SGU Episode 908

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SGU Episode 908
December 3rd 2022
908 Milky Way's Stellar Halo.jpg

The Milky Way's stellar halo

SGU 907                      SGU 909

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Whether you function as welders or inspectors, the laws of physics are implacable lie-detectors. You may fool men. You will never fool the metal.

Lois McMaster Bujold, American speculative fiction writer

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Artemis I progress, Evan's flu bout[edit]

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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Thursday, December 1st, 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: Happy first day of Advent? Is that right?

C: Yeah. Although, I mean, I don't know if that's a religious thing. I just like it because of the calendars.

S: It's a religious thing.

C: I'm trying to understand here. Because I have a few Advent calendars.

E: Yeah, that's why I brought it up.

C: So some of them are 24 days and I'm like, so that sucks. They end on Christmas Eve? The whole point of me buying myself Advent calendars is so that because I might be spending Christmas alone, I don't know what I'm getting every day. I want it to end on Christmas. So I'm going to wait until tomorrow for my first day of Advent.

E: That's right.

S: So an Advent calendar is basically the first season of the Christian church year and it ends on Christmas Day. That's why.

C: Okay. But it's like if it's a 24-day countdown calendar, I don't get anything on Christmas. That's dumb. But my dog got his first dog treat today because that's a 25-day calendar. They're all different.

E: Oh, sweet. Killer.

C: At first he just sniffed it and walked away and I was like, oh no. But then he came back for it.

S: So Artemis is zipping around the Moon. It's doing well. Everything's going great. So, so far the mission is a success. As we record this, it's getting ready to leave lunar orbit and head back to Earth. Apparently it was the farthest object from Earth that is designed to hold people, even though people weren't actually in it.

B: That's a milestone.

S: Kind of a weird one.

E: I see.

S: But I guess that means for the next mission that will actually have people on it, those people will be the farthest people from Earth.

J: Well, they will have traveled the farthest from Earth.

E: And how soon before the next mission, that particular mission? Months? Years?

S: Artemis 2 is 2024.

E: It is. Okay. So we have to wait a whole other year and change.

S: Yeah. A year and a half. It's a big one. Then 2025, that's when they land on the Moon.

E: Oh my gosh. That's going to be amazing.

B: Wow.

E: That's going to be amazing. I really hope the world kind of tunes in a similar way that they did back in 1969.

B: I think they will.

E: I hope it has that breadth.

B: I think they will. We got to build a party around that event.

E: Absolutely. We should have a viewing party.

J: I mean, arguably, it's one of the biggest deals in human history. And I think since there hasn't been much Moon activity, it'll be very popular. But to your point, it's going to become commonplace. Going to the Moon, landing on the Moon, bringing things to the Moon, bringing things back from the Moon is going to be like any other news item at some point, not in the distant future.

B: I wonder what the Moon hoaxers are going to say. I just thought about that for the first time.

E: Yeah. I see what you're saying, Jay, about it being common at a certain point. But at the same time, I'm still personally fascinated every time a space mission occurs in recognizing the scientific advancement and ability and stretches that we've had to make in order to get to these points in human history. It's all part of human history. And every single step along that that path has been fascinating to me. I'm never bored by it. I never consider it common or kind of get used to it or ho-hum.

S: Yeah, I agree.

J: I got accustomed to space shuttles taking off and it wasn't as exciting to watch the launches in there. I like to watch the landings better because I thought they were more interesting. But bottom line is, I mean, any of this stuff, if done frequently enough, will become common place. I'm kind of looking forward to that. I want space travel and the Moon to be a part of the monthly events that take place. I think that'll be a cool time.

E: Well, definitely the space shuttle launches, they would seem repetitive and kind of the same old. It was the missions themselves that were each unique and had specific goals. And those were fascinating to follow. And especially things like the spacewalks and the repairing of the Hubble telescope and those sorts of things. That kept me really glued to the news and in finding out what was going on up there.

S: I think it's gonna be a long time before people being on the Moon is going to be routine. Rocket launches. Yeah, I could see that. They're so cool. But yeah, they happen frequent enough that it's not glue yourself to the TV kind of event. But if there are people walking on the Moon, I think that we're going to be paying attention.

C: Why did we wait so long?

S: I mean, that's a $64,000 question, right?

C: It could be commonplace by now if we had just like kept going.

B: Don't even get me started.

J: Yeah, politics had a lot to do with it, of course. Wasn't that like NASA didn't want to do it? You know what I mean? In Apollo, the movie Apollo 13, you could see how people were not even watching the launches or caring about people going to the Moon and currently conducting a Moon mission.

B: That's until Apollo 13, of course. Yeah, things got nasty.

J: I remember in the movie, they didn't even I remember that one part where they didn't even tell the astronauts, nobody cares, nobody's watching. But the political will wasn't there. That's what it comes down to. NASA is in a continuous cycle of asking for more money.

S: They want it also requires sustained-

B: Administration.

S: -financial support. So yeah, that's right. It has to be sustained through multiple administrations. And that's often the challenge. They get funding and then it then evaporates.

B: Or redirect.

S: And there's been legitimate controversy over whether or not the funding they have should go to robotic science or human spaceflight. And that the answer wasn't always we're going to prioritize human spaceflight.

J: Yeah.

E: And it was also the bringing into the picture of the space shuttle program in the 70s because that's when it was being conceived, developed and sort of the next, the next thing for NASA to do. So that's why they moved away from Apollo and went with the the reusable space transport system, the STS.

S: Yeah. And there's always this multistage plan and we never seem to get to the later stages but we are finally now. It did take a damn long time.

E: But well, here we are, though, finally still in our lifetimes, which I'm all for that.

S: Yeah. If all goes well.

B: Yeah, that's true.

S: So, Evan, how are you feeling?

E: Steve, thank you for asking. I feel like total crap. I came down with the flu.

S: Oh, man.

E: Saturday after Thanksgiving.

B: You sure it's the flu?

E: Oh, I'm sure it's the flu. 103 degree temperature.

C: Oh, my gosh.

B: Oh, wait, wait. 103?

E: 103.

B: That's like go to the emergency department.

E: It was close.

C: But right now or like?

E: No, no, no.

C: I was like, how are you podcasting?

E: No, this was this was on I peaked. I seem to have peaked on Tuesday of this week. That was the day where I was like begging some god somewhere to please I'll never sin again in some way. If you please get me get me through this. You have one of those moments. You can totally see why people have these moments in their life. But what happened was on Saturday after Thanksgiving, Rachel and I went to a concert in Baltimore.

B: That'll do it.

E: Well, and we got, we were treated very well by by the bands there. We got all access passes because we're friendly with these bands and stuff. And this was the closest they were coming. Long story short, they have us an all access pass. So we were allowed to go backstage and hang with them and be in their green room and just kind of be part of the crew. They really treated us like total VIPs, which was absolutely wonderful. And that was great. And then head home and started feeling not I started coughing on Tuesday and I'm sorry, on Monday. And by Tuesday, I was full on. Yeah, this is the flu, body aches, headaches, the high fever, the chills, everything that was definitely the flu.

B: Screw that.

C: But you did take COVID test, right?

E: I did take a COVID test. It was not definitely was not COVID. Rachel did get her flu shot already. She did not come down with flu. I had not gotten mine.

C: Oh no.

E: I was going to get mine this week. So bad on me. My fault entirely, because for delaying it. But I delay my flu shot normally because I try to make it coincide more with tax season because I want to be protected for more of the tax season January through April rather than November, December and not have it wane off at the tail end of tax season. So that's kind of my but flu is hitting with a vengeance early this year.

B: Yes.

E: And it's terrible.

C: I'm getting my shot tomorrow. I have my appointment to get my bivalent COVID and my flu shot tomorrow at the same time. And everyone on all the bands that were there that were in that green room and backstage, 90% of them came down sick. So had we not so if we not gotten that all access pass and everything.

B: Music kills.

E What are you what are you going to do? Yeah, certainly that that's exactly what did it because we were all commenting about it.

S: Get your flu shot. You should have gotten it already. Actually, October was like the time to get it.

C: Is Rachel gloating?

E: No, no. She feels terrible.

B: She should. [inaudible]

E: She's not. I'm happy for her. I mean, my gosh.

B: That shothurt man. That thing, the next day my shoulder was hurting.

S: Which one, the bivalent or the flu vaccine?

B: The flu.

C: Flu is not that bad.

S: That didn't hurt at all. I got mine a couple of weeks ago.

B: Maybe I'm confusing it with the bivalent. I got a shot and it hurt.

C: Yeah, you probably, COVID hurts the next day for sure.

E: I want I did want to get mine in time to get it covered for Arizona. We have the Arizona our slew of Arizona shows that are coming up in just a couple in just about two weeks from the time of this recording.

C: But now you can't get it until you're recovered.

E: Exactly. Right. So, Steve, tell me when it at this point, do I need the flu shot? And if so, when do I get it?

S: You should still get it. But it's I don't know.

C: I think the guide says it's either one or two weeks from the last time you had symptoms.

E: Okay, so I'll have to probably get it right after I get back from Arizona.

S: So I've now failed two attempts at getting my bivalent booster.

C: What?

S: I had to wait because I got I had covered in August. So I finally came around to the time to get it. I scheduled it during a lunch hour at work. And my my morning clinic went late and I missed my window. So I rescheduled it for today. I show up at the clinic, which is like a 15 minute drive away from my from my offices. I show up at the clinic to get my shot and they're closed. Because they had to suddenly close for two days. I didn't officially get the story. They just-

B: Zombies?

S: -when like when I got back to my afternoon clinic, I got I had just a little bit of a window. I looked it up and they said for unforeseen circumstances. That was their entire explanation. Unforeseen circumstances. But while I was there, there was a security guard there. And I asked him what happened. He didn't quite know for sure. But he thinks there was a gas leak in the restaurant next door.

C: Weird.

S: Which makes sense. Why would they suddenly close the clinic for two days?

B: You should have seen that coming.

S: Yeah. So now I have to schedule for next week. So it's my third attempt. But it'll hopefully it will still be a full week before we leave for Arizona. So that'll be good. So for those of you who have had the bivalent, I've heard it's not quite as bad as the other boosters in terms of how sick you get.

