SGU Episode 924

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SGU Episode 924
March 25th 2023
924 RR Engine.jpeg

"Rolls-Royce Holdings says it's developing a micro-nuclear reactor that the company hopes could be a source of fuel for long trips to the Moon and Mars." [1]

SGU 923                      SGU 925

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
Quote of the Week

Whenever we propose a solution to a problem, we ought to try as hard as we can to overthrow our solution, rather than defend it.

Karl Popper, Austrian-British philosopher and social commentator

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, 3/23/23, universal time, climate changes[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 23rd, 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: Steve, what did you say today's date was?

S: March 23rd, 2023.

E: Somewhere on the planet, it must be 11:23 in the evening and 23 seconds. So if I stream all those numbers together, I get 0, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3. If I'm not mistaken.

S: Yes.

C: But even if you don't, it's still 3, 2, 3, 2, 3.

S: Right.

E: Sure, if you want to put the 2-0 in there and the 3. But if you want to shorten the year, you've got a string of 23s there.

C: Wait, but that's only like in the US. Because other places do the month first.

S: Today there would be 2023.

E: Well, they're wrong. And-

C: (laughs) For the purposes of this presentation.

E: And I was thinking about this today.

S: You were really?

E: I was really, because I brought this up when we were saying what we're going to talk about for opening banter. And this is what I thought of. And then I thought of, well, okay. I thought the planet had one time zone, as opposed to 20, however many, 24 at least, if not more time zones.

J: Yeah.

E: How badly would society break down if, or fail to work correctly? If everything were the same time? Like does it matter if we call 1am and the sun is out in the middle of the day on one part of the planet?

C: Right. It's really just a construct, right? I think it's the shift that would make everything fall apart. It's not if it was sort of always that way. We would just be used to it.

E: Right. Yeah. So it's an adaptation of society, right?

C: Oh, 100%.

E: So you could eliminate the entire time zone craziness.

S: Exactly, you just adapt to it.

C: But who would like claim it? Would it be Greenwich mean? And then everything would just be on Greenwich mean time, probably.

E: I suppose that's the traditional...

J: Well, the disconnect would be then like what 7am to us right now could be 2 in the afternoon to somebody else, which is kind of weird.

C: But only until it's not weird anymore.

E: Correct. Correct. One universal time. Well, one planetary time. What time is it on your planet? It would become.

S: Yeah.

E: And I don't know. Maybe in the distant future when we're inhabiting other worlds and things there, there may be a deed for something more like that.

S: One standard rotation.

E: What time is it on Jupiter? It's that time.

J: Evan, I'm all for it, man.

E: Good. Well, I've started something here.

S: And for the record Evan, that already exists. It's called Zulu time or a universal coordinated time, just that people don't use it day to day.

C: You also started me thinking about the word universal, which is so funny, because we think of that word as meaning applies to everyone or everything. But like within the universe, we're really, we're never talking about the universe. We're not never, but we're usually not talking about things within the universe when we say universal.

E: Yeah, it's more of a colloquialism than a literal definition of it.

S: But every human on earth is probably every human in the universe.

C: Probably. Yeah.

J: Well, I would say absolutely. Yes, to that one.

S: Well, what if someone was abducted by aliens or there's a population of humans living on another stellar system because they were brought there? You don't know.

B: I think we could assume this.

C: We're not in parallel universe where there were humans.

B: Not true.

C: Bob, you liked that one.

E: Bob, you're in a poke holes. You're ready to poke holes all over the place.

B: You're very safe and good about assuming that that's not true.

S: It's a reasonable assumption, but Jay said for sure, we don't know that for sure.

J: Well, Steve, do you think that there is an (laughter)

S: No.

J: -tiny possibility that a human existed in other solar systems somewhere? Sorry.

S: I'm saying Bob's the one who's always saying that he wishes that there was like alien cameras videotaping dinosaurs from 65 million years ago. And you're telling me they couldn't have popularized another world with humans? Sure they could.

J: But who are they?

S: Some aliens.

E: Exactly.

S: Alien civilization.

E: What time is it there?

C: 3, 2, 3, 2, 3.

E: Yeah.

S: But no matter how you reckon time, the important thing is that it actually is spring. Now we are now officially spring.

C: You and your spring obsession. I love it.

S: In northern hemisphere.

B: Yes, it's awesome.

E: It's more to do with a amount of daylight I find.

S: Totally.

E: I find that's the most satisfying aspect of it is collecting more daylight as we move towards summer.

S: Cara, think about it. We are at the very beginning of the top half of the analemma for the next six months.

E: That's the most part.

S: We will be getting the most light and heat for the whole year. That's the best part.

C: It's just funny because it's also so relative, right? And I agree with the light part. I'm so excited about light. Like yesterday I left work so late and it was really lovely that at least before I left to work the sun hadn't set when I left the sun has set. Yes, but at least beforehand I looked out and I was like, oh, the world is alive. But this part of the calendar is the most brutal in Florida. Like this is the time when it hurts to be outside.

S: Definitely have the perspective of a Connecticutian.

C: It's actually quite lovely right now. I really like the weather right now, but we're on the precipice of it becoming.

S: Yeah, spring is good for everyone.

C: Yeah, exactly. And there's baby animals.

J: As someone who really likes living in New England, I really enjoy the seasons. The seasons can be very wonderful here. This was one of the worst winters we've ever had and it's because of global warming.

E: Climate change, yeah.

S: Or it was one of the best ones.

B: In terms of what?

J: We had one snowstorm and it sucked. I want snowstorms.

E: Yeah, it wasn't much of a classic winter for New England.

S: We had almost no time with snow on the ground, but I'm okay with that actually.

B: Yeah, I shoveled really like one and a half times.

S: I managed to not shovel at all.

E: But Jay, I understand what you're saying and I think it's a sentiment that maybe has some nostalgia to it, right?

J: There isn't an inner beauty to a snowstorm. They're wonderful and they're fun. You know what I mean? I look forward to that time that I'll spend with my kids. There's just nothing better in the winter than a wonderful snowstorm. It makes me very sad that the global weather is changing and New England is no longer the same anymore.

C: Right. But talk about like, like, chain global changes. I mean, I haven't been able to experience it firsthand because I've been here in Florida for this internship, but back home in LA, it's like the apocalypse right now.

E: It's crazy.

J: Why? What's going on?

C: Just the amount of rain, there's been snow and hail. There was a tornado right outside of LA today.

E: Yes, I saw that.

B: Wow, really?

C: A tornado, like right outside the city. I think it was in Montecito or Montabello. I'm not sure. Like, let's see. A tornado. Yeah, it was one of those Monta. Tornado Los Angeles. I'm sure if I Google, it'll come up. Yeah. Montabello. I mean it was an EF1 but still, there's like all this footage of it. Yeah, the region's strongest in 40 years. What is sucked at teacher out of a classroom. Ok these headlines, come on. But yeah, it was pretty intense, like it's been weird in LA nonstop rain, flooding, all sorts of damage.

E: The atmospheric river that hit. I think what, a couple of weeks, a week or two ago?

C: What's an atmospheric river?

E: A plume of moisture that helps carry saturated air from the tropics to higher latitudes. So yeah, it comes rolling in over the Pacific Ocean and nails California. It's like, it has the vast majority of geography for it.

J: Evan, I've read that all of the farms that grow berries and things like that, it's like very time of year in California. They are underwater.

E: That's horrible.

J: Yeah, it's bad.

C: Yeah, well, I didn't mean to be such a bummer, but yeah, shit be crazy y'all.

E: Yeah, sure is.

C: What is going on on this?

J: Cara, you know what I always say when things are bad?

C: What?

J: Let it's snow. (laughter)

C: Just let it snow.

E: Let it snow in California.

What's the Word? (8:49)[edit]

S: All right, Cara, you're going to start us off with the what's the word.

C: I am and this is one of those examples of you guys remember a while back. This would have been years ago now before I spent a little bit of time in Africa when we were talking about dogs, I think.

J: Yes.

C: And I had never heard of a jackal. [link needed]

E: Oh, that's right. Yes.

C: I was like, how did I miss this? And then just last week, like a handful of you had never heard of a raccoon dog. And I was like, how did you miss this? And I think the word this week is one of those, how did I miss this word? I literally just learned about it when I was texting with a new friend of mine and they were like, oh, what a pleonasm. And I was like, what the hell's a pleonasm? I had to Google it. I was like, what is a pleonasm? And then I was like, this is the greatest word ever. I was like, I have to do this on what's the word. So a pleonasm spelled P-L-E-O-N-A-S-M. So that is a noun, a pleonasm, is a redundancy, right? It's a linguistic, sometimes it's a fault, but sometimes it's a device. And I think it's important to make that distinction because it's really easy to go, oh, it's a pleonasm, that's redundant, ATM machine, but sometimes it's cool.

E: Or PIN number.

C: PIN number, exactly, but sometimes people do it intentionally for emphasis, for effect. So the technical definition in Websters, at least, is the use of more words than those necessary to denote mere sense. And then let's talk about some kind of examples before I get into the etymology. What do you think are some of the most common pleonasm?

E:' Ice cold.

C: Ice cold, I love that. Okay, this one is used all the time. True facts, free gift.

J: Oh, I like that one.

C: Yep, false pretenses, nape of the neck.

J: You're right. Oh my god, never thought of that.

C: Because nape literally is the back of the neck. Like that's the definition of word nape. And so yeah, and we mentioned ATM machine, PIN number, those are really common.

E: Or like burning hot, kind of burning, burning, yeah.

C: And I think the ones that we are often used as a literary device, the example that I keep coming across over and over is I saw it with my own eyes. I heard it with my own ears. Well, of course you did.

E: I think I heard Randy once say with whom, with whose other eyes, who you've seen it with.

S: Cara, here's one: excruciatingly painful.

C: Yes, exactly. So that's what both of those words mean.

B: And so I don't know about that one, that's a weak one.

S: Excruciating means extremely painful.

C: So you don't have to say pain after excruciating.

S: You say that was excruciating. You're done. You could end it right there.

