SGU Episode 928

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SGU Episode 928
April 22nd 2023
928 MRI Brain.jpg

"MRI technology from Duke-led effort reveals the entire mouse brain in the highest resolution" [1]

SGU 927                      SGU 929

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

The denial or distortion of history is an assault on truth and understanding. Comprehension and memory of the past are crucial to how we understand ourselves, our society, and our goals for the future. Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record threatens communal understanding of how to safeguard democracy and individual rights.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Evan’s tax prep work[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 Tuesday, April 18th, 2023, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening everyone!

S: Happy Tax Day, Evan.

E: Oh thank you. Yes, Tax Day, end of the first part of the crazy tax season for me. So yahoo.

S: And the crazy craziness. Now you just go like normal craziness for a while, right?

E: Yeah, that's right. It's all crammed into this early sort of early in the year deadline in which everything, I mean everything has to be addressed. Now some things are on extension and I have many more months to complete that difficult work. So it stretches out. So it's the first major hurdle of the year for me for my work season and yeah, I came through I think none the worse for wear, right?

S: Congratulations.

E: Thanks. Thanks.

S: Is that weird having such an unbalanced schedule throughout the year?

E: It is in some ways but in another way because you know exactly what your schedule is going to be for the year. You really plan for it accordingly. You gear yourself up for it. So there's a lot of structure to it and that's a good part. So there's some advantages to that but it is strange. It's a lot of work. I put in about between February 1st and April 15th each year. It's almost a thousand hours of work. So that's about 80 to 90 hours a day every day. I mean really including weekends is what it takes to get my workload done.

S: 80 to 90 hours a week I think you mean that day.

E: 80 to 90 hours a day I meant. Yes, you're right.

C: Well, to put that into perspective, a full-time job by American standards, I know this because of my internship, a full-time job 40 hours a week, so that's eight hours a day with two weeks off is 2,000 hours. So that would be six months of work in a kind of standard setting.

S: In three months. Yeah, because you're working double full-time basically.

E: Basically, yep. Oh, and on weekends. I mean my weekends are shot.

J: Evan, how can you possibly have all that work and you like finish on tax day? Why can't you easily be two days over with your estimate?

E: Well, again, it comes down to planning. So I don't have to get so crunched really in these last few days in April if I do a good job of organizing my time well in February. And so I've learned to do that and I've learned to also coax certain clients that I have to get me their stuff early enough so that I don't have this log jam later. The more you can spread it out, really the more manageable it is. So that's what a lot of my prep work comes down to is managing that aspect of the work to make sure I don't get bottlenecked and crunched all in April and that I get a bunch of my clients to come to me in February. And you'd be surprised perhaps a lot of clients just aren't ready to have all their tax work done in February. They don't have all their forms or they're just procrastinators because let's face it, tax preparation in America and tax day, it's not a great thing. It's kind of like a dentist appointment. It's a necessary sort of thing. And some people have a genuine phobia. I mean, a real – I've seen panic in the eyes of people who have come into the office and sit down with me. They hate it. I mean, they get real anxiety out of it. So some people will tend to put it off for as long as they possibly can. But again, part of the work I do is trying to convince people to come in early enough. Makes it easier on me and it works to a certain degree.

Holmes' prison sentence (3:55)[edit]

S: Speaking of taxes, this doesn't have anything to do with taxes. But Elizabeth Holmes, you know Elizabeth Holmes, she's going to prison.

E: Theranos, founder.

S: Theranos.

C: This took a long time.

J: Yeah. Now Steve, she tried because I guess she just had a baby. She tried to have the court let her stay home with the baby and they said no.

S: No. Yeah.

J: Yep. They said no. That is basically how bad of a thing that she did. Like her whole scam was so bad and cost a lot of people a lot of money and she lied so incredibly hard. They're like – they don't care. They're like, whatever, you have a baby, whatever. You got to go to jail. That's the way our society is run.

S: Yeah. She committed straight up fraud. She lied to investors. She hid what was going on inside the company, even from people inside the company. It was straight up fraud. The quick overview is she claimed that she had developed this machine that could do like 30 or more, 200 blood tests on a single drop of blood like in days or like in a single day cheap, fast blood testing. And she never had the tech. She never had this technology. She was doing the Silicon Valley fake it till you make it thing, but she never made it. And at some point faking it is fraud. You know what I mean? It's not scamming. It's not marketing. It's straight up fraud. The one thing I find disappointing about the whole case is that she was convicted of lying to investors but not lying to patients.

E: Patients, yeah.

S: I guess that's okay to lie to patients and give them wrong diagnoses as long as you don't screw around with the money guys, you know. But still, anything that eats away at the alternative fact reality culture, I think it's a good thing, you know. It's like, yeah, the truth matters.

B: Kind of drowning in that shit now.

E: And it's amazing the kind of unfortunate victims. Certainly the patients are the primary victims here. The investors are a different class of victims. They are also victims in their own right. And if you look at the list of people who served on her board of directors and the people who were investors, these were considered to be sophisticated people, smart people people who know business and these kinds of things. And they could not see it for what it really was or chose not to. That's up for some debate. But it just goes to show you nobody is immune to that. Nobody can sniff out the scam no matter how educated they are, how well associated with the business that they might be or how, what's the kind of status they have in society. Nobody can be fooled.

S: Yeah. There's, what I wrote about on my blog a couple of people are doing the victim-blaming thing. It's like, oh, why should we care about these investors who should have known better? They should have done due diligence. Like, true, but they were still lied to. This is not about their due diligence. It's about the fact that she lied to them. She's being held accountable for what she did. Otherwise, like, you could say that about every victim of a con artist, right?

E: Correct.

C: Exactly.

S: They should have done due diligence.

C: Like, why should they have known? That's a ridiculous argument.

S: Yeah. Silly argument.

C: There's only so much due diligence you can do when somebody is actively hiding truth from you.

J: Well, they weren't just actively hiding the truth. I mean, they were–

C: They were fabricating.

J: They had an operation.

C: They were literally putting their label on other machines. Like there was all sorts of horrible stuff that they did.

B: Oh, wow.

E: Oh, yeah. And for the investors, what they would do is – because they wanted to see a demonstration of how the technology worked. They would say, OK, great. Let's take some blood. Now we're going to go put it in our Theranos machine and come back in an hour. You'll have your results. Well, what they did, they didn't put it in the Theranos machine. They sent it out to a real lab that did results and then came back, claimed it was the machine that did it when it was not the machine that did it. And that's how they got these people to be sold on this fraud.

S: And there was a lot of FOMO going on, like the fear of missing out. Like the investors didn't want to miss out on this, whatever this big money-making thing was going to be. So they were kind of motivated. But that's, again, that's like every con, right? There's some motivation to buy into what you're being told. It doesn't excuse the con itself. But it's a good lesson, I think, in here. The other thing is, is like the science people were saying that this was bogus from the get-go.

B: Really?

S: I wrote about this in 2006 and I'm like, there's no way. There's no way some startup innovated 30 different scientific breakthroughs all in one magic machine. It didn't make any sense from a basic medical perspective. It was way too much. Like, where's the paper trail for all of the research that would have had to have happened? What are they doing that is so unique that they're able to do this? It just didn't make any sense.

C: And there were whistleblowers from the beginning who said that.

S: Totally. Totally.

C: This is not valid.

B: It's like the technology that had to come from aliens. Like, no, we can actually see the evolution of this technology throughout our culture. It didn't pop out of nowhere.

S: Right.

C: But that's also one of the really difficult things when you're dealing with industry innovation. Because it's one thing to look at the scientific literature and something might be physically impossible. It's easier as skeptics to say, okay, well, that's physically impossible. They're claiming magic. We know magic isn't real. But it's another thing when a company is claiming a proprietary breakthrough and everybody just has to take it on faith that they have actually innovated a breakthrough. At what point does that proprietary curtain need to be peeled back?

S: Yeah. But there's a good correlation. Having done this now for 30 years, like all the things that pan out versus don't pan out, it's a big red flag. If the core scientific idea at the center of your technology is a complete mystery, that's a huge red flag. We could go back to our recent interview with Amprius, where they have a really impressive technological breakthrough with their silicon anode battery, lithium ion battery. But again, we read about this research 14 years ago.

C: Yeah. They finally figured out how to make the thing work.

S: Right. It literally did not come out of nowhere. This was research that was in the news and it just took that long to make it work.

C: And by the way, it was also an iterative change. The guy said himself, all we're doing is giving the anode. It's the same battery technology. It's just a change to the anode. It's not like we have a whole new battery with everything. And that's really what Elizabeth Holmes did. She's like, we have a machine that can do a thing. And basically when she first pitched the idea, I want to raise money for this company, you guys remember there was the professor that she talked to who was like, no, but you can't like what you're saying can't be done.

E: Right. She went to her professor at, where was she, Stanford?

C: Stanford, I think. And she was like, you can't like show me how. And she was like, I'll figure it out.

S: I'll figure it out. Right. She had a problem looking for a solution, right? Which is tricky. It's better if you have, it's not necessarily better, but if you have a technology looking for an application, at least you have a technology, right?

C: Well, that's the difference, right? Between a company and a science lab, right? In a science lab, yes, there are questions out there that you want to find solutions for and you make a million mistakes and you go down a million bad paths, but it's okay because you've got a grant to fund it and you're just, you get to explore in that way. But if you're a company, you better be spinning off a technology that already exists, like that you already have. It was a scam from the beginning. That's the problem. She wanted it to be real, but it was never real.