C: I think it just depends because the bivalent is Moderna.

S: Pfizer, I think.

C: Oh, it's Pfizer. So and like different people's reactions to the shots had to do with the formulation. And it also had to do with how many boosters you've already had. The more shots you get, the weaker the reaction you get.

S: Okay.

C: So your first booster was brutal. If you had that reaction.

S: It was.

C: And then it gets slightly less bad every time you get boosted. But sometimes people who were Moderna all the way and then switched to Pfizer, they got knocked on their butt or vice versa.

B: I didn't.

C: Some people never even had a reaction to any of them.

J: I didn't have a reaction. I got it.

C: I'm so jealous. I was so sick.

B: I barely had any reaction.

C: I felt like I had the flu for a whole three days when I got my first booster.

B: Yeah, Steve too.

S: So remember, there is a triple demic happening this winter in the northern hemisphere. Three respiratory viruses going around and we have vaccines for two of them. So get vaccinated.

C: No RSV, right?

S: No RSV, no. But it's usually only a problem if you're a baby or really old. So if you're not in those two categories-

B: Define really old.

S: -you're a geriatric.

C: Over 55? Over 65? 65 probably

S: Over your age or older, Bob.

B: Yeah, but not yours a year. 13 months previous. Later.

S: That's correct.

B: Yeah, sure.

C: You guys are almost Irish twins.

B: Yes.

C: Wow.

B: Basically we are Irish twins by definition.

C: I think it has to be under a year.

S: Is there an operational definition or is it just?

C: I don't think so, but I'm controlling it now.

S: Yeah. It says less than 12 months apart is what.

C: Yeah. So you're almost Irish twins.

J: They call those Irish twins?

C: Yeah.

J: I've never heard of that one. That's awesome.

S: Is that vaguely racist or is that okay?

J: If you have to ask the question, Steve, it's probably racist.

C: I disagree with that.

Quickie with Bob: Milky Way Stellar Halo (13:41)[edit]

  • [link_URL TITLE][1]

S: All right, Bob, get us out of this conversation with a quickie.

E: Yeah.

B: All right. Thank you, Steve. This is your Quickie with Bob. Gird your loins people. New research sheds light, so to speak, on the stellar halo of our Milky Way galaxy. Yes, we have long known that we have a stellar halo, but we thought that it was spherical and isotropic, the same in every direction. But new impressive studies show that it's actually something closer to a Zeppelin shape, which is called, which is called what, people? A triaxial ellipsoid, which is really cool. I love that.

E: Oh, neat.

B: This shape appears to have been caused by a collision with a dwarf galaxy billions of years ago. That galaxy was called GSE, which stands for Gaia Sausage Enceladus. Don't even ask. Look it up online.

C: What? I thought you were joking.

B: No, that's GSE, Gaia Sausage Enceladus. Why is out of scope for this quickie? The specific shape is actually important because the stellar halo of stars around our galaxy is actually embedded within an invisible galactic halo of dark matter. So the more we know about the shape of the stellar halo that's visible, that is composed of stars, the more we can learn about not only the evolution of the Milky Way, but the nature of dark matter as well. So check out the details online. It's very interesting. So un-gird your loins. This has been your quickie with Bob. I hope it was good for you too.

S: That was very quick. Thank you, Bob.

E: Zeppelin shaped?

B: No, triaxial ellipsoid. Ellipsoidal.

S: Triaxial, it is a good word.

B: Yeah.

News Items[edit]

Plan to Occupy the Moon (15:11)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, we were just chatting about Artemis, but you're going to get us up to date on NASA's full plan to colonize the Moon.

J: (laughs) If only. If only. Yeah. This is one of those things where when you think about it, you're like, oh yeah, we should do this. So here it is.

C: Oh yeah?

J: We're finally returning to the Moon here. We were having a discussion before the show started about this. The Moon is wide open and ready to receive its human visitors and we're going to do it. So now what's going on is we haven't been to the Moon in decades and now returning to the Moon and the fact that we know that we have some plans to do quite a bit of things there, there's a lot of implications. We have to prepare for doing what we're about to do philosophically. That's why the Biden administration's National Science and Technology Council recently made public something called the National Cislunar Science and Technology Strategy. This document details the goals for occupying cislunar space. Cislunar space is the area in space that includes both what, the Earth and the Moon. Basically everything that's close to us in the Moon that's considered to be in cislunar space.

B: They must talk about nuclear rockets? They better.

J: I'm sure somebody is, Bob. And they know you love them. So the main thrust of this strategy outlines four different goals. We have investing in research and development, cooperating with other countries, building communications networks in space, and then boosting humanity's overall situational awareness near and on the Moon. As you can imagine, lots of things fall into these four goals. So as an example of investing in research and development, one interesting thing to turn over in your head is we could do things on the far side of the Moon. So as you know, the far side of the Moon is not facing the Earth and it never does face the Earth. So therefore it doesn't have any radio transmissions. It's not those radio transmissions don't go through the Moon. So it's free of that. So it would be a great place to put some type of radio receiver to look at outer space. It'd be a great thing to do there. Another thing that we're going to do is we're going to develop ways to use the Moon infrastructure to launch Mars missions. Whenever you think about the Moon, you have to realize that it is very much a stepping stone to get to Mars.

B: Meh.

J: That's one of the main thrusts of doing all of this is to give us a gateway to Mars. So there's also political motivations to have a human presence on the Moon. No big surprise there. As the document puts it, there will be economic, this is in quotes, economic development activities and there will be economic growth potential for the Moon. The US wants to be the first there and to have the strongest presence. So we will slowly develop an infrastructure that will include a moon space station, lunar satellites, lunar GPS system, a permanent base in the lunar South Pole and a lot more. That's just the beginning architecture that they have already thought through very well. Other countries have said they plan similar goals, but the US is definitely going to get there first. I mean, they have so much momentum right now. It's pretty awesome that we're going to see what we're going to see. Now of course, other countries are involved with the Artemis project. There has been components that were built by other countries that are going to even into the rocketry and everything. And there is something I'm about to tell you, something called the Artemis Accord, which has other countries signing on. But in the end, this is largely run and operated by the United States. And I do think in my personal opinion that there is political will of course happening here because, and I'll explain this to you. So there are lunar resources and they're going to be used for the very first time. And there's also an incredible amount of real estate that we're talking about. So we have cooperation with other countries, but that cooperation in and of itself is complicated. No one owns the Moon yet. And the big word is yet the Moon is virtually a giant piece of property, 14.6 million square miles. And to give you a comparison, the United States is 3.7 million square miles. So 14.6 million square miles of real estate that has yet to be claimed. There's a lot of potential here that are up for grabs and this makes for a very uncomfortable reality. And it's happening right now. And that's why this is fascinating.

E: We can't own it. I mean, right?

S: According to international law, we can't own it. But I think that's also why the Accords are important. So just to say it, the countries that have signed on so far include Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States. And they include things like norms of behavior, rescuing stranded astronauts on the Moon and things like that. I guess it's similar to maritime law. There's an international laws that everyone agrees to.

C: But everyone doesn't agree to them. That's the problem.

S: Well, at least these countries agree to that.

J: It's 20 countries, but Russia and China have not agreed.

C: Don't. Exactly.

J: And to clarify, just to make sure that our listeners know the Artemis Accords are an attempt to create like a way of doing business on the Moon. Think of this as a guide to how to explore, how to use the Moon, how to have common decency, things like what are you going to do with your trash? That's a big deal on the Moon. There isn't anywhere for trash to be eaten by bacteria. It has to be taken away. It has to be dealt with.

B: Just throw them into a big creator.

J: And Russia specifically said the current version of the Artemis Accord, they are not signing up for it. And China, NASA and China, NASA has been forbidden to do business with China by a Congress. So there is no involvement with China at all right now. And this goes back to 2011. But this is what's fascinating about it, because we're going to watch the Earth and everybody on the Earth and the governments that are on the Earth deal with essentially a new piece of real estate that has become reachable now. It's not just, oh, my God, we planted a flag on there 50 years ago. It's we're going to put people there. We're going to use the resources on the Moon and we're going to take things off the Moon and bring them back to Earth. And then they're going to be ours and ours can mean whatever country did it. So it's nutty. It's going to be a very difficult time and there's going to be some conflict. I am absolutely sure that there's going to be some conflict.

S: I think that's where the Accords are a good idea. I mean, their subheader is United for Peaceful Exploration of Deep Space. I mean, I think that's the approach that we need to take. But obviously, we can only be as united on the Moon as we are on Earth. And we are in the middle of a new space race.

J: Definitely.

S: A new Cold War.

J: Look at it like this. There are landing sites. There are base locations. There's undiscovered caches of lunar resources. There's all sorts of stuff.

B: Lava tubes.

J: Right. Lava tubes. And it could be extraordinarily valuable, right, Bob? And there's only so many of those. So all of those "natural resources" that are on the Moon, like a landing site, right, a nice flat place to land a spacecraft and really good place to put a base, which is partly shaded by the shape of the Moon. So you don't get direct sunlight too often. Those things are wicked valuable.

B: Or areas where you can actually extract water.

J: Yeah.

B: Those are places that you want to like, all right, I'm building my base right here. That's high priority for sure.

J: So I hope that there's not a lot of conflict. I hope that countries sign up. And it is a true equals type of game that they're going to play with each other. Let's give everybody a fair share and all that. There's got to be that has to be in play. But there are major players here who are like China and Russia are both saying that they're going to the Moon too, and they're going to be putting space stations out there. They're going to do it too.

B: Well, I mean, but the main player, let's get real. The main player here is China. When you're talking about taking, dominating or at least exploring and dealing or staking out a presence within cislunar space. That's because of China. If you read between the lines here, a lot of this is like, we got to do this before China does.

J: But that's why I said there's political motivation here, Bob.

B: And I'm just I'm just narrowing it down a little bit.

J: It totally is. Yeah. And the vast majority of the people on the planet are going to watch it on TV. You know what I mean? We're just basically going to be consuming the information. There's nothing that we could do other than watch the players play.

S: It's unfortunate that that's the motivation. But yeah, it would be better if it was all purely for science exploration.

B: Sure.

