SGU Episode 931

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SGU Episode 931
May 13th 2023
931 Nuclear Germany.jpg

The Isar II plant
"The Isar 2, Emsland, and Neckarwestheim 2 reactors were originally supposed to have been shut down at the end of last year. Their service life was extended over the winter due to Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine and the energy crisis it caused." [1]

SGU 930                      SGU 932

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

We find ourselves awash in an ocean of information online. This information ocean is getting more turbulent every single day. The only tools we have to navigate through this maelstrom are the critical thinking skills that we are trying to develop in people as scientists.

Anu Ojha, one of the Directors of the National Space Centre

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, end of WHO Covid Emergency[edit]

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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Thursday, May 11th, 2023, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening everyone.

S: Cara is off this week. She's busy with that whole PhD thing she's trying to pull off.

E: No way. She's on a beach. She's enjoying herself.

S: Yeah, maybe.

E: Something up the side.

J: Steve, how hard is that?

S: A PhD isn't freaking hard.

E: Yeah. I imagine it's all consuming.

S: It's an all consuming, massive amount of work.

E: Takes over your life. Now, Jocelyn, when she was doing hers, Steve, I remember you talking about that and she was day and night working at it.

S: She's busy all the time. She's doing it in a clinical area, which means she's also doing her clinical work in addition. You know what I mean? Cara, so she's extremely busy, so we give her time when she needs it to get caught up on her work. So guys, on May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, was the official end of the COVID-19 health emergency.

J: Yeah, yeah.

S: The World Health Organization officially declared the end of COVID-19 as a PHEIC, a public health emergency of international concern.

E: Okay.

B: So is that a euphemism for pandemic?

E: I think so, right? Doesn't it mean it's endemic now?

S: Well, they didn't say it's no longer a pandemic, but it is endemic no matter what. I mean, endemic, you could be pandemic and endemic at the same time.

E: I see.

S: So endemic just means it's continuously spreading within a population, right? It doesn't have to be reintroduced. It's self-sustaining within a population. So it's endemic to that population. Like the flu is endemic because it's just self-sustaining.

E: Right.

B: I'm not sure it was reasonable to expect anything other than having it become endemic.

S: Well, early, early on maybe they were thinking, maybe we could knock this thing out before it really gets a toehold, but it very quickly became apparent that that wasn't going to happen. Like within at least a few months, like we knew, yeah, this is not going to happen. Then it's probably going to, once the fire burns itself out, it's going to be an endemic simmer. You know, it's just going to be there in the background.

B: We really would have had to have nipped it in the bud really early to prevent it. Because once it gets once it gets to countries that find it more difficult to muster the resources to really take care of it. I mean, I don't think that would have just been too difficult once it spread to really...

S: Yeah. I mean, last week there were 441,290 new cases worldwide. So it still sounds like a pandemic. I mean, certainly they declared the pandemic long before those numbers started happening.

B: Do we have a death count?

S: Yeah. You want to hear the numbers?

J: Yeah.

E: I imagine it's close to 2 million.

S: Well, worldwide you're talking about?

E: Yeah.

B: Oh yeah. Absolutely.

S: Worldwide it's almost 7 million.

E: Seven. Oh my gosh.

S: That's like official. And a lot of experts think that's an underestimate by a factor of three, that it's probably closer to 20 million.

B: So they're talking like Spanish flu level now.

S: Well, Spanish flu level was like 80, 90 million. But yeah, but you know...

B: I thought that was like 21.

S: Well, again, it always depends on what... Like are you only counting proven cases or are you counting excess deaths? How many more people are dead now than there would have been had COVID never happened? Because there's a lot of downstream effects. There's a lot of downstream... A lot of people are dead who might be alive because they had healthcare problems that were not adequately dealt with. They delayed treatment or whatever. For just one example, US is 1.12 million, just the United States. If you remember, we broke a million.

J: Yes.

S: So that's about 3,000 deaths per million people. That's a lot. We rank 15th in the world, the US, in terms of deaths per population. New Zealand is at the bottom with 0.2.

E: Wow.

S: That's a huge difference, 3,000 versus 0.2.

E: Yeah.

S: Now, granted, they're an island nation, but still, I think they had a pretty decent policy in terms of keeping it locked down.

E: Yeah, the lockdowns were severe, I guess.

B: It was at the worst ratio.

S: So 70% of the world population had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

B: 70.

S: But it's 30% in low-income countries. Not good.

E: Do we know how much, how many people... There's roughly 8 billion people?

S: Yeah, 8 billion.

E: On the planet. Do we know how many have, they estimate, had COVID?

S: Yeah, 765 million cases. So about a tenth. 10%, yeah.

E: Almost 10. Mm-hmm.

B: 10, huh?

E: 10. So one out of every 10 person.

B: That's larger than the last time I was tracking that figure.

S: Yeah, that's a lot.

E: Well, I'm one of them. Did everyone here have it?

S: Bob, I think he's the only one.

E: Bob, you did not, you never got it?

B: I'm elite.

E: So four out of...

S: You know what they're calling people who never got COVID, Bob?

B: Awesome.

E: COVID virgins?

S: A novid.

B: Novid.

E: You novid. Novid novella.

B: Not bad. I think they could have done better.

E: Okay. But four out of five rogues got it. Okay.

S: So, it's interesting to look back. First of all, could you imagine, do you remember the early days of the pandemic?

E: Yes.

S: Nobody had any idea what was going on, but what if you were told this is going to last for three years, three full years?

B: That would have been striking.

E: Well...

S: Yeah.

E: Yeah. I mean...

B: 1.1 million Americans, 7 million...

S: Worldwide, yeah.

B: Worldwide, low end. That's a low estimate. I mean, it could have easily been, from what you're saying, 15 or even 20.

J: I wonder how different things would have been if the United States actually did what they could have done.

S: Right. Or if China had done what they should have done. You could throw that in there too.

E: Well, certainly. Yeah.

B: Oh, yeah. The first weeks when they... From the reading I did early in the pandemic, they had a window, a couple of weeks where they knew something bad was happening and they tamped it down and kind of ignored it to a certain extent. That window was the critical window where they could have dramatically whacked it back. But there was that period where it's just like, nope, nobody was doing what they should have been doing based on the evidence at the time.

E: So is anything new in place that if when this happens again, we have better systems to knock it down?

S: Not really. We're not prepared for the next pandemic. It's probably not going to be 100 years before the next big one happens. Because of a lot of reasons.

B: It could be far worse too.

S: More globalization, we're encroaching more and more on territory where animals are living. And so there's a lot of consequences of that. Even here in Connecticut, there's a lot more encounters with wildlife. Like we're starting to see black bears in your backyard because they don't have the wilderness to go to anymore.

E: Right, right.

B: There was a moose sighting in Connecticut.

S: I know there was a moose sighting in your town, Bob.

B: Not just Connecticut, but my town.

E: Was this northern exposure?

S: Yeah, right.

B: I've never seen anything like that. But what about the pandemic playbook that Obama created and Trump supposedly basically threw out? Does Biden have the pandemic playbook back?

S: I mean, I hope that they're doing something to get ready, but they're not really doing the things that like worldwide that we need to do to really jump on the next pandemic and to reduce the probability of it happening and to be ready to go. We really need to have infrastructure ready to go, which means, first of all, we're actually in a worse place now than we were before COVID when it comes to hospital staff. Like nursing staff is way down. Partly because of burnout because of COVID. So if another pandemic hit right now, we would be in a worse position because we don't have the infrastructure because we haven't built it back up. We really need to invest in extra capacity for hospitals. You need to have extra ventilators. You need to have more nursing and other staff. You need to be at levels that could absorb a pandemic.

E: Yeah, I know. That's a tough cost to swallow in a sense because there's already money shortages all around the medical industry.

S: Yeah, but there are things you can do with that extra capacity in the meantime. There are always outbreaks and flu seasons and there's indigent care that you can give. There's lots of things you can do with it. It's not like it's just going to be sitting there.

E: So do we need centers that specifically cater to those kinds of needs?

S: Yeah, we might. Yeah, we definitely need more.

E: Infectious disease hospitals specifically.

S: Physical capacity. Yeah, exactly. We need to have an infrastructure where patients can go when they have communicable diseases.

E: Right, as opposed to going to the general ER and overwhelming those systems.

S: Yeah, hospitals did what they could. We probably still, I think at Yale, have like, here's the COVID section and here's the not COVID section. And there are wings of the hospital were designated COVID wings.

E: Oh, yeah. And that's an interesting point, Steve, because these announcements and basically everyone's standing down, I imagine, is kind of what this May 5th order, in effect, is doing. But does that mean, though, the hospital still can do what, come up with their own rules and regulations and guidance?

S: Anyone could still have their own rules with more precautions than what are required.

E: Yeah, is Yale doing that?

S: Yeah, so we just got the policy update. And basically, so it used to be that masking was required everywhere essentially in any health care physical space. You had to be, everyone, both staff, doctors, patients everyone had to mask. Now, masking is voluntary except in direct patient care locations. So yeah, like when I'm in a room with a patient, we both have to be masked. But if we're just walking through the hallways, yes. But walking through the hallways, it's voluntary. You don't have to be. So they backed off one notch, but not all the way. So I'm still wearing a mask when I'm sitting with patients.

E: I mean, that makes all the sense in the world. You have to protect yourself, protect them. It just makes good sense.

S: Well, I mean, listen, over the last 20 years, I have seen 10 or so different infectious disease protocols come into play in reaction to whatever, some new infection. And they never go away. They've never, ever been taken away. You've never seen them downgraded in patient care locations. So I didn't expect this to ever go away.

J: So now the rules are changing. And what's the actual change going to be?