S: Again, interesting. Again, these red flags are remarkably predictive. You know what I mean? I don't think it's confirmation bias on our part. These things do have an incredible predictive power. This just reminds me of like, there was a study that came out not too long ago looking at red flags of patients who are drug seeking, right? So they just gave a history to a bunch of different physicians or healthcare providers that said, what do you think the probability is that this patient is drug seeking? And then, these were known cases and then they matched them with whether or not they actually were drug seeking. And the physicians were like 90% able to predict who was drug seeking or not. Sometimes these red flags are really predictive because they're meaningful. They actually do mean something. And I think this is one of those cases. If you're claiming a technology that has no paper trail, that I can't even imagine how it could possibly work, that appears to be coming out of nowhere, the chances are pretty good it's not real. Because that's just not the way these breakthroughs are made. These come out of a culture, an industry, a paper trail of incremental advances. And even the occasional breakthrough was anticipated. That's often why we also, when you're reading about the history of an invention, it always seems like there's five people all claiming to have invented the thing at the same time. It's because, yeah, because all the pieces were there. You know what I mean?

E: I mean, the free energy and the perpetual motion machines are kind of the, what, the historical almost example, poster child, if you will, of this kind of thing. It's just another version of that modernized.

S: Yeah. It's the guy laboring away in his garage who figured out this one crazy trick to hack reality. No, that just doesn't happen.

C: The difference is not just, oh, I have this claim. It's I made this thing. Give me millions of dollars. And at a certain point, it's bad money after good. It's fraud.

S: Yeah, at some point it's fraud. Yeah. Absolutely.

E: And eventually you do go to jail.

C: Yep.

S: Yeah, it's good to say again, we're it's just good to see justice happen in a public way and just saying, nope, you can't lie that relentlessly. That's fraud. You're going to jail. I think the rule of law requires that that that happens occasionally, you know. All right. Let's move on with some news items.

News Items[edit]

Starship Almost Launch (14:19)[edit]

S: Jay, you're going to start us off with an almost launch. Now, of course, by the time the show comes out, whatever we say now is going to be obsolete in a way. But tell us what's going on.

J: So SpaceX had to scrub their first test launch of its Starship rocket. This happened about nine minutes before liftoff at its Starbase facility, which is in Boca Chica, Texas. Cara, have you been there?

C: No, I don't. I've never even heard of that town in Texas.

J: I didn't either. I was hoping that you can give me some intel on it.

S: What does Boca Chica mean? Boca is mouth, right?

C: Yeah.

S: Boca Raton is mouth of the rat.

C: Small mouth.

J: Small mouth?

C: And it's like, probably-

J: She's got a small mouth.

C: It might be by a river or something like that. It might be the small mouth of a river. I wouldn't be surprised.

J: Okay, that makes sense. It is on the water. It's on the water.

E: The girl is in the river.

C: Yeah.

J: So this cancellation was due to a frozen valve in the pressurization system on the 33-engine super heavy booster. There are 33 Raptor engines, Raptor 2 engines, on the booster stage, right? This is the bottom half of the rocket, roughly. That's called the super heavy rocket. So that is like the meat and potatoes of this rocket. And then the upper stage is known as Starship and it has six Raptor engines. And stacked together, they are the largest rocket ever built.

B: Wow.

C: Oh, wow.

J: Yep. They're incredibly tall and incredibly powerful. So SpaceX engineers discovered the problem around 17 minutes before the scheduled launch time, which was 8:20 AM in Texas. And the company decided, look, we got to scrub the launch attempt because we can't resolve this inside the launch window. The rocket was fully loaded. It had over 10 million pounds of methane and liquid oxygen propellants before the countdown stopped around T-40 seconds. Now the launch team had rescheduled for this Thursday, which will be, as you listen to this, will be days ago, but Thursday, April 20th. And there is a 62-minute launch window on Thursday, which is just over an hour. One challenge in the Starship design is making sure that the pressurization gases do not get cold enough to liquefy in the tanks. I found this rather interesting. Starship uses something called a autogenous pressurization system where heated oxygen and methane are routed back into the propellant tanks in the gaseous state. That's the part that blew my mind. It's not liquid. It's gaseous. And this is to supply pressure and ensuring the liquid oxidizer and fuel smoothly flows into the Raptor engines. So I find that fascinating that SpaceX came up with this system, which is supposed to help make everything run more reliably from what I was reading. So stacked on top of the super heavy booster, we have the, it's 394 feet tall, right? So Starship is at the very top of the Starship rocket, 394 feet, 120 meters tall off the ground. That is the biggest. It was designed to be a fully reusable rocket and will attempt to fly it into space for the first time on a partial orbit. It's not doing a full orbit. It's a partial orbit that will end in a splashdown of the Starship vehicle in the Pacific Ocean. This is 62 miles or a hundred kilometers northwest of Kauai, which is in Hawaii. On this first fully integrated test flight, the super heavy booster and Starship rocket are trying to reach an altitude of 146 miles. That's 235 kilometers before they return to earth. That's their goal.

S: So it's suborbital. It's not getting into orbit.

J: It's not going to do, it's not getting into orbit. They're just want to get it up there and they want to run all the tests that they're doing and they want to see it perform. SpaceX will attempt to reignite some of the super heavy boosters, some of the 33 engines to do a couple of maneuvers and then to basically control descent where it'll have a vertical splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico around 20 miles or 30 kilometers east of the launch site. And SpaceX has been conducting subscale lower altitude atmospheric flight tests since 2019. They've had several test launches. Those launches focused on testing Starship's landing maneuver capabilities. So they're ready to do this. It's very good that they were able to say, Hey, we're not going to go it's not a, it's not a absolutely have to go situation when it comes to SpaceX. They will absolutely scrub, they'll launch things that they're not even sure if they're going to survive the launch because this is all just testing, which is great. The rocket will have 16.7 million pounds of thrust at full throttle. To give you some perspective compared to NASA's Saturn V rockets, that is two times the thrust of the Saturn V rocket.

B: That's nuts.

J: It's also more powerful than NASA's space launch system. The SLS. That's going to be used for all the Artemis moon program missions. And it's also more powerful than basically any Soviet rocket ever. So this is a monster. It's incredibly powerful. It's going to be pushing up an incredible amount of payload. The decision to scrub the launch attempt was made after they couldn't resolve the valve problem which I guess they have figured out what the problem is. In the meantime, in the team, what they did was they scrubbed it, but they said, we're going to run this thing as far as we can to test all of our launch procedures and all of our ground systems. SpaceX is very squirrely that way. Like they will, they'll be like, okay, great. We're just going to use this as a pre-launch test bed which worked out very well for them. On this test flight, there won't be any payload. There's nothing in there. In fact, they welded the payload bay doors shut for extra precaution. And like Steve said, the rocket is not going into full orbit. So far, things are looking good for the Thursday launch. I'm going to get up and watch it and then we're going to drive down to DC.

S: Yeah. You guys remember what April 20th is?

J: There is something to happen on April 20th. What is it?

S: It's Hitler's birthday.

C: Hitler's birthday.

J: Oh, that's not what I was thinking of.

C: It was also Columbine.

S: I always remember that because a friend of mine is also, has a birthday on April 20th and we always tease him about sharing a birthday with Hitler.

C: It's also like 420.

S: Yeah.

C: There's a lot of things. April 20th is a lot of things to a lot of people.

S: Yeah. I'm interested in like the advantages versus disadvantages of liquid fuel versus solid rocket fuel. I mean, the advantage of the solid rocket fuel is that they could be sitting there for a long time, ready to go. The liquid fuel, they got to fuel it up right before they launch. They can only maintain it for so long. They only have a certain amount of window before they could do it. It's really expensive. It's really difficult. If anything goes wrong, the clock is ticking.

J: With solid rocket boosters though, there's no throttle. It's like they're on or they're off.

S: They're on. You can't throttle them and you can't turn them off and they won't be able to be reusable, right? You couldn't land them again. They'd burn until they're done. But if they can figure out to like somehow get the best of both worlds, like design, I don't know, a solid rocket booster that you can control somehow. I don't know. Maybe have it modular or compartmentalized. This is so unfortunate that it's so hard to get these liquid rockets, liquid fueled rockets, ready to go and they have such a short window. The Starship is so complicated. One valve gets stuck and the whole thing is done. You know what I mean? How many points of failure are there in a complicated rocket like that?

J: Another way to look at it though, Steve, is that it was only one valve. You know what I mean?

S: But that's all it took though.

J: Yeah. Well, that's good though. Like I said, okay, something was wrong, they will fix that problem and they'll fix it so it doesn't happen anymore.

S: Remember the saga with the SLS? It eventually launched last year, but they had to scrub it a couple of times again because of like pressure issues and it was like they were barely able to get it off the ground. They were troubleshooting it right up to the last moment there. It's tricky. It just seems like it's really janky technology. You know what I mean? From the outside. I know it's exquisite engineering and it's amazing and all that stuff, but it's just so tricky.

J: It's persnickety. Things have to be absolutely just right.

S: It's very persnickety. Yeah. All right. Thanks, Jay. And again, when you're listening to the show, you know more than we do because we don't know what's going to happen on Thursday and you do.

Information in Ancient Meteorites (22:49)[edit]

S: All right, Cara, tell us about these ancient magnetic meteorites.

C: Right. So we know that some meteorites are magnetic. So researchers just published a study in JGR Planets called Hand Magnets. Well, I don't want to say the title. It gives away the whole story. Okay. Hand Magnets.

B: Steve does that to me all the time. Get used to it.

C: Because he set me up well this time. He like didn't spoil it. Okay. The subject or sorry, the title of the study is Hand Magnets and the Destruction of Ancient Meteorite Magnetism. So meteorites, they come from a lot of different places, right? We've talked about meteorites on the show, the differences between different types, chondrites, other types. They specifically focus on a very special meteorite called the Martian Meteorite NWA-7034. You may know it just like I know it as Black Beauty. I know Black Beauty well because I've held it in my hands.

B: Oh, cool.

C: Which is really cool with some meteorite traders. They were like, that's $20,000 in your hand right now. I was like, ooh, I've got it. Or maybe it was $200,000. It was bananas, a tiny, tiny little rock. Black Beauty is fascinating because it's very, very, very old, 4.4 billion years old. And when we look at Mars today, Mars today does not have a magnetic field. Mars today does not have what's called, have we ever talked about dynamo theory on the show[link needed] ?

B: A little bit.

