SGU Episode 937

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SGU Episode 937
June 24th 2023
937 coastal erosion.jpg

"Although sand dunes often conjure images of great deserts, they also occur along coastlines worldwide and can be an important buffer against sea level rise, storms, and coastal erosion." [1]

Click for detailed caption

"More than 45% of southern California's coastline is groomed with machinery used to remove debris from sandy beaches, creating a flat topography ideal for recreational activities of the local population and tourists. However, vegetation is consequently actively discouraged from growing, reducing habitats for local wildlife and resulting in some native and threatened species becoming locally extinct.

"Oblique aerial photograph of the restoration project site from the 10 November 2022 UAS flight, with key elements labeled including the project boundary, perimeter fence, various habitat types, adjacent groomed beach (control site), and the incipient foredune ridge." Credit: Frontiers in Marine Science (2023).

SGU 936                      SGU 938

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Science is the acceptance of what works and the rejection of what does not. That needs more courage than we might think.

Jacob Bronowski, Polish-British mathematician and philosopher

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, submersible sinks down to the Titanic[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, June 22th, 2023, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening everyone.

S: So the big news this week, a story I've actually been following in real time all week, is the loss of the submersible Titan, which was a private submersible that took five people on an attempt to view the wreck of the Titanic, right? One pilot and four passengers. And I'll just say that we just learned fairly recently as we're recording this show that they determined that the submersible met with a catastrophic implosion and the debris, two separate debris fields were found with the pieces of the sub, consistent with this sort of catastrophic implosion, and that's unsurvivable at that depth.

C: Very close to 1,600 feet from the wreckage of the Titanic.

S: Which is the only reason they found it, because it was close to the Titanic.

E: I'm sure they had something to sort of work around at some point in the vastness.

C: So it's kind of like they got down there and then catastrophe happened.

S: Well, that's where the debris ended up.

C: Right, yeah, you're right. They could have been above.

S: We don't know how high. So the timeline that we know so far, so it was supposed to be a two-hour descent or two-and-a-half hour descent. And one hour and 45 minutes in, they lost contact. It's probable that at that moment is when the catastrophic failure happened, or shortly thereafter.

C: They heard an audible signal that could have been the implosion, but it wasn't definitive.

B: Oh, really?

C: So they kept looking. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm seeing that in a lot of, like the Navy, the US Navy heard an audible signal that was not definitive, but now in hindsight, they can say that could have been it.

E: Yeah, they just reported today that it was an implosion.

S: So it is sad. It is tragic. I know some people have reservations about the whole enterprise, and I understand that, but it doesn't take away from the fact that this was a tragic loss of five people. I think one of the legitimate concerns that's raised by this is that if you take chances like this, the Coast Guard, if you're within 1,000 miles of the coast, that's the rule in the US, they'll spend millions of dollars trying to save you. They'll do what it takes, and they don't bill people for that. It's like it's on the taxpayer's dime. So you have a certain responsibility. If you are reckless, we're not saying they were reckless. Again, we don't know all the details, but certainly they were willing to take chances that ultimately led to this international effort to rescue them.

C: Yeah, sadly, this was a very risky endeavour. It's a commercial endeavour that is not scaled up. It's not widely utilized. This is not the same thing as commercial air travel. You know what I mean? There's not a robust system in place.

S: This is a custom-built submersible.

C: Exactly. That had only five people on board, including the guy who owns the company.

S: Yeah, the CEO.

C: Was the guy who was the captain of the submersible, right?

S: He was the pilot.

C: The pilot, sorry.

S: {[w|Stockton Rush}} was the pilot and CEO of Ocean Gate Expeditions.

C: Members of the Explorers Club were also on board. So these are people with a lot of experience. They weren't just rogue people who don't know what they're doing, but that said, this was still a commercial endeavour, and it was not a scientific expedition. It was not a government-funded or sponsored expedition. It was a commercial endeavour.

B: Yeah, and one guy has actually, this surprised me, one guy has gone down 30 times.

S: More than anyone else, probably.

B: Yeah, I mean, that's a lot more trips than I thought. Nargeolet, Paul-Henri, I think it's a French guy, 77-year-old guy. Yeah, he's been there probably more than anybody else. And we're starting to get early reports. Again, this story is just developing. We have very dodgy information at this point, but early reports of, over the last couple years, of multiple people raising concerns about the safety of this particular vessel and the company, and were they cutting corners, and apparently the glass porthole was not rated for this depth, even though the entire enclosure was, et cetera. But these kind of questions always come up right in the wake of a disaster, why did this happen? Probably this kind of chatter is always going to occur, and we just have to wait and see if there's an investigation and what they find. But it sounds like there were some concerns raised over the safety of this vessel. And in terms of regulation, so this is an American company launching from a Canadian ship in international waters. So it was in a legal gray zone. There basically was no one who had jurisdiction over this, and therefore there was no licensure required. There was no inspection. There was nothing.

E: Compliances.

S: They didn't do it voluntarily. Some people thought they should have voluntarily allowed their ship to be inspected. And I know, Cara, you were saying, I mean, I don't know if you want to mention names, but somebody...

C: A friend of mine works on a television show where they do kind of like big feats and they travel the world, and they actually did a test dive in this very submersible to see if it could be a story on the show. And they determined that it was too risky. It didn't feel safe enough for the crew, for the on-air individuals. It just wasn't worth the shot for them. And I think that that raises sort of exactly what we've been talking about. There are a lot of parallels between this type of ocean exploration and space exploration in that when we're doing something that's either never been done or has been done very few times with very few people, where there's a lot of money on the line and the risk to life and limb is very, very, very high, it's important that there are a lot of redundancies. It's important that there's a lot of people who are aware of this thing that's happening and that there's a concerted effort. And I'm not saying that didn't happen here. I mean, it was really beautiful how the world came together to try... It's worth a life, many people would argue, a life... You can't put a dollar on a life. You're going to do what you can do. If you think that somebody is still alive and you can prevent them from death, you're going to do what you can do. But then after the fact, when you actually look at the risk-benefit ratio, was it appropriate?

S: So it was interesting to follow the story in real time. Now we know obviously that they probably, basically they died four days ago when they were on their descent, it seems. But without that information, there was sort of the countdown clock of their oxygen supply, which would have run out this morning as of the recording Thursday morning.

E: There were also reports that they were picking up sounds, some kind of knock-out that was yesterday and the day before.

S: They now think that that was red herring. The sounds were unrelated to the Titan, to the submersible.

E: The point being though, as this developed over the course of these days, that added sort of another layer of, oh my goodness, are these people still down there and still alive at this point?

C: Until there's definitive evidence that they're not, you're going to assume that they are.

S: Yeah, you have to do that. That's the Coast Guard policy. The whole time I've been thinking, because my worst nightmare would be to be trapped in a small vessel like that deep under the sea with no power. Can you imagine being in pitch black, no light in this, they said it's like the size of an SUV. You're in this small can.

E: It's about 20 feet long.

S: And you're trapped in this, yeah, deep underwater. The claustrophobia.

B: Very cold as well.

C: In a non-survivable environment.

S: In a non-survivable environment.

C: That's the thing.

S: So what would be worse, being trapped like that for four days until you slowly run out of oxygen?

C: Much worse. That would be much worse.

S: An implosion would probably have been instant lights out. You were just, maybe there was this fraction of a second of something's happening.

B: Probably not. Probably not even that.

S: But before you could really, really register what was happening, you were dead.

C: That's the hope. I think that's probably, hopefully, the solace that the family members of these individuals have.

S: Yeah, they didn't suffer for four days.

E: Right. No suffering. That's what you want.

B: No suffering. It's weird how, for the past couple of days, people have been saying, you know, I hope it was a catastrophic implosion because that was literally the best-case scenario, assuming though that they would never be rescued.

S: Assuming they were not rescuable, yeah, not that they were not. The other thing is, I've been reading, because again, you're following the story, it's like this dramatic thing on a plane, they said if they found it intact, trapped under the water, they didn't know what they were going to do at that point.

C: Exactly. How do you get it up and safely?

S: They would not have been able to get it up to safety in time. Now I tried to find out as much as I could about the submersible itself, just to see what could possibly have gone wrong here. So first of all, it's a submersible, not a submarine. The difference is that submarines are independent. They could launch from port and go where they need to go.

C: Oh, I didn't know that.

S: A submersible requires a support, some other support vessel, which could be a ship, a surfership, could be another submarine. It could be land-based support, but they don't have their own guidance system. So they have to be told where to go, for example.

C: So it's almost like a drone that they're riding in?

S: Kind of. I mean, they can pilot it. It was literally a joystick.

C: Yeah, I saw that. It was a PlayStation.

S: Yeah, like a PlayStation joystick. But that's like, they had these four electric motors that could...

C: But they don't have radar on them or all that good stuff.

E: They can't independently [inaudible].

C: Sonar.

S: Yeah, yeah. They're dependent upon this other vessel to guide them. Also, they get put into the submersible, and then the hatch is bolted from the outside. So they can't get out. One of the scenarios that people were contemplating was that if something went wrong, they can float to the surface. They could drop their weight, and they could also flood their tanks with air.

E: And get the submersible to a point where it would be safe for them to evacuate?

C: Yeah, if it was up high enough.

S: It would go to the surface. It could have been on the surface.

E: Oh, the whole thing itself.

S: The whole submersible. But they would have been trapped inside. So they were searching for it on the surface, and even that was a long shot. The thing is, there were multiple people describing how difficult it is to find something at sea like this over such a short period of time.

E: Well, without a buoy, or what are those?

S: Transponder.

C: A beacon. How are there not redundant beacons on this?

E: Sure, everybody should be...

S: They were pinging their base, but that's what stopped, so their ability to communicate is what stopped.

C: But that sound like one line. Don't you need multiple redundant communication abilities?

S: Yeah, I couldn't find...

C: Some analog stuff?

S: I was very interested in that, like, what's their backup? But the thing is, if they lost power, it kind of wouldn't matter how many batteries.

E: Transponder should be battery-operated, though.

S: Unless it has some independent power. Then I was thinking, would it be possible to have a completely manually-operated thing that just makes noise?

C: Right.