S: So like, for example, states don't have to pay for testing anymore. That's like one specific thing that will happen. States don't have to report cases to the CDC. So things like that, like all of the regulations that clicked into place because this is a "emergency" are now gone.

E: Life goes on.

S: Yeah, life goes on until the next thing.

E: Yeah, until the next horror thing.

S: We're all a little different after this. So it is interesting to look back and say, what did we do well? What did we not do well? I think scientifically we kicked ass. There was so much science around COVID so quickly sequencing the virus and identifying it within days, getting those vaccines out within the first year having been on or near the front lines. The doctors were learning a lot the whole time. Early on it was a novel disease. They really didn't know much. They were doing the best that they could. They were making common sense decisions about what how to manage these patients. But it was studied and incrementally improved steadily. And there was a very steep learning curve. Mortality now is much lower than it was.

E: Sure.

S: Mainly because doctors know what they're doing now and they didn't know what they were doing three years ago. But that's because of all the research that was done. So we know that ivermectin doesn't work.

E: Right.

S: There are a couple of drugs that do work.

J: Yeah, we learned that a long time ago.

B: Also injecting bleach doesn't work.

S: Injecting bleach doesn't work. Yeah.

E: You sure?

S: There's still a big controversy over the decision to shut down schools. I don't think that's ever going to be resolvable because we cannot know what would have happened had we not shut down the schools. I think the negative impact on kids was more than we thought it was going to be. And I also think that especially just regular public schools were not nearly as prepared as we might have imagined they would be. It was very hard for them to just click over to online or remote virtual. That's one thing I think that we need to do. So I think higher institutions did better. People with obviously more resources, whatever, did fine. Virtual learning did work in a lot of contexts. But just like regular public schools for kids, they did not have the infrastructure. They didn't have the training. They didn't know what they were doing. They just tried to port their in-person lesson plans onto Zoom. And it was kind of a disaster. It's a completely unnecessary one. And I think they're happy to go back to in-person training. But there's a couple of points I want to make about it. One is that the shutdowns were not entirely voluntary. And Jay, you know this, I think, better than anyone because you had the youngest kids, I think, during this pandemic. Is even when the schools were trying to stay open, they had to close because so many teachers and staff were out sick or were isolating because they got exposed.

J: It was spotty for a very long time.

S: It was spotty. It's not like it would have been smooth sailing if they just didn't voluntarily close the schools when they did. It was tough to keep all of the teachers and all the staff healthy. Imagine a middle-aged adult being exposed to score of children every single day. And just being in that environment is just a setup. It's the Petri dish. But schools could prepare by doing a number of things. So first, they could prepare their infrastructure to optimize it for flu season, which would make it safer for any respiratory epidemic or pandemic that hits, ventilation, distancing, et cetera. They can really beef up their ability, their knowledge, and their technology for virtual learning so that it's actually useful. And then it becomes sort of the go-to option when you have to. You know what I mean? So it's not just like, oh, God, we've got to pull something out of our butt now. I mean, literally, it was like, all right, teachers, just make it work online. Do this bunch of work. Yeah, it's like create an online program and make it happen. So they just need to have incorporated into the regular school work so that it's not just an emergency maneuver. It's something that's ready to go. But anyway, but I'm just not seeing it. I'm not seeing – I'm reading articles about what we should do. I just don't see that it's actually happening. I think we're going to – when the next one hits, our pants are going to be just as far down around our ankles as they were this time.

J: That's maddening. After everything we went through, it's like we have a playbook now in a way that we never could have had without living through this. It just shows the absurd nature of humanity and the ridiculous arrogance that we have.

S: It's true. But let me ask you guys. Have you changed anything that you're doing based upon your experience in the pandemic? Are you more ready now, today, right now than you were?

J: Absolutely. Absolutely.

S: In what way? Tell me in a concrete answer.

J: I have masks. Like I have a huge store of masks. I also have antibacterial wipes that I'm keeping in my garage that I'll save if something like this happens again. I'll be able to – those were impossible to get.

B: I've got a gallon of anti-my – the antiseptic hand wash that I never really used for COVID. So I got that ready to go for the next one.

S: If it matters.

E: I mean how much can a person or a household do to mitigate the next one?

S: So I'll tell you – I mean like those first three weeks were kind of critical. So there are some things you could do. One is have two to three weeks of food in your house at a time.

E: Yeah. Got that.

B: Don't even have to leave. Don't even have to leave your house.

S: Have two to three weeks or longer of toilet paper and paper towels.

E: Done.

S: Don't wait until you're almost out on your last roll before you go and buy more. You should always have like a few packages in the house and you replace them when they get used just so that like not everybody needs it at the same time. Everyone has a buffer. There's a built-in buffer.

E: All the shortages.

S: Yeah. And then it's like for – like preparing for a storm in New England, you also have batteries in the house in the winter so that those are ready to go. And yeah, and masks are important as well. I think that's probably one way in which we are more prepared generally.

B: I'm working from home basically all the time. So that's – that thing – that's not a factor.

S: The ability to work from home. Like for me to – I do two half days of telehealth and whenever I have to – like if I ever have to call in sick or for whatever reason can't physically get into work, it's just like – it's a telehealth day. It's like the infrastructure is already there, ready to go. So yeah, those things will be easier. But I think we need to like specifically conscientiously do whatever we can to be ready for the next thing, whatever that is. It may not – it won't necessarily be like the same kind of pandemic as COVID. There are other things that could happen as well. Anyway. Yeah.

E: It could be worse.

S: It's a good time-

B: It could be a nanotech virus swarm probably.

S: Yeah. Who knows?

J: I think Steve – sure, having all that stuff is important and I'm not disagreeing at all about that. But I think the huge preparation that we all have is the knowledge – we know what to do now.

S: Yeah.

J: We know how to handle – I'm sure there are diseases out there that could be way more deadly and–

S: Yeah. Bird flu.

J: But I think we understand the protocols well. I think–

B: Fungus.

S: So I wonder if – like you know how like for our generation, like some of our like older parents or grandparents, people that we knew that lived through the depression, they were depression babies, right? I mean so we – they had a skill set for living through the depression or a mindset to life.

E: Mindset. Yeah.

S: That identified them generationally. It's like, oh yeah, they're that way because they lived through the depression. I wonder if–

B: They're cheap bastards. They lived through the depression.

S: They're horders in a certain way. Like there's something about–

E: Right. Very cost conscious of things.

S: Very frugal, very cost conscious in a generational way. And I wonder if in 20, 30 years, really like our kids or the people who lived through the pandemic will be identifiable by certain – oh, we always have to be prepared. We have to have three weeks of food in the house or whatever. It's like, ah, you lived through the – you lived through COVID.

B: Right.

E: Well, it will serve them well.

S: Totally.

B: I mean it will serve them multiple different ways potentially. But I know for me, I don't know how long this is going to last, but I am still very uncomfortable in dense crowds. I'm just like, oh no. I'm not having that. So I think I will always – I think I'll feel that way for quite a bit of time. I don't know when I'll – if ever I'll ever be comfortable with shoulder to shoulder people. I mean even for just – I mean because I could still get COVID. There's always just regular COVID that I could always get for the first time. But then there's all – the flu or who knows what else.

S: All right. Let's move on with some news items.

Quickie with Bob: Human pan-genome rough draft (21:08)[edit]

S: Bob, you're going to start us off with a quickie.

B: Yes. This is your quickie with Bob. Scientists have created a rough draft of the human pan-genome. I hadn't really heard that word before.

E: There's a human pangenome.

B: Pangenome. As the name implies, it's the genomic information of many people instead of one. In this case, it refers to 47 people, which is 47 times greater. It kind of seems obvious but it turns out that using a fairly complete reference genome that's based on essentially just one person cannot adequately represent all of humanity on the planet, right? It just seems like – yeah, of course. That's not to say of course that the genome we've been using and improving on since what? 2000, was it? 1999, 2000. That hasn't brought many advances to medicine and led to many new insights. It certainly has. It's just that its ability to help everyone equally has become increasingly obvious. It's just not up to snuff for that. This pangenome, since it comes from people all over the globe with different backgrounds, is far better at representing the genetic diversity that exists between us all, especially the most common types of variations. The paper describing the work that was done on this pangenome was written by 100 scientists who call themselves the Human Pangenome Reference Consortium. They ultimately plan on using diverse genetic data from 350 people ultimately to create more of an uber pangenome, which would be cool. This whole process, in my mind, this whole process will of course repeat itself. The time will come probably soonish when even 350 seems way too low, right? Then the pangenome will expand to include many thousands of genomes probably. The technology will come to more closely resemble the movie Attica, right? Remember Attica? Where anyone, hopefully not fully duplicate Attica, but where anyone can have their genome fully analyzed quickly, cheaply, and thoroughly. That data could then be translated into healthcare.

S: Do you mean Gattaca? Is that what you're trying to say?

E: Gattaca. I thought that's what you said.

B: No, you're right. You're right. I forgot the G. Gattaca. How could I forget Guanine? Holy crap. That tells you how long it's been since I've seen that movie. I think obviously to me, this is all leading obviously to that time like Gattaca where you can quickly, bam, have your DNA analyzed quickly, basically for free, if to pennies per genome. Then that data can then be translated into healthcare that's optimized not for a generic person but for me specifically taking into account all of my genetic quirks that are shared by maybe nobody. Yeah, so it's all going there. Who knows how long it's going to take, but it's going to be a fun ride. This has been your quickie with Bob. Back to you, Steve.

S: All right. Thanks, Bob.

News Items[edit]

Fake Studies (24:02)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, tell us about the tsunami of fake scientific papers.