C: Okay. So yeah, Mars today does not have a dynamo, right? A kind of moving, churning, convecting, electrically conducting central core. But the idea is that Mars used to and meteorites are old. Black Beauty is 4.4 billion years old. So there is a chance, and there's actually an entire field dedicated to this called paleomagnetism, that the records of the magnetic field of Mars would be contained within Black Beauty, just like the records, the history of the Earth's magnetic field are often stored within ferromagnetic substances here on Earth. And there are ways to measure it. It's by looking at how the crystals inside of it are actually aligned. We can learn things about the magnetic field from whence it came. Okay. And when we're looking at meteorites, we're looking at like real glimpses into the history of the universe. And so they can really tell us a lot, not just about what they're made of, the forces that were on them, the compression that made them, how they entered the Earth's atmosphere when they did come down, but they could potentially tell us about these ancient dynamos. Unfortunately, amateur astronomers or meteorite hunters, and sometimes professionals, have a simple, low-cost test to see what type of meteorite we're dealing with. They hold a magnet up to it. And what does a magnet do?

S: It screws with the inherent magnetic field in the object itself.

C: Yeah. Not only does it screw with it, very often it straight up erases it. It completely wipes these things clean. So in this study, what they did, they did three different experiments. The first one was just a modeling experiment, a numerical modeling experiment to show exactly how destructive magnets can be to meteorites. But then they did a controlled experiment where they took basalt from the Earth, terrestrial basalt, and they actively, because they weren't going to do this to actual meteorites. So they took a rock seer and they held magnets up to them and they showed the actual mechanism by which and how severely they became demagnetized. And then they also decided to look at some samples of Black Beauty. They had one sample that they focused on to begin with, just to try and say, okay, we want to learn more about this dynamo, this core dynamo. And when they looked at it, it had been completely wiped clean. So then they were like, that's okay. We have eight other examples of this, right? Meteorites usually have one falls, it breaks apart, right? They've got sisters and cousins. And so they had found nine different stones. So the other eight they checked, all wiped clean.

B: Oh my God.

C: Yeah. Now, they didn't say in here, or maybe I missed it in the paper, that those are the only ones. I don't see how they could be. Like I said, I held Black Beauty in my hand. I sincerely doubt I was holding one of only nine known fragments, especially because these were cellars on the ground. But I wasn't holding this in a museum. These were individual meteorite traders who were making a transaction right there in front of me. So I have a feeling there are probably more examples, and maybe those examples haven't been touched by a magnet. But unfortunately, it shows the extent of this problem. And so the researchers do recommend another technique. That technique is actually called magnetic susceptibility meters. There are things called magnetic susceptibility meters that can be used, and they've been shown by multiple studies to be an accurate, this is a quote from the article, an "accurate and non-destructive meteorite identification and classification technique". They can be used to not only distinguish between meteorites and terrestrial rocks, but also to distinguish among different types of meteorites. And then they said, we remain hopeful that more paired stones of NWA 7034, so that's black beauty, and new Martian meteorite finds will become available in the near future that are free of the effects of magnet remagnetization. So I think part of this article is to inform individuals, but it's also sort of a call to arms, like, let's stop doing this as a community, because we are actually, unknowingly, but wiping out really important information. Yeah.

S: Yeah. It reminds me of that archaeologist who said that it used to be like whenever you found archaeological stuff like tools or whatever, the first thing you would do is clean everything. And of course, you wipe all the DNA evidence away. When you do that. They were just so destructive of the information because the DNA testing didn't exist, whatever, 30, 40 years ago. So now the process is completely different. You'd want every bit of grime and dirt and whatever that's there, because that's all evidence.

C: And also, early on, they would just collect this stuff. They wouldn't take pictures. We didn't have any in situ data.

S: Right. Right. We'd move it from where you found it.

B: Crazy.

C: Yeah. So but we don't know until we know. But I think probably one of the other sort of cautionary outcomes of this, because it's easy to Monday morning quarterback that and use this hindsight bias. But also, because we don't know what we don't know, maybe we should start approaching things from a more careful perspective anyway. Right?

B: Right.

C: And so I may, my interaction with this potential source of data is, this is more than just a source of data. This is something that is interesting and holds a lot of information unto itself. And every time I interact with it, I'm probably changing it in a way that I might know, in a way that I might not know.

S: Yeah.

C: So just as scientists and as investigators, we have to be careful about that.

S: Yeah. That's also why, especially with archaeologists, sometimes they will leave a portion of a find undisturbed for future scientists who may have techniques that we don't have right now. It's like, we're just going to, yeah, we're just going to study this part over here. We're going to leave that part untouched. Because who knows what crazy crap we'll have in 100 years.

E: Yeah. Sonar imaging through the ground that you can do, that you couldn't do all those years ago.

C: That's why it's important to hold on to samples. Right? Like we've done something with a particular sample, put it back in the freezer.

S: Right. And for fossil specimens and archaeological specimens, you're doing like CT scanning or MRI scanning to look inside them in ways that nobody would ever imagine we could 50 years ago or 100 years ago. All right. Thanks, Cara.

Lunar Cycle and Suicide (31:53)[edit]

s: All right, guys, let me present this study to you. You tell me what you think about it. This is a study that purports to correlate suicides in the lunar cycle.

E: OK, we've we've touched, I think, on similar themes here.

B: Bonk. Bonk. Bonk.

E: Like the rate of hospital occurrences are higher on nights with full moons. More people are admitted to hospitals. I think we've talked about that in the past.

S: Right. But so let's just look at this data. You tell me what you think about the study. So they analyzed pre-COVID suicides from the Marion County Coroner's Office. There were during the period of time of the study, there were seven hundred and seventy six suicides and they showed that death by suicides are significantly increased during the week of the full moon with a P value of point zero three seven with older individuals greater than fifty five, showing a stronger effect of point zero one nine. They also found a correlation with time of day, three to four p.m. for whatever reason had a peak P value of point zero three five and the month of September showed a peak, although this wasn't significant at point zero nine. So what are the questions that this kind of study, this kind of data would raise for you?

B: Well, has it been replicated?

S: Yeah. I mean, that's the that's the big one. That's the big question is, has it been replicated? But even still, I mean, what do you think about the data itself? I mean, that's a pretty large sample size and clearly positive P values.

B: Yeah.

C: Yeah. What's the effect size? What's the effect size? With a sufficiently large enough data set, you're always going to find patterns in the data.

S: Yeah. The effect size was not tiny. It was substantial, not huge either, but it was it was a real effect size. So that that's a great question is what was the effect size that that we want? Because you're right. If it's a teeny tiny effect size, that's right. Almost certainly just a random fluctuation.

E: And this was geographically limited?

S: This was done in the Marion County Coroner's office.

E: That's too small. You got to look at worldwide samples, don't you?

S: Well, yeah, but I think that gets back to the replication thing. And that's the for me, replication was the big question. All these other questions are definitely important. But for something like this, you would say, OK, if this because the question is, is this a real correlation? We could before we jump to the question of what could be causing the correlation, what we really need to ask first is, is it a real correlation? And the fact that it had a positive P value is not enough. So even just looking at the study itself, do you have other than replication, do you have any questions about the study itself?

C: So the most significant correlation that they found was between older adults and suicide, which we already know there's a correlation.

S: No, no. It was between the correlation with the lunar cycle was strongest with the older adults.

C: I see. Yeah, but that's already stronger [inaudible].

B: What steps do they take to minimize P hacking?

S: So the P hacking is always a good question. And that's when you make decisions about your methodology after you look at data in order to create a positive P value. So what kind of P hacking do you think they did here? So it's possible that they just kept looking at records until they got a positive result. That's one possibility. We don't see that in the data. I don't think that's what they did. I think they looked at a cohort is what they said. But I think the P hacking that is screaming in this data is what other variables did they look at?

C: Well, yeah, clearly.

S: Yeah. Like how many comparisons did they make here? Then are they only presenting the ones that are positive? But even the ones they're telling us they looked at, did they do an adjustment for multiple comparisons?

C: They didn't do a Bonferroni correction at all?

S: I didn't see that in there at all.

C: Oh, that's right there. I would discount the entire study. You can't do more than like, I mean, whatever, there's arbitrary numbers out there. But I would never recommend doing more than like three, four, five different comparisons. Once you start having dozens of comparisons, you have to correct for those because you're going to hit on something.

S: We don't know which ones they made. They also, they don't present the P value for the people between 30 and 55. It basically was not significant for people less than 30. It was significant though if you look at the whole cohort, and it was really significant for greater than 55. And they don't even know where do they give the data for the 30 to 55, but I suspect it was not significant, which means it was only significant for greater than 55.

C: But that's also just bad form.

S: Yeah, so the problem with that is that if you're looking at enough subsets of the data it's like every one of those subsets is another throw of the dice. The fact that a few of them are significant doesn't mean anything. Even if you did the adjustment comparing for multiple adjusting for multiple comparisons and it was still significant, you would still be left wondering, was this a fluke or is this a real phenomenon? And that's where the replication comes in. So what I did was I looked through the literature and said, are there any other studies looking at the same question and what do they find? Because if this is a real phenomenon, then we should see some hetero some homogeneity in the outcome in the literature, meaning that other studies looking at the same phenomenon should have the same results. And but and by same, I don't mean that there's a correlation. I mean that there's the same correlation, right? That it shows the same kind of pattern, because if everyone shows a different pattern, that's-

B: Random bullshit.

