SGU Episode 922

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SGU Episode 922
March 11th 2023
922 colorful dinosaurs.jpg

T-rex stalking a pair of Torosaurus.
Artist: Luis V. Rey

SGU 921                      SGU 923

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Science is magic that works.

Kurt Vonnegut, American writer

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Cara's trip to Jordan and Covid[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, March 9th, 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: Good evening everyone.

S:' Welcome back Cara.

C: Thanks, I shouldn't have said howdy I should have said marhaba.

S: Yeah, how was your trip?

C: Right, it was incredible. I'm super sad to be home. Do you have this experience? Like when I travel internationally, especially when I just dive deep into being somewhere that's so different from where I usually live, I don't want to leave and I get really sad before it's time to come home. And it's interesting because some of the people in my trip were like, oh, I can't wait to sleep in my own bed, oh, I can't wait to be back. And I was like, what? I don't have that. I don't want to go home. I want to stay here for forever. It's how I always feel.

S: Yeah, I feel kind of both. I mean, I definitely like getting home and back into my own bed after traveling.

C: The trip, yeah the airplane part.

S: The trip home itself sucks. Yeah, but I enjoy being on vacation, especially being someplace interesting and I'm never ready to go home.

C: Well. Right. Unfortunately, this wasn't really vacation, but it was really, really incredible. And we did do a couple of vacation-y things while we were there, to be honest.

E: And Cara, where exactly did you go, just in case people don't know?

C: All right. So we went to Jordan in the Middle East, which is an Arabic-speaking country. We were kind of stationed in Amman the whole time. I shouldn't say the whole time. Like that's where we went every night to sleep. So we stayed in the same hotel every night and would go on these, like, basically roadtrips and then come back because Jordan's not a huge, huge country, so you can do that. We were doing psychological intervention mostly with Palestinian refugee children. So in a few different sites, a couple of sort of like orphanage type schools, one Catholic. I guess it was sort of like a mission where they had children, like a foster mission. So it was like on the church grounds. And then also in a really, really large refugee camp, which I think a lot of people expect refugee camps to look like, and here I'm kind of speaking to the American listeners, but like FEMA tent camps. I think that's the idea that a lot of people have in their heads, and sure, in immediate crisis situations that is going to be what you have are these temp camps that are set up. But I would say that this refugee camp reminded me much more of like, basically like a shanty town in South Africa. It was like really developed because it had been there since the 90s. And so there was a ton of industry. There was, it was full of people. I think 120,000 people lived in this refugee camp. And so there were shops and hair cut places and grocers and like everything that you would think of. But we visited a school to do some intervention and assessment with children. We also visited a local university and did a couple of other things. And then of course a handful of touristy things that you have to do when you go to Jordan. We visited Petra, which was incredible. We floated in the Dead Sea, which was incredible. We visited this site where supposedly Jesus was baptized, like in the Jordan or near the Jordan River.

J: So he wasn't there?

C: He wasn't there. No, he didn't pay us a visit. Neither did John the Baptist, but there was a lot of really cool stuff there. We visited the citadel. We visited Mount Nebo. The thing about Jordan and you know, a lot of places in the Middle East is that they're old, really, really old. And so you see, I mean, just the archaeology, just the history, we're talking all the way from like neolithic to Byzantine to Greek to Roman, like and you're seeing all of thedifferent, as I call it, lore from-

E: The Creedle of Civilization.

C: Exactly. From like Jewish culture to Christian culture, Muslim culture. Of course, we see all of the infighting over what's considered the Holy Land by so many different warring factions, but I'm just really fascinating and incredible history and wonderful people and oh my God, the food. I can't even.

J: All right so favorite part, worst part.

C: Oh, I can't say favorite part. There's too many that were so cool. I really enjoyed the citadel, I would have loved to have spent more time. I really enjoyed Petra, I would have loved to have spent more time. And floating in the Dead Sea was so freaking weird, you guys. The Dead Sea is so weird.

S: High salt content, you float really easily.

C: You float, you can't like stand. It's like you try to stand up straight and you like your feet fly out from underneath that because you're so buoyant.

B: Even standing straight up and down, wow.

C: Standing straight up and down is the hardest thing to do in the Dead Sea. Like yes, if you can anchor your feet on the floor, but if it's deep enough that you can't, like being vertical is almost impossible. You either flip forward or flip backward.

B: Wow. That's even more buoyant than I anticipated.

C: Oh, you're so buoyant in it, it's weird. It also burns. You can't get it in your eyes and you don't want to get it in your mouth or really on your face at all. And if you have any little nicks or cuts in your skin, like they were like don't shave your legs before you get it.

B: Nice.

C: Yeah, because you would feel it. And then of course there's like the Dead Sea mud and who knows how much like woo-woo pseudoscience we're like slathering it all over ourselves. And it was just amazing.

E: Keep Gwyneth Paltrow away. She might get ideas.

C: Oh, I'm sure she already does. Yeah. But it was, oh gosh, just too much to count. It was just incredible. Best part, worst part? I don't think there was a worst part. Oh, I'll tell you what the worst part was.

E: Leaving.

C: Yeah, leaving. I apologize to my cohort. This was a group of people all the way from two professors, two postdocs, myself who's an intern and then down to trainees everywhere from like fourth year, third year, second year and first year graduate students in psychology, okay, so it ran the gamut. Some of, it was a group of maybe like 20-ish people. It was kind of a big unwieldy group. Lots of times it felt like we were hurting cats. We were sort of on Arabic time the whole time. We never really had an itinerary. It was sort of like, yeah, I think it's going to happen. Let's wait and see. So that part was hard for some people. And for me, when I first arrived, one of and love you, if you're listening, love you, but one of the girls literally goes, are there normal plugs in this room?

E: Oh, no.

C: And I was like, by normal, do you mean American? Oh, my God.

E: North American Standard.

C: Wow. So like, it was pretty incredible to see that some people on the trip had never even left the country, and some people were very seasoned travelers, and about four or five of them were actually Jordanian or Palestinian themselves and spoke some Arabic and had ties to the region. And so it was a real, and one of the people on the trip was actually Jewish and Israeli. And so it was like a really interesting mix of people. And it was incredible to see how the trip affected everybody and changed them. So yeah.

J: Awesome.

C: Loved it.

S: Yeah, it's definitely a good thing to visit other cultures, man, because you don't even realize what is cultural about your culture until you experience something different.

E: That's right.

C: Exactly. And I think one of the things that we as sort of, and I say we, because I'm talking about the five of us in this room, but maybe the royal we as well, but you see this a lot in Western culture that people are like, I'm going to go visit another culture. I'm going to Australia. I'm going to England.

E: To Toronto.

C: Exactly. And it's like, okay. So and don't get me wrong. It's, there are things that are different. Don't get me wrong.

S: And it put beets on their hamburgers.

C: But yeah-

E: Savages.

S: Don't get me started.

C: If you've never visited a culture that's like wildly different, like going from an individual list to a collective is culture, going from a predominantly Christian to a predominantly Muslim culture, going to a culture that utilizes, I guess a capitalist it, well, it's all freaking capitalism now, but a democratic rule to a monarch parliamentary rule or the types of laws that we have versus, it's not complete Sharia law, but, a theocracy, like it is important, I think, for people to see how people live all over the world. And to know that what we see in our news media is given to us through a lens, a various lens. Here in the United States, we don't always see the Palestinian view. And so being in a place where the Palestinian view is the dominant view was really eye opening to me.

S: Sounds like a good trip. And then you got COVID on the way home.

B: Yeah, I'd love to go there. Oh boy.

C: Right on the way home. I mean, honestly, I can't complain because I was well the whole time I was there.

S: Yeah.

C: So like that's the part that matters. This sucks. I'm curled up on my couch with my headset on recording the episode, but like can't be complained. I'm comfy here with my dog. So.

E: How does your medicine, how does your medicine taste?

C: Right? We're just talking about it offline. Paxlovid. I call it paxlovid. I've heard some people call it paxlovid. Like COVID.

E: I've heard paxlovid.

C: That just doesn't roll off the tongue.

S: I think it's paxlovid.

C: I said, yeah, paxlovid just sounds whatever. It doesn't matter. It's weird. It's three pills twice a day for five days. So then they're big, honken pills. So it's just a lot of swelling of pills. And the back of my mouth tastes like burnt hair.

J: Oh, god.

S: Sounds horrible.

C: It's so gross. And everyone I talked to says that they had a really similar experience on it. Like, it worth it, right? Because hopefully it cuts down my symptoms and cuts down the time that I'm sick. But you guys, I thought I was, I thought I had magic unicorn blood.

B: No, just me, just me.

S: Bob is the only one left.

C: Three years I lasted.

S: Yeah, I went two and a half years.

E: That's impressive, though.

C: Right?

B: It is. It is. Be proud. You know, you're not quite at my level, but- (laughter)

C: Yeah. Yeah.

E: Bob? Bob.

C: Oh, I'm going to miss this.

E: When you get it and you will likely get it at some point.

C: I guess-

B: I could have even already had it for all I know.

C: True.

B: And not even know it.

E: Yeah, that's the other part.

C: And that's the thing. It's just constantly mutating. We're constantly dealing with these different variants. And you know what I think was the biggest sort of sad thing to me is that when I posted online, like, I guess I'm a mere mortal after all with my like positive test. I got a lot of responses of people being like, oh my gosh, I was doing so well and I caught it recently too or blah, blah, blah, best wishes. This is what I did. But I got a handful of responses from people again, mostly on Twitter. I'm just saying. That we're like, oh, is this really still a thing? Or do we really actually care about this?

S: Yeah.

C: Just people minimizing it so much. And I'm like, no wonder I caught it. Nobody acts like COVID exists anymore.

S: Yeah, I know.

B: It's only like, how many millions of people have died in the past few years from it?

C: Right.

B: So is that still a thing? Millions have died.

C: I know.

B: And many thousands are still dying. I mean, I'm not even sure what the number is right now. It's not, of course, it's not as bad as it was, but it's still a thing.

C: But it's partially only not as bad as it was because it's, because we have better medicine now.

B: Right. And yeah, exactly.

E: Well, until it impacts them someday, maybe they'll change at that point. I don't know.

C: You're right. You're so right.

B: It's kind of like also, it's not so much caring. It's like they're, they're enmeshed within an ecosystem of misinformation.

S: And some people don't still don't believe.

C: Yikes.

S: And they latch onto any, any better news that seems to support their narrative, without looking at the big picture.

C: Yep.

B: Or any good sources.

E: You know, if you can't tweet something nice, don't tweet anything at all. That is what my great grandmother said. (laughter)

C: Elon Musk vehemently disagrees with you on that.

E: I'm just saying.

C: Then like, what is Twitter for?

J: I think it's more complicated though.

S: I think she was quoting Abraham Lincoln.

E: Oh, right. Right, right.

J: I think different people have different things that enable them to do that, like one of them, I think, is just the whole internet balls phenomenon.

C: Internet balls. Yeah.

E: Yeah.

J: You know, it's very easy to be a jerk to someone who you really, you feel like there's zero consequence.

S: That's its own kind of social distancing.

C: For sure. Yeah. It's like, it's the phenomenon of like how you talk to somebody from your comfortable car in traffic versus how you would talk to somebody if you were sharing an elevator with them. It's just completely two different people. Like we are two different people in those situations.