S: If you guys haven't seen For All Mankind, that show is a great thought experiment for what happens when exploration of the Moon and Mars is not cooperative and it's not pretty and again, they're imagining. But it's a good cautionary sort of tale.

B: And conversely, if you want to see nations cooperating at unprecedented levels, give a listen or read to Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. I just finished it and it was awesome.

S: You can go back and listen to the interview we did with him.

B: Yes.

Cannabis for Pain (24:50)[edit]

S: All right, Cara.

C: That's me.

S: Tell us about cannabis for pain.

B: I read this.

C: Interesting study that was just published. Probably some people listening are going to have their biases shocked a little bit during this news article. Cannabis is probably it's one of the drugs that is used by the most people worldwide. I don't know if there's an actual a rank system or if there's a real way to know. But cannabis is super, super common.

B: Top five maybe?

C: Yeah. I mean, it's definitely up there.

E: We're talking about what kind of what kind of drug? I mean, we're not not caffeine, not tobacco. It's a different it's its own thing, right? It's different.

B: THC basically.

C: You're saying comare to other things.

E: Well, as far as compare, right, because I would think caffeine is the most common.

C: Caffeine, though, you don't really need a prescription for it all. Let's say, well, yeah, that's a little bit confusing. But it's definitely even including caffeine and nicotine, it's going to be probably in the top 10. And cannabis, remember, includes a lot more than just marijuana, pretty much anything with cannabinoids. So CBD-

B: THC is the active ingredient, right?

C: THC is the ingredient that has psychoactive properties, but CBD, cannabinoids aren't always psychoactive, but people still utilize them as drugs. So there are different, there are a lot of different components to cannabis. There are a lot of products that are derived from cannabis. All of these different cannabinoids in all their different forms. It's pretty common. And in some places, cannabis is completely legal, even recreationally. In way, way more places, you need a prescription, but you can still get your hands on cannabis. And of course, there's still parts of the world where it's incredibly against the law and there are dire consequences for utilizing cannabis. But regardless, it's very popular, very common, and has been for a very, very long time. A lot of people who use cannabis and say that they are medicating with it, whether they are self-medicating or whether they are prescribed cannabis from some sort of professional, a lot of people say that they're using it for pain. The estimates that are cited in this article are between 17-30%. I know that's a wide range, but that's because there's a lot of different sources, that between 17-30% of adult users, 18+ across North America, Europe, and Australia, say that they specifically use it to manage their pain. So and that's, again, among people who are self-medicating, not necessarily people who are like, I smoke weed because it's fun.

B: Gotcha.

C: So people who are already saying that they're utilizing it as a medication, as a drug to treat something, between 17-30% of people in these, so in these Western countries, say that they're using it to manage pain. We know that a lot of people use it for pain, but does it work? This is a big open question. It's something that I kind of came across a lot when I was doing therapy in the cancer center. And I'm curious, Steve, how often you have patients who come in and say, yeah, yeah, I use cannabis. It helps with my migraines or I use cannabis.

S: A lot of patients are using it. Yeah.

C: So what do the studies actually show? Well, how do we know if a drug works? We have to compare it to a placebo. And I feel like we can do a little bit of background reviewing on placebo and the placebo effect. But one thing that's really important to remember and Steve, you've written about this in great length, and I think it's important to kind of reiterate that when we're talking about the placebo effect, this is not an actual effect. This is actually a bunch of nonspecific effects that we have a hard time identifying. So placebos by definition are inert. Giving a placebo is by definition not giving the drug.

S: Yeah, that's right. It's any effect that derives from something other than a physiologically active response to the treatment.

C: Exactly. So even though we can talk about the placebo effect being an actual effect, it's not like there is something wherein everybody takes sugar pill called placebo and then the same thing happens. This is all of the nonspecific effects that are different for every different trial. They're different for different types of people, for different types of expectations. But it's everything from expectation effects to just what's it called, the effect I'm linking where-

S: Regression to the mean.

C: Regression to the mean, yeah, yeah, definitely. But the effect where just going and seeing a healthcare provider, just being enrolled in a trial.

S: Just nonspecific effects of being treated.

C: Yeah, yeah, yeah, all the nonspecific effects. Exactly. I thought there was like a specific name for that. You're just, literally something in a white coat is putting their hand on your shoulder and saying, I see you. People tend to feel better. And then remember when we're talking about pain, pain has a massive psychological component to it. It's incredibly subjective. If you guys want a nice review of this because we don't have much time to dive into it and do a little self-promotion on the side, my podcast, the Skeptics, oh, nope. That's the podcast we're on right now. My podcast Talk Nerdy, several weeks ago I had a wonderful clinician named Haider Warraich on the show. He's at Brigham and Women's at Harvard and he is a palliative care. Actually he's a cardiologist, but he focuses on heart failure. And so he does a lot of palliative work and he wrote a beautiful book all about pain and about all of the psychological components that go into pain and how we treat pain and really trying to think about pain as much more than just a physical process because it is. A lot of it is psychological as well. Okay, so that's all the kind of caveatting at the top. Let's look at what this specific study did. This was a meta-analysis. So it's sort of the king of all studies. What these researchers did is they-

B: If it's done well.

C: Yeah, when it's done well and they, this seems to be a pretty solid meta-analysis. I don't know, Steve, if you've looked at the actual source article I was digging into it. They used it was pre-registered. They used some really stringent methodologies here and their outcomes from this meta-analysis are very similar to outcomes from another solid meta-analysis that was just published last year. So basically they looked specifically at randomized controlled trials where cannabis was compared to a placebo specifically for the treatment of pain. And they're talking about clinical pain. They looked at studies where the change in pain intensity was measured before and after treatment. So a pre-post situation where cannabis products, and we're talking a wide range of cannabis products, were compared to placebo in a randomized controlled way. Okay, so who got the placebo, who got the drug was random, and I think they were all, they were all double blind too, right? But there were some differences in how strong the blinding was. So we're going to talk a little bit about that. Basically all together they ended up including 20 studies that had 1,459 individuals over the age of 18, mostly in the countries that I listed previously, but they did look at other countries as well. It's just the bulk of them were in these Western nations. And what do you think they found?

S: Doesn't work.

C: Yeah. Guess what does seem to be really good at pain? Placebo.

S: Yeah.

E: Oh, oops.

C: Yeah.

B: Oh my god.

C: So it's not so much that the cannabis didn't do what people think it did, it's just they didn't do it any better than a placebo. And a placebo was pretty dang good.

E: Well, what does that tell you?

C: Kind of what we already talked about, that there are strong expectation effects and that there are a lot of non-specific effects at play that when you want your pain to go away and you do something that you think is going to help, you can psychologically convince yourself and that is a component of pain. Don't get me wrong, pain is not all "in the head" and I actually don't like that distinction between something being in the body and being in the head. It's way more complicated than that.

S: It's a meaningless distinction.

C: It's meaningless, exactly. But pain is emotional. Pain is historical. Pain is traumatic. Pain is linked to memories. There are so many complicated components of pain that are real and also psychological because psychological does not mean it's not real.

S: It's highly modifiable by mood, by distraction, by other sensations, absolutely.

C: Yep. So we think about things like depression. We think about things like anxiety. They are, as we often call them, biopsychosocial in nature. So medications work but so do strategies like diaphragmatic breathing, like grounding exercises, like all of these different cognitive behavioral interventions. Because it is biopsychosocial in its nature and pain is very similar, it's also highly subjective. When we use pain scales, which is what we have to do to ask somebody about subjective pain from a one to a ten, there is no way to know if your five is the same as my five.

J: Yeah, it's exactly like-

C: Really difficult.

J: It's like when I see orange, are you seeing orange too? You know what I mean? It's all subjective.

C: Except it's even more intense than that because at least when you see orange and I see orange, we can both say that we're seeing the same wavelength. But with pain, we don't even know how our perception of pain is. We know that there are gender differences. We know there are age differences. We know that there are differences based on people's historical experiences with pain, how much trauma they have associated with their pain. So it's very, very, very difficult to be objective about pain studies. But here's something interesting that the researchers did on top. I could get into the methodology but basically by and large, they showed that there's a strong placebo effect when it comes to pain and that cannabis showed a large effect size in reducing pain. Placebo showed a moderate to large effect size in reducing pain. And when they specifically went in and looked at the risk of bias in each of the different studies that they were working with, the lower the risk of bias, the greater the placebo effect. So it may be likely that even in the situations where cannabis was slightly better than placebo, the bias might have been higher in those studies. So by and large, we're seeing that a, cannabis does not appear to work for pain any better than placebo alone. And I think it's important to say that because it does work for people because they expect it to work the same way a placebo works for people because they expect it to work. But then we know it's not the drug that's doing it. It's all the non-specific effects. The other thing that the researchers did, which was interesting, although their outcomes were a little all over the place and they're very upfront about that, is that they were like, what if we look at the altmetrics, basically the kind of popular rating scale of these different studies, and what if we compare how they were talked about in the media? So basically, this study was cited a lot by the popular media. And when it was cited by the popular media, they said, cannabis works, cannabis doesn't work. How did they actually interpret the results of the study? Was it cautious? Was it skeptical? Was it polyanna? Whatever. And even though the results were a little all over the place, so they couldn't really say point to point, study to study, we think that media bias is what causes this, they could say that when taken as a whole, media descriptions of studies involving cannabis and pain are very, very rose-colored glasses. Basically people who write about this say, look how great cannabis is for pain. And so they're saying, I think there's an effect here. I think that maybe people think cannabis works because they've been told it works by the media. And then there's this positive feedback loop where they keep using it, they keep telling themselves it works, the placebo effect is strong within it, and they feel better so they keep using it. But we have to remember that in certain situations, there are risks. Cannabis is still a drug, and it does have negative side effects as well. And that's not to say, I'm not sitting here saying what you should or you shouldn't do, but you should know why you feel the way you feel when you use a drug. Is this the effect of the drug itself? Is it a receptor effect? You know what I mean? Are we actually seeing something happening physiologically downstream because the drug is binding to your receptors and nociception is reduced? No, that doesn't seem to be the case. It's much more complicated than that. And so when we start thinking about that risk-benefit analysis, it's important. And what I would see time and time again, and this is just anecdotal, and I'm curious what you think about this, Steve, I'd love to see a study on this, I don't know if one exists. Patients who I saw for psychotherapy in the cancer center who already had a history of using cannabis preferred to use cannabis to help with their cancer pain. Patients who had never tried or used cannabis, who tried it naively, said that they actually felt worse after they used it. And I would see that time and time again. It was sort of like people who already relied on cannabis integrated it into their health care and people who didn't, lots of times didn't like it or they were like, this doesn't work.