S: You know what I mean? Like a kind of a whistle or something where you could just, pump it with your hand or something, and it creates a loud noise.

B: And noise travels well in water, for sure.

S: It does. I don't know.

E: Well, remember in, what was it, Hunt for Red October, when they docked up with the Russian ship, the way they knocked down... They took a hammer and banged on the submarine. That's basically how they were able to tell them, right? So a hammer on an arm or something that automatically would go off to start banging the thing.

C: Well, that's probably what they were sadly scared and maybe hoping that they were hearing.

S: Yeah, it was a banging noise. Yeah. And then one of the concerns is that they were trapped, and this was a very real concern. Even the pilot at one point said, this is my greatest fear, is that you get snagged in a net or you get trapped under an overhang, then you can't get to the surface. Because even if you drop your weights and flood your tanks, you still can't get to the surface because there's something keeping you trapped on the bottom.

E: Yeah. It's not like you can dispatch an assist vehicle to go down there and dislodge you.

B: That actually happened. I think in the early 1990s, somebody was touring the Titanic and their submersible got stuck under part of the ship. And it took a half hour. They got out.

E: Oh my gosh.

B: But if they didn't get out, they'd probably still be there today.

C: It's pretty bananas that we, since the 1990s, we've had submersibles going down there. I know we had the technology decades and decades even before that. But I've been looking at these infographics of where the Titanic is. That is really deep. It's really far away, scary deep. You need some good technology to be that deep. We're talking lots of pressure.

B: Oh yeah.

S: Yeah. Well, it was made out of carbon fiber and titanium. Yeah, I mean the submersible, not the Titanic. The Titanic is at─

C: 12,500 feet.

S: 12,500 feet, yeah. That's deep. And it's cold down there. So yeah, sad end to a riveting news story that was unfolding in the last four days. But I do think from one perspective, the money aspect of it aside, that they were adventurers. They did something they knew was dangerous. They all signed waivers that said multiple times, you can die. I think the word you may die was in the waiver they signed three times. And they were willing to take extreme risks for an extreme experience. And sometimes the risks don't go your way.

E: And there'll come a day where we unfortunately maybe have to talk about this again with all the people who want to do the space.

C: That's yeah. There's going to be a lot of parallels there. We've really got to be thinking about how to regulate those things.

S: Yeah, the lack of regulation is one of the questions that comes out of it. Yeah. All right. Well, let's move on to some regular news items.

News Items[edit]

Neuroforecasting (14:43)[edit]

S: Do you guys know what neuro forecasting is?

B: Yes.

E: I know what neuro means.

C: I know what those two words mean. I don't know what they mean in combination.

S: Bob probably read my blog post about it. So this is based upon a news item. This is another artificial intelligence news item, but this is I couldn't resist the intersection of artificial intelligence and neuroscience. Basically it is using AI and machine learning in order to analyse the physiological responses of people while listening to music in order to predict which songs they will like. So sounds pretty innocuous. This is an interesting, I think, thought experiment. How would this kind of technology play out? Predicting what songs people will like obviously is big business, right? And especially now with streaming platforms like Pandora, you create playlists or you exhibit preferences by which songs you listen to and then it tries to stream you curated list of songs that they think you will like. The algorithms that are currently being used actually are pretty bad. They are about 50% accurate, which is like a coin flip. So it's not very, very good. So they said, okay, what if we use, just as a proof of concept, obviously this is not going to be happening anytime soon. You're not going to be wearing an EEG while listening to your Pandora in your car. But just to see how good we could get, let's measure neurophysiological responses to people listening to songs and then analyse their responses and have them say how much they like the song, whatever measures of how much that they enjoyed it. And then we'll use machine learning models to see if we could then predict what songs they will like. They were basically using a preset, they were retro dictating, you know what I mean? They were taking songs that they already knew were hits or not hits and then having people listen to them and then say, can we correlate the neurophysiological responses with whether or not that song is already a hit? You know what I mean? So they're testing a model by retro dictating known outcomes, basically. So the linear statistical model was 69% accurate in identifying hits. Then they created a nonlinear model, let's just say, using what they said, ensemble machine learning. That approach was 97% accurate, which is pretty impressive.

E: That's pretty accurate.

C: Wow.

S: So obviously further research is needed to know if that 97% holds up. And of course, it's always good to actually predict things rather than just retro dictate, you know what I mean? I'm saying does the model match what's already happened in the past? That's great, but it's not the same as predicting what's going to happen in the future. But let's say─

E: It's a first step.

S: Yeah, it's a proof of concept. And pretty impressive, 97%. What I was interested in was the thought experiment about, okay, what happens when we get to the world where this is actually working and pragmatic in the real world? This is kind of a Black Mirror episode, I think, especially the sixth season of Black Mirror just dropped, so I'm very much interested in this sort of thing. You're watching it, Cara?

C: No, not yet. I started watching The Bear. Sorry, they dropped the new season of The Bear. I had to prioritize.

S: I've seen two episodes of Black Mirror so far. Very good, very dark season.

C: Oh no. Yeah, it's like, I don't know with trying to finish my dissertation and stuff if I can like existentially handle Black Mirror right now.

S: Gotta be in the mood for that. All right, here's a question. So how many new songs do you think come into existence every day?

C: So many.

E: Around the world?

S: Yeah, worldwide. New songs, worldwide.

B: Oh, God, a dozen.

E: 50,000.

S: Every day. We're talking about every day.

C: Daily?

E: Is that too many?

C: Yeah, it's probably like 5,000 a day.

S: It's 24 000 a day.

C: 24!

B: That's nuts.

S: 168,000 new songs per week. Now I'm sure most of these are very niche and like whatever, they're probably not buying three hits.

C: Well, it's self-published, right?

E: Yeah, right, released.

S: But I think about 168,000.

B: In your own language or whatever.

S: Yeah, yeah. That's in every language. That's around the world. That's a lot. That's a lot of songs. So Pandora has to winnow 168,000 songs per week into 30 songs. That is what they will present.

C: They only drop 30 a week?

S: They're just curating 30 songs for one listener. They have like a new songs playlist and they put in 30 songs per week into their here's what's new and here's a new song that you should listen to. So that's a lot. 168,000 down to 30. And even if you, you could probably get it down, like there's probably an initial filter would get it down to a few thousand. But even going from a few thousand to 30 songs is huge. And they argue that it obviously takes a lot of work to do that. And because their current systems are not very accurate, they end up wasting a lot of their listeners time by feeding them songs they're not ultimately interested in. And so they want a system where they can get right to the hits, predict what are the 30 songs that are most likely to be hits and put them in their new song playlist. But this is my concern about this is that, so for I also, the other thing is if we're going to imagine our Black Mirror version of this, you could certainly imagine a time when some kind of neurophysiological monitoring is built into your smartphone, right? And there's certainly a lot of applications that you could think about that would be like, yeah, I'll turn on my thing that will monitor my whatever it is that it's monitoring to, you know what I mean? To like to better all it will take is some app that says there's some health benefit to whatever. And then everyone will be doing it right? Like look, oh, it's like it's monitoring your heart rate while you walk or it's monitoring this other thing. And then once it's doing that, then that just becomes one more layer of information about you that can be absorbed for marketing purposes.

C: It's like already happening.

S: Yeah, I'm just saying it's really just this is just an extension of what's already happening. And these kind of portable smartphone sized physiological monitoring already exists, right? So whether or not you have the right ones necessary to pull this sort of thing off. But you combine AI with any kind of physiological monitoring and these kind of predictive algorithms. And again, in the not too distant future, you could certainly imagine that these marketing predictive models are going to get crazy accurate.

C: Oh yeah, like I don't even want to know what people who walk around with their Apple watches, what's happening behind the scenes, what kind of research is actually happening right now? We don't know.

S: Just imagine the marketing bonanza if companies can actually hack into your neurological function and decide what it is you're going to do, what you want to do, what you want to buy.

E: Sure they want that.

C: I have been told by some people like kind of close to the source and I don't really have details on this, but I've just become more interested in it lately because I'm planning a trip to Disney. I live in Florida right now, right? So of course I'm going to go to Disney World like with the Imagineering program. There's some fascinating stuff that they're doing with like their magic band research. So, basically these wristwatches that you wear around the park that preload all of your information on them. And of course, right now they don't have physiologic monitoring, but there are all of these touch points around the parks. Clearly you can scan your watch to go on the ride and to unlock your hotel room door and to pay for your food. But it's also like, Hi Cara, welcome to this thing that I'm going to try and sell you. Hey, we haven't seen you in six months. It's good to see you back. Last time you really enjoyed this meal. How about we try this? I mean, it's getting to a point, especially in a closed loop. Like Disney is a little bit like Black Mirror. It's like the happy. It's like the happiest place on earth.

S: It's on the leading edge.

C: Exactly. And it's getting to the point where I think we're going to see that. And it's going to be so commonplace that we won't even see it as dystopian. We'll see it as─

S: Normal?

C: Helpful. Yeah. Not just normal, but like helpful. Beneficial.

S: So I kind of see it as a marketing security blanket, right? In that there's a lot of positive sides to it. Like if somebody really did know, there's this gadget that I really would want to buy if I knew it existed, and therefore giving me information about it is good for both people. I get something I want that I know existed, and they get another customer to buy the thing. And of course, that's how they sell their targeted ads. We're just giving you ads that are meaningful to you, you know? But think about sort of the end stage of this kind of bubble of curated content just for you, right?

C: Just think about what it does to politics.

S: Yeah, right. Think about the political aspects of that, and now just taking that to the nth degree. And then this could absolutely extend to politics, because that's selling you something, too, right?

C: At a certain point, it becomes your whole reality. We don't even call it politics anymore, or marketing, or anything. It's just your constructed reality.

S: Yes, exactly. But let's say even if we just stick with art, with music, let's say, the downside is that you're going to be fed things that neurologically you already like, which kind of takes away the opportunity for your likes to change, or for you to be exposed to new things, or for your likes to evolve over time, or to be surprised by something that maybe initially you didn't like, but then it grows on you.

C: How sad. It's like the epitome of a fixed mindset, just doing what you're already good at all the time, and never challenging yourself for growing.

E: Never getting outside of your bubble, your comfort zone.