Dumbest Thing of the Week (12:47)[edit]

S: Okay. Evan, you're going to start us off with the dumbest thing of the week.

E: Uh-huh. I haven't done this in a little while, but yes, in fact, I found an interesting subject for this version of the dumbest thing of the week. I'm also going to spare you the song this time. I don't want to abuse that privilege.

S: Thank you. Yes.

E: I don't, I'll break it out on special occasions. I don't want to be in every time thing. This week's dumbest thing of the week, it begs two questions of you. Number one, do you want more money? Number two, do you need better sleep? Hmm. Well, I can tell you how you can improve your financial disposition and your preferred sleeping position all in one sub-position. Because I read an article. I read an article online just a few days ago. I could not wait to impart this upon the SGU audience. And this article examined those very two questions, those two questions and came up with one miraculous panacea in two four letter words, two four letter words. Bull-shii. Oh, no. I mean, Feng Shui.

C: Oh, no. Yeah, that's sounds about right.

E: Yeah. Feng Shui.

J: It can help your sleep?

E: Oh, Jay, you have, oh my gosh, let me tell you all about it. Feng Shui, for those of you who don't know. Feng, the Chinese word for wind, Shui, the Chinese word for water. And while a literal interpretation of this could define Feng Shui as the act of sneezing saliva and mucus into the air. But Feng Shui is actually, it's the harnessing and direction of energy forces in order to harmonize individuals and animals with their surrounding environment.

C: Oh, and animals.

E: Yeah, it works for animals as well.

S: Why not?

C: Good to know.

E: Really? I mean, hey, people are animals.

C: What does it work for plants?

E: Well, I'm going to talk a little bit about plants a little later in the, in the, so standby for that.

B: Later? I thought this was a quickie.

E: Bob.

B: No, never mind.

E: Bob, patience. Patience.

B: Okay.

E: I get it's not cosmic background radiation and supermassive black holes, but bear with me on this one. All right.

S: Wait, we're from the airs too?

E: Oh, yeah. Through the practice of Feng Shui, a person can control the flow of energy, a chi, as it's known in Chinese, flow of energy in the environment. And through this control of the flow of energy, the person or an individual or an animal, apparently can achieve all sorts of things that they desire, like, well, what more money? Better sleep. Both. Solving world hunger, all of these things are good. And in this particular article I found it was published in The Advocate. The Advocate is a Louisiana newspaper. In fact, it's Louisiana's largest daily newspaper based out of Baton Rouge. It's both available still in print, and of course it is online, which is where I found it. And thank you to the writer of this article, Lauren Cheremy, for putting this together for us. And she asks, so you looking for a raise at work? Do you feel like your relationship is rocky? Maybe you're dealing with family drama again. When face with these situations as strange as it may seem, some people turn to Feng Shui to improve health and wellness, relationships, and monetary goals. And then she has us meet a Feng Shui expert, Cheryl Taylor Bowie. She's been consulting on Feng Shui for nearly 30 years, advising clients about how to arrange their homes, college dorm rooms, radio stations, offices, retail stores, and more. Now here's one example of her Feng Shui success. While working with a client, who is looking to improve family finances, Bowie recommended adding reflective, mirrored tiles behind the stove tops burners. The client took her advice in a few months later a financial windfall came into their lives. In Feng Shui, the stove represents wealth, and the idea that reflecting the burners visually in essence doubles the stove's burners and also the homeowners opportunities for wealth. See how that works?

C: Do they also like boil water on eight pots instead of four?

E: Oh sure, but at two at a time. You can't have odd numbers there. And for someone like Steve who prefers even numbers, Steve, there's some appeal there.

S: Double everything.

E: Anytime you got a mirror, just you know, you're dealing with even numbers.

C: That's true.

E: Now Bowie admits this is not magic, but she believes that Feng Shui can positively affect people's lives. How does she use Feng Shui to positively affect someone's life? With a magic map of course. It's a nine segment Bagua map, B-A-G-U-A. I had to look that up. Bagua map. Have you guys heard of this device before?

C: No.

E: No, it's new to me too.

B: Is that related to Mogwai from Gremlins?

E: Oh, yeah. You think so maybe, but maybe because Gremlins is based on a Chinese lore, isn't it? So I wouldn't be surprised. But in any case, Bagua map, new, I'm intrigued. I'm discovering something new about Feng Shui, something I've read about for what, 30 years now. It's a grid and it serves as an overlay of like a floor plan of a space and it helps you harness good chi in your homes and isolate and move away the bad chi. There's good chi and there's bad chi, by the way. Each of the nine areas of the Bagua map represent a certain theme. Just for example, I'll give you the locations here. In other words, so a picture in your mind, if you will, a grid, three by three. So it's nine. Hollywood squares or Brady Bunch, picture, whatever it is kind of in your mind about that.

S: Tic tac toe.

E: Yeah, tic tac toe. If you go to the center, there is your health and certainly you want the earth elements in your house or in the room in the center. If you go, I'll say down to the southwest part, then that's the love and marriage area. But if you go to the east, that's all about promotion of family and so forth. And there's nine areas on this particular, random grid. She also gives some sort of practical advice. You don't even need a map to do these sorts of things right now, if you want in your home right now, you can improve your life with Feng Shui by doing these things. Here's a quick checklist. Keep your toilet lids closed when they're not in use because an open toilet seat allows for a big drain of positive energy.

C: So all my positive energy is in my toilet?

E: Or it goes down the toilet, which I maybe is where the expression come. I don't know. Women should never put their purses on the floor. In Feng Shui, the purse should be kept at waste level or higher. Did you know that? Because of an old Chinese proverb, which says a purse on the floor is money out the door. Oh, my gosh. That is just brilliant.

J: Because it rhymes, like really?

C: Does it rhymes in like Mandarin.

B: Probably not.

C: It probably doesn't even rhyme in Mandarin or maybe it does. Who knows.

E: Here's another one. Keep your desk and bed out of the pathway of the door. Yeah. I'd say that definitely helps you open the door and, among other things, and to actually walk into an out of rooms by not having a bed or a desk right there to have to walk around.

C: But technically, isn't every bed in the pathway of the door?

E: Well, yes. And that actually goes to another sort of tip that you can have here. Sit in an office space where you are able to see the door. Okay. You have an office space. Is it like a dog leg or an L shape and you're around the corner and you can't see the, I mean, how many rooms are designed like that? It's, how do you not see the door in an office or a space or a room? So it's a, yeah, interesting one there. So in the same breath, in the same breath, there was yet another article this past week on Feng Shui. This time, the Daily Mail online. Uh, yeah, I know. I know, I know. Tabloid. But you'll thank me after I tell you about this one. This particular expert, her name is Gemma and she can help you in the bedroom. She says there are three things you should never, ever allow in your bedroom. Do you guys want to guess what those three things might be? Go ahead. What would-

J: A bear on cocaine.

E: Bear on cocaine. No, not on the list.

C: Well, okay, two things I don't allow in a bedroom are a television and a cell phone.

E: Well, television is correct. That's one of the three.

S: A venomous snake?

E: No, a venomous snake. Apparently those are okay.

S: Okay.

E: Cara, you touched on it earlier in the segment and I said I'd get back to it.

C: Plutonium.

E: Plutonium is allowed. Cara, what did you say earlier? We talked about... plants! No plants in bedrooms.

C: No plants, what?

E: No.

C: No, you have to have plants in your bedroom.

E: And the third item is a fish tank or an aquarium. You cannot have these three items.

C: I wouldn't want that in my bedroom either.

E: There are reasons why you shouldn't have these items in the bedroom. So the TV, the TV, because it has a screen, it acts like a mirror and it bounces that energy all around the room at night, resulting in poor quality sleep and health problems.

C: Wait, well, what if you just had a mirror in your bedroom? Is that ok? There are so many loopholes.

E: Cara, Cara, Cara, apparently you're not a Feng Shui expert like Gemma is.

C: This is so stupid.

E: And you know, and her TikTok video on this is like half a million views already.

C: That's actually pretty low for TikTok, but okay.

E: Yeah, I know. It's early. It just got, it just came out this week.

C: Got you.

E: Number two, plants. Plants you don't have in your bedroom because they have too much Yang energy. You see there's a Yin and then there's Yang.

S: Can you just bounce back more Yin?

E: No, apparently not because according to her, there's, she says way too much Yang energy. I think way is a technical measurement that would overcome anything of Yin in the room. And number three, the fish tank. Yeah, too much Yang energy again. And also moving water sometimes activates negative energy and there's that toilet again, right? So this all is connected, you can see the logic.

S: So no toilets in the bedroom.

E: But as long as the lid is closed, you can't see the moving water, which if, is attracts, the negative energy and brings it into the house. Yeah. So. And that constitutes the dumbest thing of the week.

S: That's the dumbest thing forever. I mean, it's just pretty good.

C: Forever.

B: I wouldn't go that far, but quite dumb.

S: It's quite dumb. And yeah, it's just, it's pure magic. That's one of the things I always amazes me about Feng Shui. It's just pure magic. And the storytelling is so dumb. It's such simplistic metaphors, like the energy is going down the drain, whatever. It's just so ridiculous. All right.

E: Right. If there weren't people and corporations and governments actually spending money on this stuff, it would be genuinely just hilarious. But a lot of people sink money into this and nothing proven about it. Obviously, it's been looked at and studied and science says no.

S: Yeah.

E: None of it.

News Items[edit]

Blood Test for Anxiety (24:02)[edit]

S: All right. Cara.

C: That's me.

S: Is there a blood test for anxiety?

C: I came across this article and I was like, no way. And like my spidey senses, my baloney detector, my skeptical tingles on the back of my neck went so up. And I've been really digging deep into this new article. It was published in molecular psychiatry. I think the thing that first bothered me about it was that some of the lead authors have their own company called Mindex Sciences, where they are basically trying to sell these blood tests. And that worries me because I feel like this is really, really premature. And so I was like, I don't know, moneyed interest here. But then I was thinking, okay, a lot, a lot, a lot of researchers spin out their own companies based on the research that they do in a laboratory. So that in and of itself isn't enough. It was enough to make me a little skeptical. It's not enough to make me poo poo this whole thing. So I was like, I'm going to do a deep dive and I did a deep dive. And I feel like this is a pretty strong study that was done. There's, yeah, it's actually really compelling. There are some things that I wish there was a little bit more data on like the genomics approach, probably because I have holes in my own knowledge. And they sort of when they wrote about it took a few things for granted, like based on a bunch of stuff in the literature. And I'm like, what's stuff? What literature? Where? And they didn't really get to into it. But let me go through step by step what these researchers did. Because it's pretty fascinating. I almost for a moment was like, why did you do all of this in one study? You didn't have to do all of this. You could have done one thing and one thing and one thing.

S: I'm glad they did though.