S: -that's random bullshit. That's the signal of this is a fluky stuff that you're looking at and not a real phenomenon. So let me just run through very, very quickly. Study from 1977. This is how far back this literature goes looking at the period of 1972 to 1975 in Ohio. They said "an increase is observed in the sample with respect to new moon phase, but not for full moon phase." So that's basically the opposite of what this study found. 1992 review of 28 studies found that there was basically no consistent relationship at all. 2021 study from northern northern Finland found an association with the full moon, but only in premenopausal women, which was again, the not the age group that was found in this study. 2008 study from Australia involving 65,000 suicides. Now this is an order of magnitude more to I think, yeah, two orders of magnitude more than the study we're talking about. So they say observed proportions of both male and female suicide occurrence did not deviate from expected proportions during the new crescent full and decrescent moon quarters or from those expected for three day windows. Basically it was negative. So what they also did, this study also did a literature review and they said that what they found was sporadically emergent significant findings that were entirely absent in the overall analysis and directionally erratic, thus suggesting they were spurious. So in other words, if you look at small sets of data, you see these correlations in random directions and when you look at big sets of data, they average out to nothing. That's what they found. And so that's what you could see when you look at that one huge study of that or if you put together a bunch of little studies, they're all in random directions. So this is bullshit. This is not a real phenomenon at all. And again, this research has been going on for 50 years at least and the studies are all over the place. Now unfortunately, these researchers took their findings seriously at face value, which I completely disagree with, and then they tried to find biomarkers to see if they could predict who is at higher risk of suicide during this lunar cycle.

E: You mean like high cholesterol? That kind of thing?

C: That doesn't make sense because that assumes like causation.

S: Yeah, that's right. And Cara, do you remember that study that we talked about a month or two ago about the, which was actually a well-constructed study where they looked at the biomarkers of anxiety?

C: Oh yeah, yeah, for sure.

S: This is the same guys.

C: Oh no.

S: Yeah, they looked at all of these because they're trying to apply the same biomarkers approach to different things, right? Actually, I thought they did a really good job on at least the methodology.

C: Yeah, the anxiety study was fascinating.

S: It was good, but this study was crap. It was total crap.

E: Is there still some fantasy that's alive that makes people believe that a full moon has any kind of practical effect?

B: Oh yeah.


B: That's never going to go away, man.

S: It's embedded in the culture now.

E: Well, okay, but also to the point where academia is continuing to do studies and looking further into this.

S: Yeah, I mean, it's what we call in science-based medicine, methodolatry, right? I did the standard method and I came up with a P value less than 0.05. Therefore, I have an interesting result. This is the difference between evidence-based medicine, or in this case, like evidence-based epidemiology and science-based where you're not doing that deeper level of analysis to try to separate real findings from spurious findings, try to control for things like P hacking, control for things like quirky, fluky effects. This is exactly the kind of study where they should have done a couple of internal replications to see, okay, now that we have a hypothesis, right? So the idea that in people older than 55, the risk of suicide is greater during the week of the full moon. Again, why they choose the week of the full moon, whatever. Let's look at a fresh data set somewhere else and see if it replicates. If they had done that, I bet you they would have found nothing. They would have found some other spurious finding.

C: But it's also just interesting, like it's important to show if over 55 had a P value of 0.04 and under 55 had a P value of 0.06 it's important to see that.

S: Right. If you look at all the data, it was 0.037, but it's being skewed by the greater than 55 cohort.

C: P-values, as we know, are pretty meaningless because they tell us a little bit more about the analysis than the actual. That's why effect sizes matter.

S: Right, exactly.

J: Size matters, Cara.

S: Size matters.

C: In science effect size matters.

S: And prior plausibility matters, right? Again, it's just another example of how easy it is to produce positive P values looking at random data.

C: But they may have made an argument. I'm not saying it's valid. I think it's completely and utterly invalid. But they probably made an argument in the paper. I'm not seeing it for prior prob- of prior plausibility.

S: What they said was they speculated that the mechanism might have something to do with the light, the amount of light-

C: Yeah, that's what I figured it was.

S: Given off by the moon.

E: It happened in the day. You say it was 3 to 4 p.m.? There's no moon at 3 to 4?

S: You're correct.

C: Evan, you're amazing.

S: But it's the idea that during that week, they're not getting its light all the time, and that disrupts them, whatever. But you're right. The peak was during the day. But they didn't mention the hypothesis that I always love, where people say, oh, it's the tidal effects of the moon affecting the water in your brain.

E: Oh, gosh, here we go.

S: So yeah, if you do the back of the envelope calculation, which somebody did in the comments on my blog, it's like, yeah, so if you're standing next to somebody, the tidal force that you're exerting on them is like thousands of times greater than the moon.

B: Yeah, right.

S: It's ridiculous.

E: Astrology argument, yeah.

S: So light is the only semi-plausible argument. And if it showed an effect, fine. But this is a clear indication of a spurious effect, absolutely clear. But so many people get taken in for it, because they don't ask the basic questions. How many comparisons did they make? Did they do internal replications? What do other studies show?

B: How about, was there any unpublished data?

E: Why isn't there like a big poster on the wall of these places saying, did you check these things? A, B, C, and D.

S: Right, there should be. I mentioned, I think, on the show not too long ago that the NIH set aside some money to create essentially a course that teaches researchers how not to p-hack. Because they don't want to be giving money to researchers who are doing this bullshit.

B: Good idea.

S: And I suspect and hope that once this is complete, that it will become a mandatory certification in order to get NIH funding.

E: And put those posters on the wall like the OSHA people. I'm actually quite serious about that.

S: Are you a p-hacker?

E: That's right. Exactly.

C: It's way more complicated than, did you do these four things?

E: No, I get that.

C: Because every study is designed differently.

S: But it's a good start, Cara.

C: It is a good start. I think the biggest thing, even more than this training, is pre-registering your study.

S: Yes.

C: And does the NIH not require that now?

S: No, for human trials, they do.

C: We need to start extending that.

S: Yeah.

C: We do.

S: If you're doing research on humans, you've got to pre-register.

B: Why? What's the benefit there?

S: Because you lock in the methodology.

C: Because you can't p-hack.

S: You can't p-hack, basically.

C: Basically, it's like every single person who ever earned a PhD has to defend their proposal before they collect their data. We have to make an argument for why we're doing this research and then sit down in front of a panel and defend how we're going to do the research. And then we do the research. And if we changed a bunch of stuff between what we said we were going to do and what we did, we might have p-hacked.

S: Yeah. Right. And it's not just in general terms. You have to say, what's the exact methodology? How many people are you going to recruit? What statistical analysis are you going to use? What comparisons are you going to make? Now, Cara, there was a study maybe from about a year ago where they looked at medical trials that were pre-registered. And a good proportion—I forget the exact proportion—but a good proportion of them changed their methods after the pre-registration and didn't notice in the study.

C: Why did they let them publish it?

B: Not cool. Not cool.

C: Yeah. Not cool. Why did the reviewers not catch that?

S: Right. That's a really good question. It only helps if you go back and check the pre-registered study.

C: Right.

S: And when they looked at them, they made changes that were basically p-hacking. They did it to become a positive study, you know?

C: I mean, I guess in some ways it's still better because they've got the receipts. It's just nobody read the receipts. You know? It's like, you gotta read the receipts.

B: The trail is there, though. So it's like, yeah, smack them down.

S: So step in the right direction. Absolutely.

E: Auditors. We need auditors.

C: That's what reviewers are supposed to be doing.

E: Put AI on it. Why wouldn't that be the?

C: Yeah.

E: Right?

C: With a pre-registration.

J: What do you got to say about that?

S: There are some legitimate roles for AI in tightening up the published literature. Absolutely. All right, let's move on.

Sharper MRI Scans (47:09)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, I'm not going to take your thunder away. Just tell us about this MRI thing that you're going to talk about.

B: MRI thing.

C: Love it.

E: Oh my gosh.

B: Thing, thing. Yes, after 40 years of research, Duke University has made a quite a significant breakthrough in MRIs, magnetic resonance imaging. Their images of rat brains just got 64 million times sharper.

E: Wait, wait, wait, wait. You didn't say 64 times. You said 64 million times.

B: 64 million times. So what exactly does that mean? All right, so this is led by Duke's Center for Vivo Microscopy with colleagues at the University of Tennessee Health Center, Science Center, and University of Pennsylvania, and also University of Pittsburgh, and one more, Indiana University. Okay, so this appeared in the April 17th Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. So now we all know about MRIs, right? Most of us have probably had them, right, had images taken at some point like I did a few years ago.

E: I put a meteor in one once.

B: Yeah, right.

C: Went over great.

B: The principle of MRIs, it's fascinating. Now imagine you got a proton of hydrogen atoms throughout the water and fat in your body. That's the key thing. And in some ways, these protons are like bar magnets in a way. They each have an axis all aligned in random directions. Now the strong magnetic field that's within the MRI aligns all of them to the magnetic field, okay? And so if you imagine that alignment, then there's a radio frequency burst that then changes the alignment of some of those protons. And when you turn off the radio frequency, they snap back to where they were when they were previously aligned to the powerful magnet, right? So can you picture that? So that snapping back releases the radio frequency energy that had just been absorbed. And it's that energy, that energy that is captured and interpreted into an image of the slice of your body that was being investigated, okay? So that's the basics of MRI.

S: Well, can I add one little layer there, Bob?

B: Sure, there's lots of layers.

S: There's lots of layers, but I think it's important to note that one key piece is that different tissues have different movability of the protons, right? It has a lot to do with the water content, because what's water? It's H2O. There's two, basically, protons on there. And they're not in a straight line, right? They're like in a little chevron. So they have an orientation. And so the, basically, tissue with different water content images very differently on the MRI scan. They have a very different signal characteristic. That's why different tissue layers look different on an MRI scan.

B: A little too much detail there, Steve. Not necessarily necessary, but that's okay.

E: I didn't know any of that. Thank you.

B: Oh, yeah, there's details here that are like, nah, that's fascinating.

S: We're scratching the surface. We're scratching the surface. That's good enough for now.

B: MRIs, obviously, they've been a boon for disease detection and diagnosis, blah, blah, blah, all of that. We all know that, how amazing they've been. If you need to spot a small brain tumor, MRIs are absolutely up to that task. But what about smaller structures? What about seeing something more at the cellular or brain circuit level, go drill down much deeper? What about that? And that's where Duke's new upgrades come in. Now, they've upgraded not one, but multiple components of the MRI technology, resulting in that rare beast that Steve, that we all love, including Steve, of course, but he's always very eager to point out that it's just an incremental baby step. This is not. This is far beyond.