C: Right. The pleonasm isn't the word excruciating. It's the word painful.

S: Yeah.

C: Right. That's an unnecessary word in this.

S: It's not modifying the word painful. It's completely redundant. The painful is completely redundant to excruciating.

C: Right. Yep. And so let's look at it. It's from the Latin via the Greek. So originally from the Greek. Pleanason. I can't pronounce ancient Greek. It can be more than enough to be superfluous, to add superfluously. And it all comes from the same root that means more. So we see a lot of similar words like poly and plus, which are coming from that very same root. Its first use was in the 1580s. It's a really old word. The art of English poesy. And there's a quote, George Putinham first used it. The first surplusage. Surplusage? The Greeks call Pleanasmus. I call him to full speech and is no great fault. As if one should say, I heard it with mine ears and saw it with mine eyes. As if a man could hear with his heels or see with his nose. We ourselves use this superfluous speech in a verse written of our mistress. Nor the less, this is written in like a weird form of English. I added that, not much to be misliked or even a vice sometime being seasonably used. Half a pretty grace. So it's a very old word. And I had literally never come across it. And I'm so glad I did because I think it's just useful. I was about to say incredibly, well, I guess you can say incredibly useful. I'm like worried. I'm going to be using pleonasms all the time.

E: Oh no. Don't get on them.

C: Have you guys knew this word before? Is this new to you as well? What? Why are we not using this regularly?

J: I mean, Cara, I've totally talked to people in the past about the idea of like saying PIN number is redundant. Is there a word that describes the reason why we do it or is there a way to describe why we say PIN number instead of just PIN?

C: Oh, so from everything that I've been reading about pleonasm, so the usage is obviously, it can be viewed as a fault of style by some critics and by some linguistics. These things are often tautological, right? You're just saying the same thing multiple different ways. But again, very often you see that it's utilized either for emphasis to make a really sharp point on it or literally because it has a linguistic appeal. It sounds better to the ears. And so very often we do say things that are a bit repetitive, useless, cliched, simply because they sound better to us.

J: That makes sense.

S: I have another one, Cara, how about fake psychic.

C: I love fake psychic. Yeah, we talk about about a lot of the show, yeah, that's true. That's good.

S: All right, thanks, Cara.

News Items[edit]

Rolls-Royce Nuclear Engine (14:54)[edit]

S: Bob, tell us about this Rolls-Royce engine.

E: Ooh, you're behind a Rolls-Royce.

B: Hey, did you guys know that Rolls-Royce and its partners like Oxford University are researching nuclear power in space and not only wants a nuclear rocket in space, but plans on having a nuclear reactor on the moon by 2029.

J: That's great.

E: That is way too simple.

B: Right? It seems very, very soon. Now, when I hear Rolls-Royce, I think of ridiculously opulent and luxurious cars. Like the Rolls-Royce Phantom, which I checked out online recently, oh my God, between 400 and 650,000 USD. Not over, my house isn't worth that much. I also knew kind of vaguely that they make fantastic gen engines. But how can they go from that to nuclear reactors on spaceships or the moon? It seems like, wait, that's kind of a leap. So I did some research into Rolls-Royce. So now, we're not talking about the company that makes the famous cars.

C: What?

B: Rolls-Royce motor's holdings limited. That's a different company. That company split off decades ago, like in 73, from what is now Rolls-Royce PLC. And that's an industrial technology company. And that makes a lot more sense, right? It makes even more sense, though, when you find out that Rolls-Royce PLC has for 60 years designed, supplied, and maintained the nuclear power plant in all of the UK Royal Navy's nuclear submarine. So yeah, they're kind of like well-spaced to do this kind of work, it seems, because 60 years of nuclear reactor work, OK. Now, the funding for the research itself comes from the UK Space Agency. The details are a little funny, but it seems a first round of funding came last year for researching this micro-fission reactor idea itself. So they've already been working on that specific idea for a while, kind of like these modular reactors, small, modular reactors, SMRs. Now, this recent round of funding for 3,5 million USD seems to be, from what I could tell, for basically ironing out some of the details of this micro-reactor, like, for example, exactly how to convert the heat into electricity, but also to build using this money to build the micro-reactor itself and be ready for the lunar service by 2029, which is what their plan. And they say that such a reactor could power rovers, communication systems, and scientific experiments, all on the moon. Now, Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: "This innovative research by Rolls-Royce could lay the groundwork for powering continuous human presence on the moon. And that's the critical piece right there. This continuing presence of people on the moon and what the power that would be required to make that happen. This is really critical if we're seriously going to live and work on the moon, and beyond just like for the weekend, right? Going to the moon for a few days or a week. Going far beyond that, you need some serious power. So now solar power's not going to help, right? Why? Because nights can last for 14 days on the moon. And it gets like a minus 183 Celsius, which is negative 300 Fahrenheit. I mean, that's crazy cold. Now, there's also RTGs, which are radioisotope thermoelectric generators, right? We've talked about them a few times. That turns the heat from radioactive decay into electricity. So these are essentially nuclear batteries, right? And those are fine. We use them all the time for more small-scale applications. But if we're talking about a large, serious, human-based facility, they'll need something that's beefier. And that's why these small-fission reactors are perfect for that role. And I think they're going to have a serious place on the moon when we are on the moon in force and doing lots of lots of work. They're going to be there. I mean, to me, that's just like, yeah, it's absolutely going to happen.

J: Bob, did they say how big they actually are?

B: No, they actually tweeted a really cool mock-up of their microreactor recently. So there was no scale, though. Wasn't sure how big it was. But they're not going to be huge. They're definitely on the small, they call them micro. I mean, they're not tiny. But I'm not sure exactly how big they're going to be. But they're going to be definitely something that's going to be manageable. So with the image, they described it this way. They said a Rolls-Royce microreactors designed to use an inherently safe and extremely robust fuel form. Each uranium particle is encapsulated in multiple protective layers that act as a containment system, allowing it to withstand extreme conditions. So that's good to know, because you're not going to have to launch this stuff into space onto the moon. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of people that are a little scared about actually launching this stuff. Now that I think of it, I mean, are there even regulations in place where they can do that? I guess. I think ultimately it's going to be not a lot of actual uranium. And we've, I don't know about that legal angle. I don't know how that's going to work out. OK. So one of the other projects that Rolls-Royce is working on, and I think it's not directly related to the Space Agency funding, is they specifically mentioned nuclear thermal propulsion that they are working on. And that, of course, nuclear thermal propulsion is no stranger to this podcast. That's the NTP nuclear thermal propulsion is the long overdue no-brainer next step for space propulsion after chemical rockets. The first generation of such rockets right out of the gate would likely be twice as efficient as chemical rockets and cut trips in half. And that's just like the first generation. It's going to be that good compared to chemical rockets. Now, of course, if you listen to the show based on some of the talks I've given that NASA and DARPA have serious projects underway for both nuclear propulsion and nuclear power generation in space and on the moon. And it's just great to see other countries and space agencies taking this seriously because I'm just so sick of chemical rockets at this point. It's like, come on. It just seems so obvious. We had these nuclear rockets in the 60s. And they just, I guess the shuttle research kind of really was one of the reasons why that was tanked. And I mean, it's just so galling to think that we could have these rockets right now. But of course, also, don't forget, these small modular reactors are not just something that's going to be on the moon, hopefully, in the future or being used in rockets. I mean, these SMR, small modular reactors, I think they've got a decent future for power generation on Earth. I mean, especially with climate change and all the horrible news that seems to be coming out every month, just the news is so scary and it's just like I'm so disgusted with it that, I mean, these types of things, including, of course, solar and all the, and wind and everything, this, hopefully, I think that these small modular reactors, these fission reactors are going to play a decent role. But, who knows? Maybe they won't because even some of these SMRs that are coming out recently, they're saying that they're going to be more expensive in terms of like cost per watt or whatever than they anticipated. They might not be able to compete with solar and wind. And if that's the case, then, maybe there's really not going to be a market for them if they're just too expensive. But it's hard to say at this point and I still think having these reactors available are still going to be important, especially for off-Earth applications. But I just can't get past the idea. I love the idea of having a small reactor buried under my property that will power my house for about 100 years. Just, it's just too awesome, whenever I think of the apocalypse, that's like, yeah, I want a small modular nuclear reactor in the ground. All right, I'm rambling at this point. (laughter)

Tik Tok and Misinformation (23:03)[edit]

S: Jay, tell us about how TikTok is going to handle misinformation. There's no misinformation on TikTok, is there?

J: No, not at all.

B: This was encouraging, actually, from what I read.

J: It's a little encouraging, but, we got to talk about it. Big disclaimer here. So the SGU has been on TikTok now for a couple of months. And we are trying to whack back the misinformation. So, in the pursuit of doing this, Steve, Ian and I have had to watch quite a bit of-

S: Oh my goodness.

J: -an unedited TikTok. And it is probably as bad as it has ever been on social media is happening on TikTok. Not to say that there isn't good stuff because there is a ton of great content on TikTok. But wow, I mean, TikTok is just, it's full, chock full of misinformation. So also, you might know that TikTok, especially in the United States, TikTok has been in the news lately because of worries that the app is a way for the Chinese government to spy on Americans. And I say that with humor in my voice because it's partly nerves, because I don't know what the truth is. It seems like unlikely on the surface, but there really might be a privacy issue here that needs to be investigated. So today, the CEO of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew had literally had to answer questions by a congressional committee about his company. This is largely about user collected data and security issues. And I watched some of it today, because it was on for quite a while. And the congressmen were bringing up good points. They seemed well informed, and they seemed legitimately concerned. And the answers that Shao Zichu was giving really reinforced the idea that he is just protecting his company's interests. And he was dodging a lot of questions. And I'll get back to you on that and do a lot of that.

B: Really?