J: Yeah, this was depressing. My god. A neuropsychologist named Bernard Sable created a fake paper detector to help root out neuroscience papers that were either made up or plagiarized. What he ended up discovering because of this was pretty astounding. After analyzing 5,000 papers, he determined that approximately 34% of the neuroscience papers that were published in 2020 were indeed made up and or freaking plagiarized. Medical papers were 24%. This, according to him, this was a dramatic increase from estimates taken back in 2010. As it turns out, scientific journals are facing an increasing number of scientific manuscripts from something called paper mills, which some of you have heard of and some of you haven't, and I'll tell you what this is. Paper mills are businesses that allow researchers to pay for fake papers. Fake papers.

B: Oh my god.

J: Or something that's called undeserved authorship, right, which basically means you plagiarized it. Paper mills are making a ton of money because the system has no real way to handle the issue. They don't have the infrastructure. Journals have now been faced with going out of business because they're completely awash with fake papers. This is bad. So the tool that Sable created looks at the author's email addresses and also if they're affiliated with a real hospital. His detector, unfortunately, isn't perfect, but at least it's a step in the right direction. Now the paper mills have a huge advantage because they can produce a large number of these fake manuscripts that contain copy data, imagery, statistics, all sorts of stuff that are in real papers. It's all made up though. And like I said, they could be completely fake. They contain zero legitimate data or contain research that was done by other institutions. That's hard to track back to the original authors. They can even get false reviews for their fake work. It's pretty plain how this is a huge problem that significantly pollutes the scientific literature. I mean, it also spreads misinformation. It skews systemic reviews. It's a big frickin' problem. Steve, are you aware of this?

S: Oh yeah, yeah. This is a big problem. There's a lot of people who are under the so-called publish or perish pressure and you have to buff out your CV. You need to add some papers when you're coming up for a review. Now hopefully any review committee would investigate each reference, make sure it was legitimate. But you know, you're relying on people who do a lot of work.

J: Yeah, but that's human resources and that's part of the problem. And on top of that, guys, artificial intelligence the language model tools that we were all talking about, this makes it even worse. It gives the paper mills a tool that blows up their whole operation. So all right, so what's happening? The good news is that the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers, this is called STM, they're leading an effort called the Integrity Hub to develop new tools to detect these fake papers. So this organization represents 120 publishers and they're trying to keep one step ahead of the paper mills who in turn are also upping their game and trying not to be detected. So it's a war of who can outdo the other one. They don't want their methods to be known to the public. This is the STM. They don't want their methods to be known because, as an example, they're looking for papers that reference something like retracted papers or email addresses that look almost exactly like real email addresses from legitimate institutions. So they have all of these different little things that they can look at and then they grade them and they figure out is this above the waterline? And if it is above the waterline, meaning they need to look further into it, then they'll put people on it and have people examine those papers to see if they can find anything. So the Integrity Hub is collaborating with 20 publishers, including some of the big ones like Elsevier and Springer and Nature and Wiley, to develop tools to combat paper mills. So the idea here is to create tools that can be used by the publishing industry as a collective, which is a great idea. You know, they work together. They they say, hey, we figured this out and now we're going to add it to the list of tools that they would use that are, again, part software, part having to be done by people. Different publishers can go on and develop their own tools that will later be shared with everybody else that's in the group with them. And again, this is not a fully automated system. There are humans have to put the finishing touches on everything. Even with automation they still need people in the loop to make sure that it's all, that they don't miss anything glaring. That's something that a human wouldn't miss. Results from the tools need to be actually validated by people who are trained to review these papers and know what to look for. And even with the benefit of working together dealing with false papers, it's using up and eating up a lot of resources. So it does take a lot of people to make it happen, unfortunately. And there's really nothing that they can do about that right now. And since this project is new, they don't have statistics yet on how effective it will be like they're really getting it on its feet right now as we speak. They get a lot of false positives, so they need to keep improving their tools over time. One issue in the publishing industry is that authors can pay a journal to make their papers accessible to the public immediately, right, when they first get published. And this is a good thing, right, because an author might want something to be out on the street as soon as possible without it having to go through like months or a year of being behind a paywall before it might reach the public. But this means that journals are making money when they publish papers. And there's nothing wrong with them making money. They should, right? They need to and they should make money. But of course, this presents a conflict of interest. Scientists and institutions have to deal with something called, like Steve said, publish or perish. I never heard of that, Steve. It's pretty straightforward when you think about it. It means that if you aren't publishing papers, you might not get the funding that you need. So flagging journals suspected of being targeted by paper mills can deter fraudulent submissions. And if many journals act collectively, it could shrink the viability of this entire paper mill industry. So we'll just have to wait and see what happens. But right now, they are trying to put together these tools to help each other deal with this. But it is a significant and ongoing problem.

S: Now, Jay, you mentioned that there's a lot of false positives, but I think I want to put some numbers on that. So the Sables tool, when they spot checked it, it was 90 percent sensitive. So it picked up 90 percent of papers that were fraudulent. But it also had it marked 44 percent of genuine papers as fake. That's huge.

E: That's a big problem.

J: That's where the people come in.

S: Then you have to go in. You have to then have people review them, which of course takes a lot of work. So that is like a slider. The more sensitive it is, the less specific and vice versa. If you want to make sure you're catching all the fake papers, you're going to catch a lot of false positive, genuine ones. If you want to make sure you don't capture any legitimate ones, you're going to miss a lot of fake ones. Unless the tool gets better overall. But then that's, of course, I think where AI is going to come in. And you're right. It's an arms race. It's because they're going to be using AI. The journal editors need to be using AI in order to detect it. But you have to do that. Otherwise, I mean, imagine there will be an order of magnitude increase in fake papers. And it really has a distorting impact on the scientific literature.

E: My thought is, is this a very recent phenomenon because of internet and technology? Is maybe the reason why this is so problematic in recent years? Or does it really go back even further and this problem really existed before that?

S: It goes back far, but it's definitely getting worse. It definitely got worse with online publishing, with pay-for-play publishing, open access. Now, even with generated AI, it's going to get even worse.

E: Yeah, right.

S: All right. Thanks, Jay.

Germany and Nuclear Power (32:42)[edit]

S: A couple of global warming news items having to do specifically with energy production prompted by the fact that recently Germany closed its last nuclear power plant.

B: What?

S: Yeah.

E: Guten Abend.

B: They're still on it? I mean, they still think that's a good idea?

S: Yeah. That's really what the whole thing is about. Why did they think this is a good idea? So for a little bit of history, Germany had a robust nuclear power program. And in 2010, Germany's energy mix included 23% nuclear power, a little bit more than the US has right now, which is decent. I think that amount is very, very significant in terms of its impact on our ability to get rid of fossil fuels. We'll talk more on that in a moment. But they had decided in 2000, there was a coalition between the Green Party and the Democratic Party that decided they were going to phase out nuclear power in Germany by 2022. So that was the policy. But then when Andrea Merkel's party came to power, they said, you know what, we're going to delay this until 2034 to give us more time to build out our renewable energy infrastructure. Then the Fukushima accident happened. They reversed their decision. They went back to the original 2022 timeline.

B: And they pretty much did it.

S: No. Then it was delayed a year because of Russia invaded Ukraine. Suddenly they were getting cut off from their Russian oil. It's like, oh, we're going to keep these last couple nuclear power plants open for another year, which they did, but now they closed them down.

B: Yeah. I mean, they're only like a year late than that 2022 plan, which is actually pretty damn good in terms of meeting your deliverables.

E: So they have the same energy capacity now with no nuclear as prior?

S: So well, here are the numbers.

B: Now they're relying on Russia.

J: Hit us with the digit, Steve.

S: So in 2010, Germany's mix was 60% fossil fuel, 23% nuclear, 17% renewable. In 2022, this is before they shut down the last power plant, it was 51% fossil fuel, 6% nuclear, 43% renewable.

B: Okay. That's actually not horrible.

S: Well, it's 51% fossil fuel.

B: But they went down from 60.

S: Yeah, from 60 to 51%. Yeah. So they built up a tremendous amount of renewable, but only knocked down the fossil fuel from 60% to 51%. But if they had maintained, and now it's going up because they got rid of that last 6%, right? So it's like more than 51%, like 55% fossil fuel. Now, if they had kept their nuclear power plants open, basically just treaded water, just maintained their 24% nuclear, they would still have 43% renewable, but they would have only 32% fossil fuel.

E: Practically half.

B: Oh my god. What a cluster.

S: So their fossil fuel is now it's like 55% when it could have been 32%.

B: Yeah. Huge.

S: So-

B: Let's go, Germany.

S: The bottom line is, and this is what I've been saying for years, and I think a lot of people, based on experts have been saying for years, that a lot of people frame the choice as between renewables or nuclear power, but that's never been the choice. The choice is between renewables, it's between nuclear power and fossil fuel. That's the choice. At least for this decade and the next decade, because we're not really going to eat significantly into the fossil fuels until we get to really high numbers with the renewables, which is going to take 20 or 30 years. So let me give you a little bit more context here too. So if you've read the recent UN climate change reports, they talk about, there's basically three things to talk about when it comes to decarbonizing our energy infrastructure and our industry and transportation sector. So one thing is how close to net zero can we get? Second factor is how quickly can we get there? But there's a third factor that I think people ignore, and that is what path do we take to get there? Which in the short term is extremely important.

E: Yeah. And doesn't nuclear get you there the fastest?

S: Well, hang on. It depends on what you mean. It depends on what you mean by that. You can't just say nuclear, because you have to divide nuclear into at least two things, and that is existing nuclear and new nuclear.

B: New nuke.