S: They might have already been self-selective for a good response to it.

C: Exactly.

S: Yeah there's been a number of systematic reviews of cannabis over the years and before this segment I reviewed the ones I could find for the last five to ten years. And they all say similar things, either the studies are preliminary, we can't make any statements or the effect size is tiny or it's a small effect size, but the side effects are actually greater than the pain relief if there is any. But we can't even say that there is because it was the data is too weak. So that's basically what we're seeing so far. There's no big effect and big signal with a clear, replicable, rigorous outcome in the research and that usually means we're dealing with placebo effects. But cannabis is also more complicated because it's multiple things. And so like some studies look at just THC and CBD studies and a lot of patients tell me that it doesn't really take the pain away, it just mellows them out and they need that.

C: Yeah, because it's also psychoactive.

S: Right, but that's the THC. You may just be distracting them from the pain, not really reducing the pain itself.

B: Well, that reminds me of when I heard a description of laughing gas. I remember reading that and tell me if this is true or not, that laughing gas doesn't take away the pain of dentistry, it makes you not give a crap about it. How tru is that?

S: Yeah, I mean, that's true of opiates as well and that's because the perception of the pain and the negative emotional response to the pain are two different things and you can disconnect them. The opiates are really good at blocking the emotional effect of the pain. So you feel the pain, you just don't care, it just doesn't bother you. So that is neurological. Yeah, that absolutely can happen pharmacologically. So it is complicated and to a degree, on Science-Based Medicine, we've written about the fact that cannabis is like the new herbalism the evidence is really preliminary and contradictory and often weak and yet people think it works for everything and it's fantastic and whatever, but it's all the honeymoon phase before we get down to really rigorous trials and wouldn't surprise me at all if we find that it's actually not that good a pain medication and it may have some limited effect. I think the effect that seems to be fairly substantial in the literature is that it does help with nausea, it does help with anorexia.

C: And that's also really interesting because very often, at least with the cancer population, they're sort of like multi-treating, they might take it for pain/appetite, which then can reduce pain, what's the moderating variable there? So it's complicated, it's just really complicated.

Acupuncture for Backpain (41:53)[edit]

S: All right, so Cara, I'm actually going to do a similar news item. I had to talk about this topic, so let me read you the headline of a press release that I blogged about on Science-Based Medicine.

B: Oh boy.

S: Here we go, ready? "Acupuncture can relieve lower back/pelvic pain often experienced during pregnancy". That was the headline, that was the bottom line of this study. Several people emailed this to us because they're like, hey, what's going on with this. Because they know I don't think that acupuncture works for anything. But here is a meta-analysis published in a high-impact journal, the BMJ, and the authors are pretty, the authors, they're not quite that positive, but that was basically their spin. The press release was basing it on what the authors were saying. And of course, I had to dissect the study and see what it shows, and it turns out it's a great example of absolutely everything that can go wrong with a meta-analysis.

B: Oh, really?

S: The study, in my opinion, clearly shows that acupuncture doesn't work, and yet they manage to still spin it to the opposite bottom line. It is almost a textbook of science-based medicine in and of itself. So let's take a look at it. Again, the authors' conclusion was acupuncture significantly improved pain, functional status, and quality of life in women with lower back pain during pregnancy.

B: Significantly.

E: What's the mechanism?

S: Yeah, well, don't get me started on the mechanism. So and meta-analysis is when you combine studies from different trials and the greatest weakness of a meta-analysis, of course, they could be fine, but they do follow the dictum of garbage in, garbage out, right? If the individual studies are crap, you cannot rescue them by putting them together in a meta-analysis. Meta-analysis is good for combining good studies that need to be great, more powered. You can increase the power of a meta-analysis by combining lower-powered studies, but it doesn't improve the rigor. It doesn't fix the problems of the other studies. So all right, first of all, it's not that big a meta-analysis. It has 10 studies. So that's not that big. The thing that's interesting is that the authors did a good job of gathering the data. I didn't have to go to each individual study. I still did for many of them, but I didn't have to do that to find the information that I needed because they, the authors published that information in the meta-analysis. They just ignored it or just completely glossed over the fatal problems with the evidence that they were documenting. So first of all, we could look at just the rigor of the studies. And they have a nice convenient table showing which studies were blinded and which studies in what ways. And not a single study was rigorous across the board. Most of the studies were not blinded.

C: At all?

S: None of them were double blind. Not one of the studies were double blind.

B: I mean, that should be a reason not to do a meta-analysis.

S: So right there, you could stop there. This is a, this is a study with a subjective outcome with a huge placebo effect and not a single study was double blind. That's we're done at that point, but there's a lot more interesting stuff to talk about. So there was a massive quality issue. Two of the studies had a greater than 20% dropout rate in the non-intervention group because of course they did, because if you know you're not getting the treatment, why would you stay in the study? But that also has the potential, if you drop out of a study, it's because it's not working. And so that massively biases the results towards a positive outcome.

B: Right.

E: Yeah, absolutely.

B: Right.

S: If you're doing great, you're not going to drop out of the study.

B: So yeah, it's only the people that did, that did well remained. Oh boy, look how good this is.

S: Some of the studies included secondary outcomes. So the primary outcome, you have to pick, what's the one major thing we're going to look at, but then you can have secondary outcomes, which are supportive. So for pain studies, one of the important secondary outcomes that we use, and actually this could be a primary outcome if you wanted to make it one in your study is so you can ask patients how much pain did you have or document your pain over time, but you could also ask them how much pain medication did you use over that period of time and you can in fact count their pain medication. So that's kind of a pseudo quantitative way of assessing their pain because, and in fact, that's actually a better outcome. So what do you think is going to, is more truthful and not that they're lying, but I mean more to the point how much pain you say you're in or how much pain medication you use to treat your pain.

E: The medication you're using.

S: The medication is considered to be a really, really important outcome. So that outcome, the use of rescue pain medication was not different in the groups. So patients were saying they had less pain, but they were using just as much rescue pain medication. So that also massively throws into question the outcome. They also looked at a funnel plot. Now, a funnel plot is a way of visually documenting whether or not there is publication bias. And I know I've talked about this on the show, but this is kind of a wonky statistical thing. So let me review it very quickly. Basically on the Y axis, you rank studies based upon their power. And on the X axis, you document their effect size. So you look at each individual study. Here's how powerful it was. Here's the effect size. That's where the dot goes. And then you plot them. And when you do that, they should form a funnel, meaning that the more powerful they are, the less variable they are in terms of how far they stray from the average effect size. And in addition, they should be evenly distributed. And that's the critical part for publication bias, because if you're publishing all of the studies, there should be a statistical distribution around the effect size. But if you're only publishing the positive studies, then all of the studies should be on the positive side of the effect size. That makes sense? And so you could instantly visually see how well distributed the studies are and if there is publication bias. So what do you think we see when we look at these studies, these 10 studies?

B: A perfect funnel.

S: So first of all, we see two things, both of which are fatal. One is there's definitely publication bias. There's more studies on the right than on the left and perhaps even worse than the fact that they showed that, yes, there's publication bias, is that there was an inverse relationship between power and effect size. In fact, there's no funnel through those dots. You could draw a line through those dots, meaning that in the upper left hand corner, outside the funnel, there's two of the most powerful studies are dead negative. As the studies get less powerful, that's when the effect size increases.

'B: Ding, ding, ding.

S: So there's a decline effect between effect size and power and power also tends to go hand in hand with rigor. Cause if you're going to do a really powerful study, you're probably going to also put, make it a more rigorous study. So those two, two things tend to correlate. So the better studies, the more powerful studies were negative and the less rigorous, the less powerful the study, the more variable that was, the more positive it was. And those were the ones that were all on the right side of the line so that there was significant publication bias as well. So basically-

B: So where did you see that, Steve? Where did you see this publication bias, like those charts or whatever they were, graphs, where'd you see that?

S: In the study. So in the meta-analysis, they published it.

E: They included them.

B: They published it, the mistake.

S: So like I said, they published all the data you need to see that it's crap.

E: How did they come up with the conclusion they came up with?

S: That's the question. How could they look at that funnel plot and come up with the conclusion they came up with? That's the question.

B: Do they know what it means?

S: They do. They say, yeah, it looks like there's some publication bias here. Anyway, look how great, I mean, it was just, they just gloss over it, but they say it. It's there. You can't deny it. There's publication bias and there's a decline effect. With the tube, I mean, it's so visually stunning to see these two studies outside of the funnel, all the way at zero that are way above all the other studies in terms of power. It's just visually dramatic.

B: They should be the two first pages of that damn meta-analysis. No need to go to page three.

S: So now there's one more way to look at this, which is specific to acupuncture itself. So this could be, so far I could have been talking about anything. I could have been talking about cannabis or whatever, where you just, this is just looking at the data. Here's a meta-analysis. This is why it's negative because of all of these reasons. The secondary outcomes are negative. There's publication bias. There's a decline effect. There's none of the studies are double blind right there, fatally flawed. This is, you cannot conclude that this treatment works, but there's an extra added problem because we're dealing with acupuncture. That gets back to what Evan said-

B: Prior plausibility.

S: Yeah. Prior plausibility. What's the mechanism?

E: What's the mechanism?

S: Yeah. So the question is which acupuncture points are each of these studies using?

B: Oh my god. Right. Right.

E: There's inconsistency in it I would imagine.

