SGU Episode 917

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SGU Episode 917
February 4th 2023
917 canopic jars.jpg

Alabaster canopic jars recovered from Saite-Saqqara. (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)

SGU 916                      SGU 918

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

But, as Deepak Chopra taught us, quantum physics means anything can happen at any time for no reason.

Prof. Hubert J. Farnsworth, mad scientist from Futurama

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Groundhog Day, Bigfoot sightings[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, February 2nd, 2023, 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: Did you say February 2nd?

S: That's right, I did. Does that date have any significance to you, Evan?

E: Well, it might. It might. Isn't today the day that the whistle pig makes the appearance?

S: The whistle pig day.

C: What's a whistle pig?

E: The whistle pig day.

S: Otherwise, groundhog day.

E: Groundhog day. Singular, not plural. I've been using the plural incorrectly for who knows how long.

J: Where the hell did this holiday come from? It's not even a holiday. It's like just a happening.

S: It's a thing. It's a happening. It's a good one.

E: Yeah. It's a what?

B: It's also a movie. A really good one.

E: It was a good one.

J: I could give a crap less about Groundhog Day.

B: Wait, so that means you care a little.

J: I care zero about it. It's meaningless to adults. You know what I mean? Like, what do you do? You don't go out with your friends. You don't do anything. You don't eat anything.

C: But is it meaningful to children either?

S: No.

J: No.

C: No, it's just meaningless.

S: It's not a food or candy based holiday, so why do you care?

E: Right. Unless you're going to try to eat Punxsutawney Phil.

S: Right.

E: If you're Pennsylvania Dutch, it maybe means something because they seem to be the ones who perpetuate the annual celebration.

S: I always think about it on the same level with the Farmers' Almanac. It's something that was like people actually cared about 200 years ago.

E: Yeah. before the iPhone, definitely.

S: science.

B: There are a lot of people out there that are saying now, what the hell are they talking about? Why don't somebody give an overview?

S: Really?

C: Oh, right. For all the people who aren't from middle America?

B: For not in America.

S: So it is a superstition and tradition that a groundhog who's always named Punxsutawney Phil, even though it's obviously not the same groundhog all these years-

C: It's not?

S: -every second they pull him out of his hole. And if he sees his shadow, right, it predicts six more weeks of winter.

E: Which I mean, how ridiculous, much more ridiculous can get them that there's going to be six more weeks of winter?

S: They rub his belly with a tomato.

C: What does that even mean?

S: If he sneezes.

J: It doesn't even happen. Right? No matter what the animal does or doesn't do, it doesn't actually change anything. The whole thing is just completely made up out of nothing.

S: Of course it is.

E: And winter has no bearing on the weather. It's a calendar event.

C: I know. What do they mean by six more? Do they mean it's going to be cold?

S: Of winter weather.

E: Yeah, it will be inclement, I suppose.

S: What they mean, of winter weather. That's exactly what they mean.

E: Which in the northeastern part of the United States, if you're aware of our geography, this time of year, yes, chances are great that you're going to get six weeks from February 2nd forward of inclement weather.

S: Yeah. Isn't that how it's supposed to go?

E: Right. So what are we doing here?

J: Well, the reality is that in New England, in the United States, this winter has completely sucked if you actually like snowfall. It's been like this 40 degree kind of rainy, crappy winter. It's terrible.

B: Much more rain than snow.

E: No snow.

S: Would you rather have snow piled up three, four feet like some winters?

J: I would absolutely rather have snowfall than no snowfall.

C: [inaudible] what you guys are talking about.

S: Well, this weekend, the temperature is supposed to plummet with the wind chill down to negative 30.

E: Oh, that's not good.

J: Yeah, but there's no snowstorm attached to that.

E: Thank goodness.

J: And on Monday, it's going to be 40 degrees. So it's all over.

S: Does it work in El Nino years, I wonder?

E: La Nina and El Nino.

S: Let's stop talking about the weather.

E: Okay, let's get on to some real science.

S: Yeah, let's talk about Bigfoot.

C: Oh, right, Bigfoot.

B: I have to say, is actually much more interesting.

S: This is a study, Cara, you sent this to me. It's very simple. Bigfoot sightings coincide with black bear populations.

E: What?

B: Oh, my God.

E: Black bears are all really big feet?

B: Shocker. Shiker.

E: Oh, my gosh. I feel like an idiot.

S: Black bears will stand up on their hind legs.

C: Yeah.

S: Get a better look around or smell things or whatever. And very easy to mistake for the old Sasquatch.

C: Right. And obviously there are Bigfoot sightings in places where there are no North American black bears. And there are black bears in places where people aren't saying they've seen Bigfoot, but this researcher actually looked at a ton of data, compared all of the sightings to the population ebbs and flows of black bears and found that when there are more black bears, more densely populated, there are more Bigfoot sightings.

E: The person who did that study deserves a special award because that is tedious. Having to deal with something that, half of what you know is like, this is ridiculous, this is ridiculous, this is ridiculous. You're trying to make some sense out of it. Kudos to that person.

C: Yep.

S: Right. It's obviously not the sole cause of Bigfoot sightings, but clearly it's responsible for some number of them, which makes sense. Especially, we talked before about a bear with mange. They really look freaky. You can't identify them. And I could definitely see how somebody seeing a really mangey bear might think it's something weird.

J: Essentially like hairless, you mean, right, Steve?

S: Yeah. Yeah. They lose a lot of their hair. Right.

J: Yeah. I've seen those pictures too, and it does not look like what you think a bear looks like without hair.

S: Yeah. Right.

E: I love how every time samples are found, oh, here's Bigfoot hair, here's Bigfoot, toenail clippings or whatever. And they have it analyzed at the laboratory, oh, guess what? Bear.

S: Every time. Bear.

E: Bear. Bear. Bear.

S: Moose. No, I've seen moose.

E: Moose. Okay.

S: It comes up a lot if you go north enough. Caribou. Whatever. It's always something mundane.

E: Never pans out, does it?

S: Not yet.

C: Gotta keep looking.

E: That's right. Don't be hasty now.

S: All right, Bob, get us started with the quickie.

Quickie with Bob: New type of entanglement (6:11)[edit]

B: All right. Thank you, Dr. Stephen Paul Joseph Novella. Have you ever heard that before?

C: No.

S: I have.

B: This is your quickie with Bob. Gird your loins for this one, especially you, Cara, even more than usual. Scientists have discovered a new variation on entanglement that not only lets us see inside atoms better than ever, it may have even wider and dramatic implications in other areas. So guys, I wanted to give a definition for entanglement, just a quick overview. And I went to a lot of websites to try to see how other people were phrasing it, try to get some inspiration on how to describe it. And I went into ChatGPT, fed it the news item, and I liked the definition that ChatGPT gave than any other website that I went to. So it said: "In the context of quantum mechanics, entanglement refers to the phenomenon in which two or more quantum particles can b ecome correlated in such a way that the state of one particle cannot be described independently of the others, even when the particles are separated by large distances." So I just love that definition. It was actually very pithy and succinct, and I liked it and wanted to share it. So now this fascinating experiment was performed at the relativistic heavy ion collider, and it went like this. Gold atoms were stripped of electrons and turned into ions and accelerated by a magnetic field in opposite directions at near the speed of light, and then they're forced into each other's paths. Now, some of these ions, some of them hit, but some of them pass just barely past each other and they don't collide. They come within a few, I think, atomic diameters, very, very close. And when that happens, there's a cloud of photons, light surrounding the gold ions, and those photons can indirectly interact with the particles within the nearby atoms, neutrons and protons. And then those interactions lead to the highest resolution peak inside neutrons and protons that we have ever had. It's a very interesting advance. Now, reading the technical article on this, I wanted to go a couple of onion layers deeper and give a description of the same thing that I just said. This is kind of fun to put together. Another way to describe that was the ultra-relativistic velocity of the ion causes magnetic and electric fields to create a cloud of photons. Now they can quantum fluctuate into a virtual quark and antiquark pair, and they interact with the gluons in the nearby atom. That interaction creates a particle called a rho, which decays in six septillionths of a second into two different pions. And those pions speed away and they hit the detectors at very specific angles, which can be used to infer much more precisely than ever the locations inside the atoms where the gluons were that were interacted with. Based on the paper that I read, there are tons of onion layers below what I just said. And I was just like, it's crazy. So it's like fascinating to look at all this techno babble. It's not babble, it's jargon. And it's fascinating, but it's like, it just gets, it goes over the cliff so quickly. It's like, oh my god, there's so many onion layers for this kind of stuff. Okay. But that's not even the most interesting thing. The pions that flew away and were detected have different charges, but they showed interference patterns, which means, which is very important because it means that they were entangled in some way. That didn't make much sense though, because entanglement has been encountered and detected countless times, but it's always between essentially identical particles, photons, electrons, they're essentially identical. Contributing physicist James Daniel Brandenburg said: "This is the first time ever experimental observation of entanglement between dissimilar particles has been detected." So it's really, it's kind of a very interesting discovery. Entanglement is one of the defining characteristics of quantum mechanics and how counterintuitive it is. And the fact that we've now found potentially a different flavor of entanglement, it could have some potentially dramatic implications for the coming quantum technology, like quantum internet, quantum computers, especially. So interesting advance I want to continue to follow. So Cara, loins ungirded. This has been your quickie with Bob. I hope it was good for you too.

E: Loins.

News Items[edit]

Mummy Goo (10:27)[edit]


S: Well, Cara, now that you've ungirded your loins, tell us about mummy goo.

C: Oh yeah. This is not gag inducing at all. I actually love this stuff. Okay. So a new article is just published yesterday in Nature called Biomolecular Analyses Enable New Insights Into Ancient Egyptian Embalming. This was a research team that was a dual research team between Germany and Egypt. Sadly, the principal investigator recently passed away, who would have been the corresponding author. And so they actually had to denote that in the author list. I don't think I've ever seen that before. But this article is really interesting because it combines three different fields. And not that this is the first time that this has been done, but it's done in a pretty interesting, extensive way, and they found some surprising outcomes from this. It's really interesting because it combines archaeological, philological, and organic residue analyses. It looks at all three of these things. So basically these researchers decided to investigate some pottery that they found in a ritual embalming chamber. And they were like, okay, we found a bunch of pottery down here in these embalming facilities in this really specific place called a Saqqara, which dates to the 26th dynasty. So we're talking 664 to 525 before the Common Era. They found a bunch of pottery that was in like really, really good condition that has text still on the outside. So these different vessels were actually labeled. And this is not the first time that they found labeled vessels. It's also not the first time that they've used organic residue analysis to try to understand what was inside of these labeled vessels. But when they crossed all of these different lines of evidence, so what they know about this site archaeologically, what they know about the philology, the actual language, what do these different inscriptions mean, and how have we historically translated them within this field? And then comparing that to the chemical analysis, what does this label mean for us? So there was a huge group of pottery that they found. And out of that huge group, I mean, it's like hundreds or well over 100 pieces, they decided to work with nine beakers and 22 red bowls because they seemed like they were going to be the best to do this organic residue analysis on. The analysis I think was gas chromatography, mass spectrometry. I'm with you. Who was having a hard time saying it last week?