C: Yeah, but I'm glad they did because they tied together an entire narrative that really makes a compelling case for why a blood test for anxiety and previously they've done this already for mood disorders apparently. But why a blood disorder for anxiety could potentially be something that we see on the market. My biggest complaint and I'll just say it out at the gate is that the n, the number of subjects that they used is way too low. Their power is pretty good in this study. It's a very, very, very good pilot study to show proof of concept. But I want to see this replicated like on thousands of people. Okay, so here we go. What these researchers did is they said, we're curious if there's an objective way for us to measure whether or not somebody is experiencing an anxiety, the experience, clinically relevant, clinically significant anxiety. Can we find some sort of biomarker that tells us that they're having an anxiety state. Biomarkers, we've talked about quite a bit on the show. We've got to remember that biomarkers are proxies. I want to say that first and foremost, the study authors say that plenty of times too. They don't make any like broad assumptions that biomarkers are anxiety. Biomarkers are proxies for anxiety or proxies for anything really that you want to study. I like to think of them as correlates. They are things that we can measure that happen at the same time as the thing we're trying to get to the root of. And maybe there is a one-to-one correlation, but more likely there's a lot of stuff going on. And if this thing rises, this thing rises, but there's all sorts of stuff happening in between. So we've got to remember that. But that's what they want to look for. How do we find a biomarker? Because ultimately, psychiatric conditions, anxiety, depression, psychosis, these are things we can't test for right now. It's all self-report data or behavioral observations. This is the only way that we do psychiatry and psychology is we listen to what our patients tell us. And then psychiatrists prescribe drugs, psychologists do behavioral interventions in the hopes of reducing symptoms. There's no other way to test for this right now because we can't do a brain biopsy. We're not going to sample somebody's cerebral spinal fluid. It's incredibly invasive. So obviously, the Holy Grail is, can I take a vial of blood? And is there something in that blood that tells me that I'm experiencing depression or anxiety, that I'm in a high anxiety state versus a low anxiety state? And that's the kicker of what these researchers did to begin with because this is a multi-tiered process. And so, the first, they took people who already had psychiatric disorders. One thing I love about this study is that they didn't make it clean. So often in psychiatric studies, they throw out people with comorbidities to have a really clean sample of people who only have anxiety. The problem is, that doesn't translate to the real world because nobody just has one thing. Like I see patients every day. I've never seen a patient who has clean and perfect anxiety and nothing else going on with them. It's just not how psychiatric conditions work. So they took a bunch of patients with all sorts of different issues by polar disorders, schizoaffective, comorbid depression, all sorts of things. And they looked at them when they found themselves in the psychiatric hospital and they gave them a self-report inventory that basically said, how anxious are you right now? And they found that they were able to discriminate with a lot of these people between a high anxiety state and a low anxiety state. They found themselves in the hospital enough time, some of them was only twice, some was three, four, and five times, where on one visit, they said that they had high anxiety and on one visit, they said that they had low anxiety. And the difference in their self-report inventory was big enough that they were able to say, okay, this person's anxious right now, this person's not anxious right now. Now let's see if we can correlate that with some biomarkers. But first, we got to find some biomarkers. So they used something called a Convergent Functional Genomics approach, where they looked at a bunch of pre-existing data on animal and human models. And they prioritized basically which proteins they could find in the blood that would be potentially correlated. And there were all sorts of different ways that they did it was based on how they interact with different drugs based on how they interact with different behavioral states of these animals and people based on a ton of different studies. But they were able to say, okay, something like, I think they ended up with like 95 to start and then they kept going and say, okay, what are the ones that are most correlated? Now we'll take some of these out and prioritize those. And what are some other ones that are most correlated? And finally, they came down to a list of what they thought were like decent biomarkers for anxiety. And then they tested them against the subjects. And basically on a psychiatric visit, if this person said they were in a high anxiety state or low anxiety state, what does their blood look like? What do the quantities of these proteins in their blood look like?

S: Aren't they looking at RNA?

C: Yeah, but they were looking at, they were specifically looking for protein markers. So I'm not sure, let me look and see, because all of the things that they found are proteins.

S: Or those are looking at the RNA for those proteins.

C: Yeah, they may have been looking at the RNA for those proteins, but they listed specifically all of the proteins.

S: Because we're looking for gene activity, right? That's the point.

C: They're looking at for gene activity, which downstream you measure by seeing whether or not a protein is being produced or turned on or off. So let me see.

S: You could do either way. You could look for messenger RNA. You could look for it.

C: It's true, because they do mention RNA stabilizing, RNA, like when they talk about taking the blood, it's all like RNA stabilizing tubes. And we're looking for RNA. But then when they talk about the actual candidates, they're all proteins, all the biomarkers are proteins.

S: Yeah, I mean, it doesn't make that much of a difference for the point, but I just thought yeah, I thought it was more RNA markers than protein markers.

C: So basically, they, within this within group, longitudinal cohort of study participants, they were able to basically say, high anxiety state versus low anxiety state, what does the blood look like in both of these situations? And what are we finding is highly correlated with a big difference between high and low anxiety? And once they sort of pulled those, that gene activity out and said, okay, these look like our best candidates, then they validated that by going to a whole other group of psychiatric subjects and saying, I'm going to predict, because those guys over there are experiencing really high anxiety, that they've got this high level of gene expression on this one specific marker. And I'm going to predict, because those women over there are experiencing low anxiety, just arbitrarily, that they have low levels of expression on these genes. So they were able to externally validate what they were already looking at within subjects design on a whole new cohort of study subjects. They also were able to sort of look at different diagnoses, because there were so much comorbidity, look at different genders. And they actually found that this, their approach was way more accurate in women than men, which was interesting, but I loved in the discussion section. They mentioned a bunch of reasons why that could be, maybe there are some genetic differences between men and women and how they experience anxiety. Maybe there are some, other biological differences, or maybe I loved this, maybe women are just somewhat better at expressing and tapping into what they're feeling. So their self-report measures are going to be more highly correlated with the markers than men, because men can't self-report as well as women when it comes to their psychiatric conditions, which would be totally, socially bound. And I, as somebody who sees patients on a regular basis, would not be surprised by that at all, because we teach women to talk about our feelings. We don't teach men to do that. So really, really interesting. Anyway, that was just an aside. So basically, they found one, two, three, four, five, six biomarkers that they identified as having the best evidence for state anxiety. They also looked a little bit at trait anxiety, which I don't feel as strong about that portion of the study, but basically they were trying to predict future hospitalizations, like for people who just tend to be anxious. And then the last thing that they did, which is kind of where the big payoff is, is they said, okay, now that we have these biomarkers, we've found that they're not going to be found that these biomarkers seem to be well correlated with self-report measures of anxiety both within the group that we were using as sort of a pilot study and also validated in this other group of individuals. But then they say, basically, let's look at all the drugs that we're already using to treat anxiety and see if any of them act on these genes. See if there's a relationship between these drugs and this gene expression. And also, while we're at it, let's see if there are drugs that we're not using for anxiety that might be effective. And so they found that the biomarkers that they identified as the top six were associated with a bunch of drugs that we already use. Valproate, which is like Depacote, Omega-3 fatty acids, kind of interesting there. Don't love that they use the term neutrosuiticals a million times, that's marketing. That was one of my spidey things.

S: I agree.

C: Yeah, it was like, why are you doing that? Fluoxetine, prosac, lithium, sertriline, that's zooloft, benzodiazepines, valium zannix, that whole class of drugs, ketamine. But then they also found some interesting things like estradiol, Perenperone. Is that how you say that? Which I think is an anti-dioreal. I had to look up what some of these are because they're not psychiatric drugs. Loparamide, which is, oh, Loparamide is the anti-dioreal. Perenperone is, sorry, that is an anti-psychotic. But then Loparamide, which is an anti-dioreal and disopiramide, or Pyramide, which is actually an anti-arithmic, so like a heart rhythm medication. And they were like, listen, a lot of these drugs are already on the market. We already know their side effect profile. They're safely being used by people. Maybe they could be repurposed off label or secondarily for anxiety. And we've never even thought of these as potential treatments. And the reason that this is so important, the reason this is so important, is that we don't have to be so important, is A, anxiety is debilitating. B, a lot of people end up in ERs every year because they think they're having heart attacks when they're really having panic attacks. They're unaware of the really severe symptoms that come along with panic disorder and different forms of anxiety. Some really severe types of anxiety, like obsessive-compulsive disorder, which they don't even get into. And also just really severe anxiety, like generalized anxiety, social anxiety, even things like agoraphobia. They can be so debilitating that people can't function, that they can't leave their homes, that they can't go to work, that they have a lot of problems both in their social and their vocational and interpersonal spheres. And finally, the typical anti-... Like right now, the first line treatment for anxiety is SSRI. It's like a lot of people are prescribed anti-depressants because they help with anxiety as well. But another class of drugs that's commonly prescribed for anxiety are benzodiazepines. They're PRN, meaning you take them as needed. They're highly addictive, highly addictive, very easy to abuse as needed.

B: What does PRN stand for?

C: As needed.

S: As needed.

C: So like if you're-

B: Yeah, but what does it stand for? What's the initials-

C: Oh, per-oh gosh, I know, it's probably Latin, right? Pro-Rainata, which means as the situation demands. Yeah, so basically, they're highly addictive and if you're already prescribed something PRN, it's up to you as the patient to determine when you need it. And of course, you're going to feel like you need it more and more if you need it more and more. And it's really dangerous to get off of them. Like they're one of a few class of drugs that if you try and quit them cold turkey, if you've got a certain level of tolerance, you can die. Like it can cause seizures. It can be really, really dangerous. So obviously, we don't want people to be relying on benzodiazepines. What if we could find A, a safer drugs to treat anxiety and B, personalized medicine? What if we could match your own blood test to the best drug for you? Because there are different biomarkers that might be higher in different people. Because we know, we talk about this all the time on the show. Psychiatric conditions are just that. They're not diseases. They're syndromes. They're conditions. They're a combination of cluster of symptoms. And they're not the same for everybody. Your depression and my depression are probably very different biochemically. And so of course, your depression treatment and my depression treatment are probably very different biochemically, which is why, SSRIs don't always work with some people. It's the same reason when it comes to anxiety that some drugs don't work for some people. So I'm like excited and hopeful about this. I'm worried about the fact that the study authors already have like a business where there's like selling these blood tests. I would love to see more research on this and I would love to see them not use the word nutraceutical, please. Please, if you're listening, take that word out of your, out of your publications and please take it off of your website. But I'm hopeful about this.

S: I do like the fact that they did the multiple internal replications before publishing one study with like four parts of it rather than trying to eat four studies out of it because then you have the situation where people react to the first stage where it's all preliminary and preclinical and it may be nothing, right? It may not even turn out to be anything. I do agree that they haven't completely closed the loop on this. They do now need to test the application of this clinically. And I do think that the personalized drug treatment may be the best outcome of this approach. It's not like you're going to give somebody a blood test say you have anxiety.

C: No, they already know they have anxiety.

S: That's not the point of it. And just to clarify, they're totally testing for RNA in the test. They're talking about the protein because that's the functional analysis.

C: Right. Exactly.

S: Yeah, they want to know what the proteins are doing, how they work together and how, how that might relate to the anxiety and also the interaction with drugs.

C: That's the downstream effect.

S: Yeah.

C: I mean that is ultimately-

S: But the blood test itself is for RNA.

C: Right. Oh, okay. So the actual biomarkers are the proteins though.

S: No, the biomarkers are the RNA.

C: Really? GAD1 is RNA.

S: Well, they're talking about the gene for GAD1, right? The RNA for it.

C: Oh, you're right.

S: They're talking about the gene by the protein it makes.

C: Yeah, you're right. They're talking about the gene. Okay. So they are testing for the different genes. But they're testing for the different genes for the proteins that they code. Okay.

S: Right, right. And then they functionally analyze the proteins. But this is the protein that binds to this drug, and the-

C: Right. Like, what does this protein do? And yeah, is this gene active or not? Yeah, yeah, that makes sense.