E: Oh, wow. That Steve impersonation was dead on.

B: He's correct. He's correct. Technology advances primarily through incremental baby steps, but this is not one of them. Okay. So one of the things that they improved was the magnet. The incredibly powerful magnet is even more incredibly powerful. Like if you get your MRI today, you're relying on probably a 1.5 or a 3 Tesla magnet. The research team here used a 9.4 Tesla magnet, much more powerful.

S: That's a lot more powerful.

B: It is.

S: Can I say, again, the idea of using a more powerful magnet is very old news. We know that. Yeah. The more powerful the magnet, the better the image. They're already like in clinical use or for research use, 6 Tesla magnets or 4 Tesla magnets are not rare. So this is just, yeah, they got a bigger boat. They got a more powerful magnet. They're going to get better images.

B: Right. And all these comparisons are basically to clinical MRIs, not research. But this magnet upgrade is only one. There's also the gradient coils. These are the coils that control the magnetic field so that it takes a proper slice. It images the proper slice of your body because there's a specific plane, a slice of your body that needs to be imaged, probably a series of them to create a 3D image. So the coils, these gradient coils control that. The ones that the Duke researchers used are 100 times stronger than those that you would find in a clinical MRI. And there's also the high-performance computers that run a lot of this. They use for this research the equivalent of nearly 800 laptops, all cranking away, doing their job to image the brains of these mice. So those are the three technology upgrades. But the next step is something I hadn't been familiar with, and it seems most crucial to me. They send the slice of tissue that's being imaged, that has already been imaged by the MRI, they send it out and it gets imaged using a new technique called light sheet microscopy. This is really fascinating. It took a while to figure out exactly what's happening here. So it does away, this type of microscopy does away with the typical glass slide, right? Remember the classic microscope that's still in use widely today with the glass slide, the biological samples on the glass slide, and you have direct illumination going from the microscope down onto it. This does away with all of that. This uses lasers from the side to go through the biological sample and create a sheet of light within a specific section of the biological sample. That's why it's called light sheet microscopy. This sheet of laser light goes through designated areas within the sample. Now, the resulting image from that can give details down to brain cells. And what they do is they take that high resolution image, including the brain cells, and they combine that with the anatomically accurate MRI image. And the result of those two coming together is what was this unprecedented look at the rat brains at the cellular and circuit level. So this is, that's the gestalt of what they've achieved here. Now, the smallest piece of the resulting image, right, for a regular JPEG, right, you've got it, or even just your monitor, there's the pixel, right? We all know what a pixel is. But the basic unit of the image from an MRI here is a voxel, which is a three-dimensional or a cubic pixel. You may have heard of the term voxel in that context. Now, one of these voxels is just five microns. Now, to imagine that, imagine a cubic millimeter, right? Cubic millimeter, every side is a millimeter. Tiny, right? Now, shrink that by a factor of 5,000. That's a voxel of five microns. Super, super tiny. That's the level of detail in these new MRI images. If you had a conventional MRI taken, that voxel size in your image was probably 64 million times larger. So that's where the 64 million came in, in terms of the size of the smallest indivisible unit of the image, the voxel. Okay. So now using this new technology, researchers were able to capture the brain circuitry data within the mouse brains. They showed how the brain-wide connectivity slowly changes the mice age. They showed how the memory-involved area of the brain called the subiculum, I haven't heard of that, subiculum area, they showed how that changed more than anywhere else in the rat brain. They showed how the neural networks in the rats deteriorated in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. All of this that you could not see from conventional MRIs, they are now showing in rat brains. Using this to study human brains is pretty much a no-brainer, ha-ha, in the near future. G. Allen Johnson, PhD, lead author of the paper at Duke said: "It's something that is truly enabling. We can start looking at neurodegenerative diseases in an entirely different way." That seems eminently achievable with this new technology. They'll be able to study how human brains age, and how it changes in unprecedented detail as you age, as you diet, as you experience neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. So yeah, I think it seems like big things are going to come out of this. I'm not sure how this could really, I mean, if they're doing this with mice, then yeah, they can do this with people. And I think it's really going to try to track this and see what they can do with this amazing advance. Now, being Bob, as I am every day, one of the first things I imagined when I thought of this was probably what, guys? Steve, maybe you-

J: Skulls?

B: Huh?

J: Skulls.

C: Oh.

C: Yeah, brains are in skulls. Steve, what do you think I was thinking about when I was thinking about this? Imaging a human brain for conversion into a digital brain, artificial general intelligence. Now, unfortunately, you need to take slices. It's not going to point it at your head, I don't think, at least not with this iteration of the technology. But I mean, that's one of the what's one of the potentials of the development of artificial general intelligence. One of the viable paths, it seems viable to me and a lot of people, is that one way to achieve an artificial general intelligence is to map the brain in sufficient resolution that you could duplicate it digitally based on this super high res image of the brain that we could take. Now, we haven't had the technology to do that. And this is the first time I've seen something that actually works that could potentially create a high resolution enough image. I mean, it's probably not practical at this point anyway, because you've got to like, well, you'd have to take a lot of different slices of the brain. And that's doable. I mean, but I think it's such a complicated task to take a high enough resolution image of the brain that you would need probably more supporting tech than just this. But that's what I thought of. And it's just an interesting angle on development of AGI, especially with all the AGI news going around these days. But so interesting bit of tech here. Kudos to Duke University and its partners.

S: Yeah, I mean, the MRI technology has been steadily increasing over the last 30 years, throughout my whole career. It's just amazing the new shit that we can do with MRIs.

B: What do you think of this, though, Steve?

S: This is fantastic. But having said that-

B: What's the downside?

S: -that's a really powerful magnet. We can't take for granted that it's going to be safe. Plus, also, you got to make a much bigger one for a human than a mouse. You know what I mean? And that's so that we have to make sure that the tech works and it's safe for people. And because that's a really powerful magnet. Think about if anything-

B: 9.4 Tesla.

S: -anything ferromagnetic gets anywhere near that thing, you'd go right through like a bullet.

B: Yeah.

S: But also, we then have to study the utility of it clinically. It definitely is going to be a good research tool, no question. But it takes time to gather enough information because, like we were just talking about this last week, when you get too much information, that leads to a lot of false positives. Like we need to learn how to interpret the data at that level of detail in a clinically meaningful way. And that's going to take time. But yeah, I think this will this is going to be something that will be changing clinical imaging in the future. Absolutely.

Mummies and Taxes (58:45)[edit]

S: All right, Evan, this news item is timely. Tell us about mummies and taxes.

E: Yes, yes. It was once it was once said that in this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes. Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789. And from Franklin's quill to my lips, to your ears, perhaps no words were ever truer. And Steve, as you alluded to many SGU listeners know, by day, I am a tax preparer for individuals, small businesses, trusts, and estates. And I'm just now emerging from my spring cocoon from the spreadsheets and tax forms.

J: Chrysalis.

E: Which I exist. Yeah, exactly. So I am out now like a butterfly. When I recently saw a headline in which the spheres of science and taxes overlap, oh my gosh, how could I not stop and what I'm doing and see what that's all about? Impossible. This was first published in the Associated Press and then other outlets picked it up. Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History released a statement concerning a traveling display of mummies from the 1800s, which may pose a health risk to the public. Traveling display of mummies from the 1800s? That sounds like a rejected script from The Walking Dead to me, in a way. But to be clear, these mummies are not animated and lumbering around since the 1800s. Sorry, Bob. No, these were obviously people once alive and dead now, known as the mummies of Guanhuato. And they are the product of the burial of corpses, which were put into mineral-rich and dry soil. Yum. And usually they can be viewed at their own special museum, these mummies, because it's named after them, the mummies of Guanhuato. However, from time to time, they are also exhibited in different places outside of Mexico. For instance, in 2009, they had a display in the United States and you could go and see them. Now in 2021, the National Institute of Anthropology and History, or the NIAH, they examined photographs of the mummies, which are encased behind their protective glass. But they determined that at least one of these corpses, and I quote, "Show signs of a proliferation of possible fungus colonies. It's even more worrisome that they are still being exhibited without the safeguards for the public against biohazards." All right. So the point they're making is that if a fungus has in fact started to develop inside the glass case, there's possibly a break in the seal somewhere. And there have been examples of that that back that up. Or another plausible explanation is that these dead bodies were not embalmed during the burial process and that lack of embalming allows for the fungus to proliferate. The fungus in question is called Aspergillus. Aspergillus is a fungus found in soil and dust that can cause lung infections and produce harmful mycotoxins. Aspergillus can increase its, well, they call it virulence. Can a fungus have virulence?

S: Sure. Sure.

E: Not a virus? We're not mixing up virus and fungus?

S: Virulence, it doesn't do a virus. It's just the ability to infect.

C: It's just the root of the word comes from that.

E: Gotcha.

C: But yeah, you can still use it.