S: I already hate this about the movie industry. They keep feeding me shit that I liked 30 years ago, right? And it's like, can you give me something new? The thing that kills me is that the most successful everything, TV show, movies, are the ones that are surprising, that are different, that are innovative, and then everybody wants to replicate it. It's like you can't replicate something new. It's not new anymore by definition. But I could just see that this is it, that you're going to be totally locked into just whatever these AI algorithms predict is the thing that will already maximally stimulate you. That could be extended to everything, into the foods that are offered to you, not just movies and music, but also the political opinions that are fed to you, the constructed fake reality that's fed to you as news. It's like whatever maximizes your engagement. It doesn't matter if maximizing your engagement is horribly bad for you, you know what I mean?

B: Well, I'm fine with the foods because basically I know what I don't like to eat and I'm not going to like it. I don't care if it's not like a new genre of music that might grow on me. Crappy food's not going to grow on me, I'm sorry. So it's kind of different than music.

S: You're totally wrong, Bob. You are completely, 100% wrong.

C: I disagree with you also.

S: There are lots of things that the first time I tried it, I didn't like it. I didn't like hummus the first time I tried it. It's not one of my favourite foods.

B: I didn't either.

S: Right.

E: But that was an age.

S: It very quickly grows on you. Nah, it's just something that just, it's a slightly acquired taste. Then again, I have this story I tell about when I was in college. Out of desperation, the only kind of bagel they had left was a cinnamon raisin bagel. I got a pizza bagel on a cinnamon raisin bagel. Who would ever do that deliberately?

E: What, sweet and savory?

S: It was awesome.

C: That's kind of good.

E: Yeah, of course.

S: I never had it any other way. That never would have happened.

E: Pineapple on a pizza, baby.

S: Out of desperation.

B: I don't know. Having a food grow on you is so overrated.

C: Well Bob that's─

S: I disagree.

B: Most of the time, it's never going to grow on you. How many times have you said I don't want to endure that to have it eventually grow on me?

C: I don't know. There's a reason that the cliche, there's literally the phrase is, it's an acquired taste. And then once you acquire it, it is a taste you have. But I think what we're forgetting here is that there is a certain personality type, right? Like even if we look at the psychology of like openness to new experiences, there's a certain personality type for which novelty is the thing that the AI should be tapping into.

B: Yes.

C: What they want is change and newness and novelty. So it is interesting.

B: Variety is the spice of life.

C: Yeah, if that component were worked into it instead of playing up the same old same old.

B: Or how about this? Have an app that's the opposite of this neuro predictive baloney and do that once in a while. I'm like, oh, wow, okay, this one looks promising and then just fold that into the other one.

C: It's like the George Costanza thing. You guys remember that?

B: Yes. Do the opposite.

C: Do the opposite of every.

B: That was an awesome episode.

E: Steve, try this new mushroom sauce we made.

S: Yeah, that's different.

B: Oh, is it now?

S: That's biochemical.

B: That's not what I'm talking about. At some point, you're like, I'm never going to like it. I don't care what you do with it.

S: I hear you. But there are some things which I think you just biologically don't like and other things which it's all about exposure and what you're used to. And that's I think that's the difference between being like a supertaster and just being a picky eater. Those are two totally different phenomena.

C: But interestingly, picky eaters are supertasters.

S: Yeah. Well, I think I define picky eater as somebody who is not adventurous in their eating.

B: Right.

C: Right. But I'm saying there have literally been studies where they look at the actual genetic components, right? They test these like taste papers. And it seems like there's a huge overlap. People who are perceived as picky eaters tend to be people who genetically can taste a lot of bitter foods.

S: Yeah.

S: What I'm saying is they're not really picky eaters. They're just things that they can't, that taste crappy to them. But anyway, we're getting sidetracked on that point.

B: I think this software will have a novelty mode, you know? I think it's a no brainer that they'll throw a novelty mode in there just to break away a little bit once in a while.

C: The problem is how many people are going to go, I don't want that. That's the real issue here is like when you, it's that whole thing like when you give, if you give the people, if the people want ground beef, give them ground beef versus like I'm giving the people ground beef because I think that's what they need. It's a very common old argument in TV and film, the TV and film industry.

B: Yeah. But what about this idea, the idea that once it knows your tastes and predilections to such a nuanced degree, it can offer you original combinations of things that you might say, oh, what? Those two together? No. Separately, yes, but not together. And then you try and you like it. So it can also offer you a type of novelty that will likely, that will likely you will enjoy and something you still wouldn't have done, but it's still novelty.

S: So Bob, ideally you're correct. But the question is, will people go out of their comfort zone to do that? Or if the, will the default mode by the company be maximize engagement, not maximize your personal personal growth and experience?

B: I'm sorry. I just ignored everything you said after Bob, ideally you're correct.

S: But again, that would be the best case scenario. But you know, so far social media has been giving us the worst case scenario. So we have to be prepared for that as well.

C: Twitter's killing me today.

S: Yeah. So but it's also possible, I think along Bob's line is that there may be the equivalent of an analog pushback against this. It's like the new generation, like the younger generation, these kids today, they're like, there's a boom of record players and vinyl.

C: That was my generation, by the way.

S: They want analog experiences because they grew up in a digital world, you know.

C: You're thinking of millennials though, the new kids are listening to tapes.

S: Tapes?

C: Tapes.

B: What is that?

C: Yeah. Cassette tapes.

B: Cassette. So they got to rewind it and find where they want to go.

E: Take a pencil you put it in there if it's unspoiled.

C: It's my generation that got into vinyl because we never grew up with it.

S: Yeah, but they're both like this analog pushback against the digital existence. So there might be this pushback against the curated, overly curated bubble, of information and entertainment and getting out there in the analog, unpredictable, surprising world.

C: Maybe. But they'd have actually leave their houses for that.

S: Right. Right. But again would that just be a little novelty trend sprinkled on top of the core reality, which is that everyone is trapped in their information bubble and we have lost the ability to have even shared experiences or even understand this is the big problem, right, that we're seeing with social media is that people are in information bubbles that are so deep that you can't even think about how somebody on the "other side" can't possibly believe what they believe. I mean, let's face it. We've all been there. We've all been at that point. We're like, how could somebody possibly believe that? And they think that about us. Of course, we know we're right.

B: You've got science on our side, baby.

S: But the deeper point is this mutual incomprehensibility is death to democracy.

B: It's bad. Yeah, it's bad.

S: It's not sustainable. And this I could see this kind of technology, this neuro forecasting massively worsening that phenomenon unless we're very careful, unless we deliberately─

C: Which we won't be.

S: ─work against it. But like all the reporting is how wonderful it will be to have your music list ideally curated for you.

E: Even less work for me. Yey.

S: Right.

C: And also, yeah, of course, the companies are just going to do whatever is best for the bottom line. Yeah, of course.

S: Yeah. There's a layer, just to put another term to it, there's a layer of over-functioning that happens. So this is sort of the AI technological nanny state. Bob, you've talked about this. One of the AI apocalypse scenarios is not that they take over the world. It's just that they do everything for us. And we get used to them doing everything for us until we're dependent upon them.

C: Yeah, it's a complacent kind of.

S: Yeah, it's a complacent apocalypse. And that's really the risk I see. And this is just one step in that direction.

E: Right. Because you don't know you're in the apocalypse until it's too late.

C: Pacified public.

S: It's like the boiling lobster.

E: Oh yeah, the boiling frog, right?

Coastal Erosion (34:34)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, tell us about coastal erosion.

J: What do you guys know about sand dunes?

S: I'm in favour of them.

C: They're really big and pretty.

E: "It's coarse. It gets everywhere." Was that what you--

C: --Oh god.

B: Anakin would hate them.

C: Saw that coming.

J: Well, they don't just exist in the desert, right? They're found on coastlines all around the world. And sand dunes actually are helpful in many ways, particularly in acting as a buffer from sea level rise and storms and coastal erosion, right?

E: Yeah, yeah.

J: Sand dunes actually have a real purpose. They do something that nothing else really can do other than a concrete wall, which you don't want. So they do all these things by trapping sediment over time. And they actually help expand the coastline where erosion typically would be happening, which you might not realize that a sand dune could actually prevent a beach from wearing away, which is pretty powerful.

B: Yeah, right.

J: Now, there are plants that are found on sand dunes also play an important role because what they do is they capture windblown sand, right? Because the sand hits the plant and the sand then falls down to the ground. And they help the sand stay in place. This further promotes sand dune growth, right? So the more plants that are there, the more likely sand is going to pile up onto the sand dune and propagate the sand dune. So once a sand dune starts to form, they create more biodiversity for both plants and animals. So sand dunes have a really good effect on the area. Southern California is a good place to consider the effects of sand dunes because right now, over 45% of Southern California's coastline is machine groomed, right? You guys know what that means? They have machines or basically it's like a truck that has a way of reaching down to the first few inches of the sand and they pick up any debris that's there. They run them over the sand and it basically just sifts through, picks up debris, plant life, things like that, just makes the sand clean. "Clean". So what's left is a nice flat beach. It offers plenty of space for people to have fun. Of course, removing plants from the sand has a heavy effect on local wildlife habitats, which is an actual problem. Native species can and do become locally extinct because of practices like this. So researchers at the University of California's Marine Science Institute ran a study on 12,000 square meters of beach. It's a pretty large area of beach that they were looking at. This was Santa Monica Beach and the study started in 2016. They monitored the beach for over six years. So, like I said, the site that they picked was groomed by heavy machinery. It was also made larger at one point by trucking in sand from other areas to make the beach bigger. So the study stopped new sand from being brought in by trucks and put up fencing on three sides of the beach. So the opening of the fence if you look at a square, imagine in your head and there's there's only three sides to the square. The open part is facing the ocean, right? Can you visualize that? So they also planted seeds of native dune plants. The dune was monitored to see if more sand was trapped there and to see if any plants or animals moved in. So let me quickly tell you what needs to be in place in order to form a sand dune. So you need a large supply of sand. In this case, the beach on Santa Monica, there's there's there's so deep the beaches are very long, right? There's a big distance between like the parking lot and then the actual water. So that depth of beach is very good for forming sand dunes. You need a flat beach. The sand has to have time to dry. So meaning that the the water line should not be going very much near or even up to the sand dune. Onshore wind, meaning that you want sand that you want wind blowing from the ocean coming onshore, which brings the sand from that direction back into the back where the sand dunes are. And you need some kind of obstacle to trap the sand. And in this case, it was a manmade fence that they put up to try to start trapping the sand. So keep in mind, when they started this, it was perfectly flat. There was nothing other than the fence that they put up. The entire beach was flat and clean. So one month after putting in the fences, they noticed an increase of sand. And after two months, new plants began to grow already. Right? So we're only at the two month mark and plants were already starting to grow. There was 15 centimeters of new sand after six months. Around the eighth month mark, the eight month mark, dune beetles moved in and the dune beetles were not seen anywhere else on the groomed beach. So they only were interacting with the sand dune. And also, and most impressively, an endangered bird species, which is known as the Western snowy plover, come back after no sightings in over a decade.

