fact reporting and analysis. So they're putting analysis inherently below fact. I'm not sure I agree with that.

C: But yeah, that is you keep going. Then it just straight up says opinion.

S: Yeah, then it's opinion. And then incomplete, unfair persuasion, propaganda.

E: Propaganda starts to hit and then misleading info.

S: And then contains misleading info and contains inaccurate fabricated-

E: Fabricated info, oh my gosh.

S: Not just biased, you're just making shit up.

C: I get it, though, because if you look at the axis label, they're literally calling it news value and reliability. So it's true. The higher up on this axis, the more it's just straight reporting the news with no analysis whatsoever. This is what happened. And then down at the bottom, it's completely fabricating stuff.

E: Right. Yeah. It's fiction.

C: And then, of course, an op-ed is going to be somewhere in the middle. We were way above op-ed.

S: So we rate pretty high. They put us just a tad bit left of center, which OK. I mean, I don't necessarily agree with that, but I think reality is a little bit tad left of center. But to be honest with you, I know I stole that joke but-

C: It's true though.

B: It works.

S: I love the fact that Joe Rogan is like in his own little space way down in the middle.

E: Way down.

C: He is. He's all alone.

E: Straddling the depths into misleading information.

C: He's weirdly in the middle, which I am very question. I like question.

E: He's dead center.

C: And my only idea and it's funny because lots of people are commenting that to like since when is Joe Rogan in the middle? Oh, they replied to this person who asked. So this is from the media company who produces "Rogan himself has various political views, but his shows are mostly the guests talking about their views. So his ratings are guest dependent, making it both balanced bias and varying in reliability." So basically they're saying there's a ton of misleading claims and it and it's all over the show, but it's all over the place in terms of its partisanship because his guests are all over the place. That kind of makes sense actually. And I have a feeling they're looking at his whole back catalog, not just how his show is now because his political bent has changed a lot. But yeah, ours hasn't. Has it? I mean, I don't know. Were you guys would you say that we skew more left now than 15 years ago when the show started simply because the goalposts have moved in our in our like actual political discourse, like in the country?

S: It's hard. Obviously, it's hard for us to say. First of all-

B: Probably little.

S: I would say probably a little only because the center of gravity on the right has moved so far to the right that even if you're standing still, you're going to be moving to the left.

E: You shift left.

S: You know what I mean?

C: Yeah, yeah.

E: As a result of the Earth moves below your feet.

S: Yeah.

C: Yeah.

S: I mean, what's interesting is just politically speaking, four of the five people on this show, and you can probably guess who that is, are 20 years ago would have described ourselves as right of center.

C: Interesting.

S: And now we're basically left of center. And again, I think it's mainly because the right has moved so far to the right.

J: Yeah, because you can't even define moderate anywhere near the same way you could 15 years ago. I mean, Biden is actually a moderate if anything. 20 years ago, he what his politics are today would have would have been moderate politics.

C: And also, all of this is within the context of the American lens. Because if you plucked any of this up and put it in other countries, they would have wildly different rate.

S: Center politics in America is right politics in Europe.

J: But I think the more important lens to look at a critical thinker or a skeptic would be that we are following whatever the evidence says, whatever the science of it says, that's where we're at.

S: We are we try to be nonpartisan as much as we can be. It's hard. It's really hard.

E: It's very hard.

S: But that's our goal. And we do our best. And we're pretty close to the middle. There's why I think that that's, assuming this is a reasonable assessment, we struck pretty close to our goal. And we are overtly about analysis. That's what we do.

C: Right. Which is why we're not at the tippy tippy top, because the tippy top of the of the curve is straight fact reporting. We don't do that.

S: We do critical thinking, critical thinking. It's inherently analysis.

B: Yeah, true. But but we do a lot of straight science reporting, though, where there's not necessarily a tremendous amount of analysis.

E: And where are the where the science podcasts, though, on this on this grouping? Are we it?

C: We might be the only science podcast.

E: Because I'm looking at it. Let's see anyone else that they brought in for science on this.

C: A lot of these are actually political podcasts.

E: Yeah.

C: Which is kind of interesting. I don't know why.

B: Is that a bias?

C: Well, no, I think it's probably because we are a science podcast, but we are covering science news very often. So as opposed to just saying this is interesting science, it's Reuters just reported that blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

E: But they could have put a, right Cara. But they could have put 100 science podcasts in here. They chose us.

C: I think it's probably just a function of listenership, really. I think it's like this is an influence probably more than some. I don't know. It would be it would be interesting to ask them, what were your parameters for inclusion? If I had to guess, it would be based on listenership.

E: I'm happy to be here. And I think they pegged us pretty correctly.

C: I agree. But I would like as Bob mentioned earlier, how do we climb even higher? I mean, but the truth is, climbing higher would mean just straight reporting. With no analysis. And that's not what we do.

S: Yeah, because we're doing more than giving our own analysis of science news. We are teaching how to think about it and how to think critically and putting it into a skeptical context.

C: And it makes sense that we're higher up than the middle because the middle is sort of or just below the middle or is that the actual middle is opinion. And that isn't what we do. Sometimes we offer our opinions, our informed opinions, but we are not an op-ed show. Exactly.

E: And our format is unique.

C: That's true too, yeah.

What's the Word? (7:33)[edit]

S: Well, Cara, you're going to start us off this week with a What's the Word?

C: Yeah. OK, so earlier today, I podcasted with a fascinating woman named Dr. Karen Bakker. And we were talking about she has a new book called The Sounds of Life, which is all about bioacoustics research. And as we were talking, this will be like out and actually will have already come out by the time this airs on Talk Nerdy. But as we were talking, she was using a bunch of terms that I had never heard before. And we dove deep into them and I was like, these would be perfect for What's the Word? So here they are. The first time or the first term that she used was geophony. Have you guys heard that word before? Geophony.

S: It's not geophony?

C: Spelled the same way. But I had literally never heard this word before.

S: Yeah, I haven't heard it before.

B: I haven't either.

C: It's novel to you guys, too, right?

S: Yeah.

C: And then related, biophony. And this one I'm having to guess because she didn't use it. But as I started to dig, I noticed that it was also related to the other two. Anthropophony or anthropophony. I'm not sure like how you would and anthropophony. So geophony, biophony and the anthropophony. If we were to guess the roots are pretty straightforward. The etymology of geophony would be you could break it up into geo and phony. When you hear geo you think...

E: Earth.

C: Earth.

S: George Hrabb.

C: And when you when you think phony..

E: Baloney.

S: Sound.

C: Sound. Yeah. Same thing when we think of biophony. Bio - life.

B: Life. Right. And phony and then anthropophony or anthropophony. Anthro - human.

B: Human.

C: Right. So what this is, it's part of a larger field called bio acoustics.

B: Oh, yes.

C: Where they actually record the sounds of either the Earth or all of the organisms on the Earth. Sometimes this is referred to as acoustic ecology, a soundscape ecology. And they can actually, using different AIs and different technological approaches, get a handle on the health, the ecological health of a certain biome or of a certain area. And so you may be able to notice species die out, deforestation, habitat loss, things like that, because the soundscape of that region changes or it has holes in it. It's a fascinating field and we dug super, super deep into it in in this episode. But that's basically what these words are. The geophony is the sounds that are produced by a certain geographic or geological area. So the seismic sounds. And when I say sounds, I think it's really important to note that we tend to think through our human lenses. So the concept of sound to us means things we can hear, but that's not what sound is. Sound is just the compression of waves. We have tools that can detect sounds that we can't physically detect. And there are a lot of organisms out there that can perceive sounds that we cannot perceive. So we actually have tools to be able to measure the "sound" of plates, tectonic plates, the sound of rocks, the sound of streams, the sound of things that are not alive. And then of course, there are the sounds of things that are alive plants, animals, microorganisms, and there is a collective sound that these things put off and it's absolutely fascinating. And we can use it to study ecology that way.

B: Cool. What about heliophony?

C: Heliophony? Would that be the Sun?

B: Sound of the Sun?

C: Yeah. I mean, can we measure that though?

B: Oh, yeah.

C: I don't know.

B: Absolutely.

C: Really?

B: Yeah, the reverberations within the Sun, you can turn it into sound.

C: You can turn it into sound, but is it an actual sound wave that we're detecting? I don't think so. I think we're transducing it into-

S: No [inaudible] sound waves.

C: Yeah, that's what I'm saying. So that wouldn't be heliophony. We're actually talking about physical sound waves that we can measure.

S: But they do call it sun seismology, I think.