S: So, and how do they, how does each individual study decide which acupuncture points to use? So in that gets back even further to the question that I always love to ask when you, when you look at acupuncture studies and that is what is acupuncture? Because, before you say acupuncture works, you have to have an operational definition of what acupuncture is. Now typically it's defined as inserting needles into acupuncture points, which correlate to with specific function in the body. Now I argue that acupuncture points don't exist because that's where the literature shows and now my favorite study to link to is in fact a meta analysis that was produced by acupuncturists who were asking the question, where are the acupuncture points? And their conclusion was there are no acupuncture points because there's, if you try to pin down the location of a single point, it's massive. The distribution of where it could be statistically is like a basketball on the body. You know what I mean? There's no agreement essentially. There's also no agreement about what they do. So in this meta analysis, there are 10 studies, two of them are on auricular acupuncture. So on the ear, the other eight are on corporal acupuncture, so on the body, are they even the same thing? They're not even the same thing. But then if you look at the eight corporal acupuncture studies, how many of them do you think use the same, exactly the same set of acupuncture points?

E: Zero.

S: None of them use the same set of acupuncture points. So there's eight different assortments of acupuncture points-

B: But all smaller than a basketball.

S: -but if you look at the individual and they each use 8 to 10 or whatever different points, how much overlap do you think there is between the, any two studies in terms of the 8 or 9 or 10 acupuncture points that they use? Some have zero overlap. They don't even use one of the same acupuncture points. And some of the studies have maybe one acupuncture point in common with another study, one other study. I don't know if any of them had two, maybe they did, but there was like almost no overlap. Almost as if they were trying to be completely different sets of acupuncture points. So what does that mean? I mean, how could we possibly interpret it? These are 10 studies looking at 10 different interventions according to acupuncture.

E: It's a belief system.

S: Either that or the points don't matter. In which case, what is acupuncture then? Is it sticking the body in random locations? Apparently. And in fact, when you look at studies that do control for needle insertion, it doesn't even matter if you insert a needle. So you can randomly poke the body with toothpicks and get the same effect. Is that acupuncture? Is an untrained person randomly poking the body with toothpicks acupuncture? Because according to the literature, that's just as effective as actually having an expert inserting needles into alleged acupuncture points, which actually don't exist if you look at the literature on just where are they. They're all over the place. So yeah, that is a science based analysis of the data shows that acupuncture isn't a real thing. It doesn't work. And it's just a placebo effect and research noise. That's all it is. But the BMJ published a study that says it works based on the most shit data you could possibly imagine. And the thing is, if this were anything other than acupuncture, if this were a drug, or were some other intervention, there is no way you would get a major journal to publish this data and claim that the treatment works. No way you could get away with this anywhere outside of the alternate reality bubble of acupuncture. Just not possible. It's just a complete scam that's being inflicted upon the public. A total scam.

E: And the BMJ is, they cannot see this.

S: No, academic medicine has completely turned a blind eye to this. My own profession completely fails.

B: Oh wow, it's that widespread.

S: Absolutely. It's a complete failure across the board because they are putting the acupuncturists in charge because they're the experts. And no one is even paying attention.

E: My gosh.

S: Because it's not, I don't know why, it's cultural, it's fringe, it's alternative, I don't know. But there are no ones asleep at the switch.

E: What's the motivation?

B: Is there anyone else that's been railing against that analysis?

S: Yeah, are there people in my group of people promoting science-based medicine? Absolutely.

B: But anyone outside of that?

S: Yeah, but there are people who are not affiliated directly with science-based medicine who are, there are a very small number of people who are like, the emperor has no clothes, guys. And then when you show it to, and again, I've had this experience many times, explain it to other professionals, they're like, yeah, you're right. Okay, moving on. They just don't care. It's the shruggies.

B: The shruggies.

S: Yeah, it's the total shruggy problem. It's a total shruggy problem. But it's completely unprofessional in my opinion. They're allowing a medical scam to thrive within the halls of medicine and major journals. And most practitioners I know, most people who are like they'll recommend their patients get acupuncture because they just haven't done the due diligence to realize that it's complete nonsense. It's a real scandal. It's a massive scandal.

E: Gosh, you've been talking about this for 30 more years, Steve.

S: I know. I know.

S: It is remarkable. And this study is emblematic of the whole thing.

E: Yeah. And then the headline roams around the world and everyone sees more legitimacy to it.

S: Yeah, exactly.

E: It does so much damage.

S: It's self perpetuating legitimacy on utter nonsense. Absolutely.

E: What a world.

S: Scandal. Okay, let's move on.

[commercial brake]

New SI Units (1:00:11)[edit]

S: Bob, I understand we have some new standard units to talk about.

B: Yes. So, the powers that be have created and approved four new metric prefixes like mega or nano that we all know. For the first time in 31 years, two of them are the largest ever and two are the smallest ever. So say hello to my little friend, say hello to the ronna and quetta, which stand for respectively 1027 and 1030 a one followed by 27 zeros and by 30 big numbers. At the other end of the spectrum, say hello to the ronto and quecto, and they stand for of course 10-27 and 10-30, immensely small numbers. So these are huge numbers. Obviously, 1027 is an octillion, 1030 is a non-million in the United States. So for example, the Sun is two non-million kilograms. I mean, big, big numbers. Okay. So a one ronnabite hard drive would have a million billion times the capacity of your one terabyte hard drive. It'd be a lot. A quecto gram is approximately how much heavier your phone would be after you add one byte of data to it, one quecto gram. So that's at the other end of the spectrum, immensely tiny. So how did this happen and why? Fascinating process. Ultimately, this happens because of the importance that many countries put on something that's called metrology, the scientific study of measurement itself. And this led to the Treaty of the Meter, which I love. The Treaty of the Meter in 1875, originally signed by 17 nations. Now there's something like a hundred nations that are signed on essentially. That cool treaty created various intergovernmental bodies and organizations that essentially all coordinate international metrology and the development of the metric system. Very important. Now imagine the confusion of countries or institutions all had their own arbitrary scientific units. Progress would literally not be, we would not be where we are today. It would be just any type of cooperation between scientific bodies would be much more difficult because you'd have to do conversions and you wouldn't know what units they're using and it would be bad. Okay. So obviously this kind of stuff is needed. Now the decision making body for this is the General Conference on Weights and Measures. And they have their own NECSS, if you will, or TAM conference, if you will, every four years. And that happened this past November 18th, 2022. And they met at Versailles in Paris. No cheap Vegas hotel conferences for these metrologists at all. So this time, not that I didn't love the South Point, totally loved it. Okay. So they agreed and voted to immediately introduced four new prefixes to the International System of Units, SI. So this of course was not the first time that they met to discuss such decrees. In 1975 they came up with the familiar prefixes, peta and exa. And if you have interests similar to mine, you may have come across these terms in the context of, for example, a petawatt super laser or exascale supercomputers. They're kind of all over that kind of those domains. In 1991 they made the most recent update, and this was right before the World Wide Web became a thing. That's a long time ago. They added zetta, which is 1021 and zepto, which is 10-21, kind of the other side of the spectrum, if you will. There's yotta, 1024, Evan, yotta, 1024 and the converse basically, yocto, 10-24. But that was a long time ago. Now those prefixes were created primarily for which scientist do you think had the biggest hand in driving those updates, the yotta and the zetta? That was those pesky chemists because the chemists were clamoring for a very large metric prefixes to handle numbers on the scale of Avogadro's number. 6 x 1023 units in a mole, which is an important measure of the, essentially the measure of the quantity of various substances. They wanted numbers. They wanted metric prefixes on that scale of 6 x 1023. That would be more meaningful. So this time though, the driver for the new metric prefixes weren't chemists. They were data scientists. The data generated globally every year is now already well into the zetta bytes, 1021. After that comes the yotta bytes.

'E: I can't wait.

B: And that's 1024. And after yotta, there wasn't any prefix.

E: Yeah, I know. We've been, Bob, how long we've been talking about yottabytes?

'B: Yeah. And it's still 1021. Yeah. 1021 is still, I mean, 1024. Yottabyte, a yotta is still huge. But there are certain areas where you'll be seeing, you'll see yotta thrown around. But there's more than that though. There's more drivers for these new terms than just the data scientists. And these are interesting. There's unofficial terms are out there. Some of you may have heard of Brontobyte or how about this one? Hellabyte. That's an interesting one. Google, the Google unit converter has for years, it's been saying that a thousand yotta bytes is one hellabyte and that's not official.

E: And that's something they had to come up with themselves.

B: They didn't have to, but they've been running with it. And that, but that a Hellabyte makes any self-respecting metrologist cringe. And so that's because, so now I'll go to Richard Brown. He's a metrologist in the UK national physical laboratory. He actually developed the ronna and quetta over the past five years. He's the guy, he's been developing them for the past five years. He proposed them at the conference last week. So this guy had a hell of a week. I'm sure he, it was his best week in a long time. So he's, he said this from, from a metrology point of view, hellabyte, he's talking about hellabyte, it sort of horrified me because they're, they're completely unofficial terms. In the past, unofficial terms have been adopted into the SI, but the problem with hella and bronto is that their symbols H and B are already used in the metric system for other units or prefixes. So h for example, stands for a hecto, which is the rare, which is rarely used for 10 squared and H capital H is the Henry, the unit for inductance. This is the main reason they can't stand as formal terms. It's not especially that I wanted it to be a killjoy, although that comes into it as well. So he likes being a killjoy, but you can't, they can't act. They could not abide having hellabyte coming into standard use because the symbol would invariably be H, but H stands for something else that leads to confusion. And that's exactly what metrology seeks to avoid. And that's why they need to be so particular. So then in order to not reuse any abbreviations and cause confusion, Doc Brown, I'll call him Dr. Brown here, he only had two choices.

E: Isn't that from Back to the Future?

B: Of course, of course. He had, could get, he had only two choices left. He had, the words had to start with an R and a Q. So that's what he had to run with. But there's other standards and norms though. In the recent past, the large prefix, they end with a letter A. There was mega, giga, mega, tera, et cetera. So they want to, they want to continue with that. They want it to end in A. And then the other one was that the small versions of the terms are the really tiny numbers. They historically end in the letter O, micro, nano, pico, femto. So they stuck with that. They did not want, he did not want to bust those norms.

E: I like that.

B: Yep. And finally, they want to generally make them sound vaguely like Greek or Latin numbers. So based on all of that he came up with, after five years and discussions and a lot of thinking, he came up with ronna, quetta, ronto, and quecto.