C: Wow.

E: That's impressive.

J: The birds were breeding on the dunes. So they're attracted to what they see. The birds actually visually see the sand dune and they come back and they start breeding.

C: How did it look to tourists? Did it affect their appreciation or their ability to utilize the beach?

J: I don't think it did at all. I mean, even though it's a big area, the beach at Santa Monica is utterly huge.

S: If you look at the pictures, there's still a nice stretch of beach for you to do whatever you want to do.

C: And in that stretch of beach, they were still using the old technique?

J: Yeah. The normal parts of the beach that weren't the sand dune area, they had two places. They had the sand dune area and then they had an untouched place that was being maintained the same way as the previous beaches.

S: From looking at the schematic here, it looks like there's the intertidal zone from the high tide to low tide. And that's the same. They don't groom that because that's the waters coming in and going. Farther in shore from there is either groomed or─

C: Or dune.

S: or dune, right.

C: Gotcha. And so people hang out on the groomed part of the beach and then basically the ecology is thriving in the dune part of the beach.

J: Correct.

C: Which, whether it's groomed or not, just thousands of people being on the beach, drinking their beers and like lying down is going to f up the ecology anyway.

S: Yeah, but it's not just the ecology. It's also building sand up rather than eroding it away.

C: Which is incredibly important so that we don't sink into the ocean.

S: Oh, yeah.

J: Now after five years they went back of course they're studying it all the time. But at the five year mark, the overall volume of sand had increased 30 cubic meters per one meter of shoreline. Now, I know that might not be easy thing to grasp. That's a lot of sand. 30 cubic meters per meter of shoreline, right? It's a huge volume of sand. And then at the six year mark, there was 1730 cubic meters of new sand at the site that wasn't there when they started. The dune was one meter high, right? So roughly three feet high. And to visualize this, this is more sand than you could fit into a 40 by 40 foot room, which it's a huge volume of sand that slowly over that time accumulated. Seven percent of the new dune site was covered in vegetation. And interestingly, the the different plants that they that they had seeded on these sand dunes, they ended up growing in different places on the dunes, right? The plants kind of selected where they where they could thrive best. So the plants were like growing in clumps in different places depending on what kind of plant it was. Now, keep in mind here, plant roots can grow very deep into the sand and they are very important for the stabilization of sand dunes. So you do need to have these these grasses and different types of plants on there to help hold the sand dune in place. It's also important to note that there was minimal human involvement after the fences were put in. They basically did nothing. They just looked at they just observed the changes in the sand dune. So this seems like a no brainer that we need to think about the ecology in a different way. It shouldn't be what's maximally best for humans. We should be trying to balance human access and use to nice places like a nice flat beach, but also save space for features like sand dunes that do a lot of things that are natural that part of the world's ecology that already know that they serve functions. I just think it's incredible that all they had to do was hammer in this fence and a whole ecology sprouted up because of that. That fence like was the first thing. The wind hits the fence. There's sand in the wind. That sand drops down and it started this process.

C: Where does the sand go otherwise? Does it go back out into the ocean or does it blow into the air like up shore?

J: Well, first of all─

C: In the non dune scenario.

J: Yeah, non dune scenario what from my understanding is that beaches will typically slowly erode. I think it also depends on the way that the wind blows and things like that.

C: But the erosion is back out to sea usually?

S: It's probably both.

C: Okay. Okay. Yeah.

S: They mainly just say erosion. They don't really detail where it goes.

C: But usually when we think of erosion, we think of into the waterway, not away from the waterway.

S: Yeah, but they also talk about the sand being loose so that it could blow away. So I think both is what is happening.

J: Another cool thing I found out is that there are different levels of sand dunes. And the easy way to think about it is that sand dunes get bigger the farther away from the water they are. So you can think of the very beginnings of a sand pile up, or a very small sand dune that's relatively closer to the water. That is like a baby sand dune and it won't get any bigger because of its proximity to the water. But as you get farther away, the potential for the sand dune to get larger increases. So you have like levels of sand dunes that go up as you get farther away.

S: All right. Thank you, Jay.

Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole (44:36)[edit]

S: Bob, what has the Milky Way's supermassive black hole been up to recently?

B: Define recently. Well, let me just go through it.

E: Check its Twitter account, see what it's posting.

B: An international team of astronomers recently published evidence that the huge black hole in the center of the Milky Way left its typically relaxed, almost comatose state two centuries ago to enter a phase of extended eating and radiation emission. The team led by Frederick Marin, researcher of the Astronomical Strasbourg Observatory, published in Nature on June 21st of this year, 2023. So, OK, so our central supermassive black hole called Sag A star by some, I call it Sagittarius A star. And A star is basically a asterisk. So if you see it in print, that's how they write it. So this is the Milky Way's black hole, 25,000 light years from Earth towards the center. Its mass is four million suns. It's 16 million miles or 26 million kilometers in diameter. I think if you're in the southern hemisphere, if you know where the butterfly cluster is, it's around there, if that helps. Maybe to some people. OK, so this is our personal. I think of this as Sagittarius A star is our personal central supermassive black hole. And so we have to love it, right? It's amazing and interesting in so many ways, for sure. But, but I have to admit, it's quite boring compared to the biggest and meanest super and ultramassive black holes that I've come across in my wanderings. I mean, there's ultramassive black holes out there, not with four million solar masses, but 30 fricking billion solar masses and more crammed inside. I mean, they're amazingly much larger than what we have. Some are bigger than our entire solar system. And this one's only what, 26 million kilometers in diameter. Some supermassive black holes are so voracious.

S: How voracious are they?

B: Thank you. They're six hundred trillion times brighter than the sun, making the black hole itself just a black hole. And of course, it's accretion disc, two thousand times as bright as our entire galaxy. So so sometimes I feel like patting Sagittarius A star on the head and saying, oh, you're a good boy. But you're just a small dim lightweight, aren't you? So that's why, though, I love hearing about our black hole having some gumption, even if it was 200 years ago. So the question then becomes, how do we even know what it was doing 200 years ago? The answer is molecular cloud. Molecular clouds are fascinating. They're a critical component to the universe. We wouldn't be here without them. The entire universe would be quite boring, I think, without them. It's a type of interstellar cloud of gas and dust in which molecules can form. Now, most often it's hydrogen molecules, H2, essentially two hydrogen atoms that form together, sharing electrons. That's a molecular cloud. These clouds are very cold. They're like 10 Kelvin, so really cold. And they're light years across. But when they're nudged by, say, a supernova explosion or a collision with another cloud, they can collapse and then they form stars and planets. So, yeah, kind of kind of important. You've probably seen many of them on the Internet here and there. But the most famous is probably the Eagle Nebula. If you remember the Pillars of Creation, Hubble took that famous picture. That's a molecular cloud. So, yeah, these are important and they're fascinating. Now, these clouds like this exist. Molecular clouds exist in the vicinity of our supermassive black hole. And some of them were glowing with X-ray light, far brighter than they should have. And this gets the scientists' attention because, wait, these things are cold. Why are they glowing so much? So they've been trying to figure out. They've had theories and they're trying to figure out and prove what was going on here. Now, the scientists combined observational data from Chandra X-ray Observatory and other observatories and other data from other missions. And they saw that the X-rays from the molecular clouds were oriented or polarized in such a way that they pointed like a compass to the source that blasted them with X-rays in the first place. What do you think it pointed at? Yes, it pointed to our buddy Sagittarius A-star, our black hole. That's where the X-rays themselves pointed to. Kudos to the researchers on this because researchers and scientists have been trying to do this precision work to show this for a long time and it was always impossible to do. They have not been able to do it until now. So these guys definitely deserve some serious kudos to be the first to look at this polarized light accurately enough and nuanced enough to say, yes, this is how it's oriented and it's pointing right to our black hole. Now, when Sagittarius A-star eats something, which it actually does fairly often more than I realized, it would typically gravitationally pull in some gas right into its orbiting accretion disk, which swirls around and around like a drain and the gas gets really, really hot the closer it gets and the faster it goes. And it emits a tiny flare of X-rays right before the gas disappears past the event horizon. X-rays burst out and those flares last for something like minutes. It's just like a really tiny snack. And this happens, they say, fairly often. I don't know what fairly often is, but it happens. But they're little things, just for a couple of minutes. Oh, look, there was a little flare of X-rays that we see, little spike in the X-rays that don't last for a couple of minutes or so. They determined, though, through their research, that these glowing molecular clouds were likely giving off what they call a light echo, which is basically reflecting the X-rays from a feeding event that happened 200 years ago. And they figure that the feeding didn't last for minutes. This feeding event lasted for a year and a half. A year and a half. Huge for our poor little tiny supermassive black hole. That's a gargantuan meal, Jay. That's like a million Thanksgivings day. That was huge, a year and a half of eating when now the snacks for a minute or two, that was an event. During that time, the intensity of its emissions was at least a million times greater than what's being emitted now by Sagittarius A star, a million times greater. I loved how the researchers compared this. They said they compared it to a glow worm that was like unseen in the forest. And this glow worm suddenly becoming as bright as the sun. So yeah, that talk about orders of magnitude increase. So yeah, so our galaxy became very, very bright. So this is a quote from the paper. They say the data implies that some 200 years ago, the X-ray luminosity of Sagittarius A star was briefly comparable to that of a Seaford Galaxy. I know a Seaford Galaxy is a super bright galaxy, almost as bright as a quasar. That made me so proud of our little supermassive black hole. Back to you, Steve.