C: That would make sense then.

S: We talked about that before because they were able to do that to see the other side of the Sun, see the side of the Sun away from the Earth.

B: Yeah, but what about the disturbances though that could be made in space gas? Like there's gas in space and then the compressions and rarefactions that are-

C: Well, yeah, gravitational waves even, for example. We've converted that.

B: Right. I mean, that's kind of a sound.

C: It's kind of like a sound, but it's like on this cosmic scale. But I don't think, it is a gravitational wave. It's not a sound wave. We can transduce it into sound so that we can better make sense of it. But I do think that's a transduction. I think the wave itself is technically a gravitational wave. But that's also a fun, I love diving into these construct taxonomy debates. And Bob, I think you're on to something. What's the difference between, at what point does something become sound? How small does the wave need to be?

B: Right. Or the process that creates the compressions and rarefactions within the medium, the media.

C: Yeah. It's an interesting scientific but also kind of philosophical question. Anyway, I was really enamored with this conversation and I learned a lot. It was just a field I'd never been exposed to really. And when she just said it so fast, she was like, well, and the geophony of whatever. And I was like, what? (laughter)

E: Slow down. Did I hear you right?

C: So good. And so, anthropophony, that one's really hard for me to say, obviously would be the collective sounds that are created by people. And this whole discipline is only like a decade or two old. But there's just been a lot of really interesting research on how these basically human induced sounds, the background hum of our machines, of our existence affects nature.

B: Yeah.

E: Sure.

C: There's a lot of downstream effects of that that we just take for granted.

S: I know, yeah, the issue of the sound of boats interfering with whale song, whale navigation is huge.

C: Yeah, they're like those super obvious examples where we can be like, okay, the motor of the boat and then it travels through the water. And then of course, it's screwing with echolocation or screwing with whatever sonar. But then we don't think about the fact that there's just this low level. And again, we can't always perceive these because sometimes they're above or below the frequencies that we can hear. But this low level background noise pollution, just in the world, because humans are literally everywhere. And how does that affect all of the different organisms that actually utilize sound and almost every organisms, this I didn't know either, almost every organism utilizes sound waves in a similar way to how they do chemo sensation. Sound waves are a tool for so many organisms, whether they physically hear them the way we do, with a cochlea in our ear, or whether they have hair cells on the outside of their bodies, they can, they can perceive sound waves and it affects them.

S: Yeah, hearing is different than detecting sound waves.

C: Exactly.

S: That involves processing it into a sensory phenomenon.

C: Right, right.

S: All right. Thanks, Cara.

News Items[edit]

Artemis I Launch (14:55)[edit]

S: Bob.

B: Yes, sir.

S: Did Artemis 1 finally launch?

J: Yep.

B: Yeah. [inaudible] (laughter)

E: All right. Well, now that that's done moving on.

B: All right. After four delays, November 16th, 2022 uncrewed Artemis 1 launched on a historic first step mission to get people back on the Moon, which has happened 599 months ago now the last time.

C: Wow. (laughs)

B: Yes, that's a lot of months. If you haven't seen the launch, stop right now. Go to YouTube and at least watch the 10 second countdown and the launch.

C: You don't have to stop. You can do it while you're listening.

B: No, fully immerse yourself into the launch.

C: Bob, Bob. This is a bad idea.

B: I don't care. No one's going to listen to me anyway.

C: You never direct someone away from a recording.

B: It was, it was, this is worth it. It was sublime. I mean, to fully appreciate what I'm about to say, I think they should watch it. All right. I can't remember feeling that way viewing a launch except maybe seeing the live launch in Florida of the last space shuttle to take off. It was really amazing. As Douglas Adams once said, describing the technology of a sci-fi spaceship, he described it as a ballet of technology. Now you, some of you, hopefully none of you will be saying, what is all this Artemis crap I've been hearing about? Artemis, it's a program created by four space programs, NASA, ESA, JAXA, and CSA, United States, Europe, Japan, and Canada. The space programs all have pitched in to reestablish a human presence on the Moon. And I think Artemis is really is a wonderful name for it. It's Jay's wife, Courtney's favorite god. I learned today, Artemis. Artemis is the goddess of the Moon and the twin sister of Apollo, which of course is poignant, not only because of the old Apollo Moon program, but also because NASA regards the name Artemis to represent the program's goal of inclusion, meaning it intends to put the first woman on the Moon before this program is over. Artemis one is simply the first mission of multiple missions that are going to make all that happen. Now Artemis 1 has two big chunks of awesome technology that comprise it. First is the magnificent, amazing, super heavy lift Space Launch System rocket, the SLS. And that's just what took off. We talked about this on the show a bit before. This is, this is a beast. It's the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built. 15% more powerful than the mighty Saturn V.

J: Wow.

B: It has the highest payload capacity of any launch vehicle currently in use. And it has the third highest capacity of any rocket capable of reaching orbit only behind Energia and Saturn V. And that will change in the future.

J: Bob, what do you mean that'll change?

B: Well, as its carrying capacity, as its cargo capacity increases in the upcoming iterations, I think it'll pass the cargo, the capacity of Saturn V in terms of just sheer hauling stuff.

J: What? So they're versioning the rocket?

B: Well, I mean, yeah, there's different, yeah, there's different it's, it's not really even one rocket, Jay.

S: It's a space launch system Jay.

B: Yes. And people describe it as a fleet and space launch system is, yeah, is, is actually in, in the name, it's going to be many iterations, some optimized for crew, some optimized for cargo, and there's going to be different versions of this in the future. Some taller, some are going to get even taller than the Saturn five was. So yeah, this, this isn't just one little, this isn't one type, one rocket like the Saturn V was, it's going to be changing and iterating. So now the business end of the rocket, the bottom of it, the core stage, which was essentially the orange-ish part of the rocket. The one that like doesn't look painted. That's the core stage. And at the bottom of that is the four RS25 engines operating at 109% efficiency, which makes me think there's an engineer involved somewhere called B: ... Scotty attached on the sides of the core stage are the two largest solid fuel rocket boosters ever made giving the SLS system as a whole 8.8 million pounds of thrust.

J: Wow.

S: Sounds like a lot.

E: (grunts, à la Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor)

B: That's intense. Now on top of this, this controlled explosion happening with the core stage and the solid and the solid fuel rockets is the other critical piece of tech for Artemis 1, the Orion spacecraft, that's the human part of the rocket, if you will. And that has three major components. If you look at the very tippy pointy top, that's the launch abort system, which I hope is, is never needed. Under that, you've got the pressurized crew module, which can house four astronauts. And right now it's housing three mannequins that will be testing a stresses and radiations and stuff on human bodies and how good the space suit, the new space suit is. Under that, under the pressurized crew module, you've got probably the most critical component here. And that's the European service module and which is essentially the powerhouse of Orion. It's got 11 kilowatts solar panels that could power two, three bedroom houses. Lots of electricity available. It also provides things like maneuverability, consumables like water and oxygen for the astronauts really quite critical. And as of November 17th, which is tonight, Orion is now on its way to the Moon on which will, it'll orbit for a while and come back perhaps by December 11th. But I guess there's some wiggle room there. Some estimates put have wiggle room. That's many days, a week or more. I've heard numbers from 25 to 40 days. I'm not sure what that's about, but they're expecting it back on or about December 11th. The crew module at that point will separate from the service module and the crew module will splash down. And then it's all the the post-mortem, all the testing to find out how did everything go. How were the mannequins. How did and they're just going to go over all of that information and see, to see how much of a success Artemis 1 was. And as of right now, it seems it's an amazing success. Like I said, it's not a rocket. It's going to be optimized for cargo. It's going to be optimized for crew, whatever is needed. And also the lack of reusability for SLS was kind of annoying, especially after so much time watching SpaceX and watching the rockets coming back down and all that stuff. But as I looked into the reusability of SLS, it became somewhat less annoying. When you look at the reasoning it's still annoying, but it's like, all right, I see where they're coming from here because they're SLS is going to be doing basically one launch per year for the next decade. And at least financially speaking, the case for reusability is less strong in that case than for a company like SpaceX, which has many launches per year. Some of the engineers for SLS were saying that, yeah, if Artemis was going to launch four, five, six times a year, then that argument becomes much, much, much, much strong. It'd be really kind of ridiculous at that point, but at one a year, I guess it would be a lot more expensive if they planned in and built in the reusability, although it would have been really cool. Maybe after 10 years, they'll do something more about that, but we're not going to see the SLS be reusable at all. All right. So the next few years, of course, are going to be very exciting. Artemis 2 in 2024 is going to have four Artemis astronauts in Orion, and they're going to do a lunar flyby and they're going to fly farther than any humans have ever flown before in terms of distance from the Earth.