S: When you shouldn't confuse those two things, because economically they're completely different. So in order to mitigate climate change as much as possible, we not only need to get to net zero quickly, we need to get there by a path that reduces the carbon footprint as quickly as possible. Like with a long tail, as opposed to producing a lot of carbon and then having it drop quickly. You want it to drop quickly now and then push it down further. That's what we mean by the path that we take. That will affect the total amount of CO2 that gets emitted before we get to our net zero goal, and that's really what it's all about. How much carbon do we release? And that will affect the peak temperature, which will affect all of the tipping points and all of the negative climate consequences. So it's a huge, huge deal. So what Germany basically did was take the exact wrong path, right, in order to get to what they want to get to. They want to get to all renewable, but they decided that they would get rid of nuclear first and then fossil fuels. Think about that.

J: That's crazy.

B: Wow, that's ridiculous.

S: They were going to prioritize getting rid of nuclear rather than fossil fuels. That's the exact opposite of what they should have done. So as a result, Germany has one of the highest grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour of any country in Europe. Not the highest. They're the third highest behind Poland and the Czech Republic. They release 385 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. France, which is mostly nuclear, has 85. So 385 versus 85. Sweden. Sweden almost went the way Germany did. They almost went the way Germany did by shutting down their nuclear. Then they said this isn't a good idea. And so they changed course. They're at 45. They're the lowest in Europe.

E: Oh my gosh.

B: Nice.

S: And that's for two reasons, because they also have lots of hydroelectric, but they're like at 40% nuclear in the mix. So yeah, we now have a lot of individual examples here. Italy got rid of their nuclear. They're right below Germany.

E: Gotta be up there.

B: God.

S: Yeah, they're 372.

J: Why are they all doing this if they don't?

S: It's all political. It's all panic and political emotional. You know, yeah, it's based on fear of nuclear. A lot of it some of this happened after Chernobyl. Some of it happened after Fukushima. Some of it is just this has been a major goal of the Green Movement the environmentalists for many decades, and they just were not able to change course.

B: Don't they listen to the show?

S: I know, right? Don't they listen to SGU? Now, Evan, you said, isn't nuclear the answer? So we have to separate it into at least two buckets, right? There's keeping existing nuclear open as long as possible, which to me is the no-brainer here, right? Because you've already spent the money. And the longer you can keep those nuclear reactors going, the more cost-effective they become amortized over their lifetime.

E: Sure.

S: Because you're getting another 10 years out of them or whatever. Cutting them down early is the opposite of that. It makes nuclear more expensive because you're giving away free energy, not totally free, but I mean you're giving away energy where you've already spent on the infrastructure. You've already sunk the billions of dollars in building the power plant. Not using it for its full lifetime is a waste. And that's money you could be spending on renewables, right? So it's a lose-lose-lose all the way around. And as a result, you burn more coal. You burn more fossil fuels.

E: Right. That's your bridge.

S: That's the end result.

E: Yeah, that's right.

S: Now, really, to my mind, there's really no real controversy over keeping existing nuclear infrastructure going as long as possible to give us time to build out our renewables and to get rid of fossil fuel as quick as possible. I mean, our number one priority, our absolute number one priority needs to be to get rid of coal as quickly as possible. We shouldn't burn one chunk of coal more than we absolutely need to.

E: Some countries are, unfortunately.

S: Yeah, it's so dirty. Now, get this. Guess what year in what year we burned the most coal ever?

E: 2022.

S: 2022. We are burning more fossil fuel than ever.

B: That is pathetic.

S: Think about that. Wrap your head around that. So what's happening is as we build out our renewables, we're just treading water. We're just expanding into the increased demand while the absolute numbers are still going up.

E: Yeah, we're not making headway.

S: So the percentage, it looks good because you're like, oh, we're 40% renewable. It looks good because your percentage of renewables is going up. Your percentage of fossil fuels are going down, although worldwide it's still 75%. Still 75% of our energy comes from fossil fuels. 25% of that is coal. 25% coal, 75% total fossil fuels. And so that percentage has dropped, but it's going up in absolute terms because our demand for electricity is going to go up. And guess what? It's going to keep going up. Now, it's going to almost double by 2050. Not quite. Almost double by 2050, which means we think about all of the electricity we have now, if we replaced all of it with renewable, we would still need almost as much fossil fuel as we're burning now because we're going to almost double our need. And I'm not sure that even takes into consideration completely turning over our car fleet to electric cars. If we have a battery electric fleet, if we have millions and a billion battery electric vehicles on the road, that's a lot of energy that we're going to, a lot of electricity we're going to have to produce. That's going to massively increase demand. Yeah.

E: And if coal is powering those energy plants, that's no good.

S: That's what's going to happen. Yeah. We're going to be burning coal to power our cars.

E: We need nuclear to power our cars.

S: Well, we're going to need everything.

E: Right. Of course, everything.

S: But now new nuclear is still controversial because it's really expensive. And that's like the nut that nobody can crack at this point. But expensive is a relative term. A lot of the expense comes from regulation. We could streamline that, certainly. The industry is certainly moving in the direction of small modular reactors. But unfortunately, while they're cheaper to build, they may not be cheaper per kilowatt hour because they also produce less electricity. So they still need to get nuclear cheaper. But the thing is, if we consider the cost of fossil fuel in terms of global warming, it makes everything cheaper by comparison. It's cheap if we consider the alternative is global warming. But people say, oh, but they say wind and solar is the cheapest. But here's the thing. And this is the other half of my news item. And this, I was reading multiple articles on this.

B: You're only halfway done?

S: Well, not necessarily in time, but I just want to add this one thing. So you say, well, why don't we just massively build wind and solar? Do you know that the backlog of wind and solar projects in the United States is greater than our total current electricity capacity? Think about that.

J: Wait, what does that mean? Explain that.

S: Yeah. So there are people who want to build wind and solar projects. And they're in a queue. They're in a waiting line. You know what that waiting line is for? To get connected to the grid. That waiting time is 20 years long. And it's greater in capacity than the total current capacity of our electricity generation.

E: Oh, boy. It's like having a football stadium that holds 100,000 people and having 150,000 people out in line trying to get into the full stadium.

S: Yes. Exactly. Right. Or you have one dirt road that leads to the stadium.

E: Crazy.

S: That's the problem. So here's what's happening.

B: We're screwed.

S: A company, an Indian tribe, whatever, somebody with land is like, hey, we could cheaply put wind turbines up on our property and sell all that electricity to this city over there and make lots of money because it's cheap. Okay, let's do it. So they apply to do it. And they say, okay, so first we need $2 million for you to get in the line to be connected to the grid. And we'll get to you when we get to you. And then three years later, they say, you know what, we need $40 million. The $2 million wasn't enough. And they say, okay, well, we can't do it.

E: I'm altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it no further.

S: Yeah, pray I don't alter it any further. Or they say, we'll get to you in 20 years. That's what they're saying. The same is true in the UK. The same exact thing is happening in the UK. So this is one of the problems with renewables. Again, I'm a big fan of renewables. I have solar panels on my roof. I think that we should maximize renewables. But it's going to take decades to upgrade the grid in order to accept distributed energy production from wind and solar. And not only the wind and solar, but the grid storage in order to make them work, which also needs connections to the grid. And the grid itself needs to be updated in order to transfer all of that, especially if you're going to use overcapacity to compensate for variable output. You know what makes all of that better? Having big power generators that are on demand and that use a little bit of land and only need one connection to the grid. In other words, nuclear, geothermal, hydroelectric, and fossil fuel. So what we need to be doing is replacing existing coal plants and then oil plants and then natural gas plants in that order with low carbon sources of energy, which is going to be mostly nuclear, to get rid of them as quickly as possible while we're spending 20, 30 years building our wind and solar infrastructure and building our grid storage infrastructure. That's what we need to be doing.

E: And it's not happening.

S: Well, it's just happening slowly.

E: It's too slow.

S: It's timing and pathway. So the fact that wind and solar is cheap is becoming irrelevant. It's irrelevant because if you can't connect to the grid, who cares?

E: Yeah, what's the difference?

S: If it's going to take you 20 years to put that cheap solar panel on the grid, it's not doing us any good right now. People say, oh, nuclear takes too long to build. So does a grid. So does updating the grid to accept all of this distributed energy. Isn't that amazing? Like, why isn't this happening faster? This is why it's not happening faster. Our grid cannot accept a renewable infrastructure beyond we're already breaking the limits of what it can accept. Even with 75% fossil fuel still in the mix, we're already getting to these, running up against these limits. And sure, there are solutions to it, but it's just going to take time. Meanwhile, keep every nuclear power plant open as long as you possibly can. And we need to at least tread water with nuclear in terms of a percentage, which means building it out as our demand increases. That's going to make the whole system much more viable. And sure, in 50 years, we may have an entire grid with renewable and storage, sure. But in 50 years, we're already past peak global warming, you know. That's not the point. The point is getting it as quickly as possible through the least amount of carbon possible and as low as possible. And in order to do that, we need to do everything. I mean, just the idea of prioritizing closing nuclear over closing coal plants is mind blowing. It's mind blowing.

B: It's infuriating.

S: Given the realities that we are facing and given an alleged dedication to the environment and to green technology, it's mind blowing. It's just one more thing, one more reason why we our dysfunction, our political dysfunction is the most dangerous thing that we face.

B: I weep for our grandkids, even our kids.

S: So anyway, that's my rant for the week. I read all this and I'm like-

E: Oh my god.

B: Our generation is going to be reviled.

E: Yeah, but we have this podcast. Don't blame us.

S: Yeah, that's right. This is our podcast.

E: This is our evidence we're submitting into the record.

S: To the historical record.

E: That's right.