S: Yeah. So very cool. I do think this is, we're going to see more of this.

C: Oh, for sure.

S: This is one legitimate way to personalize medicine where it, because I think there's a lot of overhyped, ways to do that. Personalized medicine itself is way overhyped. It's like one of those things that it's legit, but it's premature to like to really be offering it.

C: It's like, it's really legit right now in cancer and autoimmune. Those are the places where we're really doing a good job.

S: And then even there only in very specific conditions.

C: You're right. You're right. In cancers that have hormone positive receptor. Yeah, exactly.

Mars Sample Return (43:05)[edit]

S: All right. Jay, tell us about our prospects from getting samples returned from Mars.

J: So one of the things that NASA's Perseverance rover is doing is that it's collecting Martian regolith samples, right? You guys must have heard about this. We talked about it on the show.

E: Oh, we did. Oh, yes.

J: Perseverance has already collected and dropped 10 sample tubes on the Martian surface. And there are plans to collect more samples, of course, right? They're just going to keep going. So that it was sent with 43 tubes to collect samples. However, 38 of them are actually going to be used. And five of them are there and they're called witness tubes. And they're basically just there to certify how clean the sampling system is. So I guess if they, when they send those back, if they're, if they have anything in them, they should be completely empty. And then they know that the tubes didn't stay sealed or whatever. It's possible that some of the soil samples could provide evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars. I know that sounds crazy. But it's not that, that crazy, and we're looking for a reason, right? Because we think it's possible. So how are these samples going to make it back to Earth? I have been wanting to know the answer to this question from the moment I heard that they were dropping samples on Mars. I'm like, great. How the hell are we going to get those back to Earth?

E: Right.

J: That was a long time ago I asked that question. Well, here's the answer. The effort is called the Mars Sample Return mission, MSR. It's actually going to be a collection of three different spacecraft that all coordinate their efforts to get the samples back to Earth. So the first of these will supposed to be launched in 2026. But as you know, some of these missions do get pushed, but it's looking good right now. So this is what is needed. It will give you a quick list of everything that's needed in order to pull this whole thing off. First, we need Perseverance to be functioning. We need a sample return lander that has a robotic transfer arm that would actually pick up the test tubes. We need Ingenuity-like helicopters that would be scouting out the tubes, right? I guess more than the ones that we have there, the one helicopter that's there now. A Mars sent vehicle, which will transport those samples into Martian orbit, and then an Earth return orbiter that will launch an Earth entry system capsule to eventually land somewhere in the Utah desert is where they're thinking about having a drop down. So the MSR mission, it's very complicated, right? There's all these different moving parts. But because of the likely significant scientific payoff of the mission, there are agencies like NASA that are willing to spend a great deal of money to make it happen. So the samples are going to be fantastic no matter what, because they're going to give us a ton of data. They're going to give us a ton of geologic data and geologic history of Mars. Now also the samples will reveal, like I said, if Mars has the potential for life or had the potential to have some form of life on it. Now there are certain areas on Mars they're specifically looking at like Jezero crater, it's spelled J-E-Z-E-R-O, Jezero, Jezero, right? Whatever, whatever, float your boat. There's a crater there that used to have water a very long time ago, and there's a lot of sediment there, and they're thinking this is a great place to look because on Earth, that's a great place to look. So they're just saying, it's probably, this is probably good because we find a lot of samples in places that are similar to that on Earth. The first launch will involve the ESA's Earth Return Orbiter, which will be responsible for the crucial task of collecting the samples from the Marsian's surface, and then finally bringing them back to Earth. Now the ERO will be equipped with its own rover that will explore the crater where the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover landed back in February of 2021. The second one, the second vehicle, is expected to take place in 2028. This involves NASA, NASA provided Mars ascent vehicle. This is what gets them off the surface of Mars. The MAV will launch the collected samples into orbit around Mars where the ERO will collect them and return them back to Earth. And the third one, like I said, is the ERO. That gets launched in 2031, which will go to Mars and then come back and then eventually return the samples back down to the planet. Now the samples from Mars will be the first material that we've ever brought back from another planet in this way, right? We've picked up moon rocks and everything, but actually going to another planet and having samples come back to the...

E: Yeah, deliberate collection, that's right.

J: But a planet, I'm not talking about a moon, I'm talking about a planet. Something that has more of an atmosphere and like Mars, right? So this will provide scientists with so much important information that we need for what? Because people are going to be going there at some point. It's going to happen. We are going to have boots on Mars and we need to know a lot more about the Martian regolith. And I guess, think about this. If we find that there happens to be active microbial life on Mars, do we go to Mars?

C: No.

J: That's a question. That's a real... But I find that fascinating because it's something worthy of debate. So this MSR mission, it's expected to cost around $7 billion. Now, I find that number to be extraordinarily low for this level of complexity that they're describing here. And of course, it's going to involve the expertise and cooperation of many countries and organizations around the world. I guess they're going to be having components built with, many different places globally, which is always nice. You want to see technology coming from other countries, not just from NASA. And I just think this is fascinating. By 2031, we might be pulling back the majority or all of the samples that we took. And imagine when that thing finally hits and the scientists get their hands on that, it's going to be very exciting.

S: I think it's much more likely that we'll find evidence of ancient microbial life than living microbial life. Either would be fascinating. Although living obviously would be orders of magnitude.

E: And we can be assured that none of that we would find as any contamination from anything we've sent up in prior missions.

C: No.

S: Well, we would have to evaluate for that. I mean, we would have to rule out contamination. Depends how different it is. I mean, it would probably be, if it was actually Martian life, it would probably be different enough that we could rule out Earth contamination. But we'd have to specifically rule that out. Yeah.

J: Do you think it's a little creepy too? The idea, imagine if they did, they found microbial life on another planet. I would be very scared of that getting into our environment.

B: Why though? Because if it's truly alien, it would be like completely incompatible, like two different computer languages.

S: What if it has DNA? But it's Martian life, but it's related to Earth life.

C: Yeah, I was going to say, could it ever be like, but something being truly "alien", it's never going to be that far away because we're in the same solar system. But we're still kind of dealing with the same building blocks. Yes, it could be different.

B: It's an assumption. I mean, different, completely different, imagine if they had completely different base pairs and different DNA, different proteins.

S: But that doesn't mean they can't eat us or infect us, though.

J: Yeah, I mean clearly-

C: We're still going to be made of the same core materials.

J: You guys have to think about the movie, The Thing, okay?

C: Okay. Okay.

E: That documentary.

J: Yeah. Yeah, exactly Evan, thank you. That is bad as it can get. I'm not saying it's not likely, but it's possible.

E: You can't discount it entirely. I'll give you that.

C: Okay. There you go.

E: Here's a practical question I have. These vials that the Perseverance has been collecting sampling and dropping, whoop, there it is, the vials on the surface now of Mars. We have a way to find those things, right? Other than just sending some helicopter looking around for it. In other words, did they plant a chip or something in these vials that is sending off a beacon or a signal or something?

S: I think we know where they are.

E: I mean, yeah, but how do we know we're not going to get blown around or?

C: I don't think anything really blows around on Mars, does it?

J: Yeah. That's a good question, if I had not read anything to date, that there's a tracker in there, but you would think that there is.

C: But it could be as simple as like a magnet.

J: Yeah.

E: Something detectable. Something that would be, or a reflector even, or something that they'll be able to say, okay, that's obviously it. Go get it.

J: I'm sure they thought of it.

E: Yeah, I just haven't read yet about that detail and exactly what that technology is that there is.

C: Maybe they don't want to tell you so that other aliens don't go and collect it before we do.

E: Cara, you're too smart.

C: These are trade secrets. We can't release to the public.

E: Steve, you'll have to cut this out, you realize?

Dinosaurs' Colors (51:02)[edit]

S: All right, guys, let me ask you a question. When you think of a T-Rex, what color is it?

E: Oh, it's green.

J: Green.

E: I mean it is green. Like a lizard.

S: Yeah.

C: I think of my...

E: It's totally wrong. I know that.

C: I have a collection of Carnegie dinosaurs, those scale model toys, and I'm thinking, I think there's, there have been like three or four T-Rexes over the course, and it went from green to like a brown.

J: I would like them to be orange, though.

C: Yeah, they didn't really get out of the box much with those. I want it to be purple.

S: Purple or pink?

E: Mauve.

B: Barney.

E: Mauve.

C: Oh, Barney.

E: Or nice chartreuse, that would look nice. Soothing.

B: Ecru.

S: So this is obviously an interesting question. What color were the different dinosaurs? We don't know for sure.

C: But wait, we do know, don't we know that Archeopteryx is black?

S: Yeah, so we do know for some of the-

B: Black. The feathers, right?

S: -the avian dinosaurs, the like Archeopteryx.

C: Yeah, the pigment.

S: Some of the dinosaurs with feathers, some of the feather dinosaurs we know when we have evidence of their pigments.

C: That's pretty cool.

S: That's one line of evidence we have. But for dinosaurs where we don't have fossil pigments, we have no idea, direct evidence. So we have to infer what color they were. So there's a very interesting recent interview with Jack Horner, who's a paleontologist. And he was pushing back pretty hard against the current paradigm of presenting the classic dinosaurs as being somewhere between brown and gray. Basically they look like elephants, right>? Or rhinoceros or hippopotamus or whatever. They basically look like big mammals. And he said that that's actually, he made some very good points. His big point was that mammals-

B: Oh, yeah?

S: Yeah. That large mammals are a very bad basis for thinking about what color dinosaurs would be for a couple of reasons.

B: Sure, reasonable.

E: But that's our bias.

S: Yeah, it's our bias. Could we think of, yeah, we think of elephants when we think of big animals like dinosaurs. But the problem with that is that dinosaurs are not reptiles. And there's a couple of big differences that he points out. One is that most mammals are relatively colorblind. They're not totally colorblind. They're dichromatic. Primates like humans are trichromatic. But reptiles and birds are tetrachromatic, right? They have much better color vision than do most mammals.

E: More cones and rods?

S: It's not that they have more cones and rods. They have, their cones have four different types, right? Primates have three. Most other mammals have two.

E: And birds have five?

S: Four.

E: Four. Birds have four.

S: I've just said. Birds and reptiles have four. They're tetrachromatic. So, in addition to that, like mammals evolved probably mostly from nocturnal ancestors. And we rely heavily-

B: Yeah, low light.

S: -on smell more than reptiles and probably dinosaurs did. So, just not a good analogy for dinosaurs. We're not as visual. And he said the best analogy probably for the non-avian dinosaurs is the avian dinosaurs. The birds.

C: Right, obviously. The things they evolved into.

S: Yeah, they're the closest relatives. They are dinosaurs. And there are a lot of bird species, especially the males, are brightly colored, really brightly colored. And that are go-to default assumption about what they look like. So, I wanted to explore that a little bit further. So, I think definitely true. And he makes it very clear. He's like, I don't know what they look like. That's the point. We don't know what they look like. So, why make this consistent set of assumptions that they were brown and gray? That's just as valid to think of them as orange and pink. So, that's a reasonable point. But we could think inferentially about what color they might have. So, one would be, well, what do animals in similar niches and similar biology look like today? And again, it's definitely reasonable to think of birds when you're talking about the feathered dinosaurs. And we have every reason to think that feathered dinosaurs were as colorful as modern birds. Right? That's a, they weren't necessarily, but that's a reasonable inference that they certainly could have been. And for the ones where we do have fossilized pigment, they were, they were banded, they had spots, they had countershading, they had, they were red and black and white, and they had, they had various different colors. We could tell by the shape of the melanosomes, right? Those are the fossile little bits of pigment. Some were iridescent, so we're seeing all of the variation in color in these pigments that we do in modern birds. So, that's definitely true. Now, for the non feathered dinosaurs, or first of all, we're still not sure how non feathered the non feathered dinosaurs were. It's possible that T-Rex had feathers.