J: One of the people questioning him literally said, it seems like you are just trying to get through this and waiting for the new cycle to go away until the heat is off you guys. So you could just forget about this whole thing. And I don't disagree with that assessment. And I think it's very good that all governments should be doing this. But it's really nice to see the US government turning the thumbscrews to a social media company. We really do need to have regulation here and there needs to be some accountability put in place. So now back on track. So I bet it was not a coincidence that two days ago, as we record this, TikTok had a significant update to their community guidelines. The updates included how TikTok intends to treat deepfakes, artificial intelligence generated art, and, surprisingly, and this is what Bob was saying, they want to battle misinformation on their platform. So the new guidelines also tried to address something called synthetic media. I don't know if you guys have heard about that phrase. This is any type of media content, like text images, video sound, whatever, that's been partially or completely generated using artificial intelligence. As we have all seen with our own eyes, Cara.

C: Yep, yep.

J: Artificial intelligence software like Midjourney and ChatGPT are evolving very, very fast and doing incredible things. These new tools can be used, I'm talking about artificial intelligence backed software, can be used to create misleading information very easily. For example, using an app like Midjourney, many people created photo realistic images of Donald Trump being arrested due to the assumed soon to be executed indictment that is probably coming any day now. And I saw many of the images and some of them were particularly realistic. And I think it's safe to predict that AI will be dramatically improving in the very near future. It won't be long until it's easy for the average user to make a life like image of anyone that they like doing anything that they want. In fact, they'll be video as well. So this is all what we have coming very soon. So this poses a serious threat to social media platforms, obviously, because the truth will become even fogier than it is today. TikTok wants any media that is generated by AI to have a label of some kind saying so. I think that's a tall order because how you gonna police that? We'll see what they do. This includes a ban on using the likenesses of real people with an exception, of course, for famous people because they're in the public zeitgeist. And we make fun of and parody and all sorts of things like that, still have to be allowed. Now TikTok specifically says in their new guidelines that even though you can post fake images of famous people, you can't misrepresent those people or distort the truth. So for example, you can't post a video of a politician stating something they didn't say, which is gonna be incredibly easy to do very soon.

C: That's basically like, libel or slander.

E: Fraud, it's a form of fraud.

C: I mean, it is fraud also, yeah, but that seems like it's something like, we already have laws to protect saying something untrue about a person. So making a person say something that they did not say seems to fall into that.

J: And it's guys, I'm telling you, it's gonna be here in the blink of an eye, we're gonna be living in the world where you actually don't know if someone said something or did something. We're not gonna know. It's not gonna be easy to tell. Now, let me turn on some good news. TikTok is also in these new guideline updates not tolerating misinformation about climate change on the platform. That's it. They're not tolerating it anymore. They say in the guidelines that content that "undermines well-established scientific consensus is prohibited". They also, they don't want content that covers general conspiracy theories or unverified information related to emergencies. These are great things that they're saying. If they're really gonna follow through with this, this is good news. Tech companies have been trying, for years to be able to spot deep fakes, they've been trying to ban accounts which are prolific on the web. And they wanna break the cycle of misinformation that is exploding online. Misinformation experts are saying that extended exposure to manipulated media can intensify the polarization and a viewer's ability and willingness to distinguish truths from fiction. Whoa, right? It's happening. It's happening a lot all over the world to a lot of people. So I really do hope that TikTok is able to prove that the user data that they are somehow collecting is secure or they're gonna delete it. I hope they come up with a reason to or a way to squelch misinformation on their platform.

S: Gonna have to use AI. Honestly.

J: They will. No, of course they will. And in general, governments need to enact comprehensive consumer data privacy legislation. I'm gonna say this as strongly as I can. It's time for governments to actually do something about this. Stop talking about it. Stop having politicians say it without doing anything. Do it. Do it. We need it because social media is slowly eroding our societies in a measurable way.

S: There was just a recent study where they looked at, they used ChatGPT to send emails to thousands of congressmen or thousands of emails to congressmen. And they were only slightly better at average in discerning that they were legitimate from the fake ones. So in other words, of like the thousands of emails they sent out, the congress critters responded to about 70% of the real ones and 15% of the fake ones. There was almost no difference. And if you look across topics, they've in some topics where there was no difference and they even responded more to the ChatGPT generated emails. So what this means is, one person or organization can use AI to generate countless emails to politicians and completely distort their inbox. And they won't be able to tell the difference. So how, right? So that's a massive thumb that anybody could put on the scale there, let alone to, producing content for social media. So unless we have AI filtering this stuff out, we're just going to be completely at the mercy of bots.

B: So, so AI filtering it out, it's not a panacea. I mean, it's a, then it's just going to be an AI escalating war between AI technologies to determine who could spot the other.

S: Yeah, but if we don't try, then the, we're not the absolute mercy of, if we-

B: Right, but we got to, we have to do that and also other things like we're having ramifications. If you are caught doing that, the penalty has to be extreme, I think. It has to be dramatic to prevent people to actually make it a detergent.

S: Like what? Bob, we're more concerned about foreign powers doing it. How do you enforce, how do you keep Russia from doing it?

E: You can't.

B: You can make other countries pay as well. And sanctions work against other countries as well.

S: This is cyber warfare. It is cyber warfare.

E: It is.

B: Yes.

E: It's what it is.

S: Absolutely. It's getting very interesting, very fast.

E: It's a nice way of putting it.

B: Not the way we anticipated, man.

S: Not in a good way. Yeah, not a good way.

E: Well, yeah.

S: All right.

E: It's actually dangerous.

3D Printed Rocket (33:06)[edit]

S: All right, there's some good news, some good technology news. Have you guys heard of this of relativity rockets? Have you heard about that?

B: Oh, yeah. This is cool.

S: Relativity Space is the company. And they did a test launch of really what is a test rocket system of theirs, Terran 1. And it didn't completely succeed, but it succeeded in the most important way. They wanted to make sure that the rocket got passed it's peak G, right? They wanted to make sure that it experienced the most G forces. It will experience during a launch to low Earth orbit. And it did. And it survived that. However, the second stage didn't ignite. So it didn't get all the way into orbit. And they're still investigating why that happened.

B: Doesn't even matter, really.

S: But that really, but it, but as tests go, it's like we, the important part happened. But why do we care about a rocket that, and one more rocket company with one more rocket test, that sort of succeeded? Because this rocket was 85% 3D printed.

B: Yeah.

S: And that's the most of it.

B: Aluminum.

S: Yeah. Well, a lot of it was aluminum, which is, that's one of the cheap space-aged metals that it's used because it's very light and strong. That and titanium are really important. Either that or carbon fiber type materials. And of course, Elon Musk is using steel, not because it's the best, but because it's cheap. And you want to produce a bunch of like starships, you want to use something that's good enough, and that's really cheap.

E: But how cheap was this to 3D print a rocket?

S: I mean, 3D printing is very cost effective. First of all, it's good for rapid prototyping and iteration, right?

B: Oh, yeah.

S: You don't have to retool a machine.

E: Yeah, or a work entire factory.

S: It's all in software. You just iterate the software and print and there you go. And it prints out of aluminum powder or aluminum beads, which then laser melts together into the desired shape. It could create items that are very detailed and very complicated. And using, they actually, the innovation here really is that they built their own proprietary 3D printing machines to make the parts for their rocket.

E: I see.

S: And then they use it to make 85%. But they think they can get up to 95% based upon the type of stuff that goes into their rocket. They might redesign things. The parts that they cannot 3D print include computer chips, of course, you can't just print a high-end computer chip. Yeah, at least not with this. Rubber seals and valves. So they probably can print the valves at some point. You can print with rubber. You can print. There are 3D printers for rubber. I found them online. I don't know if they are-

B: Probably not good quality.

S: -high quality.

E: Maybe it wasn't space worthy.

S: Yeah, so maybe that's where the next 10% is going to come from. They need space worthy, like aerospace quality rubber 3D printers. Maybe they can get, they need to be able to print more of the valves. But also which redesigning pieces that they, you have to print fewer pieces. Right now, I think the whole rocket was like 3,000 different pieces that they had to print out. They wanted to get it to under 1,000 to make the process easier. So, and this is obviously like, SpaceX and other companies have been using 3D printed parts in their engines and their rockets, so this is not entirely new. But the 85% figure absolutely is. And this is just another way that space travel, getting into low-earth orbit is getting cheaper and easier. Their rocket, by the way, is reusable in the same way that the SpaceX rocket is. So this is becoming standard now in the industry. Or just moving in that direction, which again, space X gets credit for innovating that. And now it's like, everyone's like, well, yeah, if we're going to keep it competitive-

E: The industry's coalescing around a set of designs that are proving to be the most efficient way of doing.

S: Not only that, but it's just, if you're going to be competitive, you have to use reusable rockets because you can't afford not to. You'll get priced out of the industry, priced out of the market if you don't do that. So it is interesting to think about what the implications are of wide-scale industrial 3D printing. If we could 3D print a rocket that I'm sure we could 3D print a lot of things like cars, you know? And so, yeah, right? So how much will this change our industrial base? So for example, I've been reading a lot about the war with Ukraine and Russia, right? And what a lot of experts are saying is it's really coming down to supply chain. It's like, which side can get the ammunition and vehicles and tanks and whatever, to the front lines faster? Whoever runs out of stuff first loses. That's basically what's happening at this point in time.

C: Isn't that such an important component to war? I feel like there were so many battles in World War II.

S: Totally.

E: Throughout history. Yeah, the supply chain.

S: Yeah, yeah. I think it was Norman Schwarzcraft who said that amateurs talk about tactics, professionals talk about logistics [it was actually Omar Bradley]. Yeah, it's all like getting stuff where you need it. But here's something I was surprised at a little bit. I didn't realize the situation that we were in, but they were saying that the American military industrial base is gone. Like it's been eroded because we didn't need it. Like we stockpiled a bunch of ammunition and weapons, but we haven't been in a land war anytime recently. So we shutter those factories during peacetime and it's going to take one to two years to get them up and running again.

C: It's just bananas to think about. I mean, we make, we spend what is it 10 times more than the next, or sorry-

S: Yeah, we spend more than the next 10 countries.

C: More than the next 10 nations combined.

S: Well, like, Cara, we have enough tanks. We stop building them. Like we're not losing tanks in a war.