S: They didn't want to go with ronco, huh?

B: No. Queco, queco was considered for-

S: No, how much did you pay?

E: The ronco?

B: Ten to the, queco was considered for 10-30, but it was not chosen because it sounds very similar apparently to a Portuguese curse word. So they strayed away from that one. So what, so how did you guys, how do you guys feel about these terms?

S: They're fine.

E: Yeah, they're good. I like them.

B: Well, I mean, you know me, I love my numbers. I love my prefixes.

S: Yeah, you're a pettafile. We know.

B: Oh, Jesus. So now, but I'm not as happy, I'm not as happy about them as I, as I want to be for, and the, of course, for superficial Bob reasons, Portuguese metrologist Olivier Pellegrino said "Ronna and quetta might sound strange now, but so did giga and tera once. With practice, they will feel normal." Now I disagree. I immediately, I immediately fell in love with giga and tera. I remember when I first heard them and I immediately loved them. Not so much would want with ronna and quetta. When I first heard them, I'm like, what, really? What the hell is that about?

S: Bob, you don't want a quettabyte computer?

B: Oh, I love it. But he is right though, that I and everyone else are just going to get used to them. We really don't have any choice and we will, and you're going to be hearing these for the rest of your effin lives. Trust me, you are going to be hearing these. So you gotta like them because man, if you're, if you're into reading about this kind of stuff, cutting edge science and, and so many other fields, chemistry, you name it, astronomy, you're going to be seeing this stuff. So what about the future though, right? There's no more letters left. R and Q were the last two.

E: They used them all up?

B: What are they going to do? Say you wanted to express a quantity that's 1033. That number is called a decillion. But what would the metric prefix be? Nobody knows yet. Nobody knows what they're going to do.

E: We need to invent some new letters.

B: Well, yeah. Do you want to go to, do you want to go to new letters? I don't think they're going to do that. I suspect that they're going to go to compound prefixes like giga quetta, a billion quetta.

E: Oh, I see.

B: And I think that actually sounds pretty cool. Giga quetta sounds kind of cool, but at some point they may need to make that decision, but it could be another 10, 20 probably, I would say probably 20 or 30 years before you're going to get another round and then I'll be on the show and I'll be telling you what the new, the new terms are in 20 or 30 years when they do it. So it's a very interesting story.

S: Cool, Bob. Thanks. All right.

911 Call Analysis (1:10:52)[edit]

S: Evan, tell us about this controversial 911 call.

E: While this news item was published at ProPublica last week, the story behind it begins back in October of 2019 and it's about a woman. Her name's Jessica Logan. She made a call to 911 because her 19 month old child had died. Very sad. She found him in his bed, tangled up in bedsheets, which kind of is a story unto itself, the dangers of letting children sleep with the blankets. But that aside, as you can imagine, Jessica is any mother, any father, discovers their child absolutely distraught. When you make the 911 call, your ability to effectively communicate, let's say maybe compromised to a certain degree, depending on the person. So she made the phone call and look, the emotional and psychological state that she was in was just really devastating. A detective by the name of Eric Matthews reviewed the transcript of the 911 call and decided that Jessica probably killed her child and that Jessica's call to 911 was an act. She was lying about how her child died. This would become the direction that the detective would pursue in the case. It turned into a homicide case practically immediately. So it's obviously extremely disturbing on a lot of different levels. First the death of a young child, it's always a tragedy. And then there's the parents or parent of the dead child and everything they feel when that occurs and discovering a body. And then to be accused of lying by law enforcement about the death is a whole additional layer of emotions that one can only really imagine. But Detective Matthews, just five months prior to this, had taken a two-day law enforcement training course called 911 Homicide Is the Caller the Killer, which was held at a nearby community college. The instructor for that course, his name is Tracy Harpster, he's also the chief architect of this discipline, who promises those who take his class that they will leave with the power to solve murders by listening to a 911 call. So in this particular case, Detective Matthews, when he interpreted this call, it was really the time, all right, hey, I just recently took on this study, this course, and I'm going to use what I learned in order to go forward in this particular case as being a homicide. Now Jessica did not explain on the call what precisely had happened. Here are some of the features of the call. She didn't say explicitly what had happened, that her child had suffocated until almost 60 seconds into the call. And she never explicitly asked for an ambulance for her child. And these, the detective noted, are indicators of guilt. And it provided a framework in which the entire investigation would be conducted. Jessica is a person who, at a very early age, was diagnosed with learning disabilities, pretty severe ones too. For example, she needed questions asked to her on the final exams of her high school, of graduating high school, she needed to have them read to her because she could not determine them on her own just from reading them. So these are the kinds of limitations she had in her ability to learn and certainly to express herself too. From reading the interviews, Jessica's essentially not very well spoken. And she fully admits this. She has verbal shortcomings and several language issues. She takes long pauses to think over an answer. Words come out of her mouth relatively slowly. She drags vowels and she repeats herself often. And these indicators show up on this particular, well, test that basically gets applied to the people who are analyzing or the detectives who are analyzing these kinds of calls to make a sort of a predetermination as to whether or not there may be someone who is lying on the phone. I'm looking at a copy right now of the sheet. It's basically a one-page sheet in which you've got two columns, one on the left side, innocent indicators, and one on the right side, guilty indicators. Here's an innocent indicator. If you immediately plead for help, if on the 911 call there's an immediate plea for help for a victim, that's an innocent indicator. If there's no immediate plea for help for a victim, that's a guilty indicator. All right, here's another one. No acceptance of death, that's an innocent indicator. But acceptance of the victim's death, if you express that in the 911 call, that's a guilty indicator. So you go down this checklist, and there's about 20 of these that I'm seeing. And according to the checklist here, the guilty indicators comprised about 90% of the innocent versus guilty indicators on the sheet. So this was the primary tool that they sort of used to go into the deeper investigation. Obviously, they go to the scene, they have to do all the regular things that come along with this. But it basically sets the framework under which the investigation is going to take place. There are a lot of people, police officers, prosecutors, coroners, who have taken the course across the country and present themselves as basically experts now in what is called, what do they basically call it? 911 call analysis indicators. It's called 911 call analysis. That's the course you take for this. That's basically what you become, well, certified in, if you want to even call it that. And they use this method, and a lot of people don't know that this is going on. It's not really spoken about publicly very much. And that's, at least from the research I did, I couldn't find many articles about this out there in the history, in the archives, or anything else. It's kind of, even though more and more people in law enforcement are learning about this, it's kind of hush-hush in a certain sense. But they're using it against unwitting defendants, and they're getting it into the courtrooms too. They're getting it past the judges, and it winds up going to the jurors, and actually is part of the overall body of evidence for the case. And it is having an impact in how these cases are being decided.

S: I would imagine defense attorneys would tear it to pieces.

E: If you were able to hire competent defense attorneys, and unfortunately in this particular case with Jessica, who is not of means, and poor families, and they had to go to several family members to scrape up just enough money to hire a basic attorney for about $10,000, which is not a lot of money at all. So you're going to get a $10,000 attorney to represent you in a case in which it's murder against you, and unfortunately it didn't really work out too well for her because she was found guilty. Guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to 33 years in prison for this. The technique itself, and thank you to this ProPublica piece, but also some other people who have since reported on it, they're saying that there's a lot of controversy around this, obviously. The educators for guilt, it's way too vague. Putting too much reliability in how people in a stressful situation are making these 911 calls, and you're jumping to many conclusions that you can't jump to because when it's studied, and it has been studied, in which they have gone back and looked at prior 911 calls to determine after the fact that they know who's guilty or who's innocent, they can't correlate it. It doesn't work. It basically becomes, as one person called it, reading the tea leaves.

S: It's total horseshit is what it is. So I mean also, Cara, you probably have the same experience as I do. First of all, this is entirely based on massive logical fallacies. This is all the primary attribution error, where you assume that someone's behavior is entirely due to factors that are internal to them rather than external. So it makes that mistake. They're not responding to the situation. Their behavior is completely indicative of their guilt or innocence in this case. But also, not only are you deciding it's all for internal rather than external causes, but you're trying to know what those internal causes are in an individual case based upon generic factors. It's complete nonsense. Anyone who takes a history from patients realizes that a lot of people do all of these things even when they're not under acute duress, even when they're not panicked because they think that their child is dead. Patients tend to be, I mean, all of you giving information out of order, yeah, check. Being repetitive, check. Not giving you the correct information. Giving you extraneous information. This is like a typical, this is my typical day. You know what I mean? This is, that's just nonsense.

B: You deal with criminals?

S: No, I mean, this is how, most people, first of all, they get a little flustered. They may be intimidated by the process and what's going on. They don't know like the information that's important to you. And so they give you a jumble. You have to sort of guide them through the information that you need.

B: It's human psychology and they're treating it like it's like a criminal psychology.

C: Well, but even criminal psychology is clinical or human psychology. I mean, that's the thing. This applies when we're talking about, what do you call it? Interrogations as well.

E: Yes, absolutely.

C: We've learned so much. We can't make these assumptions. It's like we're making a conclusion and then looking for evidence to support the conclusion.

E: Right. Yeah. Put someone in a room for 10 hours and grill them and grill them. You can get them to probably say anything you need them to say.

C: Yeah, you can. We've shown it over and over. And there's no right way to react. That's the other thing. There's no normal way to react because we don't know anything about the person's culture, background, previous experience, state of mind at that time. You can't assume everybody acts the same way.

E: That's right.

S: Exactly.

B: Or the way you would expect them to behave.

S: Where's the validity? Where's the validity testing for this process? How predictive is it? I suspect the predictive value is zero of this is what I would suspect. But give me the, where's the data?

E: Yeah. That's right. And when they try to replicate it based on past cases and stuff, it cannot be replicated. They can't. And some places have said they're not going to use it. So that's encouraging because they have gone ahead and run these tests. And a lot of them are the federal law enforcement agency, especially FBI and those organizations have come out basically against it. But it is still seeping into other more lower or local levels of law enforcement. Illinois law enforcement training and standards board has approved this program for credits towards a lead homicide investigator's certificate, often funding the classes with state grants. And the board is supposed to set the statewide training standards. So yeah, it is getting out there and it is being used. And like I said, it's also making it all the way to the courtroom and into what the juries are using to help decide cases. And then just really, really, really awful that this kind of pseudoscience can make it this far.