C: Oh, yeah, for sure.

S: Yeah, so-

C: It's actually kind of likely that T-Rex had at least something downy.

S: Yeah, yeah, and so other scientists have made the point that that clade, like the dinosaur clade, one of the hallmarks is a huge variety of integumentary specialization. We were talking recently about-

B: Yeah but what about their skin?

S: -yeah, about turkeys. If you look at turkeys. They not only have feathers, but they have all kinds of things hanging off of them, right? All kinds of things.

B: Oh my God. Guys, I saw a big male turkey just two weeks ago and what the hell? It's like, you look really close. It's like, wait, there's a beard at the bottom with these very stiff dark hairs coming out. They don't look like feathers. They call it a beard. And that floppy fruit thing that's off of their face, it's so big and complex and everywhere. It's like, I did not know this creature and I loved him to death.

S: So that's actually typical of the dinosaur clade that they have lots and other reptile, other related reptiles too. They have lots of specialized skin cells. It's not just scales and feathers, right? It's lots of things.

B: And also boring right now.

S: And a lot of them-

B: Skim.

S: -a lot of these specialized in tegmentary structures are very colorful themselves, even birds. So you could say, well, what about dinosaurs without feathers? Well, let's look at the non feathered part of birds. They have red or yellow legs. For example, some birds have yellow legs, bright yellow legs. Or the two cans beak. Their beaks are brightly colored. Their skin, like the turkeys red, what do you call them? They hang stuff from their neck. I feel the snooze.

C: The gobble? Is it actually called a gobble?

E: Wattle?

C: Oh, wattle.

S: I think it's their snooed.

E: Oh, snooed. Yeah, it might be snooed.

S: Yeah. So we need to imagine dinosaurs is having, like especially their horns and their frills and their bulbs and all the things that hang at their fins and their spine. All that stuff. That's probably was not all brown and gray, right? We don't know how colorful it was, but it could have been very colorful.

B: Can you imagine you go back in time to the dinosaurs and you get out and it's like a clown color of colors everywhere.

E: Right, the coleidoscope almost.

C: That would be awesome.

B: Everywhere. No, I'm talking to an insane degree that goes against everything in our environment that you've ever seen. The would be so bizarre to be like lost in color and then freaked out.

E: Now, here I have a sort of a tangent question to this. Has the sun always emanated the same color? In other words, if the sun's color were to change, that would change color on what we see in Earth. But it's always been consistent?

S: Yeah, well, yeah, I mean, at least over that period of time. We know from the HR diagram, right, the life cycle of stars, we know what colors they should go through. A sun of our sun's mass. So it was still a yellow sun.

E: Okay.

S: A hundred million years ago, whatever, 200 million years ago.

E: Not enough change, no change effectively.

S: Right.

B: Not dramatic.

S: It would not have made a difference.

E: The same sun we're seeing today.

S: Yeah, basically. So we could also talk functionally. Like, can we make some functional inferences about what colors animals living the way they did might have been? The most people when they think of animal coloring, they immediately go to what, right, to camouflage, right? We think that's what animal coloring is.

E: Or toxicity. Or something.

S: But there's lots of other things that animals use coloration for.

B: Mating?

C: Mating, yeah.

S: And camouflage, another one, attracting mates is one. Signaling danger, Evan, with colorful frogs is yet another. Sometimes it's just-

B: Mimicry.

S: Yeah, mimicry. Or it could be an epiphenomenon, like flamingos are pink, because they eat pink stuff. You know what I mean?

C: Right, right.

S: It's not necessarily an adaptation specifically. Also very interestingly, we think of reptiles and like non-dinosaur living reptiles. We think a lot of them are green, brown, and gray or whatever. Some of them are brightly colored too. Think of a chameleon. Now this is a great example of how people over apply the concept of camouflage. Chameleons do not change color for camouflage. They change color to signal each other.

B: Yeah, right.

S: And they don't just mimic their background. They don't do that. That's not how their coloring works. They're mood and they're in or whatever. That affects their color. So the whole idea of chameleonics, that whole idea is wrong. It's a myth.

B: Right. Right.

C: Right.

S: And so maybe who knows?

B: I love that word though.

S: Maybe T-Rex's would flash bright color for mating purposes or to signal danger or whatever.

C: What if they were like iguanas? They're obviously iguanas all over Florida, see them every day on my walk. And when they're young, they're just like kind of boring and green. And as they get older, they get more like weird stuff hanging off of them. And their spikes get crazier and they're like more red and they get colorful. Like old big old iguanas are so cool looking. So what if there was a change with the lifespan too?

S: That's something that we've also talked about on the show before. That dinosaurs change a lot as they age. They don't just get bigger. They actually change their shape. They change the shape of their fills and their horns.

C: Right. We used to think it would be like different species.

S: Yeah. It's possible that some animals we thought that were different species were actually just different ages of the same species.

C: That's so cool.

S: Yeah, like the triceratops and torusaurus, one example of that. So yeah, that's another way. They could be changing their colors as they get old. They could have feathers when they're young and then lose them when they get older. I mean, that's one of the thoughts for T-Rex is that maybe the baby T-Rex has had feathers but then they sort of lose them as they get older. Also camouflage is really only necessary depending on your life cycle. Like if you're so big, like did the long neck dinosaurs like thesauropods, they didn't have to be camouflaged. They were so huge. Their size was their defense and they're not going to hide from anybody. It's like, oh, what did you notice? That titanusaur over there because it's camouflage.

E: Ambush.

S: Yeah, right. Exactly. So, yeah, so camouflage doesn't apply if you're a top predator, if you have other means of defense like size or armor or things where you don't have to worry about it. And also, like some dinosaurs may have been scavengers, right? Even some people think that T-Rex may have been largely a scavenger. And you don't need to be camouflaged for that, right? So the selective pressure for color would not be all camouflage. And for those animals where we do find melanosomes, those dinosaurs that had where we do have some idea of their coloring, they had counter shading a lot of them, which is sort of a camouflage adaptation, but not all of them. And we can kind of tell about did they were their predators hunting them, like if they had counter shading or not? So we can actually infer the other way from their coloring when we have fossilized evidence of it, something about their lifestyle. So fascinating question, the one thing we can't do is look at them and see what color they were. So we have to use every other method available to us to try to figure that out. But Horner's point is his core point is a good one. First, we have to break out of this lazy assumption that they all look like elephants. That's not a good analogy. It's probably not true. And we need to be more creative and imagine dinosaurs as possibly having the full spectrum of colors that we see in modern reptiles, modern birds, maybe the best analogy.

C: And sometimes you see that in really incredible art. But I think we're all stuck in the coloring pages of our youth.

S: Although it's definitely, I'm seeing more colorful dinosaurs in more recent presentations. So I do think the message is getting out of there.

J: But any color is just as right as the next one at this point.

S: Exactly. At this point.

C: Right.

S: Except for where we have the melanosomes as evidence. Everyone is just as speculative, just as much guesswork as anything else.

B: Yeah, but if you had to put your money down, it wouldn't be grey.

S: Yeah, probably wouldn't be great. That's the thing. Yeah, that's not even the best default. Go to color.

B: Exactly.

S: All right, cool. We'll keep an eye on this. I think the, I'm hoping there's going to be a lot more melanosome, fossilized pigment evidence coming. And we could really start to make some better science about what color they were.

Cosmic Rays and the Pyramids (1:04:47)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, tell us about the relationship between cosmic rays and the great pyramids.

B: Yes, this kind of took me by surprise. Did not know this technology existed. Scientists are using cosmic rays from deep space as a detector to find hidden areas in the great pyramid of Giza. How does that even work? And what else can it be used for? This fantastic discovery and the tech behind it was published recently in the journal Nature Communications. Okay, so how do you cosmic rays factor into large scale imaging? So cosmic rays are, they're fascinating, first of all, but they're not rays. They're atom fragments, essentially. Mostly protons from deep space accelerated to relativistic speeds by these crazy energetic events like colliding stars, gamma ray bursts, supernovae. And they could pack a while up many trillions of electron volts, but they do meet their end in our atmosphere after light years of travel when they smack into the atoms and molecules of the atmosphere of the atoms of the things that we breathe all day. But their lineage does not end there. The daughter and granddaughter particles that are created in that collision, then shower down to Earth. And only the ghostly neutrinos and muons though make it to the surface. The muons are basically unstable, corpulant electrons, bottom line. 207 times as massive as normal electrons, thanks for the giggle Cara.

C: I love that word.

B: Yeah, me too. Muons are one of my favorite bits of evidence for relativistic time dilation. You know about that, right? The slowing of time, the faster something travels. Muons don't live very long before they decay away. About two microseconds, about that's about what? Two moons of a second. Pretty brief, they should never reach the earth's surface at all, even at their zippy speed, but they do reach it. And that's because for them, time slows down from our perspective, of course, as they zip down to the Earth. So and hit the surface, they do. They bathe the surface of the Earth all the time. Look at the palm of your hand facing up right now. Every second of muon is flying through it. Right now. And another one. And another one. Now, there's subartamic particles. So they can go through a lot of dense material before they're absorbed or just decay away. It's these that the researchers use. These secondary cosmic rays, if you will, the muons to image the hidden interiors of pyramids and other things. Now, the imaging process has various names. It's muon imaging, muon radiography, tomography. I like the portmanteau muography, which is nice. I like that one. So the basic idea is this. The researchers use the amount of muons to infer what the interior of a large space like a pyramid is like. Okay? So think about it. You're inside of your inside of structure like the pyramid a Giza. And the more muons that reach you from one direction, what does that mean? That means that there was less density in that direction. There was less rock there to absorb the muons, which means that there could be a void in there. Right? That's the critical thing. You're seeing where the muons are coming from and you're basically counting them. And oh boy, there's only a few muons over here. There must be a lot of density, a lot of rock, a lot of material to absorb them. But over in this direction, we got a lot of muons, which means they're just flying through and they're not being stopped. Okay. To count the muons, otherwise known as measuring the muon flux, you'll see that word, a lot flux in that context, they use nuclear-emulsion films, which can record them the muons as they pass through. Now your cell phone takes about a millisecond or so or a camera, a millisecond, to take billions of photons and create an image from them. Muography can take several months to build its low-res density image. And they use scores of these detectors placed carefully within the pyramid in conjunction with other types of helpful imaging methods as well, including like thermal photography and other types of gas-based muon detectors. Now, what they found using these methods was a previously unknown corridor within the pyramid, probably sloping upwards. So that was the big thing. It's a 30-foot long corridor. Where does it lead? Nobody knows. If it leads anywhere, it probably, you think it's going to lead somewhere, but we don't know. And if that discovery ever happens, they'll probably almost certainly be using muography. Now, and muography isn't new tech, by the way. I've never heard of it. The muon radiography was first used in 1971 to look inside the pyramid of Chephren. No evidence of a void was found. It's been used outside of archaeology. It's been used for geology to study volcanoes. It was used in Fukushima. And I found out one other application just before the show, and I feverishly very quickly did some last minute research on this application. Probably the most important use, I think, of muon detectors to detect contraband fissom material like uranium and plutonium. Now these detectors are different than the nuclear emotion films used in the pyramids. These are gas electron multiplier detectors, they're called GEMs. If fissom material is shielded well with lead, you can, if you're going to try to sneak that into a country, you're probably going to shield it with lead. If you do that, it's very hard to detect. But some things you can't really hide very well, and that's the density. These materials are very dense. They're among the densest and heaviest on the periodic table. It's so dense that plutonium and uranium actually deflect the path of the muons dramatically. So there probably, there's probably not enough, if you're smuggling this material in, you're not going to have that much. It's not going to be enough to absorb a lot of the muons as in the pyramids, but it does change its path. So to take advantage of that, the detectors, and I imagine that you've got a detector on top of a suspected shipping container, and you have these detectors on the bottom of the shipping container. What you're doing is you're detecting the muon trajectory as it enters the container, and then as it exits the container. If the paths line up, that means that there was no deflection. There's nothing to see here. There was no anomalous deflection. But if the paths don't line up, if it came in from one trajectory and exited from a different trajectory, then there's probably something very, very dense inside the container, something that could very well be plutonium or uranium. Michael Kuliasha from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency said: "If I can force them to put five tons of lead around it" now he's referring to people who are smuggling in uranium and plutonium, "if I can force them to put five tons of lead around it, I'm good, because it's easier to detect five tons of lead than the radiation. You have to have a robust radiation detection because it forces them to do something that's actually easier to detect" which is really an interesting fact that people trying to hide it, the more they try to hide it, then ultimately the easier it's going to be to detect. So you want to force them into that position. There you go. That's it. Hopefully, you think muons are as cool as I do now.