E: Yeah.

B: I'm sure they're going to be happy and quite sad to see the Moon and go around it. I'm like, ah, I wanted to land there. And then if so, if all goes well, of course, for Artemis 1 and 2, then in 2025, Artemis 3 will land women and men on the Moon for the first time since 1972. And they're going to use a lander to get down to the south pole and stay for about a week. And I will be glued to the TV in that when that happens in 2025, I hope like I was when we first landed on the Moon, footy pajamas and all.

E: I think the original estimate when Artemis was first rolled out and the timeline was revealed, I think 2024 for the target to put boots back on the Moon. So that's not too bad. Just basically one year off of that target from the original estimate.

J: I agree Evan.

E: I'd say that's pretty impressive.

B: But I think initially though, it was not going to be 2022 because didn't Trump bring it down to 2024? It's a no, do it sooner, do it in 2024. And everyone was like, that's not going to happen. Right? That's, that's what my memory is telling me.

S: Yeah. It was, it's the timeline's way more complicated than that because the SLS was delayed a lot. You can't say that we're ahead of schedule now, we're years behind schedule, but in terms of landing on the Moon, that was supposed to be, I think 2028 and then they moved it up to 2024 and then back to 2025.

B: Sounds about right. This Artemis is way as awesome as it is. It's way over budget and behind schedule. The first launch, the launch that we just saw initially was supposed to happen, I believe in 2016 or 2017. I mean, so but that's par for the course. I'd be shocked.

E: How long did we wait for the James Webb to let's go? Yeah. I mean a lifetime.

S: Bob, did you read about the red crew?

B: The red crew?

E: Oh no, they all didn't survive.

S: No. The red crew. So when SLS was on Artemis 1 was on the launch pad, they detected another leak, a liquid hydrogen leak.

E: On this go around?

S: On this go around. And they were worried that they were going to have to scrub it just like they had to scrub the previous one. And if they couldn't fix it on the pad, they might've had to roll it back to the tower. But they say had a red crew, a team of engineers who they sent out, they had to go out beneath the fueled, essentially live rocket and fix the leak before it could take off. And you should listen to the interviews with these guys. They were saying, so you're standing below a fueled live rocket. It's creaking, it's venting, it's moaning. And it's like, it was scary as hell.

J: All they needed was a little duct tape.

B: So it was leaking. It in fact was leaking again?

S: Yes. And they fixed it. They fixed it on the pad and they kept it on schedule.

B: Why the hell was it leaking again?

S: Yeah, it's a problem to design.

J: Because it's one of the most complicated things ever built. You know what I mean?

B: Yeah, but I'm wondering if this is a design flaw leaking, leaking hydrogen twice.

S: Yeah.

J: A million things have to be correct. It's so unbelievably complicated. It doesn't surprise me at all that they had issues.

B: Issues are one thing but the same issue multiple times. That's when I started getting a little bit more concerned.

S: They have two years to nail that down. They got to figure that out. I agree. All right. Thanks Bob. So we are definitely going to be following this for the next couple of weeks.

B: Oh my god.

S: Yeah.

B: Watch the launch.

E: It's huge. It's awesome.

[commercial brake]

Skin-Like Electronics (27:46)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, tell us about skin like electronics.

J: Well, Steve, you know a little bit about wearable technology because you, Bob and I, our book, The Skeptic's Guide to the Future came out a month and a half ago and we wrote about wearable technology. We had late night long heartfelt discussions about what are we going to, how are we going to write this chapter and what's it going to be about? So this was I'm still reading articles about it, and that's why this one caught my eye because I'm really waiting for wearable technology to kind of have a legitimate footprint. Right now, there isn't really a lot of high end wearables out there. There are some very expensive wearables that are mostly expensive because they're flourished with gold and diamonds. You could buy an Apple watch, which is a wearable, right? It has a lot of legitimate technology on there. It is in a way augmenting the information that you have available to you about what you're doing about your body, lots of different details. I also found a motorcycle helmet that's made by a company called Scully that this is pretty cool. (Evan laughs) This is a helmet.

C: Evan's so happy.

J: Yeah, I know right?

E: I love it.

J: Scully, it's a joke.

E: When companies are correctly named, I love it.

J: Well, this one, this helmet, Evan, it has a HUD, right? Heads up display. This is considered augmented reality and the helmet shows rear and side view cameras so the rider can easily see what's around them without having to turn their head.

B: No way.

E: Neat.

J: If you've never ridden, rode a motorcycle when you're driving a motorcycle, you really don't want to have to turn your head away from what's in front of you.

C: But I think people do constantly, their heads are like on a swivel when they're riding, no? They have to.

J: Yeah, it is a little, it takes a while to get used to. It could be disorienting. It's just not good, but this helmet actually allows you to see all around you without having to turn your head. You just have to move your eyes, which is much faster and easier. The helmet also has a GPS navigation system and it could also connect to your smartphone. I didn't try it out. I don't know much else about it, but if they executed all of this technology well, this could be a very, very helpful and legitimate wearable. Yeah, but a wearable could be lots of different things.

S: What do we say in the book, the oldest wearable technology was a pouch?

J: Yeah, sure. You could say that.

C: Pocket.

E: World's first pocket.

S: It's hugely advantageous, imagine that.

E: Marsupial action.

J: I think the definition has to evolve as the technology evolves.

S: Sure.

S: As we discussed on the show, I think it was as recent as last week. The most expensive wearable that's out today might end up being a high-end hearing aid, right? Didn't we say that there was like $20,000 hearing aids?

S: $10,000.

J: $10,000 hearing aids. Because of recent advancements, that technology is starting to be matched by common earbuds that are relatively affordable. Essentially, what those hearing aids can do, most, if you get a pair of say Apple, the ear pods.

S: Air pods.

C: Air pods.

J: The air pods, right? The air pods. If you get those, they can do almost everything that the $10,000 hearing aids can do. But anyway, still, it's expensive and most people can't afford to purchase that without insurance.

B: Are they worth it? I still haven't bought air pods.

C: I love my air pods.

B: Really? Why?

C: I'm addicted to them.

J: They're great. They work very well. Yeah, they work very well.

B: Well, you got to charge them. That's another thing you got to charge.

C: Doesn't matter. Yeah, of course, but they're always in my ears. And here's the cool thing, the case charges them. So if the case is fully charged and they die, you can put them in the case and then they charge in the case.

J: You just charge everything when you're sleeping, Bob. You know the drill.

C: Yeah, exactly.

B: I know, I know. But it's just like, ugh.

J: So one kind of wearable that companies have been working on is a medical sensor. This is something that we've talked about previously on the show for lots of different news items that we've covered. Scientists are working on them. And the one that I'm going to talk about today, this is a skin-like wearable that's flexible and it's being developed by US Department of Energy, the DOE Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering. And this whole effort was led by Sihong Wang, who is an assistant professor. The wearable that they're working on would be worn all the time and it would frequently collect data and could one day detect developing health problems like cancer, multiple sclerosis and heart disease. That's pretty significantly different than, say, the Apple Watch today, which could just basically tell you what your heart rate is. These kinds of illnesses could be detected before obvious symptoms occur, which is great. If you think about early detection, that's where it's all about. All the data collected would be analyzed alongside your existing medical records. So all of that data would be used together to try to figure out what's going on. Things like factoring in the patient's age and their current medical history. This would require a lot of data storage, though, because it would be frequently scanning you and collecting data and then that data has to go through some pretty significant computer processing in order to figure out what's what. Now, far more processing than today's Apple Watch, like a lot, lot more processing would have to be done. And this is where, dun, dun, dun, artificial intelligence comes in. I'm sure nobody is surprised. So in order to do the processing fast and also to try to do it minimizing the energy that the processors need, the research team is now using something called neuromorphic computing, which is something that Steve knows a lot about, but did not invent. Steve, you did not come up with neuromorphic, right?

S: Neuromorphic, no.