S: All right. Thanks, Bob.

Aliens in Vegas (52:11)[edit]

S: So Evan, have aliens landed in Las Vegas?

E: I suppose it depends on who you ask. And you might be surprised at the number of people who would answer yeah to that question.

B: This was pathetic.

E: All right. So I got to take it back. Give you a little backstory. April 30th, several people across Eastern California, Nevada and Utah reported seeing a flash. Something bright had streaked across the sky.

B: What could it be?

E: Well, I mean, exactly. No big deal, right? Lights streak across the night sky all the time. It could be a string of Starlink satellites or could be the International Space Station. Plain old micrometeoroids, grains of space sand burning up in the atmosphere. You know, all these things we know about them all. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing to see here. So why? Why is this a news item? Well, because when you have footage of something streaking across the sky and you couple it with a 911 emergency services call and you release it on the Internet, something therefore you have something mundane that turns into a social media tsunami so big that news agencies around the world are covering this thing as if it were truly newsworthy.

B: Plus, though, we're also going through a little bit of a stupid renaissance in UFOs now. It's really spiking right now more than usual.

E: And if you check your calendar, we're not far from Roswell Day, which is always around the Fourth of July each year. So these stories, at least as far as the news cycle is concerned, get to be tuned up. But yes, there are some other things at play there, Bob. Definitely they're feeding into this. But Nevada and Las Vegas, a person saw the streak of light. They called 911. Now, this was about two weeks ago and the transcript of the 911 call was released. So about for two weeks, we've known this. Here's the main part of that 911 call. The dispatcher says, OK, what's going on over there? The caller says, OK, lady, me and my dad and my brother were working on a truck in our backyard and we have a big lot outside. We could see in the corner of our eyes something fall down from the sky and it was with lights. When it hit down, there was a big impact and we felt a lot of energy and we heard a lot of footsteps near us. We have this big equipment. We see that there's an eight foot person beside it and another one beside it. It has big eyes. It's looking at us. The dispatcher says, OK, where is this on your property? The caller says it's in my backyard. I swear to God, this is not a joke because we are really terrified. The dispatcher says there are two subjects in your backyard. And the caller says, correct. They're very large. They're like eight foot, nine foot, ten foot. I don't know. They look like aliens to us. Big eyes. They have big eyes. I can't explain it. And a big mouth. They have shiny eyes and they are not human. They are 100 percent not human. All right. That's the meat of the 911 call that got released. So, OK, but then it then it gets better. The police officer officers are dispatched to the location and their body cam recorders are on and recording at the time. And one of them is overheard saying, I'm so nervous right now. I have butterflies, bro, saw a shooting star. And now these people say there's aliens in their backyard. They arrive and they start talking to people. And also as part of that recording from the police officer, police officer says, I'm not going to be as you guys. One of my partners said they saw something fall out of the sky, too. So that's why I'm kind of curious. Did you see anything land in your backyard? So then they're being shown over. The officers go to the part of the property where the sighting supposedly took place. And he stops to ask another person on the way if they saw anything. He says, it sounds crazy. But and this is the officer saying, it sounds crazy, but you never know. I don't believe in what I saw right now. I do believe in it. And that was what a witness had told police. So you see feeding into sort of into all of this.

B: I do believe in spooks. I do believe in spooks.

E: Yeah, exactly. You guys seem legit scared and I don't blame you. So here it is. So you got the streak of light seen by many people. This called the 911 report of 10 foot tall extraterrestrials, cops showing up, adding their expressions of nervousness and butterflies. Partners saw the light as well. And you take that, you release it to the public. Someone sees it on social media before long. Before long, the hive mind notes the curious timing of this release footage immediately on the heels of the news, which we talked about. Former intelligence official David Grusch alleged that the U.S. government has a covert program focused on recovering debris from crashed non-human origin spacecraft and attempting to reverse engineer that technology. So you take all those things, you mix them together within a few hours, you're breaking the Internet with shares, likes, tweaks, instas, ticks and tocs. And it's not too long before news outlets all over the world are reporting on the matter and treating it in such a way that it's a serious discussion that's going on. In fact because I watched some of the newscasts on this and some of the they had their investigative reporters doing segments. They inviting guests to come on the news, offer their opinions about their expertise and whatever that might happen to be. So this has been going on for about a fortnight. But the latest and greatest news about this viral sensation of a news story is that NASA has chimed in on this. Yep. And they said just the other day, the streak of light in the night sky back on April 30th, which started at all, was a meteor. Less than a meter in size fell through the sky. And it certainly was not they had to say this. It was not a UFO that crash landed in someone's backyard. The meteor was recorded in the American Meteor Society's fireball logs. NASA did not pick it up from their near Earth object studies program because it was too small to go. If it's under a meter, they don't know that it doesn't hit their hit their radar per se. But so it was too small. And based on the energy it released, apparently they have all kinds of measurements on this thing that said no way this thing is classic, small micro meteoroid came in through the atmosphere, very bright. And by the way, that thing streaking across the sky is no way it landed in Las Vegas. So so what you have is kind of a conflation of kind of a couple different things. Obviously there's visual account of the bright light and stuff. And then these other people's accounts that they saw something in relationship to something they perceived as that light having hit somewhere close, apparently to their position where they were in Las Vegas, so much so that they felt the energy as part of the description of what they said. But look, they saw something. They got frightened at it. It was dark. It was night. They didn't know what it was. And that was their interpretation, basically, of what they thought they were seeing with these eight foot creatures. Certainly the police found nothing. Subsequent people looking around. There's no other evidence of any kind of ten foot creatures skulking around the neighbourhood or doing anything else. I guess unless you're going to start to say that they they teleported away magically or something like that. But, yeah, so─

S: They were beamed up, Evan. Come on.

E: I suppose so. Or the Chupacabras got them before.

S: Here's the thing. Couple of points. So what this now enters UFO lore and this will very rapidly evolve into a classic UFO encounter when in fact contemporary evidence suggests there's absolutely nothing there. But, Evan, I might have missed if you said it. Did you? Is this the one, the meteor that was captured by that police officer's body cam?

E: Yes, it was. So that's the other part. Yep. Is that part of the part of the footage or part of the story that feed that helps feed this fire is that police body cam footage recorded the streak going going across the sky. And since there have been some other ring doorbell videos and some other things that have turned up to have recorded the streak as well.

S: And it was clearly a meteor.

B: The video is so obvious what it was.

S: But it reminded me of like we make the point that, and I wrote about this today as well, the idea that you have two hypotheses, right? You have the hypothesis that the UFO phenomenon is all just self-deception and cultural belief and all that sort of stuff, the psychocultural hypothesis. Then you have the one that is actually aliens, at least some of it. And it's like, OK, well, we have 70 year natural experiment now where we had a massive increase in the number of cameras that are all over the place.

B: Oh, yeah.

S: If the psychocultural hypothesis is true, we should expect no increase in the quality of the video evidence. It should just be more crappy evidence. If aliens are visiting the Earth, we should expect some increase in the quality of the photographic and video evidence.

E: Massively.

S: As cameras and videos get ubiquitous.

B: How about one increase?

S: Yeah, this is just, yes, an increase by one would be nice. This is just a good example of that. We caught a meteor on a cop's body cam. There's so many pictures and video out there. We would expect that we would have seen something slightly compelling by now.

C: You would think that the people could have started recording while they were on the phone saying, I see 10 foot figures in my backyard.

S: Of course, when they do, that's not an event because then you figure out what it is, right? Again, the ambiguity is the phenomenon.

E: But then and then they have. OK, so police officers body can't pick this up. Police officers are commenting, basically feeding into their belief in the system. Then the news runs with and they report it and they're treating it like legitimate kind of news stories are having special guests on. They're running special segments. They're releasing their investigative teams out to it. There's this like I like to say, there's this cultural saturation of UFO phenomenon that we have mostly in America, certainly Western culture, perhaps overall, in which it's not even questioned anymore whether really aliens sort of exist. It's simply when will we, when can we be the ones to finally break the news story or provide the the definitive evidence that, yes, they are here finally. But there's no skepticism upright upfront I should say that to guide your way. It's almost accepted that it's just a matter of finding it. It does. The phenomenon does exist. We just have to find it. Let's go find it. And that's from police officers to news organizations and other people in government, obviously, clearly with the with the stories that we've been covering for the last couple of weeks. It all feeds into that cultural saturation of this.

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

Alcohol Use Disorder (1:03:13)[edit]

S: All right, Cara, you are going to review an interesting study about alcohol use disorder and its effects on intoxication.

C: Yeah, I'm actually really like this is fascinating. So a new study, it was published in the journal Alcohol, Clinical and Experimental Research. Whole journal dedicated to that called Holding Your Liquor. Comparison of alcohol induced psychomotor impairment in drinkers with and without alcohol use disorder. Holding your liquor is the is really the key term here. So what these researchers and these are the researchers Andrea King is the lead author here. She has an ongoing project at the University of Chicago called the Chicago Social Drinking Project. And this has been going on since 2004 where literally in the lab they get people drunk and then they look at the outcomes of this. And it's fascinating. They have a huge database of information that they've gleaned from this. And in this project, they wanted to know if there's anything to that sort of folk wisdom that heavier drinkers have higher tolerance. That they can hold their liquor better. Right.

E: They've become kind of desensitized to it to a degree.

C: Right. And we've all kind of known people or experienced different things like that. So they did they did a really fascinating study. They basically split their group into three distinct, I guess, drinking levels. And this is based on their, this is not a randomized control trial. It couldn't be. These people already drank in this quantity. So they had light drinkers, heavy drinkers and individuals with alcohol use disorder. And I'm going to tell you how they defined that. So light drinkers are individuals who consume fewer than six drinks per week and rarely binge drink. You've got to remember these are all people between the age of 21 and 35. So they drink a lot. So even the light drinkers rarely binge drink. Heavy drinkers were individuals who consume at least 10 drinks weekly and they consider themselves to engage in one to five like binge drinking episodes per week. Heavy drinking episodes per week. That's how they define it. I know. And then alcohol use disorder is really high. Twenty eight or more drinks per week for men. Twenty one or more for women with at least eleven heavy drinking occasions per month.