S: Cool.

C: Very cool.

B: Thank you for your time.

S: Thank you, Bob.

Who's That Noisy? (1:12:09)[edit]

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

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

[synthetic melody]

Any guesses, guys?

E: Well.

B: There's something about it, man.

E: It's Simon, isn't it?

C: It does sound like Simon, yeah.

S: It's the same exact tune, but the second time you can hear key presses and the first time you can't. Yeah, so Simon's the only thing I could think of that does that.

E: That was so fun. Everybody, all the kids in the late 70s, and you went over or something like that, or someone's house there was among the games, Simon.

C: 80s too. Yeah, we were playing that up for a while.

J: Hell yeah, yeah. It came out in the late 70s, super popular.

C: I feel like that was like of the era. You guys tell me my childhood games because there were no computer chips in the, there's like the most electronically advanced game that we had when I was a kid, but it was like of the era of Mouse Trap and [[wikipedia:}Hungry Hungry Hippos|}Hungry Hungry Hippos]].

J: Yeah, yeah.

B: Yep.

E: Oh sure. Very popular.

J: Yeah, all right, well, we have a listener named Patrick Van Den Edden Den.

C: I can probably do this. He's probably from the Netherlands. Van, what's the last ED?

J: Ven Den En Den.

C: Vandenenden.

J: There it is. Thank you. Patrick, hello. He said: "Is the answer the instrument xylophone?" That is not correct. And in case you don't know what that is, the xylophone, it's a miniature analog electronic keyboard, musical instrument that you play with a stylus. That is actually a very good guess, but that is not correct. Another listener named Tracy McFadden wrote in said: "Hi, Jay, this week's noisy reminded me of the Mattel Merlin toy that I had decades ago." All right, this is a good, close guess, but it's not correct. The Merlin toy was the one that kind of looked like a big red telephone. If you guys remember that one, it had buttons on it.

E: Yeah.

C: I don't remember that toy.

J: Yep. That was big back in the 70s and 80s.

C: All right.

J: I'm going to get right to the winner because almost everybody that wrote in got this one correct. Apparently, it's everyone of a certain age range. Definitely. Once you hear this thing, you usually, you can't forget. It's a very iconic sound, but William Steel was the first person to write in correctly. And William said: "Hi Jay, I immediately thought of some sort of toy when I heard this. Is this week's noisy Simon Says?". This is indeed a Simon Says. Now, this is a toy that came out in 1978 and it was a massive success. Apparently, everybody owned one. It's a memory game where the device has four colored buttons on it. They're pretty big and they can light up. And what it does is it plays a sequence of lights with tones and then you have to copy it and it gets longer and longer and longer as you go. So it becomes harder and harder. So it's basically a memory game. But again, widely popular, as soon as I heard it, I completely recognized it. I knew exactly what it was. So anyway, yeah, everybody that wrote in and got it correct, you just dated yourself with me.

New Noisy (1:15:05)[edit]

J: Alright, I'm going to switch over to a new noisy for this week. This noisy was sent in by a listener named Ray Mitchell. Alright, and before I play this one, this is definitely a warning. This is going to be loud and noisy and you're probably not going to like it.

[Repetitive, whirring, buzzing, and beeping of various intervals]

Oh my God, what the hell was that? If you think you know what this week's noisy is or you heard something cool, email me at

Announcements (1:15:51)[edit]

J: Steve, are you fully aware-

S: Yes, I am.

J: -of just how important patrons are to this show?

S: Right.

J: Without patrons, we would not be here. We would not exist.

S: I agree. Our audience is very important. Our legacy supporters are important and our patrons are extremely important.

J: So if you're interested in helping support the SGU and the work that we do, please become a patron of the show. It really helps us do things every year. It also helps us do things that we have planned for the future. So please do consider becoming a patron. You can go to It doesn't get any easier than that. You can do this, join with us and enter the skeptical sphere of amazing sauce.


Correction #1: Tempering Steel (1:16:43)[edit]

S: Alright, we have, for emails this week, we're going to do just a couple of corrections. First one has to do with tempering steel. So I was trying to give a very quick overview of a very complicated thing, but I didn't get the details correct. So I was going to say very quickly. So for steel specifically, I think I was confusing annealing and tempering, which is easy to do. So for when you anneal steel, you heat it up to the point where it loses its magnetic properties, right? That way the iron atoms can freely flow. And then you cool it very slowly. So the critical part of that is you heat it up basically all the way to the loss of the magnetism. And then you cool it very slowly. So you form very large grains, which makes the steel very pliable. So you would do that so that you could forge it better, right? Because then you could hammer it. It's not, it's maximally soft so that you can forge it without causing damage to the steel. You can't forge like brittle hard steel, right? Obviously you want to make it as much like clay as possible. So that's what annealing is for. Then when you do the hardening process after you get it into the shape that you want it, you quench and temper. Quenching is when you go again from the very hot temperature to like just at the point where you lose your magnetism and then you cool it very quickly. Modern steel smith will put it into oil at a certain temperature. You can do it in cooler things. I said like historically they typically portray this as dunking it in water. And you can do that. I didn't say that it was never done. It's just that it's very risky because then that could cause a lot of fractures and damage to the steel and issue. So either you just accept the fact that you're going to lose a lot of steel when you do that and you just do it until you get one that works. Or you got to really know what you're doing. But it's better if you're going to routinely do it just to do oil. Heat it. That's at a certain temperature so that you don't, it doesn't get too brittle and you don't introduce a lot of cracks. Obviously, like if you're making a blade, one tiny little crack is you're done. You could throw the thing out because that's a weak spot and I'll just break the first time you try to use it. Tempering is way to get you, as I said, you put it into like an oven, add around half the temperature, of, you don't go all the way to the losing your magnetic property. So you heat it up to a lesser degree. But it's not about the cooling. It doesn't, you don't, it's not, you don't cool it slowly. You just, it's how much time you spend at what temperature is the key for tempering. That takes away some of the brittleness, right? So that now you have a blade that's both hard and strong. So again, those two things, the quenching and the tempering are usually done as sort of one process together.

E: The temperature at which it loses its magnetic properties. How is that a, is that expressed as a percentage compared to the temperature in which it else? I mean, what, where would we go?

S: No, so for any alloy, it's a very specific temperature. So you could do one of two things. You could know what that temperature is for that alloy. And then you could just use a thermometer, whether it's like one of those thermometer guns or whatever, so that you know when you're at that temperature. Or some, the sort of easy way to do it is you just basically see, you have a magnet and you see when it stops getting attracted to that steel.

E: Of course.

S: And then some people will just use color. Because color equals temperature basically when you're talking about heating up metals. And so you can sort of guesstimate it, and historically, like if you look at records from a thousand years ago, they go, the color of the setting sun, they, that's the point at which you would quench it. But modern industrial practices would measure the precise temperature and know what that temperature is for any particular alloy that you're using. Absolutely.

Correction #2: AI Discussion (1:20:45)[edit]

S: And then Jay, Jay, there was some pushback against the discussion regarding AI from last-

J: Yes, there was. Apparently people that are very, very angry at me for being too optimistic and for actually mixing up my browser lingo.

S: Yeah, although I did correct it at the end there, but I probably wasn't enough for people, but you should, but throughout you should be consistent. You know, so it's-

J: You're totally correct.

S: Google is the search engine. Chrome is the browser. And just like Bing is the search engine. And now Microsoft Edge is the browser. Yeah, we shouldn't mix those up.

J: Yeah, sorry about that. That's just, shorthand in my head that I wasn't even aware I was saying. But yeah, I mean, all right. So my enthusiasm about artificial intelligence, I can explain it, but that's really not what the people were complaining about. They just wanted there to be a skeptical side to the conversation.

S: Yeah, which I think there was. I mean, the thing is, it's not, the way I edit these shows as long as one of us expressed the appropriate caveats and skepticism, whatever, as part of the conversation, that's fine. So the, I thought we expressed it collectively. But yeah, you were on the hype end of the spectrum. And I do think it's appropriate to explicitly include skepticism for technology that we're excited about.

J: I mean, so to give that, to summarize the skepticism of, what is happening with artificial intelligence. In short, there are a lot of things about certain artificial intelligence programs like, ChatGPT. There's definitely shortcomings and milestones that they want to hit with the software that could be very difficult or impossible to get to. We don't know, the whole idea that these artificial intelligence language programs operate with this idea of a black box, meaning that the programmers feed this algorithm a bunch of data. And what it does and how it does it is really not transparent to the programmers, right? They're setting the stage for something to happen. But that, whatever happens inside that black box is largely a mystery. So in that, it means that they don't have exquisite control over the output, right? And that's the rub. That's the difficult part of this whole thing is that they would have to do, in curculean effort to really wrap their heads around what is actually happening inside the software. So I get it. I totally agree with the criticisms. But, my baseline here is it's fantastic. There's artificial intelligence programs in our phone right now that work fantastically. The facial recognition is artificial intelligence. It's being used already in our daily lives and most people don't even know it and it works very, very well. It's very powerful and the potential for these tools to be world changing are very strong. But yes, we do need to be mindful of the fact that they come riddled with difficulties and problems that have not been fixed or found or solutions found yet.

Correction #3: BetterHelp concerns (1:24:02)[edit]

S: Okay. One other thing we have to discuss during this segment is our sponsor BetterHelp.

B: Oh, yeah. Here we go.

C: Yes.

B: Here we go.