J: No. This is the use of electronic circuits that are built to function like the human brain, like a neurobiological architecture. These are things that are present in the human nervous system. So these systems consume less energy and work well with running artificial intelligence. AI can run very cleanly on these types of processors. A future wearable device like this could significantly outperform existing ways to screen for health issues. So let's think about that statement real quick. So this wearable, if they get it to where they can see themselves getting it in the near future, that it could significantly outperform existing ways of screening for health issues. So what are the existing ways that we screen for health issues, right? We go to our primary care physicians, we have checkups, we take physicals. You're supposed to get a physical every year. You're supposed to let your doctor know if anything out of the norm or anything that might be troubling you. You go to your doctor, you have them essentially be the "artificial intelligence" that's analyzing all of your symptoms and everything that's going on. Well, let's face it though most people aren't doing this as well as they should be. I mean, I remember at one point I had to like tell Bob, go get a freaking physical. You know what I mean? You haven't gone in a few years. So if we're not doing that, if a lot of people are not going and getting their physicals as much as they should, and I think that we could eventually get an artificial intelligence to the point where it could be doing a good enough job to at least alert medical professionals when something comes up, right? That's probably what the short term, near term goals could be. At least get you to the doctor when you need to go. So the research team had to come up with a flexible material that would be able to house a flexible semiconductor. And this is the other part that I thought was really cool. A flexible semiconductor. So it would fit comfortably. It would be the kind of thing that's on you all the time. You kind of forget that it's there type of thing. It wears like skin. The team came up with the neuromorphic chip that is on, it's on a thin film of plastic that has gold nanowire electrodes and their device is able to stretch out to double its size and still function without breaking, which I think is freaking awesome because when you think of a computer chip you're thinking of something that's mounted to a hard plastic that's rigid that you don't want to move. It would break if it, if it was meant to stretch. If it stretched as much as this thing can stretch. So they, they came up with a chip that actually can be flexible and bend and stretch and double its size. To test their wearable tech, the team trained their AI to detect electrocardiogram signals and it was able to identify the electrical input that they gave it with 95% accuracy. They're doing what I consider to be very foundational work on the near term wearable tech of the future. That could happen relatively soon. It seems like this team has made a lot of progress and they're coming up with the software, the hardware and the soft hardware, right? Did you get my joke there? And at some point it'll be able to collect all the data and then we need to simultaneously develop the ability to process all of that data. That's where the artificial intelligence comes in. And then it'll kind of be like owning a high end electric car where there'll be updates where the software gets updated as you go and it might become more, it'll be more accurate or be able to detect new things that it wasn't able to detect before. Now let me ask you guys a question. How do you feel about wearable tech? Would you get something that is semi permanent or permanently attached to your body?

S: I mean, permanent's hard. I mean, semi permanent, fine. But what could the permanent is like, what if you don't like it? You know, you're kind of screwed.

E: It has to be great advantages to-

C: It would have to, yeah. The great advantages would have to outweigh any sort of like dystopian, weirdness about it. And I bring this up because I personally, and I think I told you guys about this this summer, had been wearing just a Garmin. It's like a Fitbit, but the Garmin version. And I was pretty good about tracking all of my steps and tracking all this stuff. And I was getting abnormal heart rate alerts so often that it was stressing me out. And I, like my heart would just be racing out of the blue. And so I went to a cardiologist. Well, first I went to my primary care and then I went to a cardiologist, blah, blah, blah, blah. Long story short, after wearing a Holter monitor for a week and after doing a full echocardiogram and all this stuff, which was the right thing to do. Basically the diagnosis was your heart is just fast. It's totally healthy and normal. More and more people are wearing these fitness trackers and we're getting all of these, I guess you could call it a, no, it's not anxiety. This is my heart is faster than most people's. So we're getting, we're better understanding the normal variation and range of people that is still within healthy boundaries. But most of these trackers are still at the level where they're saying this is abnormal because they haven't caught up with the data.

S: Yeah. I was going to say that to follow up with Jay was saying more monitoring is not always better.

C: Exactly. Because you get all of these like false negatives.

S: Yeah. False positives.

C: Oh, you're right. False positives. Yeah. I mean, and it's weird because it's, yes, my heart was fast, but that doesn't mean that I was in danger. And you can't turn it off.

S: And then that could lead to unnecessary followup testing, even unnecessary treatment. And so it has to be, I think that that kind of technology is ultimately going to be used for other things than what it's being developed for. You know what I mean? Which is often the case, we think of it for one thing, but actually it when you actually test it out in the real world, people realize, oh, it's actually better for this other thing. And the original application actually isn't that good.

C: But there's also the worry of, and this seems to happen anytime we talk about biomedical advancements where it's this thing would be really great for people who are struggling with sickle cell. And then somebody else comes along and goes, yeah, but how can it maximize my potential even though I'm not sick? And then you get this whole pseudoscientific industry of people going, I just want to have like human maximization of potential. And it's really worrisome to me, medical intervention when it's not needed.

S: Not only that care, all the neurotic patients who are going to be using it constantly monitoring their heart rate and then contacting their doctor.

C: Yeah, that's what you mentioned about anxiety. Yeah. I'm very lucky that I'm not an overly anxious person because that would have been really extra scary if I was prone to anxiety on top of that.

S: So it has tremendous positive potential, but also tremendous unintended negative consequences as well that we have to think very carefully about, but just the technology itself, having flexible electronics and sensors could have a lot of-

C: 100% necessary.

S: Yeah. It could have a lot of great applications. Absolutely.

Homoploid Sympatric Speciation (41:14)[edit]

S: All right, guys, let me ask you something. What does this phrase mean to you? Homoploid sympatric speciation.

E: Same ploid speciation.

C: Okay. Ploidy is-

B: Say it again, Steve.

S: Homoploid sympatric speciation.

C: So homo is same, ploidy is how many copies of the chromosomes there are.

S: Yeah.

C: A sympatric and allopatric, shoot.

E: Those guys from Ireland.

C: No, this had something to do with where ecological niches were, right?

S: Yeah. If you understood this phrase, you'd be very excited right now because-

C: Yeah, I feel like Bob with a space one. I'm like, come on, I know this.

E: It's a good thing they couch it in terms that are hard to distinguish.

C: No they're easy, they're easy.

S: But this is the kind of scientific jargon I love because it's very poetic.

C: And it's exactly what it says it is, right?

S: It's tight and it's exactly what it says it is. And if you're like, you know what it means, like, ooh, homoploid sympatric speciation, that's exciting, right? (laughter)

C: Right there with you.

E: You dirty man.

S: So let me back up a little bit and we'll talk about just speciation in general. So that is when you have new species arise. So either one species turns into two or two species create a hybrid third species.

J: It's a hybrid.

S: It's a hybrid. And we've spoken about this before and I think sympatric and allopatric or it was a what's the word at some point, Cara. So allopatric-

C: Yeah, it was. That's why I was like, I know these.

S: Allopatric speciation is the most common type. And that is when species occur because they're geographically separated. So in order to have speciation, you need genetic isolation. That's the key ingredient. In order to have two different species, they have to be genetically isolated from each other. And there's different ways that you can achieve that. The most common ones that they're physically separated from each other.

C: The mountain range or something.

S: So they migrate to an island or over time, like the land moves apart or a chasm occurs or they go into a mountain range or whatever. But you have a-

B: Like chimps and bonobos.

S: -whole populations of a species that are over a large range and there's some variability in the environment. And as the environment shifts, you might have species going into different directions. This population over time more and more adapts to the desert while the other one adapts to the forest or whatever. And so they just become physically separated. Sympatric speciation is when one population or one species becomes two species in the same physical space when their ranges overlap. And the reason why that's rare is because, well-

B: Crossbreeding should happen.

S: -because people breed. Animals breed with each other, plants pollinate each other, whatever. It happens. Why would they? Why would members of the same species not interbreed? So there has to be a reason. The most common reason is that they're genetically unable to. Even if they're physically in the same place, they cannot produce fertile young.

B: And they're the same species.

S: Well, they started out as the same species, but then something happens where a group of those individuals genetically are no longer compatible with the parent species. The most common genetic mechanism for that is polyploidy, right? So for example, a plant, this happens frequently in lots of different kinds of plants, like potatoes, for example, where you have an offspring that keeps both copies of the genome. So now they have double the chromosomes. They have polyploidy, and then they can't breed with members of the previously same species that has only a single copy because they have different numbers of chromosomes. They don't line up.

C: Right. Oh, that's fascinating. And that's how you end up with like octaploidy. Like you end up with some pretty bananas plants out there.