B: Oh my gosh.

C: Yeah. So heavy heavy drinkers. Alcohol use disorder. They don't qualify for the diagnosis. And so they took these three groups and they got them drunk. Basically they gave them either a placebo or alcohol. And it's really brilliant. Even the way that they do the placebo is basically they use. I have the recipe here. Ninety eight percent I think alcohol. So basically almost pure pure alcohol. And then it's it's water, alcohol, some sort of like mixer and sugar. And they use the exact same alcohol. It's just that the percentages are different. So in the group that gets the placebo there's only like a one percent solution. So it still tastes like alcohol. And in the group that gets the alcohol it's actually pretty pretty high. 190 proof ethanol, one percent volume for the placebo as it as they call it as a taste mask and then 16 percent volume based on body weight for the actual alcoholic beverages. And it's actually different for men versus women because of obviously the fat content and the way that we metabolize alcohol. And then they looked at different time periods after they gave the individuals the drink. This drink was basically dosed to represent four to five drinks in a normal night of drinking. It's like a heavy dose of alcohol but they're calling it the "standard drink" of a normal night of drinking across the board. Like a normal heavy night if that makes sense. Is that kind of.

B: Yeah.

C: So what do you think that they found in the light users, the moderate users and those with alcohol use disorder?

S: Well I read the studies so I know.

C: You can't ever answer these. I was trying to do this. What do you think. It's like you're not allowed to answer. What do you think. Let's say this the AUD the alcohol use disorder group versus the light drinkers in this task where they drank something that was kind of the equivalent to like four or five drinks. They did a couple tasks that were like fine motor like a group had pegboard task. They did a symbol matching task where they had to like look at a key and write down symbols as fast as they can.

S: Yeah. Who do you think was more impaired.

B: Yeah.

E: I don't know. I don't.

B: I'm guessing that they were similarly impaired.

E: That would be the safe bet.

C: No it's actually what you would what what kind of the folk wisdom is the people the lighter drinkers were more impaired than the heavier drinkers. But then they said let's myth busters their ass. Let's give the heavy group a dose of alcohol that's more consistent with how they usually drink. And so they gave them a dose of alcohol that was more consistent with like eight or nine drinks. They didn't do that to the light group because they don't drink that much. So they upped it a lot. And we're talking the difference between the blood alcohol content was, not the blood alcohol sorry the breath alcohol content point nine grams per deciliter in the lower dose and then with a very high dose they got them to point one three grams per deciliter on a breathalyzer. And they found what do you think happened once they ramped it up with the heavy drinkers?

E: They fell right in line with everyone else and got wasted.

C: It was worse.

B: Worse.

C: Their wastedness was worse. Yeah. And so that's, there's a couple surprising findings here because they also gave them a measure that asked them to subjectively say how impaired they thought they were. Heavier drinkers or individuals with alcohol use disorder so significantly heavy drinkers across the board thought they were less impaired. And while it was true that they were less impaired at low levels of alcohol use they were actually more impaired at high levels. But they still thought─

E: Why people get behind the wheels of cars. They have no clue what the hell's really going on. They have no idea how drunk they really are. None.

C: Yeah. They still thought that they were less impaired. This also shows that they actually cannot hold their liquor better at the rates at which they actually drink. They can at low rates social drinking rates. Yes it's true. They might not seem impaired early on because they're not impaired because they probably do have some amount of tolerance. But once they get drinking at the level that they are usually drinking they're actually more impaired─

S: And for longer.

C: And for longer. Oh yeah. At the three hour mark they still hadn't returned to baseline. Whereas the others the others returned to baseline much more quickly. So and of course this is an acute test. We're looking at impairment active acute impairment. We're not even looking. I mean there's tons of studies that show the long term effects on cognitive function. It's pretty telling. And apparently this is the first time that they've been able to do or that anybody's thought to do a controlled study that specifically looks at this question. And it's not what we would expect. It's that it's nuanced. At low levels they actually can hold their liquor but at the levels that are consistent with how they usually drink they hold their liquor worse. And I think we've all anecdotally seen this in people that we know who have alcohol use disorder. What we used to call alcoholism where there's a certain point in the night where they seem good. And then there's a point in the night where it's like OK here's the problem behavior.

S: They still get more drunk. They get more drunk than the other people based on their typical use.

B: But what if the the light drinkers drank as much as the heavy drinkers. Did I miss that bit?

S: No they didn't do that.

C: They couldn't. That's like not ethical to do that.

S: But they would probably get smashed.

C: They probably black out. It would probably actually be really dangerous to them because they don't have any tolerance.

B: Well that's just it. They would be worse off than the heavy drinkers. So they, the heavy drinkers they drink till they're severely impaired but they can actually handle that better than the other people.

S: No no no.

B: As well.

S: Oh yeah. Yeah. They handle that absolute amount of alcohol. But they don't handle their usual level of drinking better. They handle it worse. They're more impaired for longer.

B: Yeah. But how much of a surprise is that? They drink more and they get effing ripped.

C: Because because at low levels they're not ripped.

S: It's answering one nuanced question. So yes it's not. It's not surprising from a pharmacological point of view. You drink more you get more impaired.

C: There's a dose response curve here.

S: But the question is are heavy drinkers drinking to the same level of inebriation as light drinkers, it just takes more alcohol or are they drinking to greater levels of inebriation. This study answered that narrow question. They're drinking to greater levels of inebriation. They're not just building up a tolerance to the same level of inebriation. You know what I mean. It's not just taking them more alcohol to get just as wasted. They're getting way more wasted.

C: It's taking them more alcohol to get more wasted.

E: And that's part of this disorder.

S: Yes. That's part of the why it's an alcohol abuse disorder.

C: A hundred percent. Exactly.

S: Bob and Jay I don't know if you remember. Cara you asked if you've seen people like this. When I was younger there was one person who worked for my father and at the company parties which would happen once or twice a year this guy would get drunker than any other human being I've ever witnessed in my life. Like he was not really even able to stand. He was completely second separated from the world. You guys remember this. I remember him stumbling off at one point to get into his car and they had to run after him basically and not let him do that because that would have been a death sentence.

E: Oh my gosh.

C: Yep.

S: Unbelievable.

E: I've seen people so drunk they walk through a plate glass window.

S: Yeah.

E: Through it and keep going.

S: It's like how they are not already unconscious.

E: I saw that twice in my life. You can believe that.

C: I don't know if it's a function of growing up in Texas or what but I've definitely witnessed a lot of really severe alcohol use disorder in my life and it's yeah it's I think we all everybody listening to the show right now can think of those people that they know and maybe it's the previous versions of themselves who got to that point. And obviously this study doesn't get into the why of it all but this lab does look at that quite a bit and there's it's actually really interesting. It's an open access study so anybody can download it and read it. It's not behind a paywall. Holding your liquor. You could just Google that holding your liquor was published just recently in the journal Alcohol Clinical and Experimental Research. It's actually quite easy to read. The lit review sort of the introduction section is pretty fascinating. There's some good history in there. CDC reports that more than one hundred forty thousand people die from just from excessive alcohol use in the US each year. That's not including traffic fatalities. That's just directly related to drinking.

S: Yeah it's a big problem. Bigger than all other substances of abuse combined.

E: I would think so.

S: I don't drink at all but I intellectually understand why somebody might want to get buzzed to lubricate things or whatever. But I don't I just don't understand why somebody would deliberately pickle their brain to the point that they are incapacitated like completely and they had they blackout and they have no memory. How could you enjoy something where you've had no memory of.

C: Well most people don't. And that's the thing that we have to remember is that when it gets to us alcohol use disorder we're no longer talking about a fun night of drinking. We're actually deep addiction.

S: I know that I know that but there are people who don't have alcohol use disorder who still do that occasionally.

C: It's true. Yeah. And I think sometimes that's just about not knowing their limits because while you're experiencing it you don't know you're as drunk as you, you don't know when you're getting blackout drunk.

S: You get your impaired judgement about how much you're drinking.

E: The first and only time I consider myself to have been drunk that is exactly what happened had no idea.

C: You had no idea. Yeah. And also─

E: Didn't feel the buildup.

C: We know that these these rates are higher in young people whose frontal lobes just aren't they're just not cooked yet. You know what I mean? They're just not good at making decisions yet.

S: All right. Thanks Cara.

Who's That Noisy? (1:15:44)[edit]

S: Jay, it's who's that noisy time.

J: All right guys last week I played this noisy.

[animal chitting/cackling laugh sounds]

B: The hell man.

C: Do not like. Do not like.

S: I mean that's it's got to be an animal.

C: Yes.

S: Like a laughing animal.

E: Probably.

S: Not a hyena because I've heard hyenas laugh but something like that.

C: It's a marine mammal, isn't it?

E: One of Bob's Halloween dolls a dismembered head like laughing in the background with an eye missing or something. Right Bob?

B: Yes. I would like that head.

J: So a listener named Iren O'Coskray, she wrote in and said: "My guess is a laughing kookaburra." No.

C: Bird?

J: That's a good guess but it's incorrect.

S: I heard that too. It's not a kookaburra.

J: Another listener named Kay Dingwell wrote in and said: "Longtime listener from Prince Edward Island Canada. As an emergency doc myself I had a laugh at Steve's just give them the steroids this week." Remember that? "Is this week's noisy a porcupine? Thanks for all the work you guys do." That is incorrect. It is not a porcupine.

S: Yeah. I've heard porcupines though. They do chitter. You know but not─

J: They chitter. Michael Blaney wrote in and said: "Hi Jay, I'm sure I've heard that before but it's not coming to me. I'm sure as soon as you reveal it I'll go. Oh yeah that's right. But I got to make a guess anyway. So my guess is it's a baby eagle begging for food."

B: Whoa.

E: Oh.

J: That one surprised me. That guess.

S: I know what eagles sound like. It's not that either. Eagles like they don't have that raptor sound. That sound that they always use for an eagle is actually a red-tailed hawk.

B: Yes.

E: Yeah that's right.