S: That's Evan.

C: Evan, yeah. Mass spectrometry analyses. And using those two forms of chemical analysis, they were able to identify a bunch of the actual substances that were found in there, and they ranged pretty widely, but they included a lot of different plant oils and tars, different resins, and different animal fats. And when they read the labels and tried to kind of make sense of what the labels meant, they noticed various directions. So some of the labels of these vessels that had these different things in them were for specific applications, like treatment of the head. That included elemi, pistachio resin, oil or tar of juniper or cypress, and then cedar. And then there was another mix in there that was elemi, oil or tar of cedar, and a plant oil from some type of olive plant. And then a third mix, which had animal fat with the olive plant and elemi. So there were like different combinations or permutations of these different things. They have jar labeled Imsety, which I think is the god of the liver. So they took that to mean that this was the jar with what they needed to preserve the liver. That had oil or tar of juniper and cypress and elemi. And then {[w|Duamutef}}, which protects the stomach, was heated beeswax. And then over here, they had ingredients for treatment of the bandages or the wraps. They had ingredients for something called skin treatment, which occurs only on the third day of treatment. They had a jar labeled to make his odor pleasant and another jar labeled to wash. And they were able to figure out what were the actual substances that were inside of each of those vessels. And like I said before, they tended to be oils or resins made from, or tars, from particular plant species that they were able to identify along with animal fats and or beeswax and some combination therein. So here are some interesting kind of takeaways. Because so far this is cool, but maybe not that new. Really really interesting takeaways. The first one has to do with a specific label, Antiu. I'm probably not pronouncing that correctly, but A-N-T-I-U. So A-N-T-I-U is a standard word that has been seen in Egyptian embalming sites. And it has historically been translated to, I guess we can say, or associated to myrrh. Everybody thought like that is myrrh. But what they found is that in all of the vessels that said Antiu on them, there was a mixture of oil or tar of cedar and juniper or cypress mixed together with animal fat. And so their recommendation, these scientists, are that we should be careful when using the label Antiu and assuming the translation of myrrh or incense, because it's probably a more global or vague or like umbrella description. So we actually, based on this evidence, know something about the composition of what used to always be thought of as just myrrh. It's probably not very specific. They probably used that term as more of an umbrella term. We didn't know that before, which is interesting. Another thing, and this is to me the really cool takeaway, is that a bunch of the substances that were found here at this Saqqara site were imported, and some of them from pretty far away. So there were some things that you could find locally, but a lot of things, let's see, I don't know how to pronounce this, bitumen? I think it's pronounced-

S: Bitumen, yeah.

C: Okay, yeah. Probably came from the Dead Sea. The pistachio trees, which have high resin yields, the olive trees, the cedar, the juniper, and the cypress, none of those things exist in Egypt, but they do all grow in other parts of the Mediterranean basin, which means they would have been imported from around the Mediterranean basin. And then here's something super interesting. Elemi.

B: What is that? I love that word.

C: I know, elemi. Let me look up exactly. E-L-E-M-I. I'm assuming it's pronounced elemi.

B: Such a pretty word.

C: So elemi is a tree. Yeah, that's the common name for elemi. It's Canarium luzonicum.

E: As an elm?

C: No, as in elemi.

E: Okay.

C: Yeah, that's its common name. It's Canarium luzonicum, and then another substance or another tree sap or a tree resin is called dammar, D-A-M-M-A-R. Sometimes it's referred to as a gum. It's a resin obtained from a tree called Dipterocarpaceae. And dammar only can be found in Southeast Asia. And then elemi can be found both in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. So there's pretty good evidence here that these trade routes coming into Egypt came from wildly far away, even as early as 664 to 525 BCE, which is fascinating that they were establishing these relatively complex trade routes for something like mummification. It was that important to them that people would have been risking their lives to bring these different materials from quite far away in order to be able to do these rituals. It just shows you how, I mean, we knew it was important, but it's just another line of evidence to show how incredibly important this was culturally.

S: Yeah, well, I think a lot of people vastly underestimate how extensive the trade routes were in the ancient world. They were trading stuff around the world. They really were, at least from Asia, Europe, Northern Africa. And the difference was that they were not really stable. A lot of things could happen to shut down the trade routes, or the boats wouldn't necessarily make it to their destination. But the trade routes were extensive.

C: Yeah. It's also really cool, I mean, it shows the evolution to, this article gives a little bit of background, but we saw proto-embalming starting as early as like 4000 BCE, and then it got more and more sophisticated. That was just like desiccation, right, just drying out the body. And then it got more and more sophisticated using things like evisceration. Favorite word I discovered in this article.

B: What?

C: Excerebration.

S: Taking out the brain?

B: Taking out the brain. Nice.

C: How good is that?

B: Nice.

C: Excerebration.

B: It's almost as good as exsanguination.

C: I know, I know. And then—

B: Or denucleation.

S: I think you mean enucleation.

B: Yes, yes.

C: Did you say denucleation?

B: I said de. Damn it.

E: Gosh Bob.

B: I knew that.

C: And I just echolalied you. But the point is that some of these different tars and things that they used, like for example, pistachio resin, elamide, damar, and different oils, and the bitumen as well, have antibacterial, antifungal properties, even properties that help suppress the odors, probably from the cadaverine and the putrescine.

B: Yes, I love those words.

C: I know, they're good. I threw them in there for you, Bob.

B: Smelly. Compounds from a corpse, cadaverine and putrescine. How perfect are those words?

C: Right. And that the fats and the oils and the different beeswax probably helped to moisturize the skin. Obviously, the tars and the resins and the bitumen and the beeswax were hydrophobic. They were adhesive, so they sealed the skin up, excluded moisture. And then they said, some of these products also just probably had a color that they really liked. So they were—

B: They need to have awards for people who come up with the best words for their shit.

C: Bob, you need to read this article just because it's full of so many good words, which is slightly beside the point. But it's just really fascinating.

B: They're so much better than compound XJ735. Screw that. Cadaverine.

C: Welcome to the biology side. Welcome. But yeah, I don't know. I love learning about this stuff. I think it's really cool when we see very multidisciplinary fields coming together and helping one another understand some things that were limited in their knowledge. It's great.

S: Yeah, totally. All right. Thanks, Cara.

Water Crisis and Climate Change (21:38)[edit]

S: Jay, I understand that the water crisis resulting from climate change is worse than we thought. Tell us about it.

E: Oh, great.

J: (in Professor Farnsworth voice) "Good news, everybody!" Yeah. This sucks. So as our planet warms because of global warming, the global atmospheric circulation, that's basically just the movement of our atmosphere around the planet, it's changing. So the added energy and heat that's in our atmosphere is changing the way that the air is moving around. Now, these changes affect evaporation and precipitation all over the world. And up until recently, it was thought that rivers' water flow was not significantly affected by global warming. Now, keep in mind that rivers are a significant source of water for people all over the world, even of course to this day. It's not like we don't all get our water from wells. We get water from lots of different places. So a new study conducted by Professor Günter Blöschl and his team at the TU Wien in Vienna has shown that the impact of climate change on water availability has been underestimated. So the study analyzed measurement data from over 9,500 hydrological catchments worldwide. If you didn't know, a catchment is an area of land where water from rain and other sources, it collects and flows into a river or a lake or some type of body of water. So it's like a bowl that catches water and it holds the water. So catchments can be large or small. I mean, they can be really big. They can cover many square miles. So the water in a catchment is important because they can often become a source of drinking water or irrigation. So they're used all the time and they're very important. So 9,500 catchments around the world were studied and they found that climate change can result in a greater risk of local water crisis than previously anticipated. The research team reached these conclusions. What they did was they examined how sensitive the relationship is between precipitation and the amount of water in rivers as there are changing climate parameters. So as the atmosphere is changing, is it affecting how much water ends up flowing through the world's rivers? That's what they were looking at. Previous climate prediction models historically have relied on physical models only. You're basically doing it in a computer to estimate the impact of climate change on the river and stream flows. But Professor Blöschl's team found that these models failed to capture the full extent of the sensitivity of the water system and climate change. Yikes. The results of the study indicate that the water system reacts to climate change much more sensitively lately. (laughter) Sensitively. I'm going to say this differently. The results of this study show that the water systems are more sensitive to climate change than they previously thought. And this sensitivity is not captured in current prediction models. That's the scary part. It was going unseen. And this did not typically include these runoff measurements that this team took. So these new findings suggest that models of the impact of climate change on water supply should be fundamentally revised. And this is bad. According to Professor Blöschl, the availability of the new measurement data now makes it possible to adjust physical prediction models and provide a more accurate estimate of the impact of climate change on the water supply. So the study predicts a significantly higher risk of water supply crises in Africa, Australia, and North America by 2050 as a result of the changing climate. Bad stuff, right? I mean, 2050, it's really not that long away from now. If you're paying attention, which I really hope everybody that's listening to this is, you will notice that the big countries are basically doing squat. The countries that need to be changing dramatically are not changing remotely fast enough for us to be in a good place. We are not going to make 1.5. We're not even going to come close to that.

S: 1.5 is done. 1.5 is gone.

J: Yeah, that's done.

S: Yeah, and we talked about this. I've been continuing to read about it. We're going to land somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5, hopefully closer to 1.6, 1.8, and then it's still a crapshoot about what's going to happen there. But we shouldn't gloss over the things that are being done. I mean, the Inflation Reduction Act, which had a lot of provisions for climate mitigation, is having a massive impact on industry investments and shutting down coal-fired plants and converting them to either nuclear or more renewable energy, etc. So it's having – it wasn't nothing. It's not enough. It's not enough. But it's probably the most we're ever going to see, to be honest with you, unfortunately.

J: I don't know. From the top down, the money isn't going to the right places to solve this problem. I mean, Steve, why would we even think that we're going to get to 1.6, 1.7? Like nothing–

S: There are plausible pathways that will get us there.

J: But it has to really start. We have to be doing this aggressively now. That's all I'm saying.

S: Yeah, yeah. I agree with that, obviously.

COVID Immunity (27:08)[edit]

S: So we haven't given an update on COVID in quite a while. There's been a couple of things going on, so I thought I would just talk about it a little bit. There was a recent study – this is good news. This is genuinely good news.

B: (in Professor Farnsworth voice) "Good news, everyone!"

S: Yeah. A recent study looking at immunity from COVID, depending on whether or not you've been infected or you've been vaccinated. This isn't entirely new news, but it is pretty dramatic. What they found is confirmed, earlier research would show that the best immunity comes from hybrid immunity.

J: Hybrid.

S: Hybrid.

C: It's a hybrid.

S: So in either order, like if you were vaccinated and you got infected or you were infected and you got vaccinated, the combination of that immunity is much better than either one alone.

B: Much.

S: Yeah, much better.

E: I feel better about having had both.

B: How long does that last?

C: I'm a little bit confused by this in one specific respect.

S: What's that?

C: For those out there who – and it could be that we've had COVID and we don't know it. But for those out there who have managed to not catch COVID, we don't have hybrid immunity, yet we've not caught COVID, which means we have really good immunity.

S: So you're talking about individuals versus population-based data.

C: For sure.