S: Just for background, we do vet our sponsors very carefully. We actually have a hard time finding sponsors and filling our advertising space in our show because we're so damn picky about our sponsor. We really are. We drive our, the companies that work with our ad servers crazy because we reject so, most of what we do. So we've been keeping a close eye on BetterHelp, which is an app to hook you up with online therapy, right? Because, this is, we get especially careful with anything that has any healthcare overtones or implications.

B: Oh, yeah. It's not like socks.

S: Yeah, right. It's not like socks, which we could talk about all day.

C: Right.

S: And we've been following all of the concerns about online therapy in general and BetterHelp specifically. And so far, until very recently, I haven't thought that any of the concerns were a deal killer or were even legitimate. A lot of them I just thought were just not legitimate complaints. So first of all, we think that online therapy itself is legitimate. My wife got her freaking PhD in online therapy, right?

C: I do it a lot too.

S: Yeah, it's perfectly fine. A lot of the complaints were really naive. They were about online therapy, which I didn't think they've complaints were legitimate or they were to the effect of, well, they don't, they say like they have all these caveats. Like they don't treat any disease or anything. Yeah, that's what therapy doesn't treat diseases. That's just, they just didn't understand that's typical for therapy, right? They don't, psychiatrists treat diseases. That was not any kind of admission that their services were not like that.

C: Well, and I think it's because they would use vague terms like therapist, counselor, which means that you're not necessarily working with a licensed psychologist who actually does do intervention for specific diseases.

S: It's also complicated because different states have different rules.

C: Yeah. But like you could be working with a master's level counselor.

S: Yeah. But that, yeah, but master's level counselors are licensed therapists in many states.

C: 100%. They're licensed therapists, but you're right. They don't treat specific diseases. What I'm saying is that if they're licensed psychologists, they actually do.

S: Yeah, right. So there's a lot of complexity there that people just don't understand. And that was sort of the basis of their misunderstanding.

C: But that's the case anytime somebody seeks, yeah, mental health treatment.

S: Exactly. And the other thing that they were complaining about was just all these anecdotes about, well, this person got a bad therapist. Like, of course, what do you think?

C: Yeah, that happens.

S: They're not, they're just, they're vetting their licensure. They're not licensing them themselves, you know?

C: Right.

S: And, it's like, yeah, you had a bad Uber driver. You know, it's like, of course, those things are going to slip through the crack.

C: Like, you had a bad physician. Like it happens.

S: Yeah. It happens. So nothing rose-

B: You got, I got a bad sock.

C: That never happens, what do you mean?

S: So nothing rose to the level where I thought like it wasn't a legitimate service. And we were also very careful about what we say, even when we accept a sponsor, we don't necessarily say everything they tell us to say.

B: Oh, no. God, no.

C: We almost never say everything they tell us to say.

S: We pick and choose what we're willing to say. And we were pretty careful with BetterHelp just to say, hey, therapy is a good idea. Online therapy is legitimate. Here's one way you could access it. And that was pretty much the limit of what we were saying. All right. But something did happen recently.

B: That said.

S: That said.

C: (laughs) Yeah.

S: So recently the FTC settled with BetterHelp for what the FTC claims is a breach of user privacy. We can't go into all the details. We're going to link to both the FTC's statement and BetterHelp's response to the FTC's statement. You could read both of those and decide for yourself, how significant it is. But having read both of those and, we actually told BetterHelp that we were not, we were going to suspend our, use of them as a sponsor and they linked to their own statement, etc. But the basically the FTC is saying that they were giving user information in order to advertise on like Facebook or Pinterest, in order to like get access to your friends so they could send solicitation to your Facebook friends or whatever. And it basically, breached what the company was saying they were doing in terms of protecting privacy. So obviously with mental health, the mental health is the one area where you need to be the absolutely most stringent when it comes to confidentiality.

C: Well, yeah, on any health.

S: Any health.

C: Yeah, HIPPA, there's a reason HIPAA exists.

S: But within medicine, mental health is one notch above because-

C: Oh, you're right. Like in my electronic medical records in like when I'm working in a hospital, I can actually make my notes private from the patient for that reason.

S: No, so I, yeah, even like when I'm accessing patient records, if I, if one of my patients is receiving mental health care, I need a separate login to access them.

C: Yeah.

B: Oh wow.

C: This is so personal.

S: Yeah, it's because it's just the very fact that you're seeking mental health. Like if the fact that you have a physician is not going to hurt you. But the fact that you have like you're seeing a mental health provider, it could hurt you.

C: Can be used against you. Could be.

B: That stigma, especially in the United States.

S: Exactly. Basic fact alone is so charged that there's this extra layer of protection. So saying that like we adhere to industry standards and all this way, it doesn't matter, they, in my opinion, based upon what the FTC said in their settlement with them and even reading through BetterHelp response, which doesn't really deny the FTC's claims, I think that they weren't adhering to the standards of their client confidentiality that they should have been. And again, this doesn't mean you necessarily shouldn't use their services. I think they're, because they settled with the FTC that they're probably going to be better going forward, but we can't have as a sponsor something that we may need to editorially talk about, because we're a science and critical thinking news show, we have to be very careful about that. So like we, we don't take a sponsor's any service that might be a news item on our show, you know what I mean? There has to be something that we would never talk about. And, like we're never going to talk about socks, as part of our show.

C: Yeah, but we just talked about mental health today.

S: Yeah, right, right. So, we have to have, we have to just be very, very careful about that. So I'm not going to say that we're never going to do that in the future. Either BetterHelp or some other online service, but we're going to suspend them as a sponsor for now. We'll see how this plays itself out. And if they're saying we're going to do better going forward, great, do that. And then we'll evaluate that going forward, but like for right now, we're not going to do it. Right, because we couldn't report on this if they were our sponsor, you know what I mean? If we were them, here's an ad for BetterHelp that we just talked about. It doesn't-

B: Akward.

S: -it doesn't work for us, right? So we're sad to see that it was a sponsor. We're sad that this happened, but we got to do what we feel is right.

E: It's alright. If the Thalutamite Corporation reached out to us.

B: Oh my God.

S: We just, just FYI, like we categorically do not advertise for pharmaceutical companies or drug therapy or any kind of pharmaceutical. They're categorically not, rejected at a hand as potential sponsors.

C: Did you guys ever used to watch when Colbert was on The Colbert Report and he did his little segment cheating death with Dr. Steven T Colbert, DFA. It's the best segment ever because every, every segment was sponsored by Prescott Pharmaceutical. There are all these like horrid side effects for the drugs he was peddling. It always made me laugh.

E: And now we're from Marlboro.

C: That was amazing.

S: Okay. Let's go on with science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:32:26)[edit]

Theme: COVID-19 pandemic news

Item #1: A new analysis finds that if California did not shut down during the pandemic, and kept business as usual, unemployment would still have risen, to 5.4% from 3.9% pre-pandemic, instead of the 8.4% actual unemployment rate, but an additional 120,000 deaths from Covid would have occurred.[6]
Item #2: A systematic review of 137 studies worldwide finds that symptoms of anxiety and depression significantly rose during the pandemic, especially among women.[7]
Item #3: A new study finds that New York City rats are susceptible to and have been exposed to the Alpha, Delta, and Omicron variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction Anxiety, depression rose significantly
Science California with no shut down
NYC rats get Covid
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Anxiety, depression rose significantly
Anxiety, depression rose significantly
Anxiety, depression rose significantly
California with no shut down

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts. To real one fake. Then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Cara, you missed last week. So I was coming off. What was three weeks in a row? Right? Where I had a-

C: A sweep.

S: Sweep.

E: That was crazy.

S: Last week we broke the trend and Jay had a solo win last week.

C: Good job Jay.

E: It was a divide and conquer. Yeah.

J: It was glorious.

E: He's still basking. Jay is still basking.

S: All right. So we'll see how you all do this week. So this week there is a theme, but it is news item base. These are news items from the week. They just are happened to be within a theme. And that theme is the pandemic, because there's still a lot of pandemic science news coming out. Still a lot of research being done. It was all over the news this week. The news items I was going through. So I figured I would take three of them and do a themed science fiction. Okay. You guys ready?

J: Mm-hmm.

C: Yep.

S: All right. Item #1: A new analysis finds that if California did not shut down during the pandemic, and kept business as usual, unemployment would still have risen, to 5.4% from 3.9% pre-pandemic, instead of the 8.4% actual unemployment rate, but an additional 120,000 deaths from Covid would have occurred. That's just in California. Item #2: A systematic review of 137 studies worldwide finds that symptoms of anxiety and depression significantly rose during the pandemic, especially among women. And item #3: A new study finds that New York City rats are susceptible to and have been exposed to the Alpha, Delta, and Omicron variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. All right. Cara, to welcome you back, you get to go first.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Okay. California, gosh, there's so many details in this. If California did not shut down during the pandemic, I mean, this is all speculation.

S: That's modeling, you know.

C: Right. I had, I did a recent episode of Talk Nerdy all about escape to model land, like escape from model land with a woman who does modeling for a living and she's like, yeah, so much of this is you just got to, you got to say, yes, I believe the parameters of the model and stick with it. Unemployment would still have risen probably because it was still a pandemic, but not as high, but an additional, yeah, I think there would have been a hell of a lot more deaths because we were really strict with our shutdowns in California. So I don't know, that seems like it could be science. I think there would still be unemployment because so many people were sick and so many industries just weren't functioning, even if they hadn't shut them down per se. Okay. A systematic review of 137 studies worldwide, finds it's symptoms of anxiety and depression significantly rose during the pandemic, especially among women. I mean, that seems reasonable. I guess, I don't know. It's hard to know though, because like anxiety and depression is like just significantly higher now than it ever would. The pandemic is still happening. It's not by no means over, but a lot of the world is acting as if it's not happening and I think anxiety and depression is even higher now than it was in the peak of the pandemic. So I think depression and anxiety, yes, the pandemic was bad for us, but I don't know. I think just like life has been bad for us for a lot of reasons. So I don't know. Let me see, a new study finds that New York City rats, oh gosh, are susceptible to and have been exposed to the Alpha, Delta and Omicron variant. Oh yeah, sure, why not? Wasn't there like a study that's a dogs could get COVID? If dogs could get COVID, for sure, the rats that are eating all of human beings garbage, like rats probably eat dirty face masks. Why wouldn't they get COVID? If they can get COVID, like if they're capable, biologically, of getting COVID, for sure New York rats got COVID, because they are literally everywhere. So that one doesn't bother me at all. So sadly, the one about the systematic review of 137 studies worldwide, worldwide, that might be the kicker. Yeah, it may be that it was protective for some people. Oh, and especially among women, women have always had higher rates of depression and anxiety. Maybe it got worse for men, but it was already bad for women, so it didn't really change that much. I think there's too many caveats with this one, so I'm going to have to say the systematic review is the fiction.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Yeah, I'll just throw out that the second one here with the systematic review, it just seems like it on superficially it seems like, of course, duh, even more than the first and the third one. So for part of that reason and also for things that Cara was saying I'll say that one's the fiction as well.

S: Okay, Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: All right, the California one, I think that one's going to be science. I can see that certainly being the case, and especially about the additional deaths that that would have occurred that seems about right. How many deaths did California have? Was it 100,000? So this would have doubled the deaths. I kind of tend to believe that that would have been the case. And then the last one about the rats though, like, I'm not that surprised that the rats have caught COVID. Isn't that why we study disease and rats? Because what humans get, rats get, rats get humans can get, there's some connection there. And the one I kind of don't know much about is this is the second one about the systematic review of the anxiety and depression studies. And so for the reasons, Cara and Bob, both stated, yeah, I'll go with them and say that one's fiction.