Moon Landing Hoax Again (51:31)[edit]

S: All right, Evan, what's this moon landing hoax thing again? Are we ever going to see the end of this? I mean, come on.

E: Well, that reminds me of an old saying. Perhaps you've heard this saying, old soldiers never die. They just fade away. You've heard that.

J: Yeah.

E: Right. Do you know who's famous for having said that? Because it's not his original quote. He borrowed it actually from a song. It was Douglas MacArthur. His resignation speech when he was retiring. So it's known as the old soldiers never die speech. So I came up with old hoaxes never die. They just continue to fake away. Which is what I think about when the moon landing hoax. I mean, come on. And of course, the people who believe this, they say the Apollo program from the 1960s and 1970s, the entire series of missions that landed the astronauts on the moon six times, it was fake. It was a sham, a scam. Smoke and mirrors, a Hollywood production designed to deceive the world. Ever heard of the book, We Never Went to the Moon? America's $30 billion swindle. Bill Kaysing, 1976. Thank you. It kind of put the whole moon hoax idea into motion. And others have since run with that theme and it gets away from you. You just can't stop it. You can't put the genie back into the bottle. And basically, he was saying in that book that NASA, along with all the basically the other agencies involved, they knowingly misled the public into believing that the landings were happening. And they covered up the hoax and they went on to destroy all the damning evidence, photos, tapes, radio transmissions, the moon rock samples, all which had this, they had this fake evidence all over the place. If it was preserved, that would have been the smoking gun evidence of this crime. So thanks to Kaysing, yep, for lending rocket fuel, if I may say, to the Flat Earth Society. In 1980, they accused NASA of faking the landings. Not only that, they argued it was staged by Hollywood with Walt Disney sponsorship based on a script by Arthur C. Clarke and directed by Stanley Kubrick. Now, here's some recent polls. Well, and there's a lot of them. Every few years, they ask people in countries about that. And let's see what we've got here. So as far as America goes, it kind of vacillates between anywhere between 6% and 20% of Americans, depending on the year, think that there was a moon landing hoax, that they don't believe it. It's as high as 25% for Britons. Okay, it's as high as 20% for Italians. But get this, for the Russians, their range, 28% to as high as 57% of Russians think that the moon landing was fake. Now, that's not really surprising because there's a lot of history there. United States, Soviet Union, a lot of people from that era, obviously the Cold War and everything, long adversaries. So you can sort of understand that this was all part of the anti-Western set of conspiracy theories. In that context, this was the headline from, well, I read it at Ars Technica. A lot of other news agencies picked it up. Ars Technica, their article headline, Former head of Roscosmos thinks NASA did not land on the moon. Now, Roscosmos, that's the official name, the State Space Corporation Roscosmos, that's its official name. It's a, well, as the name implies, a state corporation of the Russian Federation, responsible for space flights, cosmonautics programs, and aerospace research. And the former head of that department, his name is Dmitry Rogozhin. Yeah, he's the one stirring up this latest attempt at moon landing denialism. So Dmitry Rogozhin, he was also the former deputy prime minister of Russia. So he's a pretty prominent figure to a degree in Russian politics. Now, he had a four-year tenure at Roscosmos, 2018 to 2022. And during that time, he asked his leadership team to look into whether NASA had actually landed on the moon and placed a dozen astronauts there over the course of the Apollo program. He says, "It is not clear to me how the United States, at that level of technological development of the 1960s from the last century, did what they still cannot do now." Okay. He stated that around a decade ago, when he was still employed by the Russian government, he started his own pursuit to uncover the truth. Yeah. He doubted whether Americans had genuinely landed on the moon after observing how fatigued Soviet cosmonauts appeared upon their return from space flights. But in contrast, the unaffected state of the Apollo 11 crew seemed to directly fly in the face of what he and his colleagues were witnessing with their cosmonauts that returned from space. So that's what really got him going down this rabbit hole. He stated at the time that he addressed some requests for evidence to Roscosmos. He said, give me all the evidence you got. And he said all he got in return was a book, a book with Soviet cosmonaut Alensky Leonov's story about how he met the American astronauts and learned from them that they traveled to the moon. So he's basically saying Roscosmos never provided any hard evidence of NASA being able to land on the moon. So, and yeah, this guy is controversial. It's not just his disbelief in the moon landings, but at the onset of the war against Ukraine in the late winter of 2022, he did some pretty crazy stuff. He posted a video threatening to leave one of the astronauts in space who was up on the space station. He threatened to crash the International Space Station.

J: Really?

E: Yeah, basically in kind of this veiled threat. He wanted SpaceX chief Elon Musk. He threatened him saying you'd be held accountable for providing Ukraine with Starlink internet access to those satellites. And so for that, those reasons, plus many other, he was relieved as director of Roscosmos in July 2022. They basically said, OK, we've had enough of you. Yeah. And he was criticized by people in both Roscosmos, scientists elsewhere in Russia and abroad for stirring up these tensions and aggravating relationships with other countries. So to that, he answered, he said, no, I did not undermine or aggravate anything. He said, but only by virtue of my nature, I tried to get to the bottom of the details and establish, at least for myself, the true state of affairs in the issue of exploration of the moon by our competitors. So this fellow continues the latest greatest attempt at moon landing denial and perpetuating the moon hoax myth, which will never die. It just will never, ever, ever go away.

S: Yeah, I agree. I mean, just but I think this guy is just an opportunist, hyper partisan, contrarian jerk. And then he was just saying, yeah, you never went to the moon, too just like throwing it in there. You know, it's not like he has any really like any special insight into it because he was the head of Roscosmos.

E: Right. None whatsoever.

S: Like if he could prove it, he would prove it. You know what I mean? Or if he had any real evidence rather than just mweee then he would be he would be providing it.

E: It's so flimsy. And as I know, Phil Plait has written about this before as well. And other people have also cited it. Look, if the Soviet Union had evidence or felt that the United States and the Apollo program was was fake, they would have made the most political opportunity out of that at the time when it was most important. And they and they did no such and they did no such thing.

S: America was doing its victory lap. You don't think they would have rained on that parade if they had evidence that we faked it and they had craft near the moon.

E: Yes, they did. That's right, because they were making attempts to have these unmanned landers land to the moon so that they could hopefully collect some dust samples and moon rock samples.

S: And upstages.

E: Yeah. To upstage us and try to beat us in one aspect to the moon or deliver goods back to the earth before the Apollo program was able to do so.

B: Did they even have the rockets necessary to even get to the moon?

S: No, they didn't Bob.

S: Not for people. They crashed on the moon. So they really got they were sending a robot to the moon to retrieve lunar samples. But they I don't know that they had rockets that could have gotten people to the moon.

J: And they were using their ballistic rockets. And those-

B: Exactly.

J: -were not designed-

S: Right.

J: -to do all the different things that it took to get to the moon and do all the maneuvers and everything. So they just they couldn't get there with those rockets.

S: The Apollo program was complicated.

E: We don't have to go into all the reasons right now as to why the whole moon landing controversy and the snow stars in the backgrounds of the pictures and the flag that we waving.

S: Yeah, I think we've covered it.

E: Yeah, I think so.

S: That information is all out there if you're interested. There's nothing to it. It's all nonsense.

E: No. Oh, crap.

S: All right. Thanks, Evan.

E: Yep.

Earth Viewed by Alien Civilization (1:01:06)[edit]

S: So, Bob, what would the earth look like from aliens in another solar system?

B: Guys, when it comes to finding advanced aliens, the most likely and most reasonable scenario is not to find them on earth. They have not visited earth. But to find their signals or techno signatures, if you will, that they would send out into space from the vast distances they are likely to be broadcasting them from.

E: That's right.

B: So researchers recently reversed that idea and looked at what a nearby alien civilization would see if they turned their powerful papers towards earth. Could they detect our own techno signatures? These researchers were from Meredith and Manchester University and their paper on the archive server is simulation of the earth's radio leakage from mobile towers as seen from selected nearby stellar systems. Okay. Earth has been emitting its own techno signatures for quite a while, decades and decades, but that leaked, those leaked signals, that leakage has changed over the decades. For quite a while, there were powerful TV transmissions, right? But they're no longer there. Those powerful TV transmissions are no longer there, thanks, of course, to the explosive increase of cable TV and the internet. So as leaked TV transmission has fallen, we've seen a kind of a concomitant rise of mobile communications throughout the world, right? The current seven and a quarter billion mobile phone users require an immense network of mobile tower systems to make it work. Now, those towers aren't especially powerful by themselves, usually something on the order of hundreds of watts each, but there's literally millions of these towers spread out all over earth's landmass. And to top that all off, that they broadcast near a frequency nicknamed the waterhole. I don't know if you've heard about the waterhole. I think we may have mentioned it once. The waterhole is a fairly quiet frequency in the EM spectrum between 1420 and 1662 megahertz. So if you're looking to communicate over interstellar distances using radio frequencies, that's the place to do it. And the expression waterhole means it's a place where people congregate to talk, to talk about stuff. So they kind of got that nickname. Researchers decided to see how detectable were these specific leaked tower signals. How detectable would they be to aliens on three close by stars, the closest stars, Alpha Centauri, about four light years, Bernard stars, six light years, and Lelande 21185, which is a red dwarf about a little over eight light years away. So those are basically the closest ones or pretty close to the closest ones. They created models that showed the radio power that the aliens with similar tech to humans, what they could detect as the distant earth rotates and the various towers rise and set from their points of view, right? Depending on where those towers are on the earth. So I'm just going to cut to the bottom line. So what did they discover? What did their models tell them? Basically, the models said that our best steerable radio telescope, which is the Green Banks Telescope in West Virginia, which I visited and talked about episode 883, if you're interested. So if you plop that telescope onto a planet that's orbiting Alpha Centauri, Bernard star, or Lelande, what do you think would happen? What would be detectable using the Green Banks Telescope on one of those planets?