S: So certainly some individuals may just, for whatever reason, their immune system is really good at kicking COVID's ass, right?

B: High-five, Cara.

S: And this is often what happens when you have a very diverse outbred population. You get a massive pandemic. Some individuals survive by luck and they become the progenitors of the next generation, right? If there weren't modern medicine and vaccines and stuff. So it's also luck. It could be luck. If you just model it scientifically, just statistically speaking, not every single person will get infected. Even just through chance alone, some people are going to escape by. And if you have a combination of good behavior, you're doing your social distancing and mask wearing, you're vaccinated, you minimize your chance and you get a little bit lucky, there you are. So that's not inconsistent with, I think, this data. But to answer your question by how much 25 to 100 times higher antibody responses in people with hybrid immunity.

B: 100? But, but the other critical question is, from what I've read, that only really lasts for what, three months, four months, five months?

S: Well, listen to this.

B: Shit man.

S: Now here's the new bit.

E: Grab your popcorn.

S: Is that they found that the longer you wait between, say, getting a natural infection, getting an infection and getting a booster, up to the 400 days that they studied, the better the hybrid immunity.

J: It's a hybrid.

S: So why, why is that you might say. They correlate that with memory B cell populations is that that is driven by the memory B cell. The memory B cells are the cells that make the antibodies that are specific to a prior infection or vaccine that, they remember those antibodies and they're laying in wait to crank them out. If there's any new exposure.

E: They remember.

S: They remember, exactly. So what's happening there? The thinking is that memory B cell populations simply increase over time. They're reproducing, they're slowly reproducing and increasing their numbers. And so if you wait a little bit longer, there's more memory B cells to react to the vaccine and therefore you get a more robust hybrid immunity. So what does this mean, in terms of specific practice? It's hard to say exactly because the longer you wait, the longer you're going uncovered, but then the better the immunity that you'll get. But probably what this means is that the FDA's latest recommendations, which are for, here's the other bit of news, the FDA is now recommending that we move to an annual COVID vaccine model. Which we've been talking about for a long time.

E: We figured it was going to head that direction.

S: Probably going to get to an annual vaccine.

C: They'll just have a multivalent with the flu eventually, right?

E: Right. You get it as part of your flu shot. One shot does it all.

S: Right. Throw in RSV and we're good. We've got to come up with a good RSV vaccine.

E: A little microchip, you're good. Kidding. I'm kidding. Sarcasm. Gee whiz.

S: Yeah. So if that's, let's say if it's exactly one year, that's 365 days. So that's good news for an annual booster strategy because at the one year mark, that booster should create really powerful hybrid immunity. One concern was, well, maybe if you wait that long, you won't get as good of an advantage from the booster. Your hybrid immunity won't be as good. But this latest study shows that no, it would actually be better. It would be more effective.

E: Plus it sounds like it will help with compliance.

S: Absolutely. There's no question that the easier it is, you make it on people and, having like for taking medications once a day is the best. Because it's, you built it into your daily schedule. For vaccine boosters, once a year is a good model. It's like, oh yeah, it's the fall. I need to get my flu vaccine. It becomes part of the routine.

E: It becomes part of your annual routine. That's right.

S: Absolutely. So I think, I think that's good. The other thing is, which again, we talked about, I wrote about this on my blog and I, it's, the old, the, for whatever reason, the people who are anti-vaccine, anti-maskers, whatever, there's just these people like, man, the government sucks and everything they do sucks, those kinds of people. So I said that, I don't remember anyone saying that like the pandemic is going to go away. Everyone pretty much knew it was going to become endemic. Of course, early, early on, people were saying lots of crazy things. And so that's not what I was talking about. Once the research was done and we had some kind of handle on the virus and the pandemic, it's like, yeah, if there were a window early on to eradicate the virus before it got a toehold, we missed that. Completely missed that.

C: Oh, for sure.

S: Yeah. Basically through political incompetence. But then once we had a full blown pandemic, it was too late. And then the goal was to flatten the curve, remember all that stuff, and then get everybody vaccinated. So from that point forward, everyone was saying, yeah, since we missed that window, it's pretty clear that this is just going to become an endemic infection. It's going to be like the flu. It's going to be there in the background. It still wasn't clear early on if this was going to be more of a seasonal thing. I don't think it's going to be strictly seasonal like the flu is, but it probably will have waves. It'll ebb and flow, but probably not strictly seasonally timed. So yeah, so bad news is it's endemic, pretty much kills twice as many people as the flu at this point.

C: It's one of the leading causes of death among children.

S: As much as they are not a vulnerable population, they're not vulnerable to many things. And so when you do a comparison, it still may be much less than adults are dying from COVID, but for children, it's one of the major causes of premature death in children. Of course, all deaths in children are premature. So yeah, so the bad news is, oh, we basically got like a triple flu kind of thing. So the combined flu COVID numbers in terms of hospitalizations and deaths, it's going to be about three times what it was when we just had the flu. But the good news is we have an effective vaccine, multiple vaccines that are effective, and the once a year strategy will probably be enough and that will make it easy. Just get your annual flu and COVID vaccine safe and effective.

C: It blows my mind.

S: And risk benefit is a no brainer. It's an absolute no brainer.

C: Why do people not get their flu jabs?

S: I don't know. It's in the, the numbers are low.

J: I think a lot of it is laziness.

E: I love that you call it jabs too.

S: That's a British way to call it.

E: It's very English.

C: A lot of it, I think you're right, is laziness or short memory.

S: Procrastination.

C: I think when people forget how bad the flu is because they conflate it with a cold. And so they forget how brutal it is when they actually have the flu and how much they feel like they're dying. But there's also all that. I mean, we talk about this a lot. There's all that weird, just those cognitive distortions that people have, those errors in judgment where they get a flu jab too late in the season and then they still get the flu and then they're like, I got blue from the flu shot.

S: Yeah you can't get flu from the flu shot.

E: Right. Incorrectly attributing it to.

S: It doesn't happen.

B: I didn't get the flu shot for years. And that, sure, laziness, but also not just laziness, but it was also the fact that I never, ever got the flu or never really, people I know experiencing the flu and having a horrible flu just wasn't like a thing really. I don't really remember anybody in my family or friends.

S: I got it like 20 years ago. It was horrible.

C: I got a flu in college and I was so sick. It was like-

B: Yeah. I never had it, so I was like, yeah, flu. It was like a bad cold to me.

C: And that's the problem.

J: It's not a bad cold.

C: Because that's not flu. And I think people also throw around, when they have a virus, they go, oh, I just got like a flu. I got a little stomach flu. I got like a head flu. It's like, no, no, no, you didn't have influenza.

S: You have a cold. Right.

C: You have a cold. Or you have a bacterial infection in your guts or you have a viral infection of your guts.

S: Bob, when I had the flu, I think it was like in the late 90s or something was the last time I got it. And I had to cough for six months afterwards. I almost passed out from coughing when I had the flu.

C: I had it in college. I was so sick that I remember my roommate helped me get to the student clinic. My resting pulse was 135. And I couldn't keep anything down. And so I had to take an NSAID suppository in the clinic at school because I couldn't swallow anything.

B: In the clinic? I thought you said it was a suppository.

C: She was literally like, if you don't take this suppository now and we can't get your fever and your heart rate down, we have to take you to the hospital and get you an IV. I was that sick from the flu.

B: If I actually experienced that, I think that would have motivated me to get the shot.

S: All right. But you get it every year now, right?

B: Oh, yeah.

C: So you're motivated just by your logic now, which is good.

S: Here's some other motivation I'm going to give people is that even when you're young and healthy, I don't need the flu vaccine. But if you get it every year, first of all, you don't want the flu, even if you're young and healthy. It just sucks. But also, there is a little bit of cumulative immunity that you get because there's only so many flu variants, right? And they do come back around eventually. And they are similar to each other. So even though it's not great, and it's not good enough, you still have to get the flu vaccine with the variants that are circulating that season. But by the time you do get old and vulnerable, you want to have 20 years of having gotten the annual flu vaccine under your belt because that will definitely give you more robust immunity at that point in time.

E: Like an investment.

S: Yeah, it is. It is. You want to make those antibodies when you're young and healthy because people, when they get older, they don't have as good of an immune response to the vaccine. There's A, B, C, and D. Those are the types. And beneath them, most of the ones that are going around are the A and B. And then there's a bunch of different subtypes, strains. That's the HN designation, like H3N2, H1N1, whatever.

C: But it's not like a vaccine is matched to one specific subtype. The vaccines, they try to make them as multivalent as possible.

S: Well, right now, the quadrivalent is pretty standard. So that's four.

C: There you go.

S: So there's always H1N1 now plus three other ones. So you might get the trivalent. At work, they offer us the quadrivalent. I always take that.

E: Bob wants the quintivalent.

S: And this year, for the first time, they didn't even ask me. I'm like, you didn't ask me which one I want. Is everyone getting the quad this year? And she's like, you're a doctor, aren't you? I said, yeah, absolutely. Yes, everyone's getting the quad. That's standard now.

C: The HPV vaccine is ninevalent. I don't even know what you call ninevalent. Everybody just says non-valent.

S: I think it's non-avalent.

C: Non-avalent? Oh, okay.

S: It's non-[inaudible]?

E: Which is, yeah, right. I'd like the non-avalent one. You have it? You don't have it? What are you saying?

B: Hang on. All right, Steve.

S: Yeah.

C: Hang on.

B: I'm not sure I got an answer. How long does your hybrid immunity, you get crazy hybrid immunity. I get it. How long does it last? Because I was reading three or four months and then you're pretty much, you lose the hybrid super immunity. How long does it last?

S: So it's not like there's a cutoff day. It just fades over time.

C: But you said the study only went to how many days?

S: Well, the 400 days was how far the delay between infection and vaccination. So if you got vaccinated at day 200, you didn't get as much hybrid immunity as if you got a vaccine at 300 or as much as you guys as 400. But they didn't follow from there to see how long does it last.

B: So it's more than three months.

S: In that study. So I guess the question, so the higher you go, the longer it will take to drift down. And it's not like it goes to zero. It's just that it gets weaker over time. But that depends. Here's the thing, Bob. It depends on how you're measuring the immunity. If you're just measuring antibodies, they tend to fade over time. But this study is finding that the B cells increase over time. And so that's two different ways of measuring immunity, cellular versus humoral. And so it may not be as bad as we thought. It may be that your immunity is good for a longer period of time. Here's the other thing, Bob, is that not only is vaccine give you more immunity than infection and hybrid give you more immunity than either one of those by themselves, but the strains are evolving too. And the more apart the current circulating strain is or the strain that you get exposed to from the one that you were vaccinated with or exposed to when you got sick, the higher the antibody titer you need to fight it off. So it's all relative. What kind of antibodies do you have and what strain are you trying to fight off? So there's multiple variables. There's no one answer to your question. But what we do know is the higher you keep your antibodies, the more resistance you'll have. If they're high enough, you could fight off even new strains. So just keep your antibody titers as high as you can. Don't get the infection. But the one thing you can do is to get the vaccine, get boosted every year. The plan is, or at least the recommendation at this point is, every year, it'll not only be an annual booster, it'll be an annual booster that tracks the variants just like they do with the flu.