S: You have some plants with 96 chromosomes, incredible large numbers of chromosomes because they speciate through polyploidy. Now, homoploid sympatric speciation means that you have two populations of the same species becoming two. They are genetically isolated from each other, but they have the same number of chromosomes. So they should be able to interbreed. Again, that's why if you knew what that phrase meant, you'd be like, that's weird because you only traditionally you only get sympatric speciation when you have polyploidy or heteroploidy, where you have different numbers of chromosomes. So what, how does that happen? Well, that's the news item that I'm going to talk about because it's an observation of a speciation event through homoploid sympatric speciation. This is in cichlid fish. This is a common type of, they're small, tropical freshwater fish. So in this case, these are species that live in, it's a lake in Nicaragua, Central America. So it's a lake is about a kilometer wide so it's not that big. And there were there's lots of fish in there. There was two related species of cichlid that, that apparently had a mistaken mating event.

B: I hate when that happens.

S: So typically these fish, they look very different. They're very colorful. And even though they might be very closely related, they could look extremely different. And so just behaviorally, they do not interbreed because they only breed with fish that look like themselves. But at some point, two members of these closely related, but different species mated with each other and had a hybrid offspring still with the same number of chromosomes and still, fertile with both parents species, but they looked very different from either parent species. Although they probably at some point, cause you know, if it was only one, they had to back cross to one of the parents species, but eventually you had a stable hybrid population that only bred with itself. And there's essentially two reasons why that was able to happen. One was because they looked distinct from either parent species. So they were able to recognize each other as the same species and only mate with themselves. And two, they were physically different enough, that they were able to occupy a different niche in the lake. So they didn't compete with them for the same food source. The reason was that they were faster. Just the shape of their tail fin was such that they were faster swimmers than either of the parent species. And that enabled them to hunt for food that the other, the parent species couldn't hunt for. They also found when they examined the genetics, that there were some unique genetic characteristics. So it wasn't just like in between the two parent species, it was a hybrid, but also there were some unique genetic mutations or whatever in that new population. So they said, this is, this is not just a hybrid. This is a new species. So it's a documented recent example of homoploids sympatric speciation due to just genetic and morphological characteristics and behavioral characteristics, allowing them to occupy a new niche. And they look different enough that they only mate with themselves and not with their parents species. So they are a new species and that's a very rare event. That's a very obviously given a few hundred million years even rare events are going to happen every now and then. The only previously described examples of homoploids sympatric speciation are in insects. This is the first one in vertebrates that have ever been described in the scientific literature. Yeah very unusual. So it's cool. It's and just the whole idea of speciation is cool because you obviously all the species extant today, 10 million of them derived from, I don't know, we talked about this one parent species, we're all related. So that means there had to be some common ancestor of all life on Earth. So speciation events obviously have happened billions of times over the course of history of life on Earth. And understanding how they happen evolutionarily it's a discipline unto itself. But the sympatric speciation is definitely near. But we, I think when we, the last time we talked about this was with killer whales because they, there are different populations of killer whales. They're technically all in the same place cause there it's one worldwide ocean. You know what I mean? So they could technically contact each other, but there are different populations in different locations that just don't interbreed with each other.

C: And that's interesting cause there's some thought about it being a cultural thing, they're an out group and they don't have the same fishing techniques and they don't they might even "speak the same language", however you would want to define that. It's pretty, pretty cool.

S: Yeah. It's interesting to think of being behaviorally isolated rather than geographically isolated. Yeah. It's neat.

C: There are these little, they're like whale bigots.

S: Yeah, right. They smell funny.

C: Yeah.

E: They don't have stars on them.

S: Yeah, they don't have stars on their bellies.

Lab Grown Blood (51:04)[edit]

S: All right, Cara, tell us about lab grown blood.

C: So earlier, I guess it wasn't earlier this week. It was earlier last week or maybe the week before as of the time this episode airs, whatever, early in November in a world first trial and this is a little bit of misleading headline, but it is true and we'll get to why it's true. Lab grown blood was just injected into two people for the first time. But what was actually new about this, there was a lot of things that are new about this. This is not the first time that we have created lab grown blood. Although, we've been working on this for a while. The first lab grown blood stem cells were produced in 2017. This was the first allogeneic lab grown blood transfusion.

S: So not from the person's own blood.

C: It's not from the person's own blood. So there have been situations in which a person donated, the stem cells were removed, the stem cells then grew blood in the lab and then they transfused that blood back into the person. But this is the first time that that process occurred from donors that were separate than the people in the trial who received the blood. And this is a really big deal. So this is a massive effort from called the RESTORE trial. And it's a massive effort of the NHS blood and transplant, along with a bunch of different universities and organizations in I think mostly in the UK. And the trial is going to start with only I think 10 participants. And basically, they were able to after a ton of trial and error, I mean, this is something we've been working on for years. This is one of those beautiful examples that we often talk about in SGU, where we're like, what is it five to 10, 10 to 20? It's always down the line when this is finally going to be able to happen. And it's finally happening. So this trial is the beginning of hopefully lab grown red blood cells being available as an actual clinical product for individuals.

S: Can I ask you a question? Does that blood have the hemoglobin?

E: The gavin, globin.

C: I was waiting for that. I think it's just packed red cells.

S: Yeah, so it does.

C: Just red blood cells. It doesn't really specifically say how they do it if they just spin them down, or what bulk of the transfusion is. But yeah, it would have whatever whatever's carried by a red blood cell. The infusions for these healthy participants, because this is like at the beginning of the trial, these healthy participants is about five to 10 milliliters, which is roughly one to two teaspoons. And what they'll do is they'll have two different separated by four months, they're going to get two different transfusions. And I assume that that's going to be randomized because this is a double blind study where they will get these young red blood cells that were made in the lab in one of the transfusions, and then they'll get a standard red blood cell donation in the other transfusion. And the idea here is to see which one lasts longer, because they're hypothesizing that because these are made from stem cells, and they're young red blood cells, they're kind of all at the same age, that the last longer in the participant than a regular blood transfusion, which captures red blood cells of all different ages, is at any given time, you're getting somewhere within the lifecycle of those red blood cells. Now, the reason for this is potentially to help individuals, I mean, they name sickle cell anemia as a really important component, because people with sickle cell have to get regular transfusions. And if the transfusions can last longer, that means more quality of life for these patients. But also people with other complex transfusion needs, people with rare blood types for whom there's almost never enough blood available in blood banks, there's a lot of potential good that can come from lab grown blood. But we're still early in these stages. What we do know so far that they have made public is that I think two participants have already been transfused. And there were no negative health consequences that they saw. So they managed, they handled the transfusion, they didn't reject it or anything like that. But now the part of the trial where they try to figure out how long the cells last in the body is sort of the next step. This is cool.

E: That is cool.

S: Yeah.

C: This is a problem that it's a solution to a very, it's a potential solution to a very big problem that researchers have been working on for a very long time because it's deceptively complicated. It seems like an easy fix. Oh, we'll just make some blood in the lab. Nope, it's 2022. And we're just now able to finally, safely transfuse this into somebody for whom it wasn't their own blood that we made the blood or there wasn't their own stem cells that we made the blood cells from.

E: Remarkable.

C: It's always harder than we say.

S: The big challenge with all of it is the immune system.

E: Yeah, rejection.

C: And that's really the cool thing about doing it in the lab. So I mean, I kind of dug a little bit into the history of this and how long we've been working on it, what some of the problems were, why it became so much more complicated than it kind of seems like it would be. And one of them is that blood cells have a bunch of different proteins on them. And that's what triggers our immune system. And for people who get transfusions a lot, they can actually develop immune responses over time. And with pluripotent stem cells, it's a little bit different than with, what are they called actually just like true stem cells?

S: Yeah, totipotent is everything in the person plus the placenta. Pluripotent is everything in the person, but not the placenta.

C: And so I guess there have been limitations by using pluripotent stem cells in the past.

S: Yeah, but not many.

C: But not many. But that was one of the problems is that you end up with these different proteins on these cells. And if we can direct the cells to be as sort of protein-less, surface protein-less as possible, there is less chance for that immune reaction, that rejection, that agglutination, whatever the case may be. And so sort of the cleaner the stem cell, or the younger, I guess we could say, the earlier in the process, the stem cell, the less likely it is for the cells to have a defined path. And it's harder than it looks, apparently. Much harder.

S: Yeah, but we're making good progress. We're on the cusp, it seems like, reading this.

C: Oh yeah, I mean, if this trial goes well, we could be talking about an actual viable, clinically viable product.

S: Then it's a matter of mass producing it.

C: Yep.

S: All right, thanks, Cara.

[commercial brake]

Water Meteorite (59:19)[edit]

S: Evan, where does water come from?

B: Faucet?

E: Oh, that's one of the oldest-

C: The clouds?