E: I wanted to make sure. It just struck me as a little funny. But in any case, it can become, it can increase by staying dormant in tombs for very long periods. And as far as the living is concerned, it can be dangerous for them, but primarily for those with weakened immune systems, they happen to be susceptible to it. And the harmful effects can be severe and can cause death in certain cases. So I suppose you do have to be kind of careful. But the reason the mummies are the museum pieces that they are reportedly is because of taxes. In 1861, a new burial tax was levied as a fee to the cemeteries for keeping the bodies of their loved ones inside these cemeteries. Now, if the families of the departed could not or were unwilling to pay the tax, the corpses were unearthed, taken out and put into, well, storage, burial chambers in dry soil in which they would effectively become mummified. And yes, it was a warm and dry environment that kept the corpses preserved, but they were not really properly mummified. And that allows for the microorganisms, including fungi, to grow at the onset of favorable conditions. And there have been examples of this in which people have come into contact with mummies that were probably carrying a fungal infection. They said in 1970, a team of 12 researchers opened the tomb of King Casimir IV, who ruled Poland between 1447 and 1492. Within a few weeks, 10 out of the 12 researchers died, and they traced it back to – well, it's called BD for short. Are you familiar with that fungus? It's a very long set of words here. Well, BD. I'm just going to leave it. You can look it up. It has spores. It lands on the skin of people, amphibians as well. So animals get infected by this. And it burrows down into your skin where it releases a poisonous toxin that slowly kills the host by paralyzing their immune cells. So that's awful. So it's possible that during the time they were placed in the glass cases, some body parts came in contact with fungal spores. But again, it's questionable how airtight these cases actually are and the fact that it's been transported around – they've been transported around for many years to other parts of the country for these exhibitions also kind of exposes them in a sense to other ways of becoming effectively infected. They said that there are no documented cases of fungal infections from these mummies specifically. Okay? So nobody – there's no case they can point to directly. But still, the authorities are saying or the people at the Historical Society are saying that it should be checked out. It needs to be checked out further because you can't be too careful. Yeah. So I mean that's essentially the entire news item. So it's something they've known about for a while. I'm not really sure if they made these observations in 2021. That's now just 2023 and it's sort of coming into the news and the headlines for this. But yeah. So death and taxes coming together in sort of an unusual way in the world of fungus.

S: Yeah. No. It's amazing how much fungus has been in the news recently. I think it's all because of the Last of Us TV series. But it's one of those things like – yeah, we know about it in the medical community. That is like probably the worst infection you can get. When they do happen, they're often like really difficult to treat. They could be very deadly.

C: It's the same working in a cell culture facility. Like if we would get a bacterial infection or even a viral infection, we could dose it. We could do it. But the minute there was a fungal outbreak in my cells, I had to just bleach and trash the entire – yeah, it sucked.

S: Yeah. Fortunately, we have pretty good resistance against it. But when it does happen, it's bad.

E: Yes. Yes. And they said that most people, if you don't have a weakened immune system, you don't have to – you shouldn't have to worry about it. But it's for those who are compromised, they are the ones that can suffer the effects.

S: Yeah. It's definitely way worse for people who are immunocompromised. If you're not immunocompromised, it's just really bad luck. It could still happen.

C: But that's like a hallmark of like HIV/AIDS is when people start to get a thrush, a candida.

J: Steve, I mean what are your chances of – what's the survival here if you get it?

S: Well, it depends on what body part is infected. I'm dealing with it usually when the brain is infected. And that's always really bad. Yes, that's not good. Yeah. It's not good.

C: But like women get fungal infections all the time.

S: Yeah. If it's in your vagina, it's just – it's an annoyance.

C: And there's just like over-the-counter treatments, prescription treatments. Yeah, it's totally an annoyance.

E: How are antifungals? Are we keeping up to speed?

S: We have antifungals, yeah. But again, they're good externally. They're good like – we do have like the swish and spit if you get thrush in your mouth. And there are pills you can take systemically, but once it's like an established infection inside the body, they're hard to eradicate.

E: That's tough.

S: Yeah. All right. Thank you, Evan.

Who's That Noisy? (1:07:22)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Vanguard 1 satellite telemetry of the "package temperature"

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

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

[old recording of whooshing hiss warbling up and down, then another going in and out in amplification]

Here's the second one. Cara, that totally sounds like a theremin.

C: A little bit.

E: Theremin-ish.

C: It is a musical though. Like a weird use of a theremin.

J: All right. Well, lots of guesses. The first one, William Steele wrote in and said: "Hi, Jay. This week's noisy sounds a bit like a dentist drill. I'm going to guess these sounds come from some sort of brain skull surgery." Yikes. Steve, you ever drill into somebody's head?

S: Me personally, no.

J: You ever see it?

S: Yeah.

J: Is there a smell?

S: Yeah.

J: Oh, Christ.

E: Burning bone?

S: It's a burning bone. Yeah. It's not good.

E: Oh, sometimes you get that when you're in the dentist and they're shaving your teeth down a little bit. Oh, you can smell.

J: Right, Evan?

E: Oh, gosh.

B: That's nothing.

E: Bob.

B: Say no more.

J: All right. Another listener wrote in named Marsh Wildman. "Hi, Jay and everyone. This week's noisy sounds like a pulsar." That is not a pulsar, but not a terrible guess because there are sonifications of pulsars that have similar sounds. But that is not correct. Keely Hill wrote in and said: "Hi, Jay. Given the clue that the two clips are associated, I think it could be radar chirps going out and then echoes heard after bouncing off something." That is not correct, but I really like that guess. I've heard something along the lines of what you're saying. It doesn't really sound like that, but I do appreciate the guess. And then I have another guess, a good guess from a listener named Tracy McFadden. She said: "Hi, Jay. I'm going to make a wild guess that this week's noisy is the sound of radio transmissions from the Telstar 1 or 2 satellite from about 60 years ago." Now, I suspect that Tracy might actually be thinking of the actual noisy, which is very close to what she said. So I give her a half a half a point there because I think she might actually be thinking of this. This one, now remember this was sent in by Visto Tutti and he said Vanguard 1, which was a satellite was launched aboard the off trouble Vanguard rocket in March, 1958. The transmitters were approximately 10 megawatts

in power and transmitted on 108 megahertz and 108.3 megahertz. The only telemetry transmitted was the package temperature. This was indicated by the difference between the two transmitter frequencies, which varied with temperature. The solar cells were manufactured by Bell Laboratories. So what we have here in the two recordings, the first recording was made shortly after launch. And you could hear the satellite rapidly spinning. And the second one was taken, let me see, approximately one year after launch. And you could tell the satellite is turning very slowly. So those changes in the sound that you heard were the first how the satellite was performing when it was first launched versus what happened to it after a year, which means it slowed down. And Visto and I were emailing each other and we both were questioning this idea that the satellite, its rotation slowed down, which we think is very odd because some force would have to be acting on it in order for that to happen. So we don't know exactly why, but that's, those are the facts. The satellite was affected by something, it slowed down and it was giving off a different kind of noise.

S: That's cool. Yeah. We cut it out because we didn't want to give it away, but I guess that it was an old timey satellite. I said either Sputnik or some other old timey satellite. And this was, Vanguard 1 was the fourth satellite to go up. It was the second American one after Explorer One.

J: So what is Telstar?

S: So Telstar was the first communication satellite. This was after-

J: I remember that now actually.

S: -after Vanguard 1.

J: Okay. So Tracy was close, but not correct. Yeah. Very close.

New Noisy (1:11:29)[edit]

J: I have a new noisy this week. This noisy was sent in by a listener named Sydney Goulet, and here it is.

[background hissing with bird calls and a strong plunking in the foreground]

Okay. You hear that, that noise that happened three times? That's the sound I want you to identify. I wish you good luck. I think this one is going to be very difficult, but it's pretty cool. So if you think you know what this week's noisy is, or my God, if you heard something cool, you got to send me an email at, especially if you're sending me files. That's the only way you can get those files to me. Sound files of something cool that you heard.

Announcements (1:12:14)[edit]

J: All right. A few things. Saturday, May 20th, we have a six hour live stream. The first hour is for patrons. The last five hours are for everybody. We'll be starting at 11am Eastern time. More details will be coming on the website soon, but just put that in your calendar. It's free. If you want to hear that hour, that first hour for patrons, become a patron. Why not become a patron and support the show?

S: Why not? Jay, why not?

J: Really. I can't think of any reason why someone who has been listening to this show for a while, who gets something out of it, wouldn't mind helping support the show and to keep us going. Now, something else, Steve. I'm very excited, and I'm very happy to announce that Notacon, the conference that is not a conference, is happening.

S: It is happening.

J: It is absolutely happening. We got a good response. Wow. I have created the Eventbrite, so you can go to our Eventbrite. There'll be a link on the skeptics guide homepage. We will be pushing this out in social media and everything. So if you want to find it, the simplest way would be just to go to our homepage. So bottom line is this. It's November 3rd and November 4th. It'll be in White Plains, New York. It's about an hour away from the airport. The hotel and all the details are in the Eventbrite tickets. Tickets are $225, and they are non-refundable because we have to put all the money down to do this. So we're hoping that you do come because this is going to be a hell of a good time because we are going to be focusing on socializing and basically running events that revolve around some form of socializing and having fun. We're definitely going to be doing one SGU live recording, and we'll be doing, we have a lot of things that are in the queue that we're talking about. I don't want to say anything specific, but we have a lot of fun events and things. But really, you're coming here to socialize, hang out with us, hang out with all the other attendees. We're going to have Brian Wecht. We're going to have George Hrabb, and we will have Andrea Jones-Roy joining us for all of the fun. So come check us out.

B: What a crew.

S: The crew, yeah. And Jay, we should say, it's a little early, but we're going to be at DragonCon this year in Atlanta in September. And we probably will be doing a private show there, but we haven't booked anything yet. So we will be there, and we'll let you know what we're doing once we have our schedules.

J: Roger that.

S: And Cara, you have a thing.

C: I have a thing. So I was just talking to the guys earlier, and obviously this podcast is a platform. We have quite a big listenership on the show. And I thought, what better way, as I'm in the final stretches of my dissertation, to do one last push for recruitment for the research study that I've been working on. And it's a bit of a heavy topic, so a little bit of a trigger warning beforehand if this is something that's upsetting to you. Although I'm working on helping most of us not be upset by this topic. So I'm doing a qualitative study on medical aid in dying, which is physician-assisted death. It's legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia. And basically, I'm calling for individuals who are interested in dying with medical aid or who have already begun the process of dying with medical aid to share their stories, what's been difficult, what's been working, why are you going through this process, so that we can help illuminate the experience for other family members, for medical professionals, just for the field as it moves forward. The idea here is to hear the story from you, because when you look at the literature, there are very few studies that have been published from the perspective of the individual. Most of the studies are published from the perspective of health care providers or the family members who support individuals. So again, if you are interested in utilizing or you've already started the process, maybe you're thinking of going into hospice, you're making some of these big medical decisions for your life right now, and medical aid in dying is something that's important to you, I would be very interested and honored to hear your story. We'll make the interview as easy as possible. We can do it online or over the phone, and I will work around your level of fatigue and just how long you can talk. So reach out, you can do it via info at the same place that you always send emails for the show, but you can also email directly on my university email, which is c, right, because my name is Cara with a c, Fielding is the university where I am working towards my PhD. So again, that's It's also been shared on my social media channels. I'm going to hand it over for the SGU to share as well. So you can respond on social media.