C: Right. It's so funny.

S: That absolutely helps.

C: I feel like some people listening to this probably think in their minds like, I just need to get COVID so I don't get COVID. No, getting COVID means you got COVID. So don't get COVID.

E: Yes, this is not a [inaudible].

J: Steve, why is getting the vaccine the best way to be immunized, to have antibodies?

S: Well, it just results in better antibody production, partly because they give adjuvants in the vaccine which stimulate the immune system to maximize their response. They're also exposing you to the bits that you want to be exposed to to generate the immunity without being exposed to the whole virus or getting an infection. So it's just the technology. It's designed to maximize your immune response and it works. That's it.

[commercial brake]

Bringing Back the Dodo (44:12)[edit]

S: All right, Evan, tell us about efforts to bring back the dodo.

E: What did you call me?

S: Evan? (laughter)

S: Yeah, okay, I mean, I heard dodo. And you call someone a dodo, you're not exactly paying them a compliment. In case you don't know, it's an insult. You're basically calling someone dumb, but maybe not in the harshest of terms. Dodo head and call someone that, they're probably not going to take great offense. I like what the Urban Dictionary says about being called a dodo. "It's an endearing way of saying to someone or telling someone they haven't a clue." It's like, oh, you dodo or you dodo head.

C: That's so British, too. You haven't a clue.

S: I have to say, Evan, I have to say that it's based upon mostly a misunderstanding of evolution. And even though it's profound or exaggerated or whatever, but there is this core misunderstanding behind it. I remember, I think it was one of the Ice Age movies with the dodos in it, and they were suicidal. They were trying to kill themselves. They were just as if they were slated for extinction. The fact that they did become extinct means that they must have been inferior in some way and were inevitably going to go extinct. And that's just not true. Extinction is often a matter of just luck, of just tracking environmental changes. Their environment massively changed. They were adapted to basically a predator-free environment, and then we introduced rats which ate their eggs in their ground nests. They really had no chance. They weren't maladapted or broken in any way. They just-

C: Well, didn't we also like hunt them?

S: Yes.

E: Once it found them. Oh, absolutely.

C: Yeah, exactly.

E: Hunt, fish in a barrel kind of hunt.

S: Yeah, they were walking dinner plates.

C: Yeah. It's like they went extinct, too, because we killed them into extinction.

E: Steve, you mentioned the rats and the dodo eggs. You know how many times a dodo laid an egg? Once a year.

S: Yeah.

E: I mean how are you supposed – right. How can you keep up with the slaughter that would ultimately come at the hands of humans and predators and animals and other things? You couldn't. It's no wonder this species of birds which were first realized or discovered in 1598 were pretty much wiped out within 60 years, 65 years. That's when they think that, that's as early. 1662 is when they believe it was probably the last verified sighting of a dodo. So yeah, it's – look, it's the poster child or I like the poster chick for species that have gone extinct and you ask any person to name one extinct animal, there's a good chance they're going to say the dodo. The etymology of the word dodo is kind of unclear. Jay, this is for you. Some ascribe it to the Dutch word dodor for slugger, but it's more probably related to dodderds, which means either fat arse or not arse, referring to the knot of feathers on its hind end. I know. It's like – so not only are we good at kind of destroying habitats, destroying animals, but naming them incorrectly or giving them false attributes and making fun of them all at the same time. Not good. So what caused the extinction of the dodo bird? Yeah, it's people. It's the animals. But effectively what we have is the news this week and a company called Colossal Biosciences, they've launched an initiative with the goal of de-extinction of the dodo bird. Colossal Biosciences, you can see them at How much did they pay for that domain do you think? Their brand is basically one thing, de-extinction. And here's some clips from the website if you go right to their front page. "Combining the science of genetics with the business of discovery, we endeavor to jump start nature's ancestral heartbeat, to see the woolly mammoth thunder upon tundra once again" here we go, talking about woolly mammoths again in a sense "to advance the economies of biology and healing through genetics to make humanity more human and to reawaken the lost wilds of Earth. So we and our planet can breathe easier. The solution is de-extinction, which is a functional application of advanced gene editing technology aimed at rebuilding the DNA of lost megafauna and other creatures that had a measurably positive impact on our fragile ecosystems." This company is founded by Ben Lamb, who's a world-renowned geneticist and biotech founder George Church. I think maybe some people might be familiar with his name as well. This company just organized a few years ago, but in 2021 it made its announcement about its mission to bring back the woolly mammoth, and in August of 2022 they made an announcement about their plans to bring back the Tasmanian tiger. So now in 2023, their newest initiative, bring back the dodo. And that's the news this week. The resurrection of the dodo is a theoretical possibility, and they're crediting Beth Shapiro, who's a specialist in ancient DNA. She's with the University of California, Santa Cruz. She and her coworkers were able to recover detailed DNA information from 500-year-old dodo remains that were held at a museum in Denmark. The plan is to edit the genomes of living relatives of the dodo. It will involve, and I quote: "Interspecies germline transfer of pigeon primordial germ cells into a surrogate chicken host."

B: Chicken.

J: Chicken.

E: The Nicobar pigeon, which is the dodo's closest living relative, closest living relative, provides the host cells for genome engineering, while the Rodrigues solitaire, that's the dodo's closest genetic relative, adds additional insights to this mixing. The chicken serves as the foundation of avian genomics and editing. So basically you're removing the primordial germ cells from an egg, you're cultivating them in a lab and editing the cells with the desired genetic traits before injecting them back into an egg at the same developmental stage. That is the plan on how they describe it and what they're going to do. Now along with this news that they also announced that they had a $150 million Series B funding round for investors, and its total funding now stands at $225 million. So they are using this basically to advance their research into genetic technology. However, there are a lot of critics of what's going on here, as you can imagine. It's not all everybody standing up and cheering for this. For example, here's Jeremy Austin, evolutionary biologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia. "De-extinction is a fairy tale science. It's pretty clear to people like me that these de-extinctions are more about media attention for the scientists and less about doing serious science." Another person, Ronald Sandler, professor of philosophy and director of ethics at the Institute at Northeastern University in Boston. He said: "While there's a new set of potential tools here and a new set of possibilities and opportunities, what isn't clear is whether these new tools actually address why we're in the middle of a mass extinction event or if they just dangle a technological panacea for the problem, which is that humans are consuming much more of the world's resources than they should. There's a risk of losing sight of what the real problem here that really needs to be solved."

S: I hate all those comments.

E: You don't like those comments? You want to have one more? I pulled out one more for you.

S: They're so standard. It's like, should we do it? Just because we can't do it doesn't mean we should do it. Think of the children, kind of relative privation. It's the same lame arguments that are really not valid over and over again whenever something like this is proposed.

E: What about this particular one though, Steve? This one may have a little more meat to it in a sense. They're saying that basically if you're going to bring the dodo back, you have to fix the island from where it came, the Mauritius, right? The Mauritius Island out in the Indian Ocean. But it already has – it's already filled with invasive species. You'd have to clear out the environment correctly so that the dodo, if you're able to bring it back, would have the correct environment for it to thrive again. But if you can't do that, then should you therefore bring dodo back even if it really doesn't have a place for it to ideally go?

C: Why can't you do that? That's the question. Is it a lack of will, a lack of funding? I understand the arguments against de-extinction of woolly mammoths.

S: Well, woolly mammoths are huge.

C: They're huge. They don't have an ecological niche here. I think that the dodo could have an ecological niche.

S: Well, remember there's Zealandia where they took a piece of New Zealand and tried to basically convert it back to the way it was before humans screwed everything up. So you could do that same kind of thing, like have a preserve where you try to replicate the pre-human interference ecosystem.

C: There are also tons of examples of times when we've managed to reduce the number of invasive species. There are a lot of really—I mean, it's not perfect science, but conservationists have been pretty successful when there is a will and the funding.

S: And also, is it a disaster if we have a zoo population of dodos? Who cares?

C: Well, that's the other thing, yeah.

B: I'll pay to see them.

C: A fair amount of animals that are on the brink of extinction only exist in zoos now anyway.

S: Yeah, sure.

E: Oh, yeah.

C: I guess then it's more of an ethics question about the animals themselves.

S: And Evan, what if they're delicious?

C: Oh, no.

S: The whole new industry we're talking about.

B: Lots of meat.

E: Oh, my gosh.

C: That's so sad.

S: But anyway, I just—whatever. Honestly, I think there's utility in perfecting the de-extinction technology. You know what I mean? We don't necessarily need to know exactly how we're going to need it or use it in the future.

C: We're going to need it because we are actively making species extinct right now.

E: Yeah, and that's one of the strongest arguments for it.

S: Probably began to have it. Yeah, absolutely. Now, Evan, you're saying that they're going to essentially mimic dodo DNA by tweaking the closest relatives. But don't we have dodo DNA? I'm reading from an article from just last year that we have specimens with decent dodo DNA.

C: But is it fully sequenced?

E: I believe they brought on Beth Shapiro because her team successfully sequenced it.

S: Yeah, so they have some pretty much fully sequenced dodo DNA. So it's just a matter of who they're going—you have to put it into a cell that's similar to the dodo.

E: Right, and that's why they mentioned that particular pigeon.

S: All right. Just to clarify, we have the DNA. It'd be really hard—because otherwise it sounds more like creating a dinosaur out of the chickens. Remember that? The chicken dino?

E: Yes.

S: Where we don't have dinosaur DNA, but we can sort of imitate it by figuring out, undoing the mutations that likely occurred when theropod dinosaurs evolved into birds.

C: Or like they did in Jurassic Park with the frogs.

S: Yeah.

E: Yeah, and we're only talking about—right. And the dodo sample they pulled it from is 500 years old, which is—we're not talking millions of years ago.

S: Speaking about Jurassic Park, one retcon that I really liked was—because all of the dinosaurs that they were showing, the velociraptors, have no feathers. But now we know that they had feathers.

E: Oh, yeah.

S: And so they retconned that by saying that—they explained it in the movie. It's like, well, their DNA is not exact. We had to fill in a lot of gaps, so this is not exactly what they—

E: Okay, that's fair.

S: Yeah, it was fair. It was totally fair and reasonable within the movie itself. And they made the effort to—

E: It made scientific sense.

S: To explain that to the dino nerds. It's like, oh, okay. All right, I'm happy now.

E: I don't have to stand up and go, ugh, excuse me.

S: They had feathers. All right. Thanks, Evan.

E: Yep.

Fungal Pandemic (55:40)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, so tell us, are we all going to be wiped out by a fungal pandemic?

E: No way.

B: Maybe.

E: Oh, crap.

C: No way. Maybe.

B: We've all been enjoying The Last of Us, which is about a pandemic caused by the fungus Cordyceps in this show and game on which it's based. Humans become zombie and fungus-like and controlled by the virus. And I thought it would be fun to explore the question, can this happen? Before I start, I found three generally acceptable ways to pronounce F-U-N-G-I. Fungi, fungi, fungi. So, that's it.

C: Fungi. There's four.

B: Yeah, whatever. I know people are going to be saying that. Those are the three I found on multiple websites. Those are the three most common.

C: You didn't hear anybody say fungi?

B: Fungi. Fungi.