C: For sure, but like then, but it's not like the budget goes down once we have enough tanks. What are we spending that money on?

S: It did. There was a piece dividend like in the 90s, but then that went way over. Yeah. But yeah, but you're right, but in any case, but like I said, we're done building tanks. We shutter all the tank factories and now we don't have, we can't make more. It'll take years to fire them back up again. But what if, what if, we retool our industry? So it's not specific like that. What if companies just 3D print stuff? And it could be for civilian use. It could be for military use. And sort of reactivating our ability to make something that we only need intermittently is as much as just loading up a different software, CAD design.

E: As long as the bad guys don't get old with somehow. I'm good.

S: But they are. So we have to do it to keep up. But so this could make our industrial base much more nimble, right? That's kind of the idea. Not only for prototyping and iterating, but also for like, oh, we need a bunch more ventilators for a pandemic. OK, well, we could make those. We don't have to spend a year tooling up a factory. We just boom, just convert our existing 3D printing industrial base. Just put it into the queue.

E: Yeah.

S: Boom, we're spinning out ventilators one day and tanks the next day and whatever we need. There isn't companies wouldn't be necessarily. Most of the manufacturing won't be from companies dedicated to making that one thing or that are part of the military industrial complex. They're just making stuff.

E: It would be different roles. They would take on the roles of just coordinating.

S: Yes. Yeah, you're like, they do design and final assembly or whatever, but like actually most of the manufacturing is just widely distributed amongst generic industrial base that maybe they specialize in like what this stuff is made out of or like the scale. And like, are you making a bunch of little plastic things or a bunch of big aluminum things, right? But that's maybe where they specialize. Not I make tanks and I make planes and I make ventilators or whatever. You know what I mean? I think it would be good. It'd be really, really good for our industrial base to be based on this kind of thing and not just company by company, but also sort of just integrated. And I think that's the direction that we're heading it. You know?

B: It reminds me of Andor. They're making these little components like, what's that component? Not sure what it is. Oh, it focuses the beam on the Death Star. Dang.

E: Well and obviously if there's an economic incentive to go this route as well, that will help drive this.

S: Sure. But Bob, you're right. I thought about that too. It was like a company might be making a doodad for the government and they have no idea what it's for. And why would they have to know? They wouldn't. They're just making a doodad. You know?

B: It'd probably be critical that they don't know what it's for because it's like a security issue. They can't have just people in any company with an industrial 3D printer knowing some of this stuff that they're going to be making.

S: Yeah, you don't get the plans for a tank. You get the plans for one piece. And they would deliberately spread it out over many companies.

E: It's the touching back almost kind of on what Cara was pointing out before about how much money we spent on the military. The infamous examples are the $10,000 toilet seat and $5,000 screwdriver and those kinds of things. So does the system like that avail itself to that level of kind of fraud or abuse as far as you can?

S: I think at first blush, it seems like it would be better. Because again, they don't necessarily know that they're building something for the military. They just know that they're building something for the government.

E: Can't they assume? I mean, wouldn't that be their assumption, though?

S: Or maybe that's through a subcontractor. They don't know because subcontractors might not be as specific either. Like, you don't know that Lockheed Martin is a military company, but this might just be doodad 101, whatever. And doodads are us. They have a contract. Here's part number 28,243. Make it. Here's the spec. They have no idea what it's for. They don't know, you know what I mean? And it has to be priced competitively for everything else. You can't jack up the bid. So you're just throwing it into this industrial infrastructure. You know what I mean? I think it would be, it would in a way could reduce that kind of abuse.

E: That's interesting. I hope so.

S: Yeah. We will see.

E: Well, there's all sorts of craziness going on where it's spending.

S: It's like one of those technologies that's advancing in the background. Most people kind of know it exists but they're not aware of how profound it's becoming. Until you hear, it's like, oh, this rocket was 85% 3D printed or 90% 3D printed. And it is, I think, slowly completely changing the industrial base. And we won't really see all the implications until they're kind of happening already. You know what I mean? Then we'll turn around and go, when did that happen? That things are so different. But it's interesting to sort of keep an eye on it and to see how things are rapidly changing. And they also always love to point out, I think like the first 3D printer came out in the 1980s. It's always 40 years on. So like whatever we're talking about now might not really hit it stride for 30, 40 years, in terms of new technology.

B: Yeah.

S: It really was kind of a kind of a fringe tool. Really just now becoming like, yeah, there are factories that makes shit with 3D printers.

E: And AI will figure out ways to make it even better. Faster and all that.

S: Yeah. Totally. Yeah. When you combine things like AI and neural networks and 3D printing, it's when things really start to take off. Totally.

E: Here comes the robot army. Can't unplug the printer.

S: It's the singularity. It's happening right now.

Beethoven's Hair (45:30)[edit]

S: All right. Cara, tell us, what's this hubbub I keep hearing about Beethoven's hair?

B: Yeah, right? Keep seeing that.

C: It's so funny to me when there are studies that are published that really just capture the imagination, right? Because I don't know if this study is earth shattering. It's always curious to me what most news outlets pick up versus what they don't when it comes to the science news. So there's a new study, but it is really fun and cool. And a lot of people are just like, I love this study. So there's a new study that was published in Current Biology called Genomic analyses of hair from Ludwig van Beethoven. So this is fun. And there's a lot of cool stuff to unpack here. There's some major takeaways. We'll talk about those in a moment. But before we get to the takeaways, let's talk about why this study was even done and how this study was done. Well, we know that Beethoven lived from 1770 to 1827. Obviously, he is incredibly influential. I don't think there's a human being on the planet who hasn't heard of Beethoven. Maybe I'm wrong. But what do we know about Beethoven when we think about Beethoven? What are the things that stick out to you?

S: He was deaf.

E: Yes, he, hearing.

J: He was very good with music.

B: A lot of hair.

C: He was good with the music.

E: Beethoven's symphony, wrote some symphonic music.

C: He had lots of hair. Look at that.

J: He was really good in the movie about him.

C: So yeah, we think that's actually really funny. His hair was, you're right. That is a thing that people remember because you see the paintings of him. So we know that he was just a prolific and brilliant composer. And we know that he went deaf over the course of his career. And it was existential for him. There's a lot of writing. He wrote prolifically. And there's a lot of right at the source, letter writing and correspondence that we have between him and friends and family members. We know that he was a pretty sick dude. So yes, he had progressive hearing loss. He also had recurring GI complaints. And he had liver disease. He actually had bouts of jaundice. And so researchers weirdly have lots of Beethoven's hair. And the reason that they have lots of Beethoven's hair is because he was famous in his day. And weirdly when we didn't have social media back then, couldn't even take a photo. What did people have take as a memento? They took people's hair. So they're like locks of hair in museums and in private collections, purportedly belonging to Beethoven. Some of them have decent provenance. Some of them don't. And also we have something that's kind of important when it comes to medical ethics, right? Because this is sort of a new field this anthropological, historical genome sequencing. And is it OK to sequence the genome of somebody who's dead and can't give you expressed permission? We know that there's some really bad things ethically that have happened in the past. I mean, HeLa cells come to mind, right? Henrietta Lacks was never compensated for cancer cells being utilized to produce god knows how many patents and how much money has come from HeLa and her family never saw a dime. Ethically, and should sleeping dogs lie. But here's something interesting that Beethoven did is that he wrote a pretty straightforward letter that said, I hope future generations will study me scientifically and learn from me. I want to know why I lost my hearing. Like he said this to his brothers, make sure this happens. And so the researchers were like, man, and he kind of gave us permission. It seems pretty clear that this is actually what he wanted. And so there wasn't a big ethical concern around this. So here's what they did. They found eight independent locks of hair that have been attributed to Beethoven. And they looked at them genetically. And they realized that about five of them were the exact same genetically. And about three, one of them was hard to pinpoint. They couldn't quite tell. And two of them were not. They were seemingly from different people.

E: Forgeries.

C: Yeah, right. Or just confusions.

E: Mislabeling.

C: Mislabeling. And so there's some interesting. I could get into it. But there's one that was from an Ashkenazi Jewish woman. There's no way that that could be Beethoven. Even though it seemed to have provenance, it's actually quite a famous sample that other studies have been done on. And now they're like, you got to go back because that wasn't even Beethoven's hair. This is a woman's hair. But they did find that there was such significant crossover in five of those eight samples that they feel pretty confident saying, yeah, this is probably Beethoven's hair. So what could we learn from this hair? Well, sadly, the big wamp wamp of all of this is that nothing. There was no genetic indication of anything that could underlay hearing loss. So we still don't know why he went deaf.

J: So it could have been a birth defect.

C: It could have been anything. It could have been environmental. What we do know is it probably wasn't genetic. And most diseases don't have a purely genetic cause.

E: So it could be trauma?

C: It could have been trauma. Could have been, who knows? We have no idea. But what we do know is that it was not genetic. That has been ruled out. There's no plausible, or they could not at least identify a genetic explanation for his hearing loss. They also could not find a genetic explanation for his GI issues. So again, that doesn't mean that there wasn't a biological reason. It just means it wasn't purely genetic in nature. But they did find some predisposition in him for liver disease. So when they looked at metagenomic analyses, they found that he very likely had a hepatitis B infection. It's hard to know if it was chronic or if it was acute, and it happened just before he died. We also pretty well know that Beethoven did drink alcohol. And so it seems like this hepatitis B infection, the alcohol use, and then also he seemed to have a genetic predisposition. It doesn't mean that it was sealed. His fate was not sealed, but he had a genetic predisposition for liver disease. So the three of those things combined, probably underlie those bouts of jaundice that he did suffer from in his life. And ultimately, at autopsy, there's a pretty good indication that he died of something, liver failure, something was going on with his liver. There was, I think, some evidence of cirrhosis. This could now explain why. So kind of cool that there's at least some genetic evidence that points and corroborates with the autopsy evidence for why he got so sick later in his life and ultimately died. Sadly, his hair will not tell us about his hearing loss or his GI issues. But other cool outcomes. Number one, we know that two of the most famous samples that people have actually studied and were really interested in of his hair aren't actually his. So whoops. Also, here's something interesting. So there are five living members of the Van Beethoven Patrilineage. So there are five people who are known to be relatives of a different Beethoven. The common relative that the five living relatives of Beethoven's have is a person named Art, Ert? Do you guys know how to pronounce that name? A-E-R-T.