S: Eagles have a real like squeaky sound that they make. It sounds very uneagle like. It doesn't match the noble bearing of an eagle.

E: Not like Sam the eagle from the Muppets.

S: That's why they use the red-tailed hawk.

C: To be fair that noisy sounds very uneagle like as well.

J: So another listener named Steve Wynick wrote in and said: "My son Sushin at age 10 identified this week's noisy as a 3D printed flute or recorder type instrument. His art teacher made one earlier this year. Keep up the great work."

E: Is it?

J: No that is not a printed item but Sushin that was a good guess. I encourage you to keep listening to Who's That Noisy and keep guessing because eventually you'll probably get one right. Another listener named Robert Stewart wrote in and said: "Is it a laughing hyena?" And the answer is no but we're getting close.

C: Oh is it a mammal? Yeah I did't think it was a bird.

J: We're getting close. Aidan Megahay that's the way the name is pronounced. I'm sure of it. Has written and said: "I'm pretty confident about this noisy and I'll be all chuffed up with myself if I'm right. I think it's the sound of a fox getting its tummy rubbed."

C: Oh. Foxes laugh. They do.

E: What did the fox say?

J: Indeed is a fox. It's a fox. Now wait before we move on another young person. This is Matthew Morrison. He said: "Hi Jay my seven-year-old daughter Nev heard this week's noisy and without hesitation said it's a fox." So Nev you got it right. You were 100% right. Great guess.

B: Nice.

J: So let's play it again. This is indeed a fox getting its tummy rubbed. [plays noisy]

B: What the hell man.

E: It's human like.

C: It's like human like with a dog pant behind it. It's got that. It's like both dog like and human like.

J: I would not want an animal like that in my house laughing.

C: Foxes are so cute. You don't want them in your house. They smell really bad. And they pee on everything.

S: I mean they are adorable. I would love to have a fox as a pet if they were domesticated and didn't smell.

C: Yeah but they don't. Like even the domestic ones smell and I think I've told you guys this before but the worst trait that they have is because they're so domestic. The Russian domestic fox study. They're so domestic that they all have that. I think there's a scientific term for it. That reaction that some dogs have where the minute that they get excited they pee all over the place.

S: The happy pee.

C: Yeah. All these foxes happy pee because they just love people so much. So not good in the house. Good outdoor pet.

S: My miniature long haired dachshund had happy pee up to the day he died.

B: He happy peed on me every time.

J: He did like to pee on you Bob.

B: I miss it. I miss the pee.

New Noisy (1:20:20)[edit]

J: All right. I got a new one for you guys. This one was sent in by a listener named Adam Hill and here it is.

[raspy warblings]

Crazy crazy sound. Guys if you think you know what this week's noisy is or if you heard something cool you can email me at

Announcements (1:20:48)[edit]

J: Couple quick things to talk about. We have a conference on November 3rd and 4th. This is a SGU and very close friends conference. It is called NOTACON. It'll be happening in White Plains New York. You can go to the SGU website if you want to find out more details about it. We very recently dramatically increased the quality of our programming because we are continuing to write this conference and improve it and keep upping the the fun ideas that we're coming up with. We have a lot of great stuff. This week I'll tell you that there will be a lot of comedic improv including the audience. Audience members will be pulled up to join us.

S: It'll all be voluntary. We're not going to impose that upon anybody.

J: No of course not. We will let people raise their hands. We'll pick people who want to do this. You're not going to be like in the back.

S: We're not going to force anybody to do something they don't want to do.

J: That's not going to happen. But we definitely have that going on. We have so many things that are going to happen at this conference. So many different bits and shows and ideas and everything. There will be something big happening both on Friday night and Saturday night. I believe Friday night we will be doing a live boomer versus zoomer. This is our game show. We will be pulling four people from the audience to be the contestants. It could be you. And this is an hour and a half to two hour game show that we have that is a ton of fun. It's live. It's in person. George Hrabb is the host and it's going to be a great time. Another thing that's definitely going to happen is George Hrabb and Brian Wecht will be doing a music concert. An entertainment music type concert with lots of different things going on. That's going to be a lot of fun. More details are going to come from that as well. So if you're interested go to and check out the details on NOTACON in November of this year.

S: You mean Ninja Brian?

J: Ninja Brian. Yep. Brian Wecht.

S: Cool.

J: I believe last week I said this. I'll say it again. You might notice that there are no ads on this show and that is because the ads industry has dried up this summer and fall. There's basically companies are just simply not advertising that much. So that means that the part of the SGU's income is down. So we are asking our listeners if you enjoy this show and you feel like helping us keep the show going and keep making this thing happen every week that you could become a patron of ours and that would be an amazing thing for you to do to show your support and to help us just continue to do what you listen to every week. So you can go to You can take a look at the different levels that we have and different perks that you get. Bottom line is even a dollar would help. Anything that you can do to help us keep going and keep greasing the wheels over here. We'd really appreciate it and now would be a great time to show your support.

S: All right. Thank you Jay.


Correction #1: Latitude and Daylight (1:23:47)[edit]

S: Couple of emails. The first is that actually we got about 300 emails correcting us about, informing us about the relationship between latitude and daylight hours. So seriously this is a little embarrassing because we had a collective brain fart on this one. It's not like we don't know.

C: To be fair I did not have a brain fart but then somehow I was so tired that I just gullibly brain farted myself into.

S: It's a kind of thing that when you get blindsided by the question you haven't thought about in a while. It takes a minute to sort of orient yourself. But anyway so Cara was pointing out that it got darker quicker in Florida than in Connecticut because of course it did because it's the summer. And in the summer the farther away you get from the equator the more daylight you have compared to darkness.

E: But I didn't realize it was like a two hour difference between our latitudes.

C: It wasn't two hours.

E: That I didn't know.

C: It wasn't for us guys. It was like 20 minutes. We just happened to be right.

S: We were right on the cusp. Yeah. But even still Evan I mean we're at 45 degrees.

E: We're 41. 41 is Connecticut.

S: I though it was higher than that. And then Cara is probably what at 30 something?

C: I'm looking up the sunset right now so I can give you the difference. So the sunset today in Davie Florida was 8:16 p.m. And the sunset give me a city one of you guys is in.

S: We'll do New Haven. Probably 9 o'clock.

C: 8:29. Not that different. 10 minute difference or 15 minute difference.

S: That's it. Well today's actually the yesterday was the first day of summer the longest day of the year for us.

C: But still 15 minutes later.

S: We think about it this way by the time you get to the Arctic Circle you have 24 hours of sunlight.

E: No, right.

C: And we all know that.

S: When you don't prepare it when you prepare things it's one thing you have the facts at the top of your head. But when you're just talking off the cuff sometimes you say stupid things. Usually we catch each other or when I'm doing post production like was that funny. Well people enjoy that. OK I'll leave it in. It's not like I didn't know that that was that we obviously didn't know the answer. We were just like we're not wrapping our head around this.

C: No it's like obviously we knew because I was like it's a latitude. Yeah it's a latitude thing too. You guys are farther north. That's why your sun is still up.

S: Yeah well we didn't know which you had to consult the map for. Like it's not you kind of lose intuitive sense of like how far east things are.

C: That's true.

S: So we are farther east than you. So that does not explain it.

B: It is a complicated interaction of different variables it's not─

S: The thing that always blows me is like I forget how far east South America is until you look at it like holy crap South America is way east of even the east coast of the United States.

E: I know. We don't think.

S: Yes it's not.

E: In that direction.

S: The way the maps are arranged it makes it look like it's southwest but it's really southeast.

E: That's why it's handy to have a globe. I have one in every room of my house.

S: Very good. All right. So it's your fault Evan.

C: I just I just really appreciated the volume of emails that we got.

E: Oh my gosh.

C: Cara was right. I just really like reading that in the first sentence.

E: And you know.

S: It's not like we doubted that it was getting darker earlier. That wasn't the point of the discussion.

E: And because it was brought up in the opening banter, the first couple minutes of the show you know these listeners love you all stopped there listening to the show so they can run to their computers and say hey. And then resume listening to the rest of the show. At least that's how I envisioned it.

Question #1: Debating RFK Jr. (1:27:23)[edit]

S: All right. We also got a few questions about the whole debating R.F.K. Jr. hubbub. So R.F.K. Jr. challenged a scientist to debate him on the Joe Rogan show because you know R.F.K. Jr. is running for the Democratic nomination for president and he is a big time conspiracy theorist. The guy's a total crank. He's a vaccine, he's an anti-vaxxer even though he says I'm not anti-vaccine. I'm pro-vaccine. Yeah. You're an anti-vaxxer.

E: We were talking about him in the 90s.

S: Guy is a total crank. It's a complete embarrassment in every possible way. But this is one of the things that the cranks do is like they want to debate legitimate scientists in a friendly venue in a venue friendly to them. Joe Rogan buys all this crap now too.

E: Yeah. Not a neutral person there.

S: Peter Hotez who is a vaccine doctor and he's refusing to do the debate. So of course they're like oh you're scared. So here's the thing. We've said this before on the show. I've done debates. I think debates are fine but you have to consider the venue. It's all about the venue in an unfriendly open venue or one where there's no way to establish any kind of rules you end up with a Gish gallop. It's just going to favour a loudmouth who's used to talking about their crap. The venue is not amenable to a good exchange of ideas. It's not amenable to understanding at the end of the day what the science actually has to say. It favours the Gish gallop where you just keep throwing out claim after claim. And again if somebody who's like lived and breathed this for decades like RFK, he's been doing this for about 20 years he could throw out a lot of stuff. He'll say what about Simpson or whatever. And if Dr. again somebody who knows the science but doesn't know the pseudoscience, doesn't know the ins and outs of the decades of conspiracy mongering in the anti-vaccine movement. They're going to get blindsided by a bunch of this crap and it's going to make it seem like they don't know what they're talking about. It's a total stunt. You should absolutely not do it.

C: It has everything to do with exactly what you're saying. It's kind of like teaching to the test. Like it has to do with how well you can debate a pseudoscientist. It has nothing to do with how much science you know.

S: Or the evidence or where the truth lies. It's not about that at all. That's why we call it a Gish gallop because Duane Gish made a career out of debating evolutionary scientists and getting the upper hand on them in debates because he would throw out tons of nonsense that they couldn't possibly deal with in the time allowed.