E: Or fungi.

B: That's what I found.

C: Fascinating.

B: I'm going fungi and that's just the way it is.

C: Fungi, you're choosing. Wow. That's a bold choice.

B: They're just better than fungi or fungi.

C: Fungi.

B: Fungi.

E: Fungi. He's a fungi.

C: I didn't see that. Okay. So, however-

J: Wait, which one did you pick?

B: Fungi. However you say the word, fungi is amazing stuff. It's much more than just mushrooms. Fungi, gi, gi, it's not a plant or an animal.

E: Nope.

B: It's its own kingdom, and that said, it's actually closer to people at the cellular level than plants.

E: Cool.

B: And did you know that the biggest living organism on earth is a fungus?

S: Oh, yeah.

B: It's known as a honey mushroom, covers 10 square kilometers. Amazing.

E: What?

B: Amazing, yes. But can it wipe us out like in The Last of Us? Well, yes and no. As with almost everything we cover, except Jay's meatball recipe, it's complicated. The movie, I don't know why I even said that. Is it even funny? I don't care. The movie and game revolve around Cordyceps, it's a fungus whose full name is Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. And Cordyceps was chosen for The Last of Us and other stories like the highly recommended M.R. Carrey's The Girl with All the Gifts. Amazing, especially the spoken one, audible, it's fantastic. That was chosen because it's the most, basically, the most cinematic, right? It can literally take over and control the movements of insects to spread itself. And when you go and you google that, if you haven't already, and you see what it can do to insects, I defy you not to say, what the puck? It is so cool. If you haven't seen it, look it up. It's just like dramatically like, oh boy, that's a thing. Okay. So as dramatic and scientifically interesting as that is, Cordyceps mutating into what we see in the show and the game, basically. It's more showy, if you will, and less a reasonable possibility for multiple reasons. First off, no fungi. Why do you like to say it, Cara?

C: Fungi.

E: Fungi.

B: Yeah. That's what I like too, and I just didn't see it. So I'm going to go with it.

E: But it's fungal infection, right?

C: It's fungal infection, yeah. But it's also like fungiform.

B: Come on. You know that that's not a reliable pattern of pronunciation.

C: Yeah, because it's fungiform.

B: Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. And sometimes it's frustrating when you change something like that.

C: I just remembered that I had a biology professor who would be so mad when people would say fungi. He was like, it's not a fun guy. It's fungi. And he like drilled it into our heads.

B: It's also country dependent and those things. So what?

S: I just say fungy.

E: Fungi.

B: So no fungi spread by piercing the skin or with those creepy ass tendrils. That just doesn't happen. It's mainly through surfaces and contact, like think athlete's foot. That's mostly how it does that. That said though, some fungi are airborne. So the game is actually more accurate in that regard because they did have airborne spores that could pass it along. But yeah, it's no tendrils and no piercing the skin. Another reason not to be afraid, and as they say in the show, Cordyceps can handle human body temperature. But if it mutated to handle it, it would then have not only that hurdle to overcome, it would have another one. It would have to deal with the human immune system, which no Cordyceps had to contend with ever. It just has never, never done that. So if it could mutate enough to deal with all that, the temperature and the immune system, also keeping the ability to control our minds and our movements like an ant is even less likely. So just don't worry about that specific variation of a pandemic. In fact, Cordyceps is not even in the World Health Organization's top 20 list of fungi to be concerned about. It's like not even in the top 20. The fact that that list even exists and that it only really recently started existing reflects the growing concern that scientists have about a super deadly fungal pandemic. It's an increasing concern for very good reasons. And get this, according to the Global Action and Fungal Infections Panel, whatever, it's like a group of people, fungi kill more people than malaria. And that surprised me. And even Steve was like, I don't think so. But that's what their conclusion was. Now I tried to get precise numbers, but you can't really, it was hard to pin down an exact number because not enough people, it's just not on enough people's radar yet. And any numbers that you come up with are going to be very, very rough estimates. It's not something that has really being tracked like it should be at this point. So one example in the WHO top four list is Candida auris. Now this one, I don't remember this. Tell me if you guys remember it. In 2009, a highly drug resistant, mysterious super fungus appeared. Outbreaks happened independently from each other on three different continents at the time. This is in the 2010s. No clear linger contact between the outbreaks was ever established. Three different outbreaks. And now after, this is like 13 years ago, now Candida auris is in 30 countries causing deadly outbreaks in hospitals and nursing homes. And scientists argue that this may have been driven by global warming. And that's kind of scary that we just had, well, yeah, here's an outbreak that's killing people and it's still around. Another one, valley fever, Coccidioides. I think that's how it's pronounced.

C: I have a friend who had valley fever. She had to get a portion of her lung removed.

J: What? What? What happened?

C: Yeah. Because it's like, it's gross. I think Bob's about to tell you.

B: Well, this one's a little scary because it's airborne microscopic spores. So you're not really going to see it.

C: It's like in the sand, like in the soil, I think, or in the sand, right?

B: I think so. I'm not specifically sure about that.

C: She's from Arizona. And I think it's really common in places where the dust just picks up and kind of blows around.

E: Oh, I see.

B: But few people get sick and fewer of them even get gravely ill and it's not contagious. So it's not, it's not this devastating thing like, oh, valley fever. And this is a quote from Dr. Van Rien. He said, the real life nightmare scenario is that a fungi like these cause more damage and turn from relatively mild infections to life threatening infections. That's the real nightmare scenario. So, all right. So in general, I got to take it down a bit. In general, if you're fairly healthy and you don't have to be freaked out about getting deathly sick from a fungus today, it's very, very unlikely. People who are immunocompromised, these are the people that, these are the ones that get it and die, generally speaking. But that comforting fact to a certain extent could radically change, obviously, with future mutations just like any virus. We're afraid of these, COVID mutations that could become far deadlier. But similarly, that's what could potentially happen with a fungus. Because remember, why? Because fungi can, they already, some of these already infect and kill people, right? It's already happening. Unlike Cordyceps, it already has its hooks, so to speak, into our biology. It's already there. It's not a problem getting in there. And it wouldn't take an unrealistically dramatic change to become the horror that the Spanish flu was a century ago or worse. It can happen and we need to be on guard just like we are with viruses. And like I said, the news even gets a little bit worse because as I mentioned above with Candida auris, recent studies, just very recent, have shown that global warming can indeed act as a selective pressure for a whole host of fungi that to suddenly start finding a new home in human hosts. I mean, because there's plenty of fungus out there that don't like, like Cordyceps, that don't like people, that don't, don't get along with us. But global warming can actually change that. So it's just something that was very interesting to do research on this. One other thing I'll throw out there. One thing that I caught from the show, there was a wonderful, wonderful scene, a wonderful flashback where this doctor, this mycologist examines, these, what was happening. And she says, there's no medicine, there's no vaccine. And then she basically tells a government official, your only recourse is to bomb everything. It's like, oh, wait a second, antifungals exist. We have antifungals. I would recommend try the antifungals. They're not great. They're not a panacea, but try them first before you start thinking about bombing. But if it turns out that we're in an exact scenario, like with the Cordyceps, like in that show, then yeah, just start bombing.

C: Didn't they have to do that in, what was the, not Contagion, what was the... Outbreak? Isn't that how they had to contain the outbreak in the movie Outbreak?

E: They threatened to bomb a whole city, right?

C: Bomb the whole city, right? Wasn't that what they had to do?

E: Yeah, they had to quarantine everyone and then had to destroy everyone.

C: Yeah, it was gross.

E: Not a great solution.

C: Nope.

E: Not mushroom for error.

J: Oh my god, Evan.

E: Thank you.

B: Oh man, nice, nice. But it's a real fun show. Definitely I recommend it. We all recommend it. We just covered it on AQ6. It's really good. And we've only seen three shows. The third show was especially, especially wonderful. Great stuff. Check it out and don't get too freaked out. But yeah, we have to start getting really on top of this.

E: Something else we have to get on top of.

B: It's like, right. Imagine we're looking for, oh, we got to make sure that you won't get these mutated viruses. Like, oh, here comes the fungus, we're dead. It's like, hey, whoa, you got to start thinking about that too.

S: All right. Thanks, Bob.

Who's That Noisy? (1:07:04)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Song of the Spheres

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

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

[white noise]

Okay, it goes on for a little while.

B: Keep going.

J: I wanted to play it because as you'll find out, you should, you definitely have heard of something to do with this. All right. Well, a listener named Keely Hill said: "Hi there. At first I almost wanted to say a weather warning siren in a storm. Then audio from the next to a wheel on a high speed rail train." I totally get the weather warning siren because I hear that in there. Keely goes on. "But after knowing that it was a sonification, I will guess that it's a recording of the solar wind hitting some sensor on a spacecraft." That is interesting. And when you sonify things, anything could be anything. You're basically applying whatever sounds you want to the data that you have. However, that is not what this one is. But I mean, I've heard the sonification of solar wind many, many times. And it kind of has like a little screamy type of thing going on there. So you did not make a bad guess. Another listener wrote in named Andy Barrett. And Andy says: "Jay man, this noise is the sonification of an explosion, a big explosion. In fact, the biggest. This is the sonification of the cosmic microwave background radiation." Another cool and interesting guess. Not correct, but I did like that one because sure, that's what you'd expect the sonification of like the echo of the big bang would make. Another listener named Howard Cordingly. He said: "Jay, after explaining a sonification to my six year old son, Louis, he guessed the noisy is a computer restarting after it blue screened." Just think about that for a second. Imagine if you heard that noise. We have a winner from last week. I always like it when somebody wins. Gabriel Newton wrote in: "That's the music of the spheres recording." Does that ring a bell to anybody?

E: Oh wow, really?

S: Yeah.

E: The music of the spheres.

J: "Placed on the golden record of Voyager I and II. I happen to know it well as I have the Pulsar map tattooed on my back. I play the recording of the sounds of the earth"

E: Then he was cheating basically.

J: "I play the recording of the sounds of the earth to my middle school students every now and then. Thanks for all that you do." So yeah. So what is this? This is, so you guys know that Carl Sagan and several other people, including Ann Druyan, put together sounds from the earth. And they wanted to send these on the Voyager I and II deep space missions. If you don't know what Voyager I and II are, I recommend you pause right now and just go read about it on Wikipedia. Very, very interesting stuff. But anyway, they put all of these different sounds from humanity and from the earth onto these golden records. At the time, I guess the record was really the best way that they thought of being able to deliver the sound to aliens. That's essentially what the idea of this is, that some alien species would take that record and kind of figure out that there's marks on it that create vibrations and maybe they'll be able to hear what we sound like. So anyway, this is specifically though, the music of the spheres is a data sonification of the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn based on the book of the book Harmonices Mundi by Johannes Kepler. You guys are must have heard of him.

E: Oh, Johannes Kepler.

J: Johannes Kepler, my sweet mate.

E: And my husband Christian.

J: So anyway, this is very cool. I really like this era of NASA and the projects that they were doing. There's some deep romantic vision that I think was going on at the time. Really loved it.

New Noisy (1:11:17)[edit]

J: I've got a new noise for you guys this week. I hope you enjoy it.

[moving parts]

Okay so I will say this.