E: So we talked about this a little bit last week with the signals that earth has sent out to communicate with Voyager 1, Voyager 2, Pioneer.But we mentioned that the signal disperses. It becomes garbled. It decoheres, right? It breaks up at distances.

B: It attenuates.

E: Yeah, attenuates. So I'd say no, it's too far.

B: Yeah, I mean, there would be no way by quite a bit, quite a margin that that would be able to detect these leaked cell tower signals. You would need something that's about five orders of magnitude or a half a million times more sensitive than it is now. And the Green Banks Telescope, it's sensitive. It's like our best one. And it's like far away, far away, not capable of detecting that. But don't be sad, Evan, don't be sad.

E: I am sad.

B: There's a lot of qualifications to that statement. There's a lot of things that are related to it that could move the dial up and down. So first of all, the premise of that conclusion, of course, is that the aliens have equipment like ours, right? That's the premise, which is a very reasonable assumption for the study because you got to put your marker down somewhere and say, all right, assuming what kind of level of technology. And we know our technology, so let's assume the aliens have our level of technology. But of course, in reality, that's very unlikely, right? If they're listening close by, then it's more likely than not that their equipment is far more sensitive than ours, right? I mean, that's just like – there's a lot more room going in the direction of better than worse in terms of our tech. So there's that. There's that fact. But also, don't forget, our sun is a huge source of radio energy as well. So maybe our signals would get lost in the chaos even if you had very, very sensitive equipment, more sensitive than we have. But then again, on the other hand, this study does not include the other sources of Earth's leaked radio energy. There's military and civilian radar systems. There's deep space network transmissions. There's communication satellites, et cetera. So there's other leaked signals that are coming out besides just these mobile towers. So if you factor them in, which is not part of the study, it would be a different story as well. And then of course, then you have to add in the inevitable improvements to this technology because as we know, the technology is going to get more and more sophisticated, more powerful. It's more powerful towers, 5G, 6G, and other technologies. And they're going to leak even more radio frequencies into space as well. So then that would make it more detectable. The ultimate gotcha though is that makes this unlikely in my opinion is just the sheer distance. The premise that the aliens are within eight light years was mainly selected because they're talking about leaked radio frequencies, right? The leak. We're not talking about these tight beams of radiation or laser beam or particle beam. I guess you wouldn't use particle beam. But we're not talking about these focused laser beams that are designed to go any real distance. We're talking about these leaked signals that are not designed to go far at all. So that's why they just assumed a close by star. And I think we all believe in alien civilizations that are out there, that alien life is out there. But we also agree that they're probably quite far away, very far away. They could be thousands or ten thousands of light years away from us if they're even in the Milky Way. And therefore they would never detect any of these attenuated signals. I don't care what technology they have. There's no way they're going to detect it. Assuming we want to wait the centuries it's going to take for the signals to even get to them. So I think it's safe to say nobody's listening to our stuff. They're just too far away. But it is interesting to think how detectable is the earth. And I think it could also help us and SETI to maybe it could help them determine better ways to detect other civilizations that may be very far away and what it would take to detect their, not their leaked signals, unless their leaked signals are like nuts. But the signals that they're purposely trying to communicate other civilizations with or something just like, or a technology that would be so powerful that we would, even though they're not attempting to contact us, we could still kind of eavesdrop and detect those amazing energies at vast distances. But still a very interesting read and you might want to check out the original paper online.

S: Yeah, I think the one thing to realize, I remember when Seth Shostak told us this, like even if we did detect signals from another civilization, we couldn't read them. We couldn't interpret them. We would have to spend years building a dedicated radio telescope just to detect them in a way that we could decipher them.

E: Yeah, meaningful sense of it. Sure.

S: Right. But and it really was at any distance you're not going to detect leakage. They need to be beaming signals at us.

B: Right, exactly.

S: And even then it takes a lot of power but broadcasting in a sphere like a globe out in all directions is unimaginable power at any distance, you know.

B: Yeah, I think if we're going to detect some sort of techno signature, it won't be electromagnetic based. I think it would probably be like something like mega scale engineering that is not natural.

S: Infrared heat or something.

J: You really think so? Because the radio frequency thing seems to be the most obvious after effect of society though.

E: Yeah, it just can't travel that far.

S: Jay, it takes massive power. Like I mean, they would have to be harnessing the power of a star to beam out radio waves for us to have any chance to detect it at galactic distances, at distances where it's likely average distance between spacefaring civilizations might be. So unless they're trying to contact us, it's unlikely that we're going to just pick up the signal.

B: Yeah, and also they might and we might quickly pass through a phase where we won't even think about using radio because it's like us trying to communicate using smoke signals. Like we wouldn't even think of it because it's so low tech and ineffective and time consuming. They may have other ways to communicate that we just can't even fathom at this point.

S: They may not be interested in civilizations that are only at the radio telescope level.

B: Yeah, they're just so basic.

S: But I agree with Bob. I think probably the biggest chance is going to be it's like, oh, like like this tabby star. It's like, look at that. There's something unusual going on in that star. And then it really turns out to be like, yeah, there's probably some megastructure around that star.

E: So could we get visual confirmation before anything else?

S: Well, yeah, then we just have to turn our biggest telescopes there.

B: Or maybe we would have to create something like a solar gravitational lens type of scenario where we could get a super close up of a system. And that's the kind of thing that would motivate us to really create that technology. Because if we have serious evidence, a hint of a super advanced technological civilization, that would be we can get some fairly high resolution images from if we just created something like a solar solar lens, solar gravitational lens, which is a hell of a project, but is doable in the very, very near future.

S: Yeah, then we could build a radio transmitter to send them a signal to say, sup.

E: Yeah, that's right.

Who's That Noisy? (1:12:42)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Song of a giant katydid (Stilpnochlora couloniana), a species of phaneropterine katydid in the family Tettigoniidae

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

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

[Squeaky noise, as of an animal call]

What do you think, boys?

E: Well, it's birdish, but that seems too obvious.

J: Bob? Nothin'? You got nothing.

B: It's a noise that Cara makes.

E: No.

J: Well, a listener named Shane Hillier wrote in and said, "Hey, Jay, I think this week is someone using a turkey call, the kind that's a small disc, a stylus you rub on the disc to create sound." So it is not a turkey call, but I would imagine a turkey call sounds something like that, right? I've heard people, I've heard that noise before, and it has, it's a little, there's something there to that, not a bad guess. Listener named Kevin B wrote in and said "That's a pool cue being chalked up."

E: Oh, interesting.

J: And I've heard that squeak that a pool cue makes, so you're not completely out of the you're not completely crazy here, but it's, that's not what we're listening to. Some dude named Visto Tutti said "Sounds like the call of a zebra finch, which is talking to its eggs." And then he says, "Yes, I said the call to their eggs. They call to their eggs to tell the chicken, the chickies inside the egg what the temperature is outside." And then he goes on to explain to me how that isn't false.

E: Okay.

J: I guess they, they do tell the eggs something. And guess what? Nobody guessed it this week.

B: Ah, man, shocker.

J: So do you guys want to guess again after you had all the help from the listeners?

E: It's someone cleaning glass with a squeegee or something that's making a squeak with a rag and it's making that squeaking noise as you clean the glass.

S: I think it's two chipmunks having sex.

J: What if I told you that Steve would not have a problem eating this?

E: Is it a banana? What?

J: It's an insect.

B: It's a brown cucumber.

E: Oh, it's an insect?

J: It's a leaf katydid. And this is the song that they make. So katydids are a large group of insects in the order Orthoptera. That's pretty cool. It sounds dinosauric to me. Related to the grasshopper and crickets, some Katie dids have been called long horn grasshoppers because of their long and slender shape. But actually katydids are more closely related to crickets than any other type of grasshopper. There are about 6,400 species worldwide with the greatest diversity in the tropics. So this is just a large insect. Listen again. [plays Noisy] I like how it slows down at the end.

E: Almost like those peepers you hear outside in the summertime and the evenings.

J: Yeah, it does have a peeper kind of sound to it.

New Noisy (1:15:29)[edit]

J: So I have a new Noisy for everybody. This was sent in by a listener named Andreas Jacobson. Jacobson? Jacobson. Jacobson. Okay, here we go.

[echoing guttural sounds from rising and falling, either mechanical or animal]

E: That is Curly from the Three Stooges.

J: That's crazy. That is just craziness what I played. That could be some variation on dial up maybe, huh?

E: Yeah.

J: Well, I think there's a good chance that someone's going to guess this one. But if you have an idea or you heard a cool noisy, just email me at this one address. Don't email anywhere else. Don't get creative. Just email me at

Announcements (1:16:37)[edit]

J: Steve, there are things that need to be discussed.

S: Yep, let's have it.

J: One of them is that very soon, like by the time this show comes out, there will be less than a week for you to join us on May 20th at 11 a.m. Eastern if you're a patron and at 12 p.m. Eastern if you are not a patron. For a total of a six-hour live stream that we're going to do, we got together with George and we wrote everything that we're going to do for this show. We have a ton of different wacky, fun, different things that we're going to be doing. This whole thing is basically a thank you to our patrons. This is for them. But we just wanted to have some fun. We love hanging out with each other, of course, on the SGU side. But we also love to entertain people. So we thought we would do this type of live stream. So join us. It's going to be a lot of fun. May 20th, 11 a.m. for patrons and 12 p.m. for non-patrons.

S: And you know what? This is a good time to become a patron of the SGU. We really do survive and keep doing what we're doing on the good graces of our patrons. So please give it a chance. And hey, you will immediately get the benefit of being able to listen to the first hour of the May 20th live show.