S: Great. Good luck with that, Cara. It's really interesting research.

C: Thank you.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:16:59)[edit]

Hey there, long-time listener, first time submitting. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this fuel cell system, where you take your excess solar power from your roof in summer and turn it into hydrogen. In winter, you reverse the process and generate electricity from the hydrogen. The system also includes a battery storage for a short term and even feeds the heat generated by the fuel cell into your heating unit. It's not a prototype. This company already built and installed hundreds of these systems in old and new buildings, making many of them non-reliant on the grid. Really curious about your thoughts. You're doing an amazing job with your podcast, and as an anesthesiologist, I have to thank you, especially for your work in the times of COVID. Best wishes and keep up the good work. –Stefan

Question #1: Hydrogen Energy Storage[edit]

S: All right, we're gonna do one email. This comes from Stefan from Badnawar-Ahrweiler, Germany. Completely butchered that name, right? Evan, tell me how badly I pronounced it. Is it the Arweiler or something?

E: Yeah, that's not bad. Not bad. Not terrible.

S: Okay. And Stefan says: "Hey there, long-time listener, first time submitting. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this fuel cell system" and he links to a specific system "where you take your excess solar power from your roof in summer and turn it into hydrogen. In winter, you reverse the process and generate electricity from the hydrogen. The system also includes a battery storage for a short term and even feeds the heat generated by the fuel cell into your heating unit. It's not a prototype. This company already built and installed hundreds of these systems in old and new buildings, making many of them non-reliant on the grid. Really curious about your thoughts. You're doing an amazing job with your podcast, and as an anesthesiologist, I have to thank you, especially for your work in the times of COVID. Best wishes and keep up the good work." Well, thank you, Stefan. Appreciate the kind words. So yeah, this is basically use the electricity from your solar panels to turn water into oxygen and hydrogen. You store the hydrogen, and then you use that hydrogen to make energy in the winter or at some other time. You can siphon off heat from the system into your house to heat your home, and you could use a battery backup for the short term. It's all fine. I mean, theoretically, it's all good. What matters is efficiency and cost effectiveness, right? That's what matters. The problem with using hydrogen as an energy storage medium is that the turnaround efficiency is not very good. It's about 80%, and that's with an optimized system. I don't know how efficient this system is. But even operating at 80% efficiency, you're still losing 20% of your energy, and that's not insignificant. That's a lot of your energy. You recuperate maybe some of that if you actually use the heat to heat your home. But of course, when you're... For me, I make 90% of my electricity from my solar panels when it's hot, and I don't need the heat. You know what I mean? So at least not to heat my home. And then in the winter, when I would need the heat, the system wouldn't be generating the excess heat. So I don't know. A lot of that efficiency may also be very regionally dependent. But again, the concept is a good one. By coincidence, I came across a study while I was prepping for the show. This is more of a grid level system, which has all the same principles. It's a solar hydrogen system that co-generates heat. So this is a large, it looks like a radio dish, right? Which again, just like a parabolic mirror that focuses the sunlight onto a container. It beams it back into the middle of it where it heats, where the sunlight is concentrated, and it basically produces hydrogen. It splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. It siphons off the excess heat to heat for whatever, a building, and then it stores the hydrogen for later use. So it's the same kind of system, although this is not solar panels, not photovoltaics. This is a artificial leaf kind of approach where it's just using the sunlight directly in a photo electrochemical cell to make hydrogen and oxygen out of water, to electrolyze the water. So I think that there is a place for this in our system. But again, because every time you convert energy from one form to another, you lose some of it. Ultimately, it depends on efficiency. If you're taking a 20% hit grid-wise, that's huge. That's a lot of energy. For a home, like for me, because I have solar power, I use the grid as my backup. I just send any extra electricity I have to the grid, and I pull energy off the grid when I need it. So at this point in the penetration of residential solar, when we're at 5% or whatever we're at, like in the single digits, it makes a lot of sense just to use the grid as your backup. Now, of course, if you want to be off the grid, you don't have that option. So this is probably best for an off-the-grid system. If you're using solar power for your off-the-grid home in the middle of nowhere, winter is going to be tough because you have no grid power to as your source of electricity during the winter. So you either need some alternate source of power, you need wind as well, or you could do this. You could store your power in the summer as hydrogen to use over the winter. I don't think it's ever going to be a grid-level solution because, again, of the efficiencies involved. And also, if we're making lots of hydrogen using artificial leaf technology, that's best spent probably in industry. Really, truly green hydrogen is very valuable in terms of reducing the carbon footprint of those industries which are going to be really hard otherwise to make carbon zero or carbon neutral. But anyway, those are all the considerations that come to mind. Even though the system may work, is it the best, most optimal use of this kind of technology. All right, let's go on with science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:22:28)[edit]

Theme: Fungi

Item #1: Fungi breath in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, just like animals.[7]
Item #2: Mushroom spores are made of the toughest biological substance known, sporopollenin.[8]
Item #3: Witches' butter (Tremella mesenterica) is one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the world, a single gram being sufficient to kill a large adult human, although it is easily mistaken for edible varieties.[9]

Answer Item
Fiction Poisonous "Witches' butter"
Science Fungi breathe just like animals
Toughest biological substance
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Toughest biological substance
Toughest biological substance
Poisonous "Witches' butter"
Poisonous "Witches' butter"

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

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine, one fictitious, and then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. There's a theme this week. This is an Evan-inspired theme. The theme is mushrooms. Fungi.

E: Wait, what? Oh, wait.

S: For your news item.

E: Yes.

S: How much do you really know about mushrooms? All right, you guys ready?

J: Yeah, let's do it.

E: Oh, yeah.

S: Item number one, fungi breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide just like animals. Item number two, mushroom spores are made of the toughest biological substance known, sporopollenin. Item number three, Witches' butter, also known as tremella mesenterica, is one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the world. A single mushroom is the most poisonous mushrooms in the world, a single gram being sufficient to kill a large adult human, although it is easily mistaken for edible varieties.

J: Oh.

S: Jay, champing at the bit to go first.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: Yeah, I'll do it. All right, fungi breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide just like animalcules. So the thing is, Steve, you hear on the street, people are like, we're so close to mushrooms. We're almost genetically identical to mush... Whatever. You hear this.

S: Really?

J: I've heard people say it.

S: They're a different kingdom of life. Okay.

E: (laughs) Don't let that stop you.

J: I'm just saying, even though we eat them, they might have feelings, and we just don't know. So my question is this, would you even say that they breathe? Would you call it breathing?

S: Yes.

J: Okay.

S: They don't have lungs, but if they're-

C: Neither do a lot of insects.

E: They absorb.

S: They're absorbing gas.

J: I don't think it's crazy that mushrooms would have a need for oxygen, and that they could get it via the air. I don't think that's crazy. So I don't know. It's complicated. But for now, I'm going to put a little check next to that one. That one's not that, it doesn't seem that insane to me. The second one, mushroom spores are made of the toughest biological substance known. I don't know, man. How could they, the toughest biological substance known. I mean, can that possibly be true? They're kind of chewy. I've had some mushrooms that just did not want to be broken down into smaller pieces, but I got it done. Is that the toughest there is? I don't know. Maybe I'm not eating the right kind of mushrooms. I don't know. I just don't think that that is the toughest biological substance there is. I don't know. That one I'm not too sure about. This third one, Witches' butter, I totally think that one is science. One of the most poisonous mushrooms in the world. A single gram could be enough to kill an adult human. Why not? Sure. There's lots of mushrooms out there. There's tons and tons of varieties. There's one that's wicked poisonous. There's frogs that can kill you. There's mushrooms that can kill you. I think that it is not the toughest biological substance. So I'm going to go with number two as the fake.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Yeah. I mean, I'd agree with a lot that Jay said. Breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, I guess. This kind of rings a bell when I was doing some research on mushrooms. It doesn't seem egregious. And the toughest biological material, I'm not buying that. I'll just end it right there and say I'm just totally not buying that. I'll say that's fiction.

S: Okay, Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Bob, I wish you went a different direction. All right. So breathing in oxygen, exhaling carbon dioxide, just like animals. I too think that one is science. And I'll add to this by saying we're not aware of any mushrooms on the moon and there's no oxygen on the moon. So therefore, that's a perfectly logical sound reasoning. They call them moonshrooms, right? And the second one about – see, the toughest biological substance known, sporopollenin. Well, maybe. Fungi are – there's reasons why – are molds fungi technically? So they're in that kingdom?

S: Yeah.

E: I mean some – when you hear about incidents where like black mold gets into a house and like the only way to deal with it is to like tear the house down, if that's – if something that extreme is true, then yeah, that means we don't have a solvent. We don't have a chemical. We have nothing. You have to burn it down or take it away is basically – so in sort of that context, maybe there is something to this being the toughest biological substance known because I've heard of incidents like that. And then this last one. So it's the Witches' butter. One of the most poisonous mushrooms in the world. Okay. A single gram – I'm trying to get my – how much a gram would be sufficient to kill a large adult human? Okay. Although it's easily mistaken for edible varieties. Therefore, wouldn't we – if it will kill a human, wouldn't it kill – are humans the only things that eat mushrooms? Do other animals eat them? Pigs, dogs, maybe other mammals must eat them. Wouldn't that lend evidence to us – I mean get sick from it but maybe not kill. You'd have a lot of dead things. You're leaving it like – leaving a trail of animals in the forest or wherever these mushrooms grow that would – I think I'll break with the pack and I'm going to say the Witches' butter one. I don't think it's – I don't think a single gram is sufficient to kill an adult human.