B: It's a robot jerking off.

S: No, that's what it sounds like when you get the cart at the grocery store with a squeaky wheel.

E: Oh, always.

C: That was definitely hotel bed sex. That's all I heard.

J: You are all correct. There is something really fun and interesting about this week's Noisy. If you think you know what it is or you heard something cool, just email me at

Announcements (1:11:59)[edit]

J: Steve.

S: Yeah.

J: We have a podcast.

S: Yes, I know.

J: We've been doing this for, we're on our 18th year. Is that correct?

S: That's correct. May 5th will be 19 years?

E: We'll start our 19th year.

S: It'll be 18 years. Complete, then we will start on 19th year.

E: Start 19.

J: That's amazing guys. Did we ever think? But anyway, if you enjoy this show, we would really appreciate, one, there's several things that you can do. One, just recommend the show to a friend. That would be wonderful. Bring some science and critical thinking to someone that you care about. Another thing that you could do would be to go and give us a rating on whatever podcast player you're using. That also helps other people find us. You could also become a patron if you really like the show and you really want to show your appreciation for the work that we do. You can go to and become a patron and help spread the word of critical thinking, which we so desperately need now, my god, more than ever in the history of humanity. Maybe not the history of all of humanity, but we need it now desperately. Another thing that's been going on, Bob, Steve and I have been doing AQ6 now. We have new episodes going up. We are having a lot of fun. There's just so much stuff on TV for us to pick from. We recently talked about the season three preview for Mandalorian, which was chock full of secrets, which if you hear all the-

S: Little nuggets in there.

J: Yeah, tons of stuff. That was so much fun to talk about. Anyway, AQ6, That's our science fiction review show.

S: And also, Jay, one quick announcement. So the question and answer session on the anti-vaccine documentary last Sunday did not happen last Sunday because one of the people involved, not me, had a family emergency. That's all I need to say. So we pretty much had to reschedule it. So it will be happening this Sunday, February 5th at 7pm. Go to Science Based Medicine and look at the post on the Virulent Online Screening and the Q&A that will be happening with David Gorski and I and the producers of the show at 7pm on Sunday.

J: And Steve, I came up with a podcast for Bob.

S: Oh yeah?

B: Yeah?

J: It's called Bob's Death Podcast.

S: Bob's Death Podcast?

B: Ooh, death. It's all about the so many different possibilities.

J: I know, right Bob? It could be about all the things you love.

E: You can call it Bobbing for Death.

B: Ooh, I like that.


Follow-up #1: Less or fewer (1:15:32)[edit]

S: All right, a couple of quick questions and emails. So a few episodes ago, Jay, I don't know if you remember this, but I chided you for saying less when you meant fewer.

J: Correct. You do that all the time.

C: How could he not remember?

E: And it still stings, right?

J: It happens all the time.

C: Barrage of emails we got.

S: I know. People are very interested in these linguistic arguments that we get into. And I blogged about it. And of course, it got more comments than any other blog that I've written.

B: It's pretty straightforward, though. What was the comments?

S: Well, it's not straightforward.

E: It's not. That's the point.

B: There's layers to fewer and less?

S: There is. So first of all, I want to make it clear, I was just kidding, Jay, because this is a running gag on the SGU. Not that I think it's not correct, or let me say preferred, to say fewer when you mean number of items as opposed to less, which is more about magnitude. But people question the very premise that any way of saying things is correct versus any other way of saying things.

E: Oh, relativism.

C: Yeah, super relativistic, though.

S: Yeah, I mean, but they seriously and very emotionally and vehemently take that position. But also, that's sort of the one group, right? Like, oh, it's prescriptionist rather than descriptionist. Like, OK, fine, you know. But the other group of people who tried to out pedantic me, basically, by saying that actually the preferring fewer to less in those situations is a recent made up rule by this guy, Robert Baker, in 1770. So it's not really a rule, which, of course, is silly, because then what makes a rule in grammar and language?

E: Right. What is the qualifier?

S: Yeah, I mean, the fact that it's all made up, right? So the idea that somebody "made it up" is not really a valid argument, in my opinion, because it basically is saying that because somebody suggested we should follow this rule and that people started following that rule, that that's not valid. We instead need to be using the words the way they were used a thousand years ago.

B: Like languages isn't a living thing.

S: Right. It's like it also like do we say anything like it was said a thousand years ago? I mean, that's not a reasonable standard.

E: Thous dontuth.

S: It's a very interesting discussion. The thing is, I am not a grammarian like Nazi saying you have to use it. This is the way it's the only way. Basically, it's all good as long as you are clear and unambiguous. But I also I don't take that to the extreme either. I think there's a difference between correct and preferred. And preferred is context dependent and is very much about what is an appropriate style for the venue in the context that you're in.

B: Exactly.

S: So you can say ain't if you really want to, but don't expect to read that in the New York Times. You know what I mean? If I'm lecturing or job interview at Yale, I might not use as much slang or vernacular as I would on the show or and on the show, I'm actually more formal than I would be in just in everyday life with my family and friends. Right. That's then that's fine. That's voluntary. It's style. I also do think that, while rules are ultimately arbitrary, and this probably comes from my medical bias, is that some things are done for convention, but the convention minimizes misunderstanding.

E: Yeah, it adds clarity.

S: It adds clarity. And it can also reduce cognitive load. So for example, the standard in neurology is to present the neurological exam in a specific order. Is that the correct order? Is there anything objectively better about that than anything else? No. It's a completely arbitrary convention. But I'm used to hearing the exam presented in that way. And if you start jumping around in an unfamiliar way, it increases my cognitive load.

B: And Steve's loaded enough.

S: And I'm loaded enough. We're all loaded. If you're practicing medicine, you are at the always peaking at your cognitive load. I mean, and anything that makes you think harder is a negative, in my opinion. But anyway, it's not that big a deal. And we have fun with it. We don't really make a big deal out of it. But it is interesting to think about what is correct, what approach should we take. Is anything goes as long as it's unambiguous, adequate rule? Or is enforcing a convention for consistency and style reasonable? There's no right or wrong answers to any of these things, just different choices that we make. So like somebody like Baker was saying, if we want to be consistent, we can use these words in this way. And then, people started doing it. OK, that's fine. But then there are other ones where I think they're silly rules and we should ignore them. Like not ending a sentence with a preposition. That's also a rule where someone said, you know what, we should do this. And then people started doing it. But really, it's actually more of a burden than a help to anything. And people generally ignore it.

E: I still recognize it when I do it. I'm like, damn it, I ended with the word to.

S: But I don't know. It's easier to do that.

E: Of course it is. Yeah, it just flows. It flows.

S: Yeah, right. We talked about like whole nother.

C: I can't deal with whole nother.

S: Whole nother, man. It's easier to say than whole other.

C: I say whole other.

S: But here's the thing. Here's a real bottom line. It's whatever sounds good to you, which is completely dependent on where you're from and how you grew up. I used, when I wrote about it, I used it as an example. I knew somebody when I was younger who said, I seen, instead of I saw. I seen it. And to me, that sounded like completely ignorant, right? To my ears, then and now.

E: How about I done seen?

S: But then somebody points out, that's actually common vernacular in the South.

C: Of course.

S: But coming from the Northeast, it's just wrong. It's just plain completely wrong. And it is formally wrong. Again, you're never going to read it in the New York Times as like acceptable prose.

E: Or y'all. You're not going to read y'all.

S: Well, y'all is, the thing is y'all is understandably, everyone knows that y'all is slang, right? And it's vernacular.

C: But it shouldn't be.

S: I seen just sounds wrong. It doesn't sound like-

C: To you. But that's only to you.

S: I know that. I'm just saying.

C: Y'all sounds wrong to some people too. But I want to push for y'all to be more accepted.

S: Y'all is like you guys or whatever.

B: It doesn't sound wrong though, like I seen, it's different.

C: To you because you live in Connecticut.

B: That's implied.

S: That's my point.

C: But it's not really. So you should probably make it explicit.

S: No, but this is what I'm saying. I thought it was just wrong. And then I recently learned it isn't just wrong. In some subcultures, it's the vernacular. It is the, it's like, akse. I aksed you a question. Again, a lot of people who are not familiar with where that comes from think that it's just street slang or something. But it's actually has a long pedigree and history of an alternate way of pronouncing that word. And it is perfectly acceptable within certain subcultures. And this is an interesting discussion that's happening on many levels, including like in public schools. And that is like what is "proper English" or what standard English? And what should we be teaching in school? Should we be teaching some mutually agreed upon standard English or do we need to accommodate everyone's local vernacular? And in that case, is there anything that you could say is correct or incorrect in English? And what does that mean? Hmm. It's an interesting dilemma. You seem to have an opinion on this, Cara. What do you think?

C: Well, I mean, I think it depends on what publishing standards are you like. Are you talking about speech? Are you talking about writing? Obviously they're publishing standards. If you're going to write in something as APA or MLA or Chicago. In school, I think that it depends on where your school is. I very much do believe in cultural contextualism. So I'm not a cultural absolutist and I'm not a cultural relativist. And I think this applies to a lot of things. Cultural absolutists think that no matter what culture you're from, there's like a right and a wrong about everything. Cultural relativists take it to the other extreme and say that everything relies on culture. And the example I often use is something like female circumcision. There are cultures by which this is a standard practice, but I still think it's a violation of human rights. I don't care how much the culture has accepted it over time. The culture is behind. It's a basic violation of human rights. I'm a contextualist. So that means that I have to think about both of those things at all times. So I think it depends on where is your school? What are you teaching? Are we talking elementary school versus middle versus high school? And yes, maybe there's a standard English grammar that you're learning in elementary, middle, and high school. And maybe by the time you're in college and you're taking language courses, you're starting to integrate conversations about, is the white Western ideal, or maybe earlier, it actually should be earlier than that. Is the white Western ideal, the people who wrote history because they were in power, the ones who should have the say? So yeah, I actually think that this is deeper than just words.

S: It's very complicated. I agree. Again, a lot of people think, and they get really emotional about this, that not only is it racial, but even if you eliminate race, it's socioeconomic. And they say that, "proper grammar" is all about people in power keeping down the peasants by saying you're not even speaking correctly because you're stupid.

C: Well because historically, that is how you maintain power was you maintained literacy lines. There were literally literacy tests for people to vote. Like that's voter suppression.

B: That was horrible.

C: Yeah, but like that's exactly what we're talking about.

S: A fascinating issue. And I'm with you on like sort of almost agnostic about the whole thing. I'm like, I don't really have any-

C: I think you teach it in context. You always teach it with context. That's the most important thing you can do.

S: Well, here's one thing I do firmly believe in is that whatever you feel is the best compromise in terms of the approach to grammar and style, whatever, it should all be without judgment or shame. There's absolutely no reason to interject any of that. And if you do, if you like shame people because they're not saying things the way you are, you're kind of justifying and supporting the view that it is really about keeping people down. And because that's you're actually demonstrating that to some small degree. All right. We're not going to resolve this.

E: So I have license to mispronounce everything. Great.

S: No, I have the right to enforce my style on my own podcast. Right?

E: Oppressionist. Oppressionist.