J: Steve, we also have an in-person conference, November 3rd and November 4th. That's Friday and Saturday in November of this year. It's called Notacon. You must have heard me talk about it before. But in brief, this is a conference that is largely around socializing and having fun with the other people that are there. We're going to be supplying some special guests and entertainment that will be happening both Friday and Saturday. We have a lot of things planned. But if you're interested, just go to There's a button on the homepage. Just scroll down a little bit and you'll see it. You can find out more and you can check out what is going to be happening and you can get tickets.

S: Alright, thanks Jay.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:18:35)[edit]

Email #1: Dunning-Kruger Revisited[edit]

S: Alright, we're going to do one email. This comes from Cedar in Wyoming. Cedar is his name. Wyoming is where he lives. And Cedar writes, "Have you heard the news that Dunning-Kruger effect has been debunked by random data?"

J: Sure it has.

S: "This short article outlines the argument that I'm curious to hear your thoughts." So yeah, this is a study looking at the mathematics of the Dunning-Kruger effect to remind you all, it's been I think over 20 years now since the first studies were published. Dunning and Kruger made the observation that if you give people a test, right, like a test of knowledge in some area, and then you ask them two questions, say how do you think you did on the test? Like if there was a 20 question test, how many do you think you got correct? And then they said, how do you think you did compared to other people? What percentage of other people do you think you beat in that test? In terms of the first question, people generally up and down the scale of how they did are pretty accurate at assessing how many questions they got correct. However, at the high end, people underestimated their score. At the low end, people overestimated their score, but by about a similar amount. But then when you ask them, how did you do compared to other people? Everyone thinks they're above average. And that's up and down the scale, whether you were at the 90th percentile or the first percentile, you think that you were above average. So that line goes from about 75% at the top end to about 60% at the low end. Does that make sense?

E: Yes.

S: So Dunning and Kruger argued that this means that the less knowledgeable you are about a topic, the more you overestimate your relative knowledge. Actually, your absolute as well as relative knowledge. And that's correct. Now, but here's the question. These mathematicians are not the first ones to question the mathematical statistical aspect of this. The question is, what phenomena are underlying this statistical effect? No one can argue about the statistics, about the math, about these numbers. The question is, how do you interpret it? Right? So Dunning and Kruger did say that your relative lack of knowledge impairs your ability to assess your own knowledge. And what these mathematicians are saying is that you cannot infer that from this data. That you could entirely explain the effect simply by saying that everyone thinks they're above average, which is a separate and well-established effect, like psychological bias. That's the above average cognitive bias. We all think we're above average in everything, right?

E: Well, I am.

S: So, yeah, if you ask teachers, how would you rank yourself among teachers? Everyone puts themselves above 50% or 60%. Nobody thinks they're in the bottom half.

E: I'm sure there's plenty of reasons as to why that's the case.

S: Yeah, so just psychologically, we just like to think of ourselves. But it's impossible statistically, right? It should be 50% if people were accurately assessing their own relative knowledge in something, but it's usually more like north of 90% of people think they're above average. So they said that's it. That's the only effect you need. And then they basically had a model where they looked at random data, but they included that effect alone, and they were able to reproduce Dunning-Kruger curves from that, which does tend to support that conclusion. All right, but here's the thing. So, first of all, most people that I have heard talking about the Dunning-Kruger effect misunderstand it. They think that it's something that it isn't. And I often hear people say that the Dunning-Kruger effect is stupid people don't know how stupid they are. That's not what it shows. That's never what they claimed. It's not about, first of all, stupid people. It's about everybody because everyone's on the Dunning-Kruger curve for everything, right? Just where you are on that curve. So it's not about some people are at the lower part of the curve and some people are at the higher part of the curve. We are all at the lower part of the curve for things we don't know a lot about and at the higher part of the curve for things we do know a lot of things about. Right? Does that make sense?

J: Yeah.

S: They've never documented that there's individual people differences. Not that there isn't, but that wasn't the data that they showed. The other thing is it's not as if people who knew less thought they knew more than people who knew more, right? It's just that they overestimated their knowledge more. And the researchers of the current study who are criticizing Dunning-Kruger said of course they did because they were at the low end of the curve so they had really nowhere else to go in terms of estimating their own ability.

B: That makes sense.

S: It does, but that doesn't take away the effect. Well, it doesn't take away the result, I think I should say. The result, and again, if you've stated correctly, it's just that the degree to which you overestimate your ability increases as your knowledge decreases. That is still true. It's just the only question is about what is the underlying cause. I'll point out, though, that there is a super Dunning-Kruger effect with certain very specific topics.

B: What the hell is that?

S: So if you look at, and we talked about this on the show, if you look at people who are anti-GMO, right, specifically people who are anti-GMO think they know more about genetics and genetic engineering and GMOs when they know the least. They think they know the most and they actually know the least. So there is like a real super Dunning-Kruger effect going on there. But that probably has to do with misinformation, the illusion of knowledge, not ignorance, right?

E: Right.

B: Right.

S: My response to this is, okay, that's probably true, but so what? It's kind of irrelevant. It still means that if you're in the 10th percentile, you're going to massively overestimate your relative knowledge, even if it's motivated primarily by wanting to think that you're above average. Like you're not going to accurately put yourself in the 10th percentile. And you will overestimate your absolute knowledge as well. But you won't be – that part was not that inaccurate, but that was the direction that it went in. If you got 17 questions correct out of 20, you estimated you got 14 correct. If you got 7 questions correct, you estimated you got 10 questions correct. They're both off by three, but in that reliable direction towards the mean. I think that is a different cognitive bias where people think they're closer to, I don't know, the average than they are. And some people think that the reason why the people at the high end sort of underestimate themselves both relatively and absolutely is like a humility effect, like they're trying to not seem arrogant.

B: Yeah.

E: Right.

S: There's just so many possible confounding factors when you do this kind of research. You don't know what's going on in people's heads. You're just trying to infer. But anyway, it still means that people at the low end are overestimating their knowledge. And I do think part of that effect is overestimating the amount of knowledge that exists in an area. If you score in the 10th percentile and you think you scored in the 60th percentile, then you have a significantly distorted view about how much knowledge there is in that area. You can't even imagine that you're in the 10th percentile. You know what I mean? Even if it's emotional, even if it's just like I don't want to think that so I'm going to convince myself that everyone's – so it's not like they think they're smarter than they are. They just think everyone else is as dumb as they are.

B: They may have a good command of the first couple onion layers, but they don't realize how many onion layers are below them.

S: And I do think that, yeah, there is a – and maybe we need to investigate it in a different way. I think if you – there's like the no-knowns and the known-unknowns. I do think that the more knowledge you have, the better you can assess the amount of knowledge that there is in a field and the amount of your ignorance. I think probably one of the reasons why people at the high end underestimate themselves is because they know how much they don't know, right? Whereas people at the low end don't really know how much they don't know. And so that allows them to have this illusion that they're above average in knowledge.

E: Maybe it's like a person knows the universe is a really large place, but an astronomer knows that it's even much bigger than what those people think. How big it is.

S: Anyway, I don't think it changes anything. To be honest with you. As long as you correctly understood what the Dunning-Kruger effect was always about, it still exists.

E: Yeah, so what? This is not really a debunking of Dunning-Kruger.

S: Well, I was just saying that you could explain it without having to invoke any new phenomenon. You could explain – the curves are correct. They've been replicated many, many times. The data is the data. You can explain it by people always thinking that they need to be in the top 50%. It is kind of debunking how people misunderstood it to begin with.

B: Right, right.

S: More than the curve itself. All right.

B: Which is fine. Like Occam's Razor, so many people characterize that the wrong way. It's like, oh, come on.

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


Science or Fiction (1:28:27)[edit]

Item #1: A recent study finds that older adults are more distractable than younger adults – they lose focus on a task when faced with irrelevant stimuli.[7]
Item #2: Researchers find that certain species of bacteria can incorporate radioactive elements in their enzyme structure, deriving some of their energy from the radioactive decay.[8]
Item #3: A UK study finds that more than half of gig workers earn less than minimum wage.[9]

Answer Item
Fiction Bacteria, radioactive elements
Science Older adults more distractable
Gig workers earn less
Host Result
Steve swept
Rogue Guess
Bacteria, radioactive elements
Bacteria, radioactive elements
Bacteria, radioactive elements

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

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

J: We can handle it.

E: Got this.

S: You can hack it. Here we go. Item number one, a recent study finds that older adults are more distractible than younger adults. They lose focus on a task when faced with irrelevant stimuli. Item number two, researchers find that certain species of bacteria can incorporate radioactive elements into their enzyme structure, deriving some of their energy from the radioactive decay. And item number three, a UK study finds that more than half of gig workers earn less than minimum wage. Bob, go first.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Oh, sorry. I was distracted by this bug crawling on the wall. What's happening? Okay. Older adults are more distractible. Yeah, I totally buy that. That makes sense. There's just, yeah, makes sense. Let's see. Let's go to number two. This one. Wow. Bacteria incorporating radioactive elements in their enzyme structure, deriving some of their energy from the radioactive decay within the enzyme to perform the enzymatic activities. I don't know about that. That's just like too cool to be true. Let's see. Half a gig workers earn less than minimum wage. UK study. Yeah, I mean that sounds more plausible than bacteria being as cool as they are. They're not quite that cool and I think biologically that would be problematic. So I'll say that is fiction.

S: Okay, Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: I think I'm going to agree with Bob. So bacteria can incorporate radioactive elements in their enzyme structure and then deriving some of their energy from the radioactive decay. I mean all of that sounds like science fiction to me. I bet you there's some truth in there, but I'm just going to say that one is the fiction because it doesn't seem like it's all plausible.