S: Okay. And Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: I'm going to go with Evan and I'll tell you why. I'm struggling with the fact that you use the word toughest not strongest.

B: Oh, yeah. That's a good angle.

C: And I think that there's a reason you did that but I don't know what the reason is. I also 100% agree. I don't like that you worded it they breathe in oxygen and they exhale carbon dioxide but yes, fungi 100% respire.

S: They respire, yeah.

C: Yeah, they completely and absolutely respire. They have mitochondria. They do cellular respiration or wait, they might not have mitochondria but they do. No, do they? I know that they undergo cellular respiration but they might have a different process actually. So the one that is bothering me is the Witches' butter one. I've never heard of Witches' butter so I'll be excited to hear a description of it but what I do know and I don't know what the most poisonous mushroom on the planet is. Maybe it is Witches' butter. Maybe it's something else. I don't think it's Witches' butter though because there's so many mushrooms that have like crazy names like death cell mushroom or like the I'll kill you in your sleep mushroom and I have a feeling one of those is probably the most poisonous. So for that reason I think Witches' butter sounds like food. I don't know for that reason I feel like it would be named more like bleh.

S: Okay. (laughter)

B: How do you spell that? How do you spell that?

C: It's a sound.

S: All right, good. We have a good split here. So let's go to number one since you guys all agree with that one.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Fungi breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide just like animals. You all think this one is science and this one is science. This is science. Yes, mushrooms have mitochondria by the way.

C: Okay, there you go. All right.

S: And yeah, that's just interesting to think about. We don't think about mushrooms like because we think I think we think of them more as plants than animals but really they're not.

C: But plants have mitochondria too.

S: They're actually closer to animals than to plants phylogenetically. Yeah. And they don't photosynthesize, right? They can live in relatively low oxygen or even anoxic environments because they're decomposers but they do use mitochondria and oxygen to make energy. So yeah, they do.

C: Right and they don't move really. I mean they move a little but not the way we do.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right, let's go to number two. Mushroom spores are made of the toughest biological substance known, sporopollenin. Bob and Jay think this one is the fiction. Evan and Cara think this one is science. And this one is science.

E: Yes, that's it.

C: Yes, Evan.

S: Jay, you don't eat the spores. You eat the fruit of the mushroom, not the spores.

C: The spores are the things that like-

B: The toughest ever discovered.

S: Yeah.

J: So the spores really are the like it's stronger than like alligator hide or dinosaur hide.

S: Yeah, wicked tough, Jay.

C: He didn't say strong, he said tough.

E: That's wicked good.

C: Do you mean tough in the sense because I always think of mushroom spores.

E: You can't kill it. You can't eradicate it.

C: As like, yeah, they just keep coming back no matter what you do to them.

S: Yeah, yeah, like if you like dissolve everything, that's what's left behind is the sporopollenin. Now what's interesting is I had to, it took me a long time to really verify this one because-

B: I'm glad.

S: -sporopollenin is also found in plant spores.

C: Oh, interesting.

S: And so I had to make absolutely sure they were also present in mushroom spores. And it's amazing how hard it was to find a reference that specifically said that they were in mushroom spores and not just plant spores. But they are. The spores of plants and mushrooms, even though they're in different kingdoms, are remarkably similar, in fact. And they are again, that's how they they propagate or one way that they propagate. And they have just this little package of genetic material and also the material necessary to make another mushroom all packaged inside this extremely tough outer coating. It's like it's proteanaceous and it's all cross linked very, very significantly into this very, very, very tough protein. And so tough, in fact, that spores can withstand really extreme conditions like the vacuum of space or high radiation levels, etc. They're very, very hardy. Yet, as far as we know, that's the toughest biological substance that we know. You don't want to use terms like strength. Some references use strength, but strength often means something very specific. And a lot of them used toughest. So I figured that's probably the more technically accurate term, which is why I used it.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All right. All of this means that witches' butter (Tremella mesenterica) is one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the world, a single gram being sufficient to kill a large adult human, although it is easily mistaken for edible varieties. Cara, you pretty much nailed it. So first of all, Witches' butter is a completely edible mushroom.

C: Oh.

S: Yeah.

C: Is it buttery?

S: Yeah, well, it looks like it looks like somebody took some butter and put it on the side of a tree it's just buttery colored little filamentous kind of thing. You could see pictures of it. Apparently, it's rather tasteless, like it doesn't really have a lot of flavor, but it but it is edible. It does get used a lot as a like medicinal ingredient in older cultures.

J: Steve, it's it's things like this.

S: Yeah.

J: Where you can like easily visualize early man, like pushing forward some person that has to like eat the slimy stuff on the side of the tree.

S: Yeah, yeah.

J: You know what I mean?

S: Now, and Cara, you're right. I think the most deadly mushroom is the death cap.

C: Oh, there you go.

S: Yeah. Death cap mushroom. The technical name is Amanita phalloides. Now, you hear Amanita phalloides, I think that kind of has an obvious etymology. So I looked it up just to confirm. So Amanita comes from the location in Greece where they were I guess first identified. Then the phalloides, you think, all right, phallus kind of a dead ringer for some stages of the mushrooms got a little cap on top it's a shaft and a cap OK, yeah, makes sense. But one and some references say phallus, but one reference says it's from the Greek phall, phallus for phallus and eidos for phallus.

E: Oh, they did a typo 2000 years ago.

S: Yeah.

E: Oops.

S: So is it from the Latin for penis or from the Greek for phallus, f-o-u-l, phallus. Those are the two things I heard.

E: We may never know.

S: Who knows? We don't know. Yeah, don't eat death cap. Death cap will kill you.

J: How about the corpse fingers mushroom? You ever hear about that?

B: That is so cool.

C: Does that one kill you?

B: See, Jay, they don't know about it, Jay, but you and I do.

J: That's right. It's a mushroom that grows in groups of long, like cylindrical finger looking like protrusions.

B: Oh, my God. They look like-

E: Finger licking good.

C: They just look like corpse fingers.

J: So it kind of looks like a hand that's been partially buried in the ground with the fingers coming out. And it looks undead. It's really cool.

E: No wonder Bob knows about it.

S: Yeah, I chose witches' butter because it was kind of ambiguous. It sounds like food, but the witches could be... Is that dark enough to make you think it was poisonous?

E: Yeah, like witch hazel.

S: It was perfect.

B: Yeah, that's what got me, you bastard.

S: I looked up like edible mushrooms. And most of them are like well known, like shiitake and whatever. So you obviously would know that those were. I had to find one that maybe you hadn't heard of. So I think that was it. It was fit the bill.

C: Yeah, you don't see witches' butter on menus very often.

S: Because it's tasteless. Because that's why it's not really used culinarily very much.

C: Gotcha.

E: Steve, on a scale of one to 10, how much do you love mushrooms, Steve?

S: Yeah, I hate all mushrooms.

E: Yes, you do. I remember that.

S: That's part of my unfortunate ability to taste things that most people don't.

E: And is it true there's zero nutritional value in the mushroom?

S: No, no. Mushrooms have nutritional value.

E: They do have nutritional value.

C: They have a lot of fiber, right?

S: Yeah, you can get calories out of them too. I mean, you guys ever watched Alone, the show Alone?

J: Of course.

E: With other people.

S: They eat a lot of mushrooms out there, but it doesn't keep them... It doesn't maintain their weight. They're not maintaining their weight eating mushrooms. But that's definitely one of the things that they're like they're starvation foods that they eat.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:36:17)[edit]

The denial or distortion of history is an assault on truth and understanding. Comprehension and memory of the past are crucial to how we understand ourselves, our society, and our goals for the future. Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record threatens communal understanding of how to safeguard democracy and individual rights.

 – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Explaining Holocaust Denial" (In Israel, April 18, 2023, is Holocaust Remembrance Day

S: Okay, Evan, you have a good quote for us this week.

E: Yeah, I do.

C: By the way, they don't have a lot of fiber. Sorry to interject.

E: No, no, no, you're okay.

C: I just want to correct myself before we get emails. They don't have a lot of fiber and they have like modest... Like, they're pretty low in calories too.

S: Yeah, they're low in calories, yeah.

C: Yeah, it's food, but it's like, I don't know, it's like celery without the fiber.

E: Right. I also want to throw a shout out to Elizabeth Hargrave. She's a designer of board games. She's also a mushroom, what, aficionado or a... She belongs to a mushroom club somewhere, I believe in Maryland, and you know, in which they get together and they're just fungifiles, I suppose. You know, she has a great understanding of everything mushroom. And her next board game that she's designing is about mushrooms.

S: And I have an obligatory warning to those kids out there, don't eat wild mushrooms unless you're absolutely sure what you're doing, because there are a lot of lookalike poisonous mushrooms out there. So don't just eat random mushrooms out there. Go ahead Evan.

E: All right. "The denial or distortion of history is an assault on the truth and understanding. Comprehension and memory of the past are crucial to how we understand ourselves, our society, and our goals for the future. Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record threatens communal understanding of how to safeguard democracy and individual rights." That's at the main page of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. And today is April 18th in Israel. It's recognized as Holocaust Remembrance Day today.

S: Very appropriate.

E: Yep.

S: Yeah, that was one of the first topics that we tackled as the Connecticut and England Skeptical Society was Holocaust denial. That was kind of undergoing a bit of a surge at that time.

E: It was. Those authors they're constantly coming out with books. But at the time, there were in the 90s a couple of them was gaining some traction.

S: It was one of the original denialisms.

E: Yeah. One of the first speakers that the Connecticut Skeptical Society hosted as part of their speaker series was a, I believe, a professor from Yale, Steve. I can't remember his name.

S: Yeah, a friend of mine. Yeah. Hajime Takuno. He's a neurology attending at Yale. He actually was a resident under me. And then now we're both. He's still there as an attending. And yeah, he had a an interest in Holocaust denial as a skeptic.

E: He gave an excellent presentation. I learned a lot there.

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

J: Of course.

B: Sure man.

E: Thank you, Steve.

C: Thanks, Steve.


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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

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