E: Ert.

C: Aert Van Beethoven, who lived in the 16th century. So they're able to go back to Aert using different genealogy techniques. And they know that they are related to Aert Van Beethoven, who is a family member of Ludwig Van Beethoven, which means that they are related to Ludwig. But are they? Absolutely not because genetic analysis showed that a woman somewhere in the family tree had a child with an unknown man. Kept the other name and the Beethoven that we know and love seems to be a descendant of that pairing, which means that all of these sad people who think that they're related to Beethoven actually aren't.

E: Oh, let's not burst their bubble.

C: Right. I mean, they're still related to him by family, just not by genes. So some cool interesting stuff. I don't know. Obviously, this is a very niche study. You've seen similar studies to this. I think it's a good indication of what genetic analysis can and cannot tell us. Obviously, it's not this tool. I mean, it's a very powerful tool, but it is not an oracle. And I think it's important to remember that as well.

E: Well, you know what happened after Beethoven died?

C: Are you about to give us a pun?

E: He was decomposing.

C: I was like, this is a pun.

E: Nobody else said it. I had to be the one.

C: Yep, yep, yep.

S: So you wonder if they deafness wasn't genetic, if it were toxic, because people back then consumed a lot of weird stuff. I did read that he is hair had concentrations of lead 100 times what we would find commonly in people today.

C: Oh, no-

E: But that's because of lead control.

C: But no, no, but that's an interesting thing, because I think what I was reading is that the previous studies that showed that were actually on the Ashkenazi Jewish woman's hair.

S: Oh, OK.

C: So all of these, we've had this idea in our head, and it looked like it was based on good scientific evidence that he had some pretty excessive lead poisoning, but it wasn't him.

S: Yeah.

C: So that's interesting, right? So that's another thing that this study actually was able to debunk.

S: Yeah, cool.

E: Yeah, eliminate that possibility.

C: But it's the hepatitis that they were able to say pretty confidently. The hepatitis and the predisposition towards liver disease. And that's ultimately what did him in.

S: But that didn't cause his deafness, though, right?

C: No, it didn't cause his deafness. We still don't know.

S: Yeah, right. That's what I'm talking about. So that might have been maybe it was a toxicity from something he was using to treat a liver disease.

C: Totally. Could have been toxicity. Could have been an injury, right? This was also a man who, I mean, I know that we're not talking heavy metal concerts with huge PAs, but we know musicians often lose their hearing if they are around very, very loud noises all the time. Like, we don't know if this was induced in that way.

S: That was their thing back then.

C: I don't know how loud can it be when you get next to a really big drum. I have no idea.

E: Hear that five times a day. Yeah, maybe.

C: But also, didn't he compose that when he was already deaf?

S: The 9th? Yeah.

C: I think so. Fascinating. I mean, super fascinating.

B: Did you say did he compose that when he was already dead?

S: Deaf.

C: Deaf.

B: Just checking.

E: Bob.

B: That would be cool.

Uranus Moons with Subsurface Oceans (56:23)[edit]

S: OK, Evan, tell us about these Uranus moons and their subsurface oceans.

E: I am going to talk to you about that, but I have a question for you as I am want to do before we get into it. Who here loves an ocean or loves our oceans? Does everybody's hands up?

C: I think we can all say we love the ocean.

S: Sure. They're fine.

E: Everybody's hand should be up right now and more than fine, Steve, because and this is according to the National Ocean Service. Oceans are critically important to us here on the Earth.

S: Of course.

E: The air we breathe, ocean produces over half of the world's oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere is capable of doing, which is great. It helps regulate the climate. There are medicines and products that are derived from things in the ocean that we use, not to mention food, recreation, transportation, economic benefits. So we should all love our oceans. I think we're in global unanimity on that point.

S: Oceans good.

E: But we are limited to the oceans of one planet. I mean, this is 2023. I mean, we've got CRISPR editing our genes. We are analyzing Beethoven's hair. We have Rolls Royce nuclear plants on the moon. It's all this great stuff, right? And look, when it comes to oceans, one plant, I want more. And you should want more too. So if you'll indulge me for a second, I'm going to search for a few more oceans in our solar system. We're going to start with Mercury and work our way out. All right, Mercury.

B: No.

E: No oceans. Venus? No.

S: No.

E: No. They thought maybe at one point, but no. They've confirmed no. Earth's moon?

S: No.

B: No.

E: Mars?

S: Ancient maybe. Current no.

E: Current no.

B: Ice. but no.

E: And certainly not the moons of Mars. I am going to skip the inner dwarf planets for the sake of time. No angry emails, please. Thank you for that. Jupiter has an ocean. It's actually considered to be the largest ocean in the solar system. However, it's a hydrogen ocean. So that's not really going to work. But the moons of Jupiter are interesting, especially Ganymede. Yep. Solar system's largest moon, Ganymede. Harbors and underground ocean containing more water than all the oceans on Earth. That's a great one.

B: Yeah.

E: And of course, we've talked about Europa many, many, many times. Salty water under an icy crust, definitely. Those are the two of Jupiter that get the most attention. Jupiter's got over 90 moons, they think. So I don't have time to go over them all. We're going to move on to Saturn. Let's move to Saturn. The Saturn have an ocean.

B: Well, same like Jupiter.

E: Yeah. Yeah. Right. They're not 100% sure, but if it does, it would be hydrogen most likely, and it's inconclusive as of now. But some of the moons of Saturn definitely have them. Enceladus, yep. Definitely has it. Much like the oceans of Europa. Titan, yes, has an ocean. There's a moon called Dion named after Celine, and it has a mostly water-ized surface and may contain a deep subsurface ocean of liquid water. And more recently, they just discovered there's a moon called Mimus, or Mimis, M-I-M-I-S, which is the intermost moon of Saturn. And they said that, yeah, they think it has a liquid internal ocean on that moon. So there you go. There's four candidates for Saturn. So right there, okay, you got six watery oceans in our solar system that are, and of course, Earth. And if that's not enough for you, there is great news. And Steve said it, there's a new study. Two of Uranus's moons may support active oceans. And this finding comes from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the APL. Uranus has 27 known moons. This study points to an interesting hypothesis focused on the moons named Ariel and Miranda. Because a localized and surprising source of energetic ions in the Uranian magnetosphere between Miranda and Ariel has been detected. But here's what they did. They went back. They went back and looked at the analysis of Voyager 2 observations. To find this, they went back to 40-year-old data. 1986 is when Voyager 2 flew by Uranus and took its data. That's it. That is the only spacecraft that's ever really done and up close of Uranus. So that is great. First of all, they re-examined this old data and basically figured this out. Voyager 2 had what did it have? The instrument is called the low energy charge particle, the LECP, and it collected particle data as it passed by. The research discovered unusual plasma activity between the moons of Ariel and Miranda. Now, they didn't know obviously what it was at the time. And certainly, these plasma particles, they said that perhaps the main candidate for was the planet itself. As these particles emanate from the magnetic poles of Uranus, and then get captured in that what is called the magnetic equator. And it would surround basically a planet making a tight little belt of these particles, which would be typical if those particles were being generated basically by the planet itself. However, they went and looked at the data. And the data says basically, instead of this belt occurring at the magnetic equator, there's actually a clump. A clump of these particles that are kind of concentrated in this one area. Not scattered out around the entire planet, but clumped together. And what they have basically in common, that they lie between the points in which Miranda and Ariel are in position around the planet. Do you understand? So they're saying, okay. So, if the planet didn't generate it, where did these particles come from? And they're suggesting, yep, probably one or both of the moons. And therefore, these particles, much like the other particles on the other moons of these outer gas giants, have eruptions that occur, right? Geissers. That spew odd off basically beyond their surface. And most of them kind of escape, but the ones that do concentrate, they get pulled into that one point, near Uranus. And create that little cluster. Ian Cohen is a space scientist. He's the lead author of the study. He says: "It isn't uncommon that energetic particle measurements are a forerunner for discovering an ocean world." And he said, what was interesting is that these particles were so extremely confined near Uranus' magnetic equator, that they had to be because they were not spread out. So the more likely scenario is that they were derived from the moons themselves.

J: Cool.

E: So very, very cool, yeah.

S: Yeah, moons with, or even planetary bodies with subsurface oceans, maybe very, very common at their any universe. We have quite a bit of them in our own solar system.

E: Yep.

S: And it makes sense.

E: Yep, definitely. It does make sense. Yeah. So and also neat that, in effect they went back and reanalyzed the data. I mean, I'm sure there's plenty of that going on, generally speaking, especially in astronomy, in that the amount of data that's been collected over the decades is tremendous.

S: Yeah.

E: And then to go back with sort of different ways of looking at it, modern equipment and things that you have today to go back now and look and look for the patterns to discover new things, I think that's, I think that's great. And you can imagine what else they may discover using being able to just figure out the clues and the data that we've already collected. They also said, hey, time to get back out to these outer planets and learn a lot more, a lot more about them because it's tough to just rely on these old, singular points of data that we've got.

S: Yeah, [inaudible] what's out there.

E: Definitely.

S: It's interesting to think that there may be more life in sub-surface oceans in the galaxy than on the surface of planets, you know.

E: Yeah, the possibility percentage I imagine increases with the more we discover the frequency of these kinds of bodies that can harbor an ocean under their surface.

S: Yeah, because where there's liquid water, the potential for life is pretty extreme. How could we possibly know? We definitely have to send some probes.

E: Yes.

S: That'll probe these planets.

E: And there are some plans in the works for doing just that.


Followup #1: 'Oumuamua (1:05:23)[edit]

S: All right, quick follow up on another astronomy news item. You guys remember the ʻOumuamua, the interplanetary thing that came zipping through our solar system.