E: Wherever it's wet.

C: Is water wet, Evan? We're not doing that.

E: Oh, here we go. Does a fish know it's swimming in water? There's an old saying about water. Perhaps you've heard it before. Water, water everywhere. Where the hell did it all come from? The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that poem was, okay, so what this news item, as Steve said, is about water, the water right here on Earth. That's in what? Our bodies, in the air, on the land, on the oceans, everywhere on the planet. Where did it all come from? Was it always here for Earth's 6,000-year history? That's a joke. Stop typing emails to us. That is going to be a joke. I think we just knocked down a few pegs on that media chart, by the way. No. All right. Was water always here during Earth's 4.5 billion-year history, or are the origins of Earth's water extraterrestrial? That's a question that scientists and chemists and some dowsers have been asking for a very long time. Yeah, we're an inclusive podcast. We know dowsing is pseudoscience, but we know that dowsers listen to the show. That's what my astrologer told me. As with most big questions, it starts out with several hypotheses. Over time, it's carefully studied, and almost all the original hypotheses fall away, and it leaves a few left worth the deepest of dives. Did water originate on the Earth when the planet formed? That's one position. Certainly, there was hydrogen and oxygen atoms mixed in and among the gas and rocky particles that eventually formed the early Earth, or Bob that's the what, proto-Earth. We like saying proto-Earth. The idea is that once the planet became volcanically active on the surface, water vapor that was trapped under the surface would spew into the atmosphere with everything else coming out of the Earth. Over many millions, tens of millions of years, enough water vapor gets released, and it can take the form of liquid water and find its way to the surface of the Earth and causing the oceans to fill and all that. Okay, but that theory doesn't quite hold water. Apparently, the math can't account for the quantity of water in that way. There's just not enough of it. You couldn't have as much as is on a planet as we can measure it now. Let's not forget Earth's early collision with Theia. That's the smaller planetary object that smacked into the Earth, causing a literal core breach of the Earth. That impact was something. The pressure, the heat of the impact, everything would have ripped away just about all of the Earth's surface water at the time, along with a good amount of any water vapor that may have been trapped deep below the surface. All of it gone. So after the collision, Earth and Theia exchanged insurance information and went on to become the Earth-Moon system that we enjoy today. But here's the other primary position that water came from space. Outer space, perhaps, very outer space. Either comets or asteroids that impacted the Earth in the years following the Theia event released their water onto the planet. And this was especially so during the late heavy bombardment period, Bob, 3.8 billion years ago. I know that's also one of your favorite moments in time. The planet was experiencing thousands of impacts.

B: Crazy times.

E: Yeah, as severe as the Chicxulub meteor collision from 65 million years ago. The one that wiped out dinosaurs, mammals, and the Flintstones all at once. This is the theory that's most widely embraced. And while perhaps a bit of the original water from Earth may have survived those brutal early formative years, the primary evidence supports an extraterrestrial model. OK, if that's the case, then there's two likely delivery systems, comets and asteroids. Which one was it? Was it one? Was it the other? Is it both? Well, fortunately, some very skilled scientists have been able to whittle away at that question as well. When they compare water measured in a comet versus water measured in asteroids over time, and I think more recently, maybe in the last decade or so, they realized that comet water has a specific ratio of deuterium to hydrogen atoms, the D to H ratio. And it's different in comets than it is in asteroids. Comet's D:H ratio is about two times greater than those of asteroids. They've been able to measure that pretty substantially. All right, so which ratio best matches the water on Earth, do you think? Asteroids or comets?

B: I take comet.

S: Asteroids.

E: It is asteroids. In fact, much, much closer by all measures. So the suggestion is that it is asteroids that are the likely water delivery system for the Earth. And I appreciate your patience with all that backstory because it leads to this breaking news, really just, well, yesterday as we're recording this, that scientists published an analysis of asteroid fragments that hit the Earth in Winchicum, England back in 2021. And what made those asteroid fragments particularly special is that they were collected only 12 hours after they struck the surface. Meaning that they are for the most part uncontaminated. And that's about as fresh a sample as you can hope for. As part of this article, they interviewed Ashley King of London's Natural History Museum. He says it's as pristine as you're going to get from a meteorite. Other than it landing in the museum on my desk, rather than sending a spacecraft up there, we can't really get them any quicker or more pristine. And they they analyzed the material, they heated it, they bombarded it with electrons, x-rays and lasers to figure out what elements and minerals it contained. The meteorite is a type of rare carbon rich rock called a carbonaceous chondrite. Yeah. Now, I've also heard chondrite. What do you think?

S: Chondrite.

C Definitely chondrite.

E: Chondrite. That's what I thought. But it is C-H to begin that word. These are rare. By the latest estimates I could find about 4.6 of debris that strikes the Earth are these carbonaceous chondrites. So it doesn't happen often. And to get one so pristine is even is about as rare as you can get. They think this came from an asteroid near the orbit of Jupiter. It got its start towards Earth around 300,000 years ago, which is a relatively short time for a trip through space. And the chemical analysis revealed that the meteorite is about 11% water by weight with water locked in hydrated minerals. Some of the hydrogen in that water is deuterium, as we said. And the ratio of hydrogen to deuterium in this in this sample is similar to that once again of Earth's atmosphere. And they say it's a good indication that water on Earth was coming from water rich asteroids. So this furthers the well, I guess you can call it a theory now that we got our water from asteroids.

S: Yeah.

E: Which is cool.

S: Right. Whenever I when I first heard that, I always my reaction was, well, where else would it come from? But they're really distinguishing before versus after the crust solidified. Obviously, the the entire Earth formed from asteroids colliding into each other. But the point is, by the time that process finished, all the volatiles would have gone away. And as you say, when that Mars sized planet smashed into us, that definitely would have gotten rid of any volatiles. So it must have been delivered. So either it did it after that point, we're basically starting with a planet the size of the Earth with a solid crust. Did water bubble up from below or did it did come from later bombardments, later asteroids? And it seems like it came from later asteroids, which is interesting.

E: Very interesting.

S: [inaudible] theory for a while.

E: Yep. And being able to get samples like this, they said they're going to be able to further study lots of different things, how the molecules formed in the asteroid, how similar organic material could have been delivered to the early Earth.

S: OK, thanks, Evan.

Who's That Noisy? (1:07:55)[edit]

bearded seal

John Lennon

curl-crested jay

S: Jay. It's Who's That Noisy time.

J: All right, guys. Well, because we are we're recording two shows this week, there is no Who's That Noisy because I did not. People don't even know, what's happening in the show that we recorded two days ago. What's happening? What's happening? So Steve and I talked-

C: We haven't got any of the e-mails yet.

J: -and what we decided was that I am going to quiz you guys. I'm going to pick three Who's That Noisies from 2015.

E: Wow.

C: Come on.

E: You were you were you were on the show then, Cara. You were part of the.

C: I know. I'm not going to remember. I've slept so many times since then.

J: I picked three Who's That Noisies from 2015. I picked them at random. They are completely at random. And I'm going to see if you guys can identify what they are. Because there is there is a little bit of possible memory of of these in there. And I think you'll enjoy them. They're actually three pretty cool noisies. It was random, though, just so you know. So I wasn't wasn't handpicking these. So let me get to these. Let's see what you guys make of this. All right. This may very well by total luck. I picked my my favorite one from the year. It may maybe one of my it's probably in my top three Who's That Noisies.

E: Oh, boy.

J: Are you ready?

E: Hope it's the La La Dog. OK, go ahead.

[whistling, vibrating air]

S: I mean, clearly that's a flying saucer landing.

J: Clearly.

E: Hard evidence.

B: Just a theremin?

J: All right. Bob says theremin. Steve says flying saucer. Evan, what do you say?

E: Yeah, it is a flying saucer sounding thing. I can't remember exactly what generated this, though.

J: Cara?

C: It sounds like air being let out of something.

J: Cara, you are a really smart person. You know that? This is air being let out of something. I will give you that.

C: Really?

J: Anybody want to do a second round of guesses?

C: Can we hear it again? Is that too hard to do?

J: I can do it. I won't play the whole thing, but listen. [plays Noisy]

B: It's air being let out of a theremin.

C: Something under a lot of pressure because it's like whistling.

J: This is the exhale of a bearded seal.

C: Cool.

J: This is what, that's the sound that they make underwater.

B: You made that up.

J: No, I did not make that up. And this is communicating to other bearded seals. This seal could be saying lots of different things. I honestly don't know. It could be a mating call. Could be him just asking someone to go hang out. I don't know. But that's not the point.