S: It's terrible. These kind of things should just be outright banned, inadmissible in court. And defense attorneys need to know about this because this is basically a get out of jail free card if you're using this absolutely rank pseudoscience. But it also is a manifestation of the fact that people want the magic wand.

E: Sure.

S: You don't want to do all the busy work of investigation and evidence and all of that stuff when you can just have a checklist that tells you the answer. Anybody can do it. It's so simple.

E: Yeah. If only it were that simple. Never is.

S: Yeah, it's just terrible. These holes have to be plugged in the system. The thing is, pseudoscience in the courtroom is an absolute violation of basic human rights.

C: Absolutely.

S: That poor girl was in jail because of some cop basing his analysis on utter pseudoscience. Her liberties have been deprived because of pseudoscience. That is just horrible.

C: And it happens so much more often than we know than we know. Not just in this situation, as we were talking about with interrogation, with fingerprint analysis, with like there's so much pseudoscience and forensic science that we're only just now realizing.

E: Oh, yeah, forensics is, oh my gosh.

C: And policing. Forensic science, policing, all of it. Yeah.

E: It's scary. And we only have ever scratched really the surface of these stories. I know we've talked about them in a couple different ways, but there's so much more of it going on out there. So many people are become victims to it.

S: Terrible. All right. Thanks, Evan.

Who's That Noisy? (1:24:45)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
A chattering lory, Gumi, presented by Hideaki Utsumi, a former Capcom sound designer

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

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

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

You guys got any guesses?

C: Why is it so funny?

E: Is it an animal?

S: I think it's definitely an animal. It's probably a bird is my guess.

B: It's some guy making a noise with his mouth.

E: I'll say it's an amphibian of some sort.

J: All right. Well, listener named Christopher Mitrakos. Christopher said he suspects that this was recorded indoors in a house or an apartment because he hears like the patter of a keyboard possibly happening. He says there's a wobbly aspect of the sound that could indicate rotation. So he thinks that this is a gear spinning component in electronic accessory like a printer or a fax machine. I don't hear this as a machine making the noise at all. But I included this guess because I thought it was very interesting because, again, this is another example of it's remarkable how when you hear something, you could assign it to any slot. It could be anything. And I just find that so interesting that you hear a machine in that. Let's go on to another guess here. Jameson Malick said: "This sounds like a coiling machine that wraps electric motors with the copper wire required to create the electric current."

E: That's right, copper.

J: "The noise itself is the wire being coiled and the pause in between is the machine indexing the motor 45 or 90 degrees." Again, another machine guess. I was so surprised to get these guesses. I'm really blown away by that. Another listener wrote in named Roger Quigley and Roger said: "Hi, Jay, big fan of the podcast. I believe this week's noisy is an RC car. It may be upside down and the wheels are spinning freely when the motor is turned on."

S: Are the wheels spinning round and round?

J: That's also another interesting guess. When I when I first heard this noisy, I pretty much nailed it. I knew exactly what it was. And again, I have to chalk that up to my intense training with different types of sounds. I mean, after doing this for so long, I think I do have a good ear for the origin of things. I'd be curious to have that tested. Michael Blaney wrote in. He said: "Ha ha, that's hilarious. I have absolutely no idea what it is, but I'm going to guess I'm guessing it's one of those windup toys, the kind that walks around on two little feet that's really old and has lots of gunk in the gears." Now, I happen to own about three or four of that type of windup toy. You know, the kind that make that that crunchy noise as they're walking?

B: You had you had a robot that did that until I took it.

J: Yeah, I picked all guesses that were completely opposite of what my instincts tell me, which I just think, again, is really interesting. So I have a winner. And there was quite a few people that knew this because this was a very popular thing that was on YouTube. A listener named Jacob Lutzen. And I think he actually gave me the way to pronounce his name, did he? And I didn't use it. I'm sorry, but you know who you are. He wrote: "I know what this is. This week's noisy is one of those things that will brighten your day when roaming the endless YouTube's. It's a Japanese channel called Hideaki Utsumi, which frequently features a red bird. And one of this bird signature moves is going wee, wee, wee, wee, wee like that." I'll play the noise for you again in a second. And then I'll give you another a little bit more information by another listener named Brian Slater. He said: "This week's noisy is a chattering lorry named Gummy, who belongs to Hideaki Utsumi, a former Capcom sound designer." And this is basically just a funny noise that the bird makes. Take a listen again. [plays Noisy] That totally sounds like a bird to me. Steve, you totally nailed it.

S: Yeah, that's my thing.

E: Well, Steve, yes. Steve's into birds.

J: So I want to thank Marina for sending that that noisy in. And I am completely blown away by the unbelievable varied noises that birds can make. I had literally this week, I had three different people send me in noisies that were all usable, that were funny bird noises, that is a noise that a bird makes that you wouldn't think that a bird would make it. So we are filled with these types of noisies and I definitely will use it again. There are birds out there that essentially can make any noise that is made. I'm convinced of that.

S: Lyrebird are probably the most amazing.

New Noisy (1:29:20)[edit]

J: All right. So I have a new Noisy for this week. And this week's Noisy comes from a listener named Joe Havelda. And here it is:

[intermittent squeaks, like a dog toy]

All right. So if you think you know what this week's noisy is, or if you heard something cool, you can email me at

S: Jay, that sounds familiar to one you've played before.

J: I may have used it.

B: So what?

S: I think you did.

B: I like it. It's adorable.

S: All right.


S: So, guys, we are still getting orders for signed books for the Skeptics Guide to the Future. But that may be coming to an end. Specifically, I mean, you can still, I think you might still be able to order books that where we signed the book plates. They may still be available. But we have a deal with a local bookstore, RJ Julia's. It's a local independent bookstore. And we could actually go there and sign books or like bring signed books to them. And we told them that they can continue to take orders. But here's the thing. We can only keep doing this for so long. So if you want a directly signed book of the Skeptics Guide to the Future by the three of us, you have a very short time to get your order in to RJ Julia. And if you want this as a gift for somebody for the holidays, you better do it right now. We're just going to say for now, definitely get your order in by January 1st to RJ Julia if you want a guarantee that you'll get a signed book from Bob, Jay, and me. All right.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:31:00)[edit]

Email #1: Science or Fiction protocols[edit]

I really enjoy the podcast and science or fiction is a particular favorite of mine. I play along at home and while I haven't kept records, I'm quietly confident I would be awarded the wooden spoon at the end of each year. It's really easy when you're playing at home and you don't have to put your nickle down. "During this segment, I often ask myself, what does that mean, Steve? You've yet to answer, but surely the skeptical rogues have similar questions. For example, during episode 906, I would have liked to have known what the term visual perceptual learning meant. I think seeing clarification rather than making assumptions or blind guessing is an important part of critical thinking. So what are the rules around asking clarifying questions during science or fiction? And could the rogues be asking more such questions? Thanks and best regards.
– Chris

S: We got one email this week. This comes from Chris from Perth, Down Under. And Chris writes: "I really enjoy the podcast and science or fiction is a particular favorite of mine" spelled with an O-U-R-I-T. "I play along at home and while I haven't kept records, I'm quietly confident I would be awarded the wooden spoon at the end of each year." It's really easy when you're playing at home and you don't have to put your nickle down. "During this segment, I often ask myself, what does that mean, Steve? You've yet to answer, but surely the skeptical rogues have similar questions. For example, during episode 906, I would have liked to have known what the term visual perceptual learning meant. I think seeing clarification rather than making assumptions or blind guessing is an important part of critical thinking. So what are the rules around asking clarifying questions during science or fiction? And could the rogues be asking more such questions? Thanks and best regards." So thanks for the question, Chris. The rules are, there are no rules. (laughter) Whatever I want to do at my whim.

E: That's right.

S: But I do follow some internal algorithms to keep the game fair and interesting. So first of all, there are no stakes but bragging rights. So just whatever it makes the segment the most compelling or interesting for the listener is my guiding light there. But here are the guidelines that I found. What about guide lines? If the first or second person to go has clarifying questions about terms, I almost always will just answer those straight up. And sometimes I'll even pre-answer them. I'll say, by this I mean that I don't want, I have to put it in a pithy sentence, but I don't want the jargon to be the thing that people get hung up on. But I'm less likely to answer questions as the game goes on because then I figure it's unfair if I'm answering questions for the fourth person to go that the first three people didn't have the benefit of hearing before they gave me their answer. So the first person almost has carte blanche, but after that I start to get increasingly restrictive and I'm very unlikely to answer questions when the third or fourth person goes. But also if they're asking a question that is the actual challenge of the question, this is the thing that will make you know whether it's true or not, of course I'm not going to answer that. That gives the game away. They're supposed to have scientific knowledge and figure these things out on their own. I don't expect them to have wonky, narrow knowledge or necessarily understand all the jargon so I'm happy to answer that. Or if I said things in a way that is ambiguous, I'm always happy to clarify that. If it's on me. I don't want my ambiguity and how I worded something to be the reason why somebody gets it wrong. So anyway, those are the guidelines. And I answer questions from the rogues pretty much every week pretty much. But I try to do it just so the game is the most fun and interesting. And of course, but I still want to maintain the challenge. And sometimes these guys ask me questions I know I won't answer. You guys do that sometimes.

J: Yeah.

E: Sure.

C: I try not to.

S: Yeah. Sometimes you do it kind of as a joke. You know I'm not going to answer.

C: True.

S: All right. So thanks again, Chris. And speaking of which, let's go on with science or fiction.

Science or Fiction (1:34:36)[edit]

Theme: "Captain Obvious"

Item #1: Scientists discover that one of the secrets to waking up refreshed is sleeping longer.[7]
Item #2: In a recent study subjects rated faces with facial scars as being less attractive than similar faces without scars.[8]
Item #3: Researchers find that parents talk more to toddlers who talk back to them.[9]

Answer Item
Fiction Scars less attractive
Science Sleeping longer
Talking more to tots
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Scars less attractive
Scars less attractive
Scars less attractive
Sleeping longer

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine and one fictitious. And then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. You have three news items this week, but we do have a theme. The theme is Captain Obvious. These are three items which at first seem pretty obvious.