E: Didn't someone from Harvard said it was an ambient spaceship.

S: Yes.

E: It wasn't John Mack, it was someone else.

S: That was Avi Loeb, an astronomer at Harvard who didn't say that it was, but he offers the hypothesis that maybe it was an alien probe. So this was 2017, it's already six years ago. It didn't seem that long ago. But remember the, so first of all, we know it's interstellar because of its orbit, right? It was the path that was following. It didn't come from our solar system. It was passing through our solar system. It was going very fast. I think we didn't discover it until after it had already passed. And we said it was on its way out of the solar system. We didn't have a lot of time to look at it, but it was doing something anomalous and that something was as it was moving away from the sun, it was accelerating a little bit.

B: Yeah, it's like a non gravitational acceleration.

S: Yeah, yeah. Its movement cannot be entirely explained through gravity. There was some force pushing it. So this is not unusual in and of itself. That's what comets do when the comet outgass, the outgassing is a little push, right? It actually is like a rocket. It pushes the comet away from the outgassing. So that was the first hypothesis. Well, it's probably a comet. It's just outgassing. And then that's what's accelerating it away from the sun because that's the direction you would expect it to go in. But we didn't see a comet tail. We didn't see the outgassing. So that's been the dilemma. It was accelerating, but we're not seeing the outgassing. So what was causing it? And that's where Avi Loeb said, well, maybe it's got a solar sail because it's actually a spaceship, right? So that would do it. If it had a solar sail, that would push it.

J: Yeah, that's a big lump, a big jump though, you know?

C: Yes, a big maybe.

S: That's a big maybe. Yeah. But scientists, I think, are not convinced. His colleagues, his astronomer colleagues are saying, yeah, there's probably a simpler explanation for what's going on. But we'll keep analyzing again the day that we have. It's gone. So we can't gather a new day to ever. We may never fully resolve what it was because there's no further opportunity to gather more data.

E: Shame.

S: But a recent analysis by two astronomers, Jennifer Bergner and Darryl Seligman, argue that there might be a really simple and elegant explanation for the acceleration, the non-gravitational acceleration of ʻOumuamua. That maybe it was outgassing pure hydrogen.

B: Hydrogen, hydrogen.

S: And that's why we see it because it's a very light element and maybe it just escaped our detection. So where would the pure H2O be, H2 rather, where would the pure H2 be coming from? Because normally, comets outgassed heavy volatiled water and carbon dioxide, right?

E: Much heavier than hydrogen.

S: Right. So this is what they said. Well, if this was mostly water ice, and maybe one of the theories is that this, that ʻOumuamua is a planetesimal, right? So maybe a planet that got broken apart or the core of a planet or a small planet that never fully didn't form into a full planet. It's an icy planetesimal. And as it was traveling through interstellar space, it was irradiated by cosmic rays. And those cosmic rays split water into H2 and oxygen. And so it had pockets of hydrogen in it. And then when it got close to our sun-

B: It heated up, yeah.

S: -it heated up. And that could have exposed one of those pockets to the surface. And the hydrogen outgassed, and that was the acceleration.

B: Nice.

J: But it's not that kind of convenient, Steve? Doesn't that kind of explain it? You're basically saying it's not aliens. That's what you're saying.

S: Yes. Right. Not aliens.

B: What are the odds that it's not aliens?

E: Always looking for the prosaic expression.

S: I mean, yeah, if an alien ship came screaming to the solar system, that would be awesome. That would be cool.

E: Maybe. Maybe.

S: Just passing through like that.

E: Yes, passing through.

S: Not stopping or anything.

B: Just passing through.

E: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy scenario. Let's not have that.

S: Let's not have that. It's easy to jump to. We don't know what's going on, so it's aliens. And then eventually astronomers figure out what's going on. There's some physical, prosaic explanation. Maybe a new phenomenon that we haven't observed previously. But you could explain it with things like outgassing without having to hypothesize aliens. So I think that's probably what's happening in this case. Avi Loeb has criticized this speculation. It does not accept it. So I don't think this is going to put the end to the debate.

B: What's his beef with it?

E: It hurts his book sales.

S: It's technical. They didn't properly account for why we didn't see it or whatever. But it's at least a reasonable hypothesis. And what they're saying is, even though like we can't ever prove that this is what happened with 'Oumuamua, because it's gone. It's just a plausible hypothesis. We now know what to look for the next time something comes screaming through the solar system. Especially if it's accelerating. We'll know what to look for. So that's really the goal. So if we do see another similar body and we can show that this is happening, that this phenomenon exists, it won't prove that that's what was causing it for our 'Oumuamua, but it would really strengthen our hypothesis.

E: Sure. Yeah, the whole other set of data to go with it. Parallels it. Yeah.

S: Yeah, we know the phenomenon happens. That's basically what that would mean. All right, so we'll probably be hearing about this again, but I do think that this type of explanation is probably going to be the correct one.

Who's That Noisy? (1:11:57)[edit]

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

J: All right, guys, last week I played this Noisy:

[Background hissing then light squawking/squeaking honks]

Farly, farly, farly, farly, farly.

E: It's a seal early warning system.

S: It's the red-footed booby police.

J: I got a lot of people guessing on this one. I had someone named Sydney Goulet write in and say: "Hello, Jay, I don't think I'm exactly correct, but this week's noisy sounds a lot like a puffin or a penguin." They're on vacation this week, but they still want it to try. "And thanks again for all that you do. And pura vida from Costa Rica". That must mean something.

C: Yeah it does. I think it means like the, yeah, the pure life, right?

S: Mm-hmm.

C: Yeah. Yeah, that's like a common.

J: I can tell you most definitely that this is not a penguin.

E: Was that a puffin?

C: Is that a puffin though>

J: I never heard what they sound like. I'll have to play that sometime, but I don't know what they sound like, but it's not this. Stuart Harrington wrote in and said: "Jay, when you hear braying, think donkeys, not zebras, but that's sir is no donkey. Perhaps a zebra? Whatever it is, please explain this to me. A woman is definitely involved." I don't know what that means.

C: Is there a woman's voice in it? I can't remember.

E: Oh.

J: This is not a zebra or a donkey. And it's definitely not a zebra.

C: It's not a zebra donkey, but it's definitely not a zebra. What?

J: Another listener named Luke Nyborg said: "Hi, Jay, I finally know one. This is definitely" whenever anybody says this is definitely dot, dot, dot, they're incorrect. He said: "This is definitely a guinea hen. Every farmer listen listener is going to say the same, most annoying animal sound on a long list." So Luke, you are not correct. However, I did listen to what a guinea hen sounds like and they basically sound like this.

C: Oh, wow.

J: But that is not correct. They make a very similar type of sound. And then another person wrote in, Keely Hill wrote in: "Hello, my guess is a steam whistle, intentional or unintentional, that is somehow linked to the spinning of a steam engine as it picks up speed, giving that pulsing effect." It's not a steam engine and guess what, nobody got this one correct this week and my god, when I picked this one, when you find out what it is, I said to myself, a lot of people are going to get this because they indeed take care of bees and this is a queen bee.

E: That's a what? No, it's not.

J: Listen, it's called piping. Listen.

S: Okay, well yeah, there's buzzing in the background.

J: Yes, there is bees buzzing in the background and the person who sent this in, Benjamin, said: "Hey Jay, I'm a hobbyist beekeeper in Florida." See, Cara? If you just look around you and pay more attention to what's going on around.

C: I know. Benjamin, I'm sorry, we haven't hung out yet.

J: Probably lives like literally like right next to you. You don't even see his bees. So he lives in Florida and a honey bee colony is an excellent source of interesting audio. "I have been listening to the SGU for about eight years and do not believe this sound has been used yet." I can't remember myself. This is me. I can't remember.

S: I don't think so. I would remember.

J: I don't think I have. The attached audio excerpt from this YouTube video courtesy of Frederick Dunn captures the relatively rare sound of a young honey bee tooting or piping. There's a good write up on this phenomenon from the Bee Culture Magazine and that's a bee. Those are vibrations that the bee makes when they're very young. I'm not sure people know why, but-

E: It's audible to that level or I don't know.

J: It's not. I bet you that this is they had a microphone near it, but it definitely is audible.

B: Sure.

E: So if I was walking by that hive and it was emanating that noise, I could have picked up?

B: I doubt it, it would probably still be [inaudible].

J: You would turn and say, is there a zebra in there? You know, like you wouldn't know.

E: I would say it's definitely not a zebra or a donkey. It's definitely not a zebra.

J: So thanks for sending that Noisy in. That was pretty cool. Definitely something that you think you know about, right? You think you know what bees sound like. You don't know everything. You just got to get that to yourself.

E: You never know. Never in a bazillion years.

J: Who's That Noisy is a very humbling experience because most of the time, most of us don't know what the hell it is.

B: Yeah, true.

S: Yeah.

New Noisy (1:16:34)[edit]

J: All right. I have a new noisy for you this week. Check this out.

[Crackling and background buzzing with buzzing hums]

Now normally I would clean up tracks that people send me or if they give me links, I clean it up. So my clue for you this week is that it would have been inappropriate for me to clean up this track.

S: Okay.

E: Okay.

S: So everything we're hearing is important.

J: Everything you're hearing is very important and you must tell me what it is. And if you figure out what it is, email me at and also please do send me in any cool noises that you found this past week.


Announcements (1:17:26)[edit]

J: Steve, there's the expanding list of SGU things that are going on right now.

S: Yeah. We're doing stuff. What's happening?

J: First of all, if you listen to this show and you appreciate the work that we do and you want to show your support, now would be a fantastic time to do that. You can go to and join us because first of all, we have a gig, a show, an extended, I like to call them stamina shows. We have a show on Saturday, May 20th. That's going to be six hours. The first hour is going to be patron only. So if you're a patron, even if you sign up that morning, you will gain access to that first hour where we will be doing secret patron stuff, teaching them handshakes and what not. Things that I can't really tell you about. But you could become a patron if you want to support the show. But if you want to just watch this remaining five hours of this show, Saturday, May 20th, starting at 11AM Eastern. So that'll be 12PM Eastern if you're not a patron. There'll be five hours of fun entertainment that we're going to be doing live streaming. Cara will definitely be involved to some degree. Cara has such a rigorous work schedule that we're not sure how much of her we're going to get, but we're trying to make her as available as possible.