S: And Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: So wait, they're all saying that the one with the anxiety?

C: No. I'm freaked out now. What happened?

J: What do you mean?

C: I don't know.

E: You, you blazed the trail and-

C: I don't like it. I don't like being out in front.

E: responsible for the lives and well-being of the rest of us. What's wrong with that?

C: Too much pressure, I'm sick.

B: I'm just happy we got somebody to blame if we lose.

E: Yeah.

J: Out of the three of them, that one to me seems the most sciencey.

B: Exactly.

C: I know, it seems most obvious, oh no.

E: Jay's going to get another solo victory.

J: And then the last one, the last one to me also seems sciencey. Yeah, I'm not surprised that other mammals are able to get infected. I don't think that sounds crazy. But the first one to me is complicated, but I think there's a lot of things being stated in there and it's very easy for one of them to be skewed. I'm just not sure that there would have been an additional 120,000 deaths. So I'm going to say that one's a fiction.

C: Oh no. Jay.

E: Oh no.

S: So we'll start with three.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: A new study finds that New York City rats are susceptible to and have been exposed to the Alpha, Delta, and Omicron variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. You guys all think this one is science and this one is science. That one's science. So yeah, the rats got COVID. So yeah, I mean, it's not a foregone conclusion that every other mammal or even the city of the rats would be susceptible to this specific virus. So we did want to know are they a reservoir or not? Certainly some other mammal species are. But knowing whether rats are or not is important to know. And of course, this sets up the possibility of another zoonotic spillover.

E: Sure.

C: Of course.

S: I mean, think about it. The virus could be mutating in the rats and then that mutated strain comes back to people. Right? So yeah.

C: Uh, yes, say that to me right now. Well, I actively have COVID.

S: Yeah. I chose this theme before I knew you had COVID. So I don't take it personally.

C: Okay.

S: All right, we'll go back to number, let's work our way backwards.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: A systematic review of 137 studies worldwide finds that symptoms of anxiety and depression significantly rose during the pandemic, especially among women. So Jay, you think this one is science, Bob, Evan and Cara, you think this one is the fiction. And this one is the fiction. This is the fiction.

C: We evened out last week, oh no.

E: And under the symptoms of COVID and the drugs and everything else.

C: Okay, but this is kind of weird, right?

S: Yeah, this kind of weird was why I threw it in there. So what the study showed was there was no bump in anxiety or depression. It was no difference.

E: None?

S: Yeah.

E: Wow.

S: It was none. There was either no change at all or was not statistically significant.

C: But it was global?

S: Yeah. 134 different cohorts, 137 different studies in every country they looked at. So they also said, there was a high risk of bias in a lot of the studies. So it's not like these studies were all great, but in the evidence that we have, there was basically no change. It's close to zero overall, sort of net change there.

C: I think we're going to have to see what things look like once COVID is no longer in our lives.

S: Yeah. This was pre to during. So they didn't look after.

C: Exactly. So we need to see an after because it could just be that, yeah, it was tracking with just like regular change or I don't know. But yeah, do we, do we stay where we are? Do we go back? Was there a baseline? I don't know. Yeah, that's interesting.

S: It's interesting. Yeah, I think I would have thought that the answer would have been, yeah, of course, if we're going up, that's why it was a little counterintuitive, which is why I included that.

C: Did it look at kids?

S: So they looked at a lot of subgroups. I don't know which ones that looked at it, they probably did by age as well. And they said in no subgroup did it get worse.

C: That's interesting. Okay.

S: Interesting.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All right, that means that a new analysis finds that if California did not shut down during the pandemic, and kept business as usual, unemployment would still have risen, to 5.4% from 3.9% pre-pandemic, instead of the 8.4% actual unemployment rate, but an additional 120,000 deaths from Covid would have occurred it's science. That was trying to boil it down as best as I could, but those are the key findings. It was just a what if modeling study business as usual was kept and there was basically no laws caused for any shutdown business shutdown in California through the pandemic. So it is, I think, a very important thing to study, especially since we're trying to prepare for the next one, did they work? Should we do it again? Should we do something else? What would have happened? And they found that there still would be negative economic consequences. As you say, Cara, people got sick, some people couldn't go to work. People would voluntarily not go into big crowds even if we were in the mandate.

C: The mandates were not the only, and you've got to also remember that politically in California, people were more likely to follow public health advice coming from the federal government even if it wasn't mandated.

S: Yeah. So the actual deaths were 52,000, and they said they would have risen to 170,000 by March of 2021, just at that point, if there were no shutdown. So was the unemployment rate worth saving 120,000 people? And actually, I think the deaths would have been more than that if you include all of the downstream effects of having overwhelmed the hospital system.

C: Sure. I think a lot of people forget now or never knew or really underestimate the degree to which the hospital systems were stretched thin.

E: Those first few months were impossible.

S: Yeah, healthcare workers burned out. They didn't have the beds. It was really terrible. I always knew when it was getting bad when they started to ask neurologists to cover the medical service. That's how desperate things were getting.

C: There's a tough documentary that I do think is important for people to watch. It came out two years ago now in 2021 called The First Wave. And they followed some New York hospital.

S: Oh, they were buried. They were hit bad.

C: Oh, it was bad. But I do think it's important for perspective, especially for those people who like the conspiracy theorists out there to see what it was like inside those walls.

S: They were shell shocked. I mean, I spoken to an, I have a close friend he was a New York doctor during the internal medicine doctor during this time. They were absolutely shell shocked. It was two bad choices. There was no good choice. It was not like there was anything we could have done that would have been just peachy keen. Either there was going to be a lot of extra deaths or we had to make some sacrifices. Same thing like with the schools. People said, oh, we shouldn't have shut down the schools. It was bad for kids. Yeah, it was bad for kids. But if we kept them open. It's not like the teachers all would have gone. They were most of the time, even when they were trying to open up the schools, like locally, the schools, like we had to shut down this week because we have no teachers, because whatever.

C: Right. Yeah, that did happen once they were, it's like the worst case of survivor bias.

S: Yeah.

C: We see it over and over. People going, oh, looking back, we should have blah, blah, blah. And it's like you're saying that because you were protected by these measures.

S: Yeah, also they don't know the counterfactual. Right? All you're saying is if we, yeah, if we didn't shut down, we wouldn't have had the negative economic effects. I get it. But you don't know what the bad things that would have happened if you didn't shut down.

C: Exactly. Exactly.

S: So you can't say that.

C: And you're literally living in the privilege of the potential, like the potential privilege of the shutdown.

S: Right.

C: It makes me.

S: I know.

C: It's like when people are anti-vaxx. It's the same arguments they make. And I'm like, you're alive because you're vaccinated.

J: Exactly. I know. It's so infuriating.

S: And people say it wasn't that bad. Tell that to the millions of people who are dead.

C: Exactly. Exactly. It's just, come on.

S: Yeah, again, that's not to say we did everything perfectly because-

C: No, we didn't, we screw up left and right.

S: We didn't know what we were doing. And as a lot of people said, we're building this plane as we're flying it. But the, I think the most of the steps were reasonable given the data we had at the time. And it isn't shouldn't look back. But for example, for telehealth, that was a huge experiment, right?

C: Yep.

S: And it worked out great. It was fantastic.

B: Oh, yeah.

S: It was actually good. It actually had a positive thing of accelerating a good thing that was bogged down in red tape. That was good. Public schools having online courses, not so good. It turns out we were not ready for that. The public school system-

C: But universities going online. Worked pretty well in a lot of cases.

S: It was not bad. It was not. I don't think it was optimal. I think it was probably the right thing to do.

C: They were also a little more prepared for it.

S: They were more prepared.

B: What about working from home?

C: Oh, yeah. Thank you. Working from home.

S: I think it was probably mixed.

B: I don't got my commute no more.

S: But I think it was overall a good thing. The, it was sort of the one experiment that really was problematic I think it was the lower grades doing online learning what really wasn't good. And it was not just because it's inherently not bad. It's because the system wasn't prepared for it.

C: Yeah, we weren't prepared for it.

S: They didn't know what they were doing. And you can't just do in-person class material online and think it's going to work. Parents weren't ready for it.

C: But ultimately, what was the alternative? We didn't even have an approved vaccine for kids for a long time, remember? Yeah. It took a while before we were like, okay, I think it's safe to start vaccinating them. And there was a scary time. Really scary time.

S: But I think what this does mean is that we need to be ready to do this next time. We need to be like build into the economy and education and the infrastructure. What happens if we need to shut down? What's our backup plan.

C: And let's not forget that we kind of did have a lot of preparation. Like someone didn't want to read the binders, you know what I'm saying?

S: That's partly truly disbanded, the dedicated group, you know. I think the executive level for that before it happened. So we definitely, and I don't think we're prepared again. I think we need to be more prepared. It's like you have batteries and stuff at home in the winter, if you live in a cold climate because you're ready for a winter storm in case it happens. Once the winter storm hits, it's too late. You've got to have all that crap in your house before there's a rush at the store. Right. It's the same thing. Now what's good like for work for me, like if I'm sick, I just say, hey, convert all my patients to telehealth today, that's it.

C: That's exactly what I'm going to have to do on Monday if I'm not testing negative by then.

S: It's great. You don't have to worry about, oh, what am I going to do if I have to miss a day if they re-book all those patients, now you just convert everybody to telehealth. It's not going to be perfect, but it's going to be better than just missing a whole day at work.

C: Yeah. I don't want to work feeling like this but I'm going to.

S: I know. But you could-

C: I have to consider myself so lucky that it took three years for me to contract it. I contracted the virus when we have paxlovid, when I'm vaccinated, when I'm boosted.

S: That's when you get it.

C: That's when you get it. If you get it, when we have all the good science.

S: Yeah, absolutely.

E: Yeah. You're welcome, Cara. We blazed 36 months worth of, worth of everything.

S: I know, my COVID was like a cold. It was nothing.

C: Yeah, that's all this is. It's a cold right now.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:50:10)[edit]

Science is magic that works.

 – Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), American writer and humorist

S: All right. Evan, give us a quote.

E: His quote is five words. "Science is magic that works." Yep. Written by Kurt Vonnegut from the book Cat's Cradle.

S: Yeah, I like that.

E: Yeah.

S: It is because it does seem like magic, but it actually works. That also pairs well with the, I always forget if it's Clark or Asimov, probably Clark. So like any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

E: Right. Right.

S: It's the same kind of idea. There are things that happen that modern technology can do that seem "magical", except it's reality.

B: Steve's, in science fiction circles when they describe technology that is like super advanced, like near the limits of physics, they call it Clark tech.

S: Clark tech.

C: Love that.

B: Love it.

S: And there's also some, there's a tradition of the so-called techno mage, which explicitly uses technology to mimic magical like effects, right? They existed in 515, for example, which is a neat idea.

B: Utilize them enough.

E: When we say science is magic that works when Kurt wrote this, at the same time he's saying magic doesn't work or in other words magic is fantasy.

S: That's just magic. Doesn't work.

E: Right. So don't confuse the two things that should not be confused.

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

J: Roger that.

B: Sure.

C: Thanks Steve.

E: Thanks Steve.


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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[9]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description



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