S: I'm the editor and producer of this forum. So I get to have a style that I impose. All right. Which we do. We actually do. There are certain things that we decided that we're not going to say just because we don't want to get millions of emails or whatever. But and we do adhere to a style. It's voluntary. Again, it's no shame or judgment. It's just, hey, this is probably appropriate in this context. All right.

Follow-up #2: North American Standard Plug (1:27:17)[edit]

S: One more really quick. So Cara, you'll be happy to hear this. When I was talking about Aptera and Aptera, that solar powered electric vehicle that they're planning on making. They're planning on using the North American standard plug, which is the Tesla plug. And I didn't look any deeper into it. I just read that in the article about Aptera. And I just say, oh, yeah.

C: And I was like, how is that the North American standard?

S: Right, right. So apparently I opened a whole can of worms there. But it's an interesting story. It's an interesting story. So very, very quickly. In November of 2022, Tesla decided to just change the name of their plug to North American standard.

C: That's such an Elon Musk thing to do.

S: It's really just by Fiat. It's North American.

E: It's like the guy who came up with the grammar rule and say 1700. It's this way now.

S: But there were some actual changes to go with. So it's the NACS, the North American charging standard. And he did, as part of that announcement, he is saying he's opening up. It's no longer going to be proprietary. He is opening it up to car makers to use for their cars and for charging station manufacturers to use in their charging stations. And so, basically they provided the schematics and say, here you go. It's now it's no longer a proprietary Tesla. It's a North American standard. However, there already is a standard. It's an international standard, the CCS.

C: And that's the J1 plug, right?

S: Yes.

C: Yeah. Okay.

S: Yeah.

C: Ha!

S: So.

E: Satisfaction.

S: But there's a lot of wrinkles to this story. And one is that, well, Tesla says, okay, but, most cars and most charging stations are still Tesla in the US or in North America. And so even though there might be more people who are backing the CCS standard here, he's not talking about internationally. That's why it's the North American standard. We still dominate. And so, but more importantly, he said, is that our connector is better. So in researching this, that is the one point of absolute consensus that I found. I didn't read anybody who disagreed with the point that it's objectively better.

E: Oh, boy. Well, that could win the day.

S: Well, that's so this.

C: Yeah, but then you have to backward move it.

S: I know. So I'm conflicted here because when you look at I've done a really deep dive on this. So the Tesla connector is smaller. The it's what it's one connector for both the AC and the DC fast charging. It's more efficient. And it's more powerful. The CCS standard is huge and clunky, especially if you also if you have the AC and the DC, which are two separate connectors.

C: But it's also two separate charging styles.

S: Yeah. But they are they can exist together. And then when they do, you have this big clunky things.

C: Oh, I think they have to exist. I think if you want to charge DC, it's-

S: Yeah either AC alone or AC plus DC. So if you want to do fast charging, you need the AC plus DC. And it's this huge clunky thing that's not as good as the Tesla charger.

C: But you would also never have that like in a like those are big, crazy charging stations that you have to pay for. That wouldn't be in your house.

S: Well, unless you want fast charging in your house, right in your house-

C: Then you have to do the-

S: -AC one, which is still bigger than the Tesla one.

C: Yeah, but I mean.

S: They're not as good, but it's not as bigger.

C: It's negligible. But yeah, it doesn't click into place as well.

S: Yeah, but what it doesn't click, it doesn't just doesn't work as well. The other thing is that the Tesla one is so small, you could hide it behind a light and stuff. Whereas the CCS standard, you basically have a big gas cap door, you open up and then the other this big, charger in there. All right. So how do we how do we there's there's multiple things. The CCS is already basically the agreed upon standard except for Tesla. But Tesla has a bigger market share. And it's an objectively better connector. So where do we go from here? And so far, the only company to sign on to Musk's offer was Aptera, right? It was that one car company is the only ones. And again, from what I'm reading is that yeah, startups are probably going to love the Tesla connector because it's better. But if you already have cars on the road and in production using the CCS standard, it would be a huge pain in the ass to convert over to the North American charging standard, the NACS. Some people are saying, yeah, it's it's it's a done deal. It's CCS and it's Tesla's, they're out of their minds. Other people are like, this it's but it's better. So shouldn't we just make the switch, pull that bandaid off and do it? So I don't know what's going to happen. If I had to guess based on everything I'm reading, I think that it probably is a done deal that CCS is going to be the standard. We may have to live with them side by side for the indefinite future.

C: Is there a cost difference?

S: Yes, they're cheaper. The Tesla ones are cheaper to make.

C: Oh, then we that's stupid. We just need to move. We just need to deal with it. We're going to have to use adapters for a while and then move over. I mean, if he's making this open source, right?

S: Yeah, he is.

C: He's not going to make money off of this.

S: Well, I think he just the cynical view is that because there's a lot of there's billions of dollars now for putting in charging stations. He wants some of that money to go to Tesla's charging stations because they are an open standard now. You could have an adapter. So anybody can have an adapter to use a Tesla's charging station. And he's going to make the infrastructure work that way.

C: And he already has so much infrastructure. So it's like, he can just start making money off of the all the people who aren't driving Tesla right now.

S: The thing is, they should have figured this out 10 years ago. That's the real answer. But that is that ship has sailed.

C: Well, but who is they? That's kind of unfair. Tesla overcame the market, the market did figure it out. And then Tesla did something different.

S: No, well, apparently there was this is an even more complicated issue that I didn't fully get into. I just I'm just aware that it exists, that there's a lot of history and bad blood on both sides about how this all came about how we got to this place. And part of it was because Tesla didn't go along with the standard, but also they didn't go along with his technology. And, whatever is this. There's a lot more detail.

C: There were a lot of electric cars before Tesla.

S: Yeah, absolutely. But they but it was early technology. So I think there's a lot of parallels between the USB standard and Apple. And with Tesla playing the role of Apple, remember when Apple came out with their lightning charger and everyone was like, it's objectively better. It's smaller, it's more powerful, it's reversible, but it's not the standard. And then we and then we sucked it up and we had three freaking chargers for all of our devices until the USB-C basically became truly universal. So maybe that's what will happen. They'll exist side by side and then some new better standard will emerge in 10 years or something and then we'll all move over to that. Although it's harder with cars because you don't turn them over as often as you do your iPad or your phone. So it's definitely a different technology. But it is interesting that it's the same thing. And I remember thinking, yeah, everyone should just go over to the lightning charger. It's objectively better in every way than this crappy micro USB and whatever, the standard USB, the A, the B, whatever. It's all crap.

C: You never got them in the right way the first time.

S: I know.

C: Had to turn it over.

S: I know. So it's just that unfortunately, the industries can't get their shit together early enough in the game to settle on the best technology as the standard. And when you read the response of the committee that puts out the, it's the C-H-A-R-I-N, is the people who are in charge of the CCS standard. It really looks like you could say, okay, yeah, this was something designed by a committee because it looks like it really was. Because they're like, oh, but we have to go through years of standardization and all this stuff. It's like, yeah, that's why Musk just bypassed all that and made a better product rather than have getting bogged down in this bureaucratic nightmare and coming up with a substandard technology. But that's how you get to a standard. And I don't think it's going to work out well for consumers is the bottom line. Unfortunately, I think it's going to be a mess. I would like everyone to just get together and decide what's best for consumers and then go with that. Whatever that is, some plan, some five or 10 year plan about how we're going to all merge to the best standard. But right now, so this is just an extension of the plug wars as they're calling it. This is just the latest salvo. I wasn't even aware it exists. I just thought everybody had their own standard. So we're in the middle of the plug wars and this is just the latest round and it's not going well from the consumer perspective. All right guys, let's go on with Science or Fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:36:37)[edit]

Item #1: Scientists have developed an elastic material that is also impermeable to water and gas.[7]
Item #2: A systematic review of existing research finds that eyewitness photo lineups identify the wrong suspect >50% of the time.[8]
Item #3: New Research finds that placing bird decals on the inside surface of windows does not reduce bird strikes.[9]

Answer Item
Fiction Eyewitness photo lineups
Science Impermeable elastic material
Bird decals
Host Result
Steve clever
Rogue Guess
Bird decals
Eyewitness photo lineups
Eyewitness photo lineups
Impermeable elastic material

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real, one fake. And then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one they think is the fake. We just have three news items this week. You guys ready?

J: Yep.

S: All right. Item number one, scientists have developed an elastic material that is also impermeable to water and gas. Item number two, a systematic review of existing research finds that eyewitness photo lineups identify the wrong suspect greater than 50% of the time. And item number three, new research finds that placing bird decals on the inside surface of windows does not reduce bird strikes.

J: Jay, go first.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: All right. This first one here, scientists have developed an elastic material that is also impermeable to water and gas. Yeah, I mean, I don't see why. There's got to be something hidden in here that I'm not getting. Okay, it's an elastic material that water and gas can't pass through. I don't think that's that big of a oh my god. So, okay. Second one, the systematic review of existing research finds that eyewitness photo lineup identify the wrong suspects half the time. Wow. I'm surprised to hear that because you would think that it would be a lot more accurate than that. That's interesting. Then the last one, new research finds that placing bird decals on the inside surface of windows does not reduce bird strikes. I mean, really? These are like ubiquitous and why wouldn't it work? It's giving them a visual cue that something is there. I don't know. I'm going to say that that one is the fiction.

S: Okay, Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: The elastic material that is also impermeable to water and gas. Elastic. I mean, that's nice because as it changes its shape and elasticity, it will continue to maintain its seal, which is apparently a challenge because they just developed this not so up to speed on the material science aspect of this, but that sounds good. The second one about the research finding that eyewitness photo lineups identify the wrong suspect less than 50% of the time. Oh boy. That would be kind of surprising in a way. Gee whiz. And scary. I mean, the fallibility of people's memories and certainly when they're trying to remember things that have happened, does that also translate when you're, it's a photo lineup, not an in-person physical lineup, a photo lineup. Interesting. Less than 50% of the time. I don't know about that one. The last one about placing bird decals on the inside surfaces of windows does not reduce bird strikes. If that were the case, then there would be something maybe because of the gas that lies between the window often that would interfere with the effect. Does that mean what? It would have to go on the outside of the window? Is that basically what this is saying? Instead of the inside surface? Is that the difference here? Okay. I have a feeling though. I'll go with the eyewitness photo lineup identity. In a way, it sounds intuitive. You're kind of playing on our skeptical sort of predispositions, but maybe it's a lot more efficient or has a lot better success than we think.

S: Okay. Cara?

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Elastic material that's impermeable to water and gas. Like rubber? I guess rubber is not impermeable to gas, but like a really, really good version of that, like a polymer that's just really good. Yeah, whatever. I trust the material scientists to come up with something cool like that. I think it's between GWJ and GWE. I don't know the whole thing about a gas inside. I'm just thinking that maybe the reason birds fly into windows is not because they're clear, but because they're reflective. Maybe that's the problem. If the sun is shining and there's a sticker on the inside of a window, maybe a bird still can't see it because the reflection is still bright. You know what I mean? You can't always see stuff on the inside of a window if the sun is reflecting off of it. So I wonder if that would be the reason for that. Okay, then yeah, maybe I'm going to go with Evan on this because yeah, greater than 50% of the time at first blush, I was like, oh yeah, that's definitely true. But maybe it's not that high. Maybe it's more like a quarter of the time. So I'm going to go with Evan on this and say it's the eyewitness photo one that's the fiction.