C: I'll try.

J: I have another thing that has to do with patrons. So I've been patrons are give us feedback. They ask for things. They give us can we do this? Can you do that? And what people have been asking for, what SGU patrons have been damn right. They've been demanding Steve that we do some type of social event. And I have been racking my brains and trying to make this happen. So here's what we have come up with. We realize that when you go to a conference, you spend most of your time sitting in a room listening to people talk. And you don't get really a lot of time to talk to the people that are at the conference and hang out and enjoy our community, which goes back quite a ways now. We have a lot of people who've known each other for a long time that really don't get to see each other particularly after a pandemic basically made it so in person things just did not happen for a long time. So our response to this is we are going to propose a conference, but it's not a conference. In fact, it's called not a conference. It's called NOTACON, right? NOTACON, guys.



J: I was considering calling it Le Tits Now, but they decided everybody didn't think it was the greatest idea. So we're going to call it not a con because it is a conference that is not a conference. It's about socializing. It's not going to be you sitting in a room listening to 10 people speak for an hour. And then you go and you try to capture a little bit of socializing with your friends. This conference revolves around us socializing with each other. We will be providing some entertainment. We're going to do a live recording of the SGU over the two days that we plan to do this.

S: We'll be doing lots of fun stuff.

J: Yeah, there'll be lots of things happening. There might be as an example, we haven't completely written out the entire thing, but there might be a three hour allotment of time where you could play cards or do board games with the SGU and the people that we bring along with us. But there'll be lots of different things happening, but there will be an incredible amount of time built in to these two days where you could just hang out and socialize with us and with your friends and fellow skeptics. So we are proposing that we do this in White Planes, New York, which is about 40 minutes away from the New York airports. And it is about 15 minutes away from the Westchester airport. So it is conveniently located near airports. I will be putting a link on the SGU website. Now make it as obvious as possible where you could tell us if you are legitimately interested in joining us. This will be the first weekend in November. So it will be November 3rd, Friday, November 3rd, and Saturday, November 4th, right? So you probably would want to come the Thursday night before. And then it's all day Friday, all day Saturday, all day Saturday night both nights. And tell me if you are interested in me doing this, and if I get 150 people to commit to this, then I will create tickets and we will make it a real thing. And I will do everything on our end, including helping everyone get the best deal on hotel rooms in the hotel that I have selected.

B: What do you mean, Jay, 150 people to commit? What is commitment?

S: Say they're going to come.

J: Yeah. So I'm going to put a form up and everyone can say, Jay, I am giving you high confidence that I will go to this event if you plan it on those dates. And I will give you all the prices and details of everything on the page so you can make a decision. And then I'm going to give everybody four weeks to decide. And if I get 150 people or more, then we will do this because we have to cover our everything. There's a lot of expenses when you do in-person stuff. And that's part of the reason why we haven't been doing this for so long. But everybody wants it. So I'm trying to give it to everybody that was a NECSS fan or a patron, people that are already involved in the SGU community. So please look for that link and go on there and give me your feedback and let me know if you have intentions on joining us for those dates. I will give you the ability to leave a comment as well. So give us any feedback that you want about that. So we're very much excited about it. We think it's a real fun idea. I don't think it's ever been done before. To be honest with you.

S: Jay, did you say that George Hrabb, and Brian Wecht, and Andrea Roy will be there.

J: I did not, but Steve, thank you for saying those three people because these, so our three closest SGU friends are going to join us for this. And again, we will be providing entertainment and lots of different things going on, but it is a socializing event. So think about how much fun that would be. I'm excited about it and I know that SGU patrons are really going to be happy about this. So be one of the first 150 people to sign up. Do it. That's it, Steve. We're going to do this.

S: Yeah. Okay. Sounds like fun. Guys, you know what time it is? Science or fiction.

J: Yay.


Science or Fiction (1:23:33)[edit]

Theme: Random facts

Item #1: The shortest regular commercial flight lasts just 53 seconds.[6]
Item #2: Researchers discovered a 1,500 year old human coprolite (fossilized feces) that contained a whole rattlesnake[7]
Item #3: The Morse code signal "SOS" does not stand for "save our ship", but originally was meant to stand for “SalvO aSinus” which is Latin for "save our ass".[8]

Answer Item
Fiction SOS meaning
Science Shortest commercial flight
Whole rattlesnake in poop
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
SOS meaning
Whole rattlesnake in poop
SOS meaning
SOS meaning

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts. Two real and one fictitious. And I challenge by panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We have a theme this week. The theme is random shit. Just random facts.

J: Okay.

B: Nice theme.

S: All right? Here they are. Item number one. The shortest regular commercial flight lasts just 53 seconds.

C: What?

S: Item number 2. Researchers discovered a 1,500 year old human coprolite (fossilized feces)-

B: Crap.

S: -that contained a whole rattlesnake.

J: What?

S: And item number three. The Morse code signal "SOS" does not stand for "save our ship", but originally was meant to stand for “SalvO aSinus” which is latin for "save our ass". (Jay laughs) All right, Evan go first.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: The shortest regular commercial flight lasts just 53 seconds? What? Why? How? That makes no sense whatsoever. I guess there's something wrong here. There's a piece of information I'm totally missing in order to do it because this can't be. That can't be. It's like it's almost a violation of physics in a way. Because why the hell would you take a flight of 53 seconds when you could drive four minutes? What was that? I mean, I don't get it. Number two. That one. That of the three, that one bothers me the most. It might be right though. Researchers discovered a 1,500 year old human fossilized species that contained a whole rattlesnake. A 1,500 year old human coprolite. Coprolite. That contained a whole rattlesnake. Okay.

S: And I'll say there's no trick here. They think the guy ate a whole rattlesnake. Right? That's their-

E: Rattle and all, huh?

S: Rattle and all, yep.

C: Well, I don't think I realized this was a human coprolite.

E: Oh, that was the year 623, which would be 0, 3, 20. No, we did that already. What would they eat in 623? It was a bad time. Yeah. Part of the dark ages, was it not? So okay. Yeah. Eating all rattlesnakes. Sure. You'd have eaten your mother's corpse if you had to at that time. Maybe. And a rattlesnake would be pretty darn tasty compared to that. And then the last one, Morse code single SOS. Does not stand for save our ship, which I believe is correct, but originally it was meant to stand for Salvo Asinus, which is Latin for save our ass. Okay. Well, I don't know Latin. So I don't even know if that part's correct. Is that a trick, Salvo Asinus? Is that really mean save our ass and Latin? It sounds ridiculous, right? It's like, this one would be no way. That's just two, two modern sort of a thought at the time, but this is SOS. Gosh. I want to say, I want to say the flight is fiction, Steve, but I'm having a hard time with that because it's so near impossible that for some reason it's going to turn out to be true. All right. I'll go against convention. I'll say the SOS one is the fiction. I'm going to be pretty upset about whatever happens with this commercial flight lasting 53 seconds, this is upsetting me more than it should. That's it.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: All right. So the commercial flight, the short commercial flight, I suspect it's crossing something that you couldn't just simply drive over through, under whatever. And the assinous one, that sounds ridiculous. The one that seems most reasonable, potentially, I think, is the snake. And I may just pick that because it sounds more reasonable than the other ones. (laughter) I mean, I would think that, if you're crappin' the rattlesnake out, it went through your entire digestive system and wouldn't that, what's it called, it would disarticulate the bones? Maybe I'm making some assumptions here, but I don't care because I spent too much time on this already, rattlesnake fiction.

S: All right, Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Yeah, I think Bob probably is on to something when he says that the, yeah, it sounds ridiculous that there'd be a commercial flight that's only a minute long, but what if there was something you literally, that was impassable other than by air? Then you would have to have a 53 second flight. It's dumb. It's real dumb. But what if you needed to get from this air strip to that air strip and in between was a volcano? So maybe that one is science. 1500 years ago, I don't know what was on the menu. Don't think whole rattlesnake was probably common. But I think people, man, if you ever known someone who worked in the ER and who tells you about things that people put inside of their bodies, it will never cease to surprise you. So I would not be surprised if someone ate a snake. Wouldn't it be funny if it was on a bet or a dare? So yeah, I think for me, the SOS one seems like the most ludicrous. Maybe it doesn't stand for save our ship, but I don't think it stands for salvo. It doesn't even make sense. Like S Salvo is the O and the ass sin. I just think that one's like, no, that one's the fiction.

S: And Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: If you've ever looked at an app that tracks all the airplanes that are flying all around the world, you realize that that there are so many freaking flights that happen. So many that I would not doubt that one of those flights out of the hundreds of thousands that happen probably every week or maybe a lot more that one of them lasts a short amount of time. That's not that crazy. And I like what Cara said, like it could be like just a transfer quick jump to a place that's hard to get to or whatever.

B: It was a good idea there, Cara.

C: Yeah, it was a good idea, wasn't it Bob?

J: Yeah. The second one.

E: Good thing, Cara thought of it.

J: I'm surprised that none of you said this, but like 1500 years ago, finding a long slender piece of meat might be the only food that you get that week.

E: Right?

C: Well, you cut off the rattle before you ate it.

J: Yeah, I mean, if the weird part is if it's the whole thing, including like the bones and cartilage and all that stuff, that's a little weird, but it really depends on how hungry you are because people will eat shoe leather. You know what I mean?

C: Yeah.

J: So that doesn't really blow my mind. That's like, okay, somebody ate a snake. All right. I got it. A little crunchy at the end, but they got through it. The Morse code one, I just got to say my entire life, everything that I've ever read or saw on TV or whatever, it's always SOS is save our ship. I mean, I just feel like it's ingrained in my DNA. So I can't disagree with Cara. I'm going to go with Cara and say that that one is definitely the fiction.