E: Okay, and Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Well, clearly I think I have to go in the same direction, although it would be nice to kind of go out on a limb. But yeah, just looking at the other two, the UK study about more than half of gig workers earn less than minimum wage. Yeah, I think you'll find that in analysis of that, it really does break down to those numbers and that one is pretty straightforward. And the other one about older adults more distractible than younger adults, probably because maybe more adults are more aware of so much more that is going on around them than say the younger adults that the potential there for distraction just grows that much and that kind of just leaves the radioactive one as the fiction. So I have to go with the guys.

S: Okay. So you're all in agreement. So I guess we'll take these in order.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: We'll start with number one, a recent study finds that older adults are more distractible than younger adults. They lose focus on the task even when faced with irrelevant stimuli. You all think this one is science. And this one is science. This is science.

E: Okay.

S: Unfortunately, it is correct. So yeah, so this is the model of distraction, which is this paradigm of psychological research has been well established like using distracting stimuli. Psychologists call it interference. When one action interferes with the subject's ability to do another. And the question is is there a – do people get more distractible or less distractible as we get older? You might think that like kids are like they're young and crazy and distractible. And older adults are more calm and more wise and intelligent. And even if that's true, our brains are still deteriorating as we get older. And it has nothing to do with like having more knowledge. It's just that in this very defined research setting where you like do this one task and then that you have to filter out irrelevant stimuli that have nothing to do with the task that you're doing, older adults are less able to do it, which is has a lot of implications. Like immediately you think of driving, right? This is why older drivers are not as safe when you get really old because you literally lose the ability to maintain your focus and you get distracted by things that you shouldn't get distracted by.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Okay, let's move on to number two. Researchers find that certain species of bacteria can incorporate radioactive elements in their enzyme structure, deriving some of their energy from radioactive decay. You all think this one is the fiction. And this one is the fiction. You guys are right.

J: Thank you.

S: I was hoping to exploit your bacteria are cool bias. And you toyed with that idea, but not enough. All right. So but the reality is, is Jay was right. There's a there's an element of truth in here. The first half of this is true. Just just not the second half. So what they found was that all right, so you guys know about actinides and lanthanides testing your chemistry.

B: I've heard those words before.

S: Yeah, so the these are basically rows on the periodic table, right? The lanthanides include a lot of the rare earth elements. The actinides are the radioactive elements like uranium and plutonium and americium and cesium. Those are the actinides. Now, but they're next to each other, essentially, on the periodic table. So there's a lot of actinides that are chemically the equivalent of a lanthanide. You can say this lanthanide and this actinide are basically the same, right? They're in the same column of the periodic table. They're just in different rows. The actinides are heavier and they get to the point where they're unstable. So they're radioactive. So what they wanted to know is, I mean, there are some bacteria that use lanthanide elements as a, but they incorporate it into an enzyme that they use to to do enzymatic stuff. And the question was, could they incorporate the equivalent actinide into the same enzyme? So you're swapping out a chemically identical element but just one that happens to be radioactive. And it turns out that they can and that the enzymes still work, which is interesting. But they're not using the radioactive decay for energy they're just surviving.

B: Yeah. That was like, ah.

S: Yeah, that would be cool.

B: Way cool.

S: Yeah. So it's still very interesting. So this could have implications for things like cleaning up radioactive waste. These things can absorb these radioactive elements and survive reproduce. So yeah, that could be exploitable in some way. Or they could be used in delivering radioactivity to target either tissue and biological organisms or somewhere else.

B: Or some weapons.

S: Somebody clever will figure out a way to exploit these radioactive bacteria.

B: Or abuse them.

S: Yeah. All right. Until they become super bacteria.

E: Oh, boy.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All right. Number three, a UK study finds that more than half of gig workers earn less than minimum wage. That is unfortunately science. You guys know what gig workers are.

E: Like Uber drivers and DoorDash delivery folks.

B: Gigabytes.

S: So the specific definition are workers who engage in multiple short-term contracts as independent contractors. So they're not a full-time employee. They're just doing job for pay, small independent contractor work. And a lot of it is online. It doesn't have to be, I think, to be a gig worker. But a lot of it is through apps. We tend to think of it today as being like an app-driven contract work. But it doesn't have to be. And so they did a study looking at it's really the first of its kind study. They looked at a lot of workers and just how much money they're pulling and how many hours are they working. And on average, they're earning, this is in the UK, 15% below the UK minimum wage. So they're earning on average 8 pounds 97 per hour when the minimum wage is 10 pounds 42. Is it still cents? Whatever. Per hour.

E: Shilling?

B: Pence?

S: Yeah.

E: Quid?

S: 10.42. They're earning 8.97. So 15% less. And this is interesting. We touched upon this in our book The Skeptic's Guide to the Future, the idea of like the future of work and that actually we tend to have this thing that of like society is progressive and workers are getting more protection and better conditions. And to some extent, this is true, but this is not an inevitable trend. And in fact, this is really all regulation driven, that the trends in just the marketplace are in the opposite direction. And gig work is a good example of that because it's basically a way for companies to completely get around all of the protections for workers. They owe them nothing. They don't get necessarily holiday pay, sick pay. They don't get protections against unfair dismissal and they don't, and they're not protected by minimum wage rates. So they don't get basic worker rights because they're all independent contractors. And in a lot, there's a lot of context in which this kind of thing, kind of thing happens. Universities, for example, a lot of universities and colleges are hiring professors as adjuncts like they're not hiring them as a full time professor. They're just hiring to do like a semester and they're getting paid crap, like with no protections or fringe or anything. It's just like really slave labor the academic version of it. And now, like in the US there's a lot of state laws and a lot of essentially attempts at weakening child labor laws workarounds for that kids could be working like crazy hours.

B: Yeah, right.

S: Yeah. And even like the 40 hour work week, right? We specifically mentioned like the 40 hour work week was mandated and about 60, 70 years ago, maybe almost 100 years ago now. But since then, the average number of hours that workers work have gone up because people are just, their jobs are being structured in a way that they don't fall within that 40 hour limit, right? Either they're just, they're considered staff management not worker. And so that it doesn't apply if you're "management" or they're doing contract work and just going to get around all of those limits. So there's just another example of the market finding ways to subvert laws that are meant to protect workers. And as a result, people are working their butt off for less than minimum wage. So regulations have to keep up. That's the bottom line. Oh, good job, guys. Swept me first time in a while.

J: Thank you.

E: Yeah.

B: Sure.

E: Easier to do when one of us is not here. A sweep is statistically a little easier.

S: That's true. You think I would have gotten Kara on this one?

E: No.

S: Probably not.

E: Let's ask her next week.

S: Yeah, we could.

E: And test her. See what she says. It'll be an interesting experiment.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:40:14)[edit]

We find ourselves awash in an ocean of information online. This information ocean is getting more turbulent every single day. The only tools we have to navigate through this maelstrom are the critical thinking skills that we are trying to develop in people as scientists.

 – Anu Ojha (1968-present), one of the Directors of the National Space Centre in England

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

E: "We find ourselves awash in an ocean of information online. This information ocean is getting more turbulent every single day. The only tools we have to navigate through this maelstrom are the critical thinking skills that we are trying to develop in people as scientists." And that was written by Anu Ojha, who is the co-director of the National Space Center in Leicester, England. And I came across this quote from him as I was doing some research into the moon landing hoax. And he was interviewed in a 2019 article and had some really good things to say about it, kind of debunking things point by point. And this quote was in that article. So I pulled it.

S: Cool.

B: Nice.

S: I like it. Yeah, I mean, this is the world that we're going to be increasingly living in where perhaps the greatest skill, the most important skill, is going to be critical thinking skills in order to navigate the misinformation tsunami that we're all living under.

E: Yeah. It's a life raft.

S: My favorite example of this now is Steve Jobs. Because you have, I know this is a little bit of a tidy story and we don't know what would have happened, etc., etc. But you still have a story of one of the richest men in the world who has all the resources you could possibly imagine at his fingertips, who dies from a treatable cancer because he believed misinformation.

E: Amazing.

S: Just think about that. The only thing that could have protected this guy, billions of dollars couldn't protect him from this, but a little bit more critical thinking skill would have done it. Again, we don't know what would have happened.

B: Basically, listen to our show and save your life.

S: Yeah, basically.

J: Thanks, Bob. That's a great way to put it.

S: I mean, absolutely, in all seriousness, skepticism can absolutely save your life in many, many contexts.

E: Yeah. It's a form of self-defense in a way.

S: It's a necessary one, increasingly necessary because, you know.

J: Yeah, let's face it. What are we doing this? 18 years and it's a lot worse today.

B: We're still alive?

J: Yeah, a lot worse though. Seriously, we've seen some of the most horrific spells of misinformation that the United States has ever had.

E: Yeah, and more is coming. It's just a sad fact. We need to be prepared for it as best as possible. Nope. Oh, no. Our work is by no means done.

S: Literally, misinformation almost took down our democracy and we're not out of the woods yet. This is a fight that we're going to have to keep on fighting. Absolutely. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that.

E: And our children and their children. Yeah, on them as well.

S: All right, guys. This has been a very uplifting show.

J: Sure it has.

E: Well, we talked about a lot of different things.

S: Sometimes you got to talk about the negative stuff.

E: Sure.

B: At least it was, at least we're done early tonight. That's awesome.

E: That's why it's reality-based.

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

J: You're welcome.

B: Sure, man.

E: Thanks, Steve.


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

S: You're welcome.

S: Sure, man.

S: Thanks, Steve.

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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[10]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description


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