B: Or it could be, look, I'm pretending to sound like an UFO. (laughter) You guys don't remember this one? It's so recognizable to me.

S: No. I totally forgot that.

E: No.

C: Not at all.

J: All right.

B: Seven years ago. I forget what you did last week.

J: I think it's fascinating that a creature that lives on this Earth that has been in existence for how many millions of years would you say bearded seals existed, guys? A long time, right?

B: A billion years.

E: Long enough to grow a beard.

J: Long before, long before anybody even dreamt up the idea of a flying saucer sound, they had it in the bag. Do you follow me on this?

E: Oh, sure. Yeah, I'm right there with you.

J: I just think that's crazy. Like it absolutely sounds like a 1940s UFO.

S: Yeah.

J: And they already had it. It was already there. You know what I mean? It's been with humanity for millions of years.

B: Yeah, but didn't it start with the 1950s Forbidden Planet, the theremin and that's wacky music, the new way to create electronic music.

J: That was a theremin Bob. All of that music was made with a theremin.

B: Right. Didn't that start the association between that noise and UFOs?

J: I really wish I knew the answer to that. I would think that that was a major influencer, if not the influencer, but I'm not sure.

B: Yeah, that's my guess. All right.

J: All right. The next one. Are you ready? So, so Cara came the closest. Good job, Cara.

E: Good job, Cara.

C: Thank you.

J: This next one, you gotta, tell me who this is. Who is that?

[an English guy speaking]

E: Is that Norwegian wood?

C: Yeah, no, I was like, but it's not, is it? Because he doesn't quite sound like.

B: Yeah, kind of there, but not there.

J: Anybody want to put their chip down?

C: No.

S: A British guy?

B: Someone from Liverpool?

J: It's "a British guy". All right. Well, all right, Steve, you got half a peg in the hole there. That's, it is a British guy.

S: Is it a musician?

J: You gotta, at this point, you have to make a guess. You have to say, this is who I think it is.

E: Here's the person.

B: The Beatles.

C: One of the Beatles.

J: This is painful. Oh my god. Okay. Ready? Let me bring this one home. This is John Lennon.

C: It is?

J: That's John Lennon.

C: Why does it sound so different?

B: That was my first thought, but I was like, it's something off about it.

C: Right.

J: But making a guess is better than not actually guessing.

S: All right. John Lennon.

E: I made the guess.

J: Okay, here, let me play 10 seconds again. [plays Noisy]

C: He giggled.

J: He did. I love the giggle. Yep, that's John Lennon. Apparently he believes that he saw a helicopter. It's pretty interesting though, when you think about it during that time in American history UFOs were becoming popular. So it's not that surprising to think that someone famous would actually make a claim like that, but it doesn't completely sound like John Lennon and it's interesting, isn't it?

S: Yeah.

C: Yeah.

J: Okay. So right now you guys are doing very poorly.

E: Well, I got that right.

C: No, I'm doing better than anyone else is what you meant to say.

J: Well, I would say you and Evan are tied because Evan immediately identified he got most of the way there.

C: That's true.

J: All right. I got one more for you guys. I'm going to actually try to give you a little luck. I mean, you guys need some help here.

E: Give me some luck.

C: La, la, la.

J: La, la, la. Here's the last one. You ready?

[repetitive, scratchy sound]

C: I hate it.

S: Is that a bird?

J: All right. Anybody else want to guess?

C: What did you say?

S: A bird.

J: Steve said a bird. Cara said, I hate it.

C: It sounds like a droid. It's a droid bird.

J: Droid bird? Okay. We got droid bird, a bird. And what, Bob, what do you got?

B: I got nothing.

C: I don't remember any of these, Jay. Like at all.

E: This is a rappy the robot.

J: A rappy the robot.

E: Yep. It's a robot rapping in its own robot way.

J: Bob, we'll give you five more seconds.

E: Rap bot.

B: Bruce Lee.

J: It is not Bruce Lee. Okay. I like this noise. This noise cracks me up. I like the weird thing that is the sound that you hear in the very beginning, right? It sounds like a creepy voice. Listen again. [plays Noisy]

E: See? It's rappy the robot.

J: All right. This is a curl-crested jaybird.

S: Yeah. Totally a bird.

C: You got it.

J: That apparently was heavily influenced by a video game that he heard somebody playing probably over and over again. He or she heard. So let me play it for you again. This is a curl-crested jaybird imitating lots of noises that it heard from video games. [plays Noisy]

B: What the hell, man?

J: That is so weird.

B: Messed up.

J: That is so weird.

C: It's really cool.

J: What's interesting about it though is it's almost like an artificial intelligence, trying to simulate like things that it's heard. Birds are intelligent. Birds are definitely, and some birds are highly, highly intelligent. So this bird-

C: You said this was a jay? So it's a corvid?

J: Sorry?

C: What's it called? What kind of jay?

S: Yeah, it's a jay.

C: Yeah, so it's a corvid, right?

S: Yeah, they're very intelligent.

C: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure.

J: Yeah. So this bird, pretty mindfully, is taking all of this input and saying, okay, this is basically the aggregate of the input that I've heard. And I'm just dying to know what game or games that that came from. Where does that weird like ki-ko thing that he's saying come from, you know? And then you have all the computer sounds that it does so well. I find that really fascinating. It definitely sounds like a droid.

S: Yeah.

C: Yeah, it does. It's very droidy.

J: Yeah, so throughout my tenure while doing Who's That Noisy, I've learned so much from doing this segment. And one of the things that I learned is that it is very hard to remember a Noisy. It really doesn't take long for you to just not be able to identify something that you have fully considered before, which is in a way kind of a microcosm of a test on just how poor our memory is.

s: Well, it's because it's a one-off. We're not very good at remembering a one-off. We need repetition.

C: And also there's like no context, so we're not connecting it to other things in our mind.

J: But for me though, the thing with my experience is that I remember about 90% of these Noisies.

S: Yeah, but you hear them multiple times.

J: That's true. But not that much more than you.

S: Your relationship with them is different than ours.

J: It is. I know that I'm focusing on them more and I am thinking about it more, but I'm not obsessively listening to the one that I select. I listen to a lot of noisies every week, a lot of noisies every week. But I pick one and I probably, I listen to it, I edit it, I do a couple of things to it in the software to optimize it, and then I play it for you guys. So maybe I listen to it, say, three to five times. But that apparently is a massive difference than your one time or two times hearing it. I find that interesting.

E: Agreed.

S: That was cool, Jay. Thank you.

E: Thank you, Jay.

S: All right, guys, let's go on with Science or Fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:19:56)[edit]

Theme: Turkeys

Item #1: An adult wild turkey has between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers.[8]
Item #2: Only male turkeys gobble. Females can yelp, cluck, and purr, but they are unable to gobble.[9]
Item #3: The last common ancestor of chickens and turkeys lived 40 million years ago.[10]

Answer Item
Fiction Only male turkeys gobble
Science 5,000-6,000 feathers
Chicken turkey ancestor
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Only male turkeys gobble
Chicken turkey ancestor
Chicken turkey ancestor
Chicken turkey ancestor

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 fictisious. And then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We have a theme this week. This is our Thanksgiving week episode.

E: Oh, gosh.

S: The theme is not Thanksgiving.

E: It's-

S: The theme is...

E: Christmas.

S: Turkeys.

J: Turkeys?

S: Turkeys. Yes, turkey.

E: Okay. The fowl. All right.

S: All right. Here we go. Three facts about turkeys.

E: Turkey facts.

S: Straight forward. Item #1: An adult wild turkey has between 5000 and 6000 feathers. Item #2: Only male turkeys gobble. Females can yelp, cluck and purr, but they are unable to gobble. And item #3: The last common ancestor of chickens and turkeys lived 40 million years ago. Evan, go first.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: All right. Adult wild turkey has between 5000 and 6000 feathers. I don't know. In a way, in one way you could say, oh, that's a lot. And another way is like, oh, that's not enough. I don't know. How do you know how many feathers birds have? Unless you're an enthusiast. But so, yeah, I suppose so. I suppose it seems about right. Could be less. Could be like only one to 2000 maybe. But yeah, I think that one's right. The only number two, only male turkeys gobble. Females can yelp, cluck and purr. Oh, gosh. They are unable to gobble. All right. So gobble is obviously a specific thing that is distinguishable from these other noises.

C: It goes like this. Gobble, gobble, gobble.

E: What is the phrase when the word is the sound?