S: All right. So the three of you think that the Morse code one is fiction, Bobs by himself with the coprolite. So you all agree with the first one, so we'll start there.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: The shortest regular commercial flight lasts just 53 seconds. You all think that one is science. And that one is science. That is science.

C: This is so weird.

S: The Loganair-

E: What movie do they show you on that flight?

S: -Papa Westray route. It's basically two islands in Scotland.

C: And like, why not just take a ferry? I feel like 53 seconds is-

S: Because you're almost always taking the next leg of the flight, right? You're not going to do it really just to go from this airship to that airship. You're doing it to then take the next jump to an actual big city.

C: But why not just have a ferry from there? Why have that airship at all?

E: That option must be available to it.

S: But this but this flight exists.

E: And it's a commercial flight.

S: It's a commercial flight. And it's regular. It's it's both ways every day, right? So every day it goes, it goes both ways. And then on Saturday it goes one way, Sunday the other way. And then during the week it's both ways again. And of course, the flight times vary, but depending on the winds and whatever, but it could be 53 seconds. It's less than a minute. Yeah. Shortest regular commercial flight.

E: How much do you pay for that flight?

S: I don't know. All right, let's go on. Well, let's go to number three.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: TThe Morse code signal "SOS" does not stand for "save our ship", but originally was meant to stand for “SalvO aSinus” which is latin for "save our ass". So I'll say a couple of things here. First, SOS does not stand for save our ship, right?

C: Okay.

S: Salvo asinous does mean save our ass in Latin.

C: Uh-huh.

C: And when you say it, salvo asinous, it does kind of flow together. Salvo asinous as SOS. And this is only whatever, what was Morse code, 150 years ago or whatever? People had senses of humor back then. There was whimsy back in the 19th century, but this is fiction. I made it up.

C: Yeah.

S: This is the fiction. So what does SOS stand for?

C: No idea.

S: What do you guys think?

J: Sound of sinking.

B: [inaudible] spaghetti.

C: Something in a different language? I don't know.

S: So I'm going to introduce you to a new word, like along the same name, it's the same vein as pleonasm. This word, Bob, you're going to love this. Backronym. This is a backronym because it stands for nothing. It doesn't stand for anything.

C: Oh, it's like, um, I mean, I probably can't say this on air, but like-

B: But backronym is wrong.

C: No it isn't because like fuck, like, I know I can't say it on the air, a lot of people are like, oh, that's fornication under the consent of the king, but it's not.

S: Yeah.

C: Like people say that that's what it stands for but it's not where the word came from.

S: They make up, or a kiss is knights inn saint in service. No, it's kiss.

E: What? Never heard that.

C: But it's not. So it's a backronym that they added after the fact. And said it's an acronym.

S: Never heard that?

E: No, no that one.

B: It should be a backoinism because it's never, it's not, SOS is not an acronym. It's an initialism.

S: OK, all right Bob.

C: You're the only person on the planet who cares about the distinction.

B: Yes.

S: They call it a backronym.

B: I like your distinction.

E: You're excellent in pointing it out. Like every other week, you definitely.

B: It's important.

S: So the dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot does mean Mayday, right? It is Morse code for we're in trouble, come help. And it was just meant to be a distinct repeating code, right? It's easy to do dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot dash dash dash. It's supposed to be a repeating code. It was never meant to be to stand for anything. But then people impose because the dot dot dot because that one segment of it, you could. It does in Morse code can mean SOS. And then they just made up that it's the three. It means save our ship or save our souls or whatever.

C: So SOS stands, right? Because it's Morse code. Morse code does translate to letters. And that technical spread of Morse code is SOS.

S: But it wasn't, but it wasn't. Originally it was just-

E: It does stand for something.

S: It was just a repeating dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot dash dash dash.

E: It's just the emergency code.

C: But they must have still said SOS because otherwise, how do you, how do you verbalize what you're doing?

S: No, it came, no, it's no, not at all. It just came to be interpreted that way.

C: But then how do you even say, well, like, so you go put the dashes and the dots in. Like, how do you actually communicating?

S: Yeah, like send the emergency code or whatever their called.

C: The emergency code. Yeah.

S: And then you would do that, right? Yeah, but it wasn't called that so west to begin with. It wasn't meant to stand for letters. It was just-

C: Right, that I get.

E: I see.

C: I'm just saying it did. It's not like Morse code was invented later. Even at the time it meant SOS.

S: But again, it wasn't a repeating SOS. It was a repeating three dots, three dashes, three dots, three dashes, three dashes, three dashes. They just took one segment of it and said that segment could say SOS. It could easily have said, OSO, you know?

C: True.

S: Or SOS OS OS, whatever. It wasn't it wasn't discrete three letters, those three letters. It was just a train.

B: Yeah, it's a pattern.

S: It's just a pattern. It was just a recognizable repeating pattern that was not letters, but it was people retroactively imposed that pattern on it and then made up the backronym save our ship. And it stuck.

B: Backonism.

S: Yeah, and so now we think of it as SOS, but it never was that. But I think it should stand for salvo asinus. Stand for anything.

C: Wait, wait, tell us about the rattlesnake then.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Yes, so the rattlesnake. Researches discovered a 1500 year old human corporate, fossilized species that contained a whole rattlesnake. And they tried to control for things like what could have put it in mixed with other things or whatever. It's like, no-

E: Snake soup or something?

S: -this guy ate a whole rattlesnake. Now, the thing is people at this time ate snakes for food, absolutely. But they never ate the head or the rattle because why would you? It makes no sense.

C: Unless there was a bet.

S: Because you're thinking in modern terms.

C: Whatever. I don't think so. I bet you people bet 1500.

S: You think it was on a dare? I dare you to eat this whole rattlesnake. It was probably a diamond back rattlesnake. And it was disarticulated by Bob. It wasn't like in the snake. It wasn't articulated as a snake. But the whole, all of the snake was there in one, in one piece. So you never ate the head because that's where the venom is, right? And the teeth. So you wouldn't eat that part. The rattle is not digestible. So you wouldn't eat that. And you would take the skin off, right? They hated skin and all.

E: It was a baby snake?

S: It was a small snake. Yeah, but it was not necessarily a baby. They said 11 rib bones, 11 vertebra, 48 scales. So they think it was a ritual. Yeah, because there's a ritualistic event.

C: Religious thing, right.

S: And there was a lot of snakes involved in the belief system, in the lore-

E: Still is in some of the places.

S: -in this part, this was found in Texas. And in this part of the world, they played a prominent role in local lore. So it would make sense that it would be the kind of thing that would be part of some kind of religious or ritualistic ceremony. But it wouldn't, it wasn't just because he was hungry, right? You would not eat the rattle in the head if it was just out of, or the skin if it was just out of hunger.

C: Right, you'd cut those things off.

S: Yeah, absolutely.

C: People could cut things 1500 years ago.

S: Oh, here's the other thing. There's no sign of heat damage. This wasn't cooked.

C: Ew.

S: Yeah, you have to wonder if it was alive when he ate it.

C: Yeah, it might have, I mean, if it was a ritual, that could have been like a way to prove your manhood.

B: I think it was just a stupid dare.

S: No prep, no cooking, a whole snake.

C: There's still like a weird ritual. I watched a weird documentary once about girls somewhere in the south who have like a those beauty pageants, those creepy beauty pageants that young girls do in some-

E: Honey Boo Boo, that kind of thing?

C: Yeah, like a beauty pageant.

J: Oh my god, remember Honey Boo Boo.

C: But it was in some city in the south where it was like the rattlesnake festival and they would like skin a rattlesnake as part of the thing. So like, yes, people still do ritualistic weird stuff with rattlesnakes. But none of those girls ate one whole. That would have been more impressive.

E: Gosh, I would run the other direction if I heard a rattlesnake so fast. Oh my gosh.

S: Oh man.

C: Oh, you've never seen one?

E: Oh, I've, well, certainly pictures and videos. But not, no, I've not up close.

C: Oh, I mean, I guess because I grew up in Texas and I live in L.A., they're, like you see them all the time when you're hiking, you just kind of keep your distance.

E: Thanks for the warning. Now I know where not to hike.

S: Never seen a rattlesnake Evan?

C: Yeah, definitely. I've seen multiple rattlesnakes. You know, it's important to get your dogs vaccinated for that reason when you live in a place where they're everywhere.

S: Do you walk around with antivenom?

E: Antivenom.

C: Antivenom, it's so expensive.

S: Why is it so expensive? Because you have to milk the rattlesnake to get it?

C: I think they make it from, they have to actually take, yeah, the real venom and then inject it into like rabbits or something. They still don't know how to make it synthetically. And then produce the antibodies from it.

S: Bioengineer that shit.

E: Oh, AI will figure that out.

C: I think maybe it's not that they haven't figured it out or maybe they haven't, but it's so rare the doses are small. It's it doesn't, yes, it happens enough that we need it on kind of to be available, but it doesn't happen so much that we mass produce it. It's just, yeah, it's a whole antivenom is really interesting. Actually, rattlesnake bikes are really interesting. Google them. Google what happens to your body, but you are bitten by a rattlesnake. It's fascinating.

E: I've seen some bad stuff.

S: Nasty stuff.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:41:44)[edit]

Whenever we propose a solution to a problem, we ought to try as hard as we can to overthrow our solution, rather than defend it.

– from The Logic of Scientific Discovery, by Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, academic and social commentator

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

E: Whenever we propose a solution to a problem, we ought to try as hard as we can to overthrow our solution, rather than defend it. Carl Popper.

S: The Popper.

E: Yep, the Popper. Yeah, Logic to scientific discovery, 1959.

S: Yep, he nailed it. Yeah, absolutely. We need to try to prove your hypothesis wrong.

E: So important.

S: Something we do not instinctively do. We instinctively try to prove our hypothesis correct.

E: Right, Avi, up in Harvard, right? Just saying.

S: Yeah, just throwing that out there. All right, that's a good one, Evan.

E: Thank you.

S: All right, guys, well, thanks for joining me this week.

C: Sure, man.

E: Thank you, Steve.

C: Thanks, Steve.

J: 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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