E: I like the company, but it increases the pressure.

C: Always.

S: Okay, and Bob?

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Anecdotally, the bird decals don't do shit.

C: Maybe that's because you're putting them on the inside of the window.

B: Mom, I would visit my mom and she'd be like, the bird's slamming into the window again, the sliding door, and I put decals everywhere. It made no difference.

J: Well, thanks for telling me that, Bob.

E: Yeah, but they had like skulls and zombies on them.

B: No, they were like pleasant bird silhouettes. And I think I actually at the time did some research and obviously didn't see this new research, but I think other websites, at least anecdotally, were saying the same thing. It really doesn't do much. The eyewitness photo lineups, I could see that they would be wrong greater than 50% of the time. Makes sense because to me, a photo is just too static. It's one type of lighting, it's one specific angle, and it's very hard to get a feel for somebody's real face and expression from just a picture. I could see how that would be too much less data or was it fewer data?

E: It's whatever your culture wants, Bob.

B: In terms of somebody's face.

C: Well, data is technically plural.

S: It's less data because-

C: It's less data, that's true, because it's a lot of data. But it would be, yeah, it would be fewer datums.

E: Date, date, right?

S: Fewer numbers of data.

B: So I could see that. I could see how that would be, the photo lineups are not good. And I would predict that Steve would say that the in-person lineups might have a much better track record. The first one with the elastic material, I have no idea. So because the other two seem reasonable, I'm going to say that one's fiction.

E: All over the place.

C: You're going with the first one?

E: Yeah. We are all over the map.

C: Oh, interesting.

E: Steve loves these moments.

C: Yep.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All right. So since we're all spread out, I guess I'll take them in order. I'll start with the first one.

B: Fuck.

S: Scientists have developed an elastic material that is is also impermeable-

E: Bob, remember the SGU culture and the language.

S: -to water and gas. Bob, you think this one is the fiction. Everyone else thinks this one is science. And this one is science. This is science. Now this is more amazing than Jay thinks because it is a big deal because there's generally this inverse relationship, whereas the more elastic something is, the less impermeable it is to water and gas. And if you make-

B: It's the fewer impermeable it is.

S: If you make something impermeable to gas, that usually makes it stiff and rigid. So like, Cara, your example of rubber, when you stretch rubber, it lets gas through, right? It's not good that way. So that's been sort of a rule of material science for a long time. So scientists had to find a way around that, and they did, and in a really cool way. So they made a liquid metal-based soft, hermetic, and wireless communicable seal-

B: Liquid metal.

S: -for stretchable systems.

J: Remarkable.

S: So they make liquid metal. This itself is cool. And this is sort of a bonus, what's the word. They used a eutectic alloy.

J: Yep.

B: Ooh, I've heard that before.

S: Have you? What does it mean?

B: Yeah. I don't remember.

S: E-U-T-E-C-T-I-C, eutectic. It means that the alloy has a lower melting point than either of the constituent parts.

E: Oh, interesting.

S: Yeah, so this is-

E: That's fascinating.

S: Yeah, it's an alloy of gallium and indium, and that alloy is liquid at room temperature. So what they do is they put that liquid metal inside of a polymer, an elastic polymer. Then they use glass beads to keep it from clumping. So they keep it spread out. And then there you go. So you have the elasticity of the polymer and the impermeability of the liquid metal. Now, this isn't a cheap solution to this, but they said, it's not that crazy expensive, but it's not the kind of thing we're going to see at the grocery store. But they said for high-end electronics and for valuable cargo, this kind of application could be ideal because you could wrap it. It's elastic. And also for things that move where you need the elasticity, but you also need to, they need to be protected from gas so they don't combine with oxygen or whatever. So yeah, so there definitely will be some industrial applications to this. Now I couldn't say it was the first time they did this because I was going to do that, but I looked it up first and I saw earlier news items about other solutions to this, making elastic impermeable things. I don't know how they worked out, but I couldn't say it was the first because somebody else did it.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Okay, let's move on to number two. A systematic review of existing research finds that eyewitness photo lineups identify the wrong suspect greater than 50% of the time. Cara and Evan, you think this one is the fiction. Jay and Bob, you think this one is science. And this one is the fiction.

C: Yes.

E: Oh, wow.

C: Evan.

E: Yeah.

C: Whooo!

S: It's actually not that bad, but that's not even what the study was really about. It was about picture lineups. But they're trying to make it better. How good do you think it is? But also you could rate it in different ways, how often do they correctly identify the guilty person? How often do they not identify an innocent person? You know what I mean?

E: Oh, right.

S: The overall accuracy is actually about 81%.

C: Oh, wow. That's way better than I thought.

E: That's a lot better.

S: Yeah. So typically, it'll be the person of interest and five people they know are innocent, right? So there's six pictures. And they ask the person to identify who they think the guilty person is. And they also ask, how confident are you? There is a positive correlation between the confidence and the accuracy. So if you say, I'm 100% confident, then that greatly increases the accuracy versus if someone says, I'm only 50% sure that's the guy. Then it goes way down. So it could be 30%. So the police officers can use that second bit of information to help them. But what's interesting is that we don't intuitively think that there's another way to use the lineup because we're always looking for the positive evidence, right? The other way to use a lineup is to eliminate people as innocent, not just to find the person who's guilty because that's really valuable to the police as well if they could take somebody off their list. So that's what the study was about. Was there a way to increase overall accuracy but also increase the utility of the lineup in terms of eliminating innocent people?

B: But I thought you said that there's typically one person of interest and the other ones aren't. So who cares if they get rid of somebody who isn't? He wasn't even on the list.

S: But Bob, the person of interest could be innocent. The person of interest is not always guilty, right?

B: So if they remove him, the person of interest, then that would be good. Right, that would be good, but not the other people. That's what I thought you were saying.

S: No, no, no. So again, the person of interest is a person of interest. We can't assume that they are guilty. So the police want to know, is this guy guilty? They want to know if he's guilty, not just prove that he is guilty, obviously assuming that the police are doing their job correctly. All right, so the study was looking at a recommended tweak to the procedure where you ask the person who, which of these, or any of these six people, the guy who mugged you or whatever, like the perp. And sometimes it's none of them. Sometimes it's all six innocent people. They do that for controls. And so the person could say, if they, they could say, I don't know. They could say, I don't think it's any of these people. Or I can say, I think it's this guy, and I'm 60% sure. But then they say, okay, they go through all six people and say, how sure are you that this person is not the perp? And then they give, they give a percentage for each of the six people, not just the, the one person that they think is, is guilty. So let's say the guilt, the person of interest is number two, is picture number two. The witness says, I think it's person number four. That doesn't really give the police that much information. And they say, I'm 60% sure that it's number four. They haven't really ruled in or ruled out the person of interest. But if they then say, for each of the six people, what's your confidence, the other five people that say, what's your confidence that they're not the person. If he goes to the person of interest and said, I'm 100% sure it's not him, then that can eliminate the person of interest as, as innocent, even though he wasn't even identified as the suspect by the witness.

B: So I would think, Steve, that if you also had multiple eyewitnesses.

S: Of course.

B: And you correlate all of that data, you could really start raising your confidence levels.

S: Yeah, absolutely. That's already kind of built into the system. If you have them, right, you have to keep them apart from each other. They have to be completely independent. If you can correlate multiple witnesses saying it's the same person, that's hugely important. But if you only have one witness, this is really helpful. Or if you want to maximize the utility of each witness, right? Because again, if the person, think about it this way, if the person of interest is innocent, then nobody in the lineup should be guilty. Unless they happened to throw the guilty person in there, even if they think they're innocent, which they wouldn't do. They use people they know are innocent. So just guessing the person who looks the most like the person of, the guilty person, the actual perpetrator is, it's essentially, it just says the witness could not identify the person of interest as the perpetrator. But if the witness then further says, I'm 100% sure it's not him, that is much more useful. It's more useful to the police officers and it's more useful in a court of law as testimony. They were 100% sure that it wasn't my witness, my client or whatever. So anyway, and that also improved the overall accuracy to 87% from 81%, which is not huge, but it's actually every bit counts, especially when you're getting close to 100. It's actually sounds more if you go like the error rate was reduced from 19 to 13%. It sounds a little bit more impressive. But anyway, I thought that was interesting, but it's just a fun way to talk about that. I also assumed that it was probably pretty bad and it was better than I thought it was. But yeah, it's still, it's good. It's imperfect, but it's, you can use imperfect bits of evidence to, to still move, you towards the answer. You know what I mean?

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Anyway, all of this means that new research finds that placing bird decals on the inside surface of windows does not reduce bird strikes is science because you have to place them on the outside of the window.

E: It is outside.

S: So Evan was correct. If you put them on the outside, they work really well. They reduce bird strikes and bird deaths. So in this study, they study two different brands of the bird stickers to keep birds from striking windows. One brand, the bird shades, we increased window avoidance by 47%. The other one, Havercamp, increased avoidance by 39%, but only when placed on the outside. There was no statistical change when they were placed on the inside for either brand. What the researchers suspect is that because of just the nature of the light refraction that the birds can't see the decals when they're on the inside of the window. So Bob, were you placing them on the inside or the outside?

B: I tried everything inside, outside, inside. I even tried it in the glass itself.

S: Yeah.

E: How did you do that?

S: I know we talked about that, it was probably just something about the way the sun was striking those windows that it just wasn't working. But this is important. This is especially important because on the buildings that are probably the most, the greatest bird killers in terms of window strikes are high rises. And people tend to put the stickers on the inside because it's a lot easier than putting them on the outside of a high rise, of a skyscraper or any kind of tall building. And so it's good to know that, no, you got to put them on the outside, otherwise they don't work. Which probably means they should build this technology into the windows. You know what I mean? Just build it. On installation, you have bird avoidance technology built into the windows because it kills a lot of birds. It's still small compared to cats. We talked about that a couple of times in the past, but it's still millions of birds a year. So I mean, it's still, it would be a good thing to avoid it. It's also good not to have dead birds or all around buildings.

C: So sad.

S: And there's like this one window at where I work and there's always a dead bird below that window. Various states of decay-

S: Tell them to put a sticker on it.

S: -just keep getting replaced by new birds. Yeah. On the outside of it.

E: Yeah. Make sure it's the outside.

B: Just put the words "window".

S: So put your stickers on the outside. That's the lesson of that study. All right. Well, good job, Cara and Evan.

E: Thanks.

B: Whatever.

C: Thanks, Evan.

E: Hey, you're welcome. Thank you, Steve. You're a fun guy.

S: Thank you. And Evan, give us a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:55:19)[edit]

But as Deepak Chopra taught us, quantum physics means anything can happen at any time for no reason.

 – Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, fictional character in the American animated television series Futurama. 

E: "But as Deepak Chopra taught us, quantum physics means anything can happen at any time for no reason." Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, of course, of Futurama fame. I wanted to throw a little fun and humor into the quote this week.

S: All right. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

J: Any week you need me.

E: Thank you, 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]

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