B: Onomatopoeia.

E: Thank you very much. Onomatopoeia going on. Is that because do only male turkeys have the waddle? Is the waddle what causes the gobble? I don't know if that's even right.

C: Say that three times.

E: Waddle, gobble. So it would be a-

S: You know what you call the turkey waddle?

C: A waddle?

S: here's a name for it. It's the snood. The snood.

C: A snood. Like the old 1940s things that women would wear on their heads. It's a snood. That's so funny.

E: So if it's an anatomy issue, then that could be true. So I don't know my turkey anatomy that well. I don't eat the waddle. The last common ancestor of chickens and turkeys, oh boy, lived 40 million years ago. Oh, boy. Here we go. Birds, dinosaurs, chickens, turkeys, birds, ancestor. 40 million years. Boy, is it four? How far apart are turkeys from chickens? They, in some ways, they seem very far apart and 40 million years would seem reasonable. And maybe some other ways, maybe they're more genetically close to each other than 40 million years would allow for that sort of split. This is really tough. I don't know. I guess I'll have to guess. I think it's between the second one and the third one. I'll say the turkey gobble one is the fiction.

S: Okay, Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: All right. Well, right out of the gate, chickens and turkeys, in my opinion, there's just no way that their common ancestor goes back 40 million years. These are domesticated animals. At least the chicken is domesticated. I would think that it's way more recent than 40 goddamn million years ago. (Cara laughs) So that one has got to be the fiction.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]


S: Going with Jay, 40 million, the chicken and turkey thing?

B: Yep.

S: All right, Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: I'm going to go with Jay. Partly it's not because I have any idea how long ago the last common ancestor would be, but partly because I thought male turkeys were called gobblers.

J: They are called gobblers.

C: And so why would only male turkeys be called gobblers and not female turkeys? Maybe it's because only male turkeys gobble. So I feel like-

E: That's certainly sound reasoning to me.

C: That makes that one science. And won't it be funny if they have like 50,000 feathers? But no, I think I'm going to go with Jay and go with Bob on this. Sorry, Evan.

S: All right. So you all agree on the first one.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: An adult wild turkey has between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers. You guys all think this one is science. And this one is science. This is science. Yeah, this was a tricky one for me because I had to decide, I could make this the fiction by saying, what if I said like 500 and 600 feathers? Would you have thought that that was-

B: Yeah.

E: That would seem a little too low to me.

C: I don't know.

B: I say that now, but yeah.

C: Yeah, exactly. Hindsight, who knows?

S: Yeah. It's a lot of feathers, but it's because their whole body is covered with tiny feathers. They only have like 17 flight feathers and their tail feathers are like this. 17 flight feathers and their tail feathers are like 20 or something like that.

C: How many feathers does a chicken have?

S: I don't know, but a lot.

C: Because people have to pluck like the whole, well, I guess the turkey, too. You got to pluck the whole damn thing?

S: Yeah, although now they have those automatic de-feathering things. It's like they get slapped around with rubber or something until all the feathers come off. You know what I mean? They put them in that thing and it's rrrrr and they come out naked.

C: Oh, gross.

E: According to this, it's about 8,000 total feathers in a chicken.

C: Jesus, more?

S: Yeah.

E: Eight thousand.

S: So it's also true that turkeys were originally domesticated and bred for their feathers, not their meat, because they have lots of feathers. They're very varied. They're very colorful. You know, they're striped. They're beautiful.

B: Colorful.

S: And so, yeah, they were really first bred for their feathers, not for their meat. But of course, you can also eat them. All right, let's go on to number two.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Only male turkeys gobble. Females can yell, cluck, and purr, but they are unable to gobble. Evan, you're all buyer lonesome in thinking that this one is the fiction. Everyone else thinks that this one is science. Let me first say that Cara's correct that male turkeys are called gobblers after the gobble noise that they make. But this one is the fiction. Good job, Evan.

C: Go, Evan!

J: Good job, Evan.

C: That's badass.

E: Happy Thanksgiving!

S: This is a persistent myth.

C: Interesting.

S: Because it's true that male turkeys gobble a lot more than the females because their gobble is the way that they attract females. But females can gobble. You can see video of female turkeys gobbling. So it's unequivocal. They can gobble and they do gobble, just not as much as the males. They do tend to yelp, cluck, and purr more. And the purr is like take that with a grain of salt. It doesn't sound like a cat purr, but it is kind of a soothing rumbling noise. They do a lot of clucking and yelping. It's kind of their primary sound. They're just walking around. They're basically clucking. But they'll gobble. They get excited or if they are with a bunch of males or whatever, they will gobble and you could see video of them doing it. But the vast majority of sites will say that they straight up never gobble. And it's not true. That is a myth.

C: Wow.

J: Nice.

C: What are female turkeys called?

E: Are they called hens?

S: Hens. They're hens.

C: Oh, OK. That's boring. But yeah. OK.

C: They have other names as well. They have lots of names, but they're basically hens.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Item #3: The last common ancestor of chickens and turkeys lived 40 million years ago. That is science. I was surprised at that too. But turkeys and chickens are very close to the basal bird. They are actually very, very ancient bird groups. The turkey family is extremely old. Jay, there are two species of wild turkey. They're all in the genus Meleagris, M-E-L-E-A-G-R-I-S. There are two wild turkey and one domesticated turkey. There's a Mexican, like the North American, Eastern Turkey. There's the Mexican turkey, and then there's the domesticated turkey. But there have obviously been many, many other genuses and species of turkey over the 40 million years. But turkeys themselves have been around for a very long time. So that was a hard number to nail down, how old is the turkey? Because again, it's well, where do you make the cutoff? But the most common answer that I found was 23 to 24 million years old. But I had a hard time sourcing that to a completely objective degree. So I just went with the last common answer, which was more of an objective number to come by. And also very-

J: I'm really surprised to hear that.

S: It's very surprising. I totally agree. The turkeys are evolutionary a lot older than you might think. Honorable mention, one that didn't make the top three, but I thought it was interesting. So what would you guys say about this? So this could be either a science or fiction. I was going to tell you this, that the turkey got its name from the country Turkey. What do you think about that?

E: I'm inclined to say fiction, but-

C: From the what? The country Turkey?

E: But the fact that you're even posing the point, I would-


S: That is science. I almost used that one. But because, so turkeys are native to North America.

B: I'm a double loser.

S: But of course, the natives had their name for them, and the technical name is the Meliagris. But when English, either sailors or traders or whatever, first encountered turkeys, it reminded them of the turkey cock or the turkey hen, which is a similar bird from Turkey. And so they used that name and it stuck. But there's an alternate theory about where the name came from. And that it was just that turkeys were being sold by Turkish merchants to English. So they associated with the Turkish merchants. But either way, the name derives from the country Turkey. And then of course, the English name stuck for the turkey.

J: Steve, now what about jive turkey?

S: Jive turkey? Yeah. But just because growing up, we heard the country Turkey, we always think of turkeys and it's funny that they have the same name. So it's interesting that the turkey animal actually got its name from the country.

E: Yeah, they got hungry too. You knew that was coming. Could see that a mile away.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:30:56)[edit]

Science and art sometimes can touch one another, like two pieces of the jigsaw puzzle which is our human life, and that contact may be made across the borderline between the two respective domains.
M. C. Escher (1898-1972), Dutch graphic artist

S: All right, Evan is punishment for that bad pun. You have to give us a quote. (laughter)

E: That's why it's called puns. Punishment. "Science and art sometimes can touch one another, like two pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, which is our human life. And that contact may be made across the borderline between the two respective domains." MC Escher.

S: Yeah, that is so appropriate for Escher, isn't it?

E: Oh, that is so Escher. And I love Escher.

S: Love Escher, yeah. Because he's an artist, but there is something very scientific about his art, right?

E: Yes. And he's expressed it in many, this is the second time we've used a quote from Escher and he's talked about it even more. So it'll come up again, I'm sure in future episode.

S: By the way, one of my favorite prompts in Midjourney is in the style of MC Escher.

C: Oh, yeah, that's probably really fun.

S: It's a lot of fun. Yeah, play with that. All right, guys, well, thank you all for joining me this week.

C: Thanks, Steve.

B: Sure man.

S: And we're recording this before Thanksgiving, even though it's coming out afterwards. So I still will say to all of you, have a great and happy Thanksgiving. I won't be with any of you for it.

J: I will have a great one.

E: And a safe one.

S: But we'll see you all when we get back. So thanks again, everyone.


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
  • Fact/Description




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