C: Oh no.

S: At least they did to me. Of course, one of them is not real. So one of them is not so obvious as it seems. Okay. You'll understand as we go along. You ready?

E: Bob's ready.

S: Good. Here we go. Item #1: Scientists discover that one of the secrets to waking up refreshed is sleeping longer. Item #2: In a recent study, subjects rated faces with facial scars as being less attractive than similar faces without scars. And item #3: Researchers find that parents talk more to toddlers who talk back to them. Bob, go first.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: So what's the fiction, Steve?

S: Which one's the fiction? Well, let me tell you. (laughter)

B: All right. The secret to waking up refreshed is sleeping longer. That's a little, I could argue either way. Depends. If you're not getting enough sleep, then yes. If you're getting enough sleep, then sleeping up longer will not make you any more refreshed. Let's see the second one. Faces with facial scars as being less attractive than similar faces without scars. And the third one. Parents talk to toddlers who talk back. That makes sense. I'm going to say I think some facial scars are kind of cool and interesting. And so I'm going to say that that one is being less attractive. So I'm going to say that that's fiction because that's obvious, but I don't think that's true.

S: Okay, Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Let's see. The first one. Secret to waking up refreshed is sleeping longer. Waking up refreshed. That's a bit, it's a little broad. Refreshed the term. That could mean different things to different people maybe. But sleeping longer. I don't think there's any negative correlation with more sleep, sleeping longer, and having your better sleep or feeling better about it. I don't see that negative there. So I'm thinking that one's right. The second one about the scars. Faces with facial scars less attractive than similar faces without scars. I don't know about this one. That's the one, Bob. This one was fiction, right? The scars.

B: Maybe.

E: I'm going to move on to the third one then. Where parents talk more to toddlers who talk back to them. Yeah, you, I think as a parent, you want to encourage that interaction more so. I think that one's totally reasonable and the parents want to encourage that unless children for some reason saying something that they don't want to be encouraged.

B: Or if the kid doesn't talk back, maybe they're, well, I've got to talk even more.

E: But that one strikes me as correct. So I guess I'm left with the one I'm just not getting the sense for is the scars one. Like Bob, I can't really pinpoint as to why exactly why that would be the case as far as people would have. Yeah, so I'll agree with Bob. I'll say the scars one is the fiction.


E: Scars don't mean less attractiveness.

S: Okay, Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: I'm going to GWB. I think people have scars in their eyebrows, little scars in their faces, makes them sexy.

E: Pockmarks, yeah.

C: I don't know what pockmarks make you. Well, yeah.

E: Those are scars, aren't they?

C: Yes, but you said that before I said makes them sexy.

E: Oh.

C: Yeah. I really do think though that it's not just that they're less attractive. I think literally people are sexier when they have a little something going on. They got a little history. They got a little moodiness. And so because of that, I think it's like the opposite.

S: Okay, and Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: Well, I mean, the one about the scars, it's unbelievably vague because there's different kinds of scars of varying degrees. The perfectly placed scar above the eye type of thing. Yeah, that could look cool. But there's also scarring that is disfiguring. So I find this one hard to answer just because just it's too vague. And I was also thinking that about the first one about the sleep one. If you get too much sleep, you don't feel refreshed. There's definitely a limit to how much sleep you should you should get. And because the scars one is vague and I don't feel like I can really dig into that, I'm going to say that the sleep one, the first one is the fiction.

E: Bold.

S: Okay. So you all agree on the third one. So we'll start there.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Researchers find that parents talk more to toddlers who talk back to them. You all think that one is science and that one is science. You guys are all safe so far.

E: So far.

S: The other thing they looked at in the study was whether or not parents talked more to female toddlers versus male toddlers. What do you guys think? Because you know that female children talk earlier and more than boy children.

C: So what are you asking? If parents...

S: Talk more to their male children or female children?

C: Well, if parents talk more to toddlers who talk back to them, they probably talk more to female children earlier.

S: No, there's no difference.

C: But is that across time?

S: But if you control for that variable and you just look at male and female, there's no difference. But female children, girls do basically talk earlier and have a larger vocabulary earlier than boys. And the question was, is this because they're being treated differently by their parents? They're being talked to more? And the answer is probably no. At least this study shows that there was no difference. So it may be more like the girl children have more of a vocabulary. They might not necessarily have a larger volume of speech than boys. But parents did talk to toddlers longer and more the more babbling or talking that the toddlers themselves did, which is unfortunate because the children who need to be talked to are exactly the ones who talk less spontaneously. So it's kind of a self reinforcing difference because it's very important for children to be immersed in language and to engage socially and with language. And so if the child is a little bit on the lower end of the bell curve not talking to them as much as not a good thing kind of reinforces those inherent differences. All right, let's go backwards I guess.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: We'll go to #2: In a recent study subjects rated faces with facial scars as being less attractive than similar faces without scars. Jay, you think this one is science. The rest of you think this one is the fiction. And this one is the fiction. So obviously, there were differences in terms of size, location, orientation of the scars. But the net effect of all of the assessments was that there was no difference, no statistically significant difference in rated attractiveness with faces with and without scars. This was eighteen hundred different observers participated in this. And what they found was, yeah, that people did they were just as likely to think that they were more attractive versus less attractive with a scar, depending on where it was and what the orientation was, et cetera. But it sort of averaged out so that there was no difference. But people did across did think statistically significantly differently that people with scars were more empathetic, that they they perceived them as having more perceived friendliness, which is interesting because there's something about the scar made them more sympathetic.

C: Disarming or interesting. Well, like flawed, like more human.

S: Right. But obviously, none of none of the scars were like their face was ripped apart. None of it was massively disfiguring.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: OK, which means that scientists discovered that one of the secrets to waking up refreshed and sleeping longer is science. So they found there were there were three factors that correlated with being more refreshed in the morning upon awakening. One was exercising the day before.

B: Really?

S: Yeah. Two was sleeping longer and later into the morning. And three was eating a breakfast high in complex carbohydrates and low in simple sugar.

B: The previous morning?

S: No, I think that morning. Yeah, I guess they're rating it. You're of your refreshed, your alertness throughout the morning. So you'll be able to have more alertness if you if you sleep longer and later. So obviously, this is statistical data. Nothing like this is going to be true for every single individual. But as a general factor, there was a good correlation. I often tell that to patients. Make sure you leave enough time to sleep as long as you need to. Some people just go to bed too late. You may not have control over when you get up if you have to go to work, if you can sleep in, you should. If you if you have to get up at a certain time, then you may need to get to bed earlier. Exercise absolutely is a good way to, it's good for your sleep cycle.

C: But that's all like that's all to a point. I mean, it's kind of assuming that people are sleep deprived.

S: I guess if you're if you have perfect sleep at baseline, but I think they're just looking. This is not necessarily looking at intervention so much as just looking at sleepers and then seeing what correlates with being refreshed and alert the next day.

C: I'm probably just an anomaly because I have a sleep disorder because I sleep too much and I'm still tired all the time.

S: Yeah, but you may not be tired because you sleep too much. You may sleep too much because you're tired.

C: No, I do. I sleep too much because I'm tired. I get restful sleep. I just well, I should say I get sleep that should be restorative, but I'm tired all the time. Hence my sleep disorder.

S: Maybe you had a sleep quality maybe poor.

C: No, it's good. It's good quality sleep.

S: How do you know? You have a sleep study?

C: Because I did a massive sleep study.

S: Okay, that's yeah. That's how that's the only way you know if you haven't done a sleep study, then you really don't know what your sleep quality is. You may assume you're sleeping, but you may not be having good sleep quality.

C: Yeah, yeah. I think that I'm a that's why I have a clinical diagnosis. This is probably based on normies.

S: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have patients who have sleep apnea and don't know it.

C: Oh, yeah. That's why they always do that first. Before they even do an EEG. They do the mini at home sleep apnea thing. It's so common. It's the main reason people are tired during the day.

S: Yeah, absolutely. All right. Well, good job, guys.

J: Thank you.

E: Thank you.

J: I tried.

S: Yeah.

E: You did Jay.

S: This was surprisingly tricky, though you guys do three of the four got it right. So you did well as a group. But I tried to find because I saw a couple that were like, oh, that's so obvious. I had to study that. So I decided to make that a theme. But I had to find items that were like these are the most obvious ones that I could find in the news this week. But they could still be tricky because I mean, especially the I did think the scar one was tricky because obviously, I was worried that you would have the reaction that you did. But just the notion like on TV, if you want to make somebody look menacing or evil, whatever, you give them a scar. You know what I mean? It's such a cliche that bad guys are scarred. Even in The Lion King, the name of the bad guy is scar.

C: Yeah.

B: Scar.

S: OK, Evan, give us a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:46:36)[edit]

Whether you function as welders or inspectors, the laws of physics are implacable lie-detectors. You may fool men. You will never fool the metal.
Lois McMaster Bujold, American speculative fiction author

E: "Whether you function as welders or inspectors, the laws of physics are implacable lie detectors. You may fool men. You will never fool the metal." Lois McMaster Bujold. She's a science fiction author. Four times a Hugo Award winner.

J: Wow.

E: Tied for the most ever by one person, according to Wikipedia.

S: Who was the other person? Let's see.

S: Isaac Asimov?

E: I got that here. Hugo Award for best novel four times matching Robert A. Heinlein.

S: Heinlein. Yeah.

E: Heinlein.

S: Heinlein!

E: So very cool. Need to know, learn about her.

S: You can't fool nature.

E: Right. Exactly. I mean it's just some things you just cannot. Some things do not lie. Like the old saying numbers don't lie.

S: But you can lie with numbers.

E: You can, well, yeah.

S: The numbers themselves don't lie, but you can definitely deceive the statistics. That's why it's a good skeptical principle. You might as well align your beliefs with reality. Reality is not going to align itself with you, despite the secret or whatever magic you think you have. It's not how the universe works.

E: No, it does not bend to your wills and desires.

S: Right, right, right. All right, guys, well, thank you all for joining me this week.

E: Thank you, Steve.

B: Sure, man.

J: You got it, Steve.

C: Thanks Steve.


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[10]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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