C: I'd never do this.

S: I would only do it in a format where like you can stay on a topic long enough to get to the end of it. Where there's some kind of truly neutral person sort of moderating it. Even then you got to know your shit man. You got to be able you can't get blindsided.

C: And you don't just have to know your shit. You know how to you have to know how to make the statement in a really succinct way that's very graspable within a short amount of time. There's a huge art to this.

S: You gotta know he's going to say this. Here's my 30 second rebuttal.

E: It's like going into court basically.

C: Yes. A 100%.

E: Every lawyer is supposed to know exactly what the other lawyer is going to be bringing up and be ready to deal with it.

B: The bottom line you got to know the science and the pseudoscience and that's a rare commodity that not many people can really do that.

C: And be a show person.

E: And have the raw skills of being able to handle and─

C: And also be compelling and charismatic because if you're not all those things the other person might win just because people like them more.

E: Of course. Lots of things go into play. Steve what was that debate you did back in 2012 with Sean Carroll? Was it Intelligence Squared?

S: Intelligence Squared which is that's a respectable moderated debate format with a very specific question. And you have time to make your case in your rebuttal. It was again it was a controlled good environment.

E: It's one of the best environments.

S: It was on life after death. Yeah. And we kicked ass. And we won by the rules of the debate.

E: You moved the needle. That's right. You pulled the audience before. Had the debate. Pulled them afterwards and you moved the needle.

S: It's all fake but whatever. According to the internal rules of that debate we won. And I also debated other I've debated homeopaths. I debated an anti-vaxxer on stage at one of the TAMs. I got pulled aside to do that. Kicked his ass. Because I knew what he was saying. He tried to pull the oh look at the reducing fatality rate of measles. It all happened before the vaccines. Like yeah that's because of medicine. Medicine reduces the fatality rate. But look at the infection rate. That plummets after the vaccine. And when I did that in such a way to totally expose the guy as a liar. And that's the only but I had that loaded and ready to go. And if you don't have that you get blindsided by that.

C: Ultimately like does any and I know we're not the target audience. Sure. But like I love watching debates between two brilliant people who are talking about something that has a nuanced outcome. Where like it's a moralistic question. Or a question that really could fall on one side or the other. And I want to know their takes. I am not interested in watching two people debate about settled science.

S: Yeah.

C: That's not interesting.

S: It's a lose lose scenario.

E: Plus in a way it legitimizes the incorrect position.

C: It does. It gives them a seat at a table that they don't belong at. Because we've already shown that there's no seat there.

E: Right. There shouldn't be. You're right.

S: Now what I what I have done in other cases where somebody like tries to pull a stunt debate challenge my way. And I don't think that there's a fair venue to be had. I'll say I'll tell you what I will have a written debate with you. I'll even host it on my blog. Here are the rules. You're going to get this many responses. You have to stay within this many words. So you can't send me a book because people have tried to do that to me too. You can't fucking send me a 300 page book as your response. So here's the so I said I'll host it. Here's the format and here are the rules. And that way you could have links. You can you know hone in. You have time to formulate. It's a much better venue. A written debate is much better than a live debate. If you're interested in actual learning the facts and getting seeing who has the better position the better arguments. That way it takes away from them the rhetorical device of he's too afraid to debate me. All right. It's time for science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:34:03)[edit]

Theme: Lesser-known dramatic events

Item #1: Often called the forgotten genocide, in the 1880s, the Ottoman Empire engaged in ethnic cleansing in the region of Astrakhan, killing over 1 million native Cossacks, and ultimately absorbed the territory.[6]
Item #2: In 1919, in Boston's North End, a large tank ruptured, spilling 2 million gallons of molasses, which raged through the streets at 35 miles per hour, killing 21 people and injuring 150.[7]
Item #3: In 1862, some soldiers in the Battle of Shiloh noticed that their wounds glowed green-blue, and these wounds seemed to heal faster than non-glowing wounds. Recent investigations suggest the glow was due to bioluminescent bacteria seeded in the wounds by nematodes.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction Forgotten genocide
Science Molasses disaster
Glowing wounds
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Forgotten genocide
Glowing wounds
Forgotten genocide
Glowing wounds

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts. Two real and one fake. And then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We have a theme this week. Now if you remember at least once if not more than once in the past and I may do this again. The theme of the science of fiction was historical events that never actually happened. You guys remember that?

E: Oh. Yeah.

S: This time I flipped it and I'm doing historical events that did happen yet happened but that you may not have heard of. You probably should have heard of them but you haven't.

C: OK. OK. That makes sense.

S: So these are all events that happened. Well two of them are and one's fake. And but that are dramatic events but that most people don't know about them. All right. We'll see if you guys do. Ready? (silence) Yeah, OK. (laughter) Yes by default no one wants to. OK. Here we go. Item number one. Often called the forgotten genocide, in the 1880s, the Ottoman Empire engaged in ethnic cleansing in the region of Astrakhan, killing over 1 million native Cossacks, and ultimately absorbed the territory. In 1919, in Boston's North End, a large tank ruptured, spilling 2 million gallons of molasses, which raged through the streets at 35 miles per hour, killing 21 people and injuring 150. And in 1862, some soldiers in the Battle of Shiloh noticed that their wounds glowed green-blue, and these wounds seemed to heal faster than non-glowing wounds. Recent investigations suggest the glow was due to bioluminescent bacteria seeded in the wounds by nematodes.

C: What?

S: You seem to be volunteering, why don't you go first.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: I think I am. There's so much to think about. I think I remember about the great molasses rolling through the streets thing. I feel like that's this is supposed to be like things we forgot right. But I feel like this is not something I forgot and know of. And so I want to say that that one is science history whatever. Let's see. So it's either in the 1880s the Ottoman Empire killed over a million native Cossacks and absorbed Cossack territory which I think is Russian. And then in 1862 some soldiers had some glowing that's ludicrous which means it's probably the science. I mean there is bioluminescent bacteria. I don't know if nematodes carry it. I don't know about glowing worms. I know about like phytoplankton in the ocean. But I feel like 1880s was recently and I feel like what you're actually talking about is the Armenian genocide not the Cossack genocide. I've never heard of this. But would we have heard of like a Russian. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that that the forgotten genocide one is the fiction that there's like too many things are changed in that. But that is bananas about these glowing wounds. Oh God please tell me I'm right.

S: OK. Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: All right. The first one here the forgotten genocide. Jesus Christ. I say the question is whether these happened or not. Right?

S: Yeah.

J: I just don't know about any of these Steve. It's remarkable.

B: Remarkable.

J: All right. The second one is the large tank of molasses. I think that happened. I'm pretty sure that people got killed by molasses at one point. The third one in 1862 some soldiers in the Battle of Shilo noticed that their wounds glowed green blue. Give me a break. These wounds healed faster.

E: It was more of a blue green.

J: Than non-glowing wounds. Get the hell out of here. You so made that up. Bioluminescent bacteria seeded in the wounds by nematodes.

B: Nematodes.

S: Nematodes.

E: Nematodes.

C: Wormies.

J: I mean holy Christ Steve. All right. I don't think that the wounds glowed. I think I think that that one is a fiction.

S: OK. Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: The Boston North End tank rupture in the molasses. Yes. I think that one is science. I mean what an awful way to go. Not that there's necessarily good ways to go but that's not a good way to go. 1862. Yes. Battle of Shilo. Familiar with that.

S: That was during the American Civil War.

E: American Civil War. Yes. Right. Battle of Shilo. Was I think the deadliest of all time. I think there was more life lost in that battle than any other battle in the Civil War. But regardless I do recall I believe reading something about the the green blue glowing. Not that they knew exactly what was going on at the time but like you said Steve this is about a recent investigation and I have a feeling that one science. That leaves the forgotten genocide. Yeah I don't know if it was first of all the 1880s could have been the 1880s. Was it later than that or nineteen hundreds. And I recall it's Armenians. I've never heard it referred to as Astrakhan or the Cossacks. It's considered there's an Armenian genocide. So that's why I agree with Cara. That one's doesn't sound like the facts are correct. So that one's fiction.

S: OK. And Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: The molasses I think we actually talked about on this show probably 10 years ago. That's ringing a bell from the show. Whether that means it's true or false I have no idea of course but I'm thinking it probably maybe happened. The bioluminescent bacteria doesn't seem right. I mean I don't think first off do nematodes shed bioluminescent bacteria? Why are they shedding any bacteria and would they be shedding enough to even make it noticeably bioluminescent. I don't know. I call bullshit on that one. I'll say fiction.

S: OK. So you all are pretty confident about number two. So we'll start there.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: In 1919, in Boston's North End, a large tank ruptured, spilling 2 million gallons of molasses, which raged through the streets at 35 miles per hour, killing 21 people and injuring 150. You guys all think this one is science. But what if it was Boston's south end?

E: Oh no.

C: You wouldn't do that.

S: No I wouldn't do that. That one is science.

E: Bunch of Southies.

B: Two million gallons. It's a lot of molasses.

S: That was a lot.

E: Yeah.

S: And you think of molasses as being slow because it is. But if you have that much of it it's just physics. It just was this tsunami of molasses.

B: Impetus.

S: People couldn't get out of the way fast enough. They said it was really I mean it almost sounds comical but it was horrific.

E: Oh yeah.

S: They also said that part of the city smelled like molasses for decades afterwards. Can you imagine that for decades.

C: Which sounds amazing but probably became very disgusting very quick.

S: Yeah.

B: Yeah right.

E: And everything else. Oh my gosh.

S: That is an unusual way to go being drowning in molasses. Eventually investigations concluded that the fault was the steel container. It was not adequate to hold the weight of the molasses. And so basically this was the molasses was used for booze right. They would use it for fermenting for certain alcohols and it would be imported from other places like Cuba or wherever. And then it would be stored there until it was shipped to the individual distilleries that were making the alcohol. And at this point they just overloaded it. They said there were a couple of occasions before where they basically had it full. But this they really topped it off on this one occasion. And the thickness of the steel just was just they just engineered it incorrectly. The steel wasn't thick enough. The rivets failed. So they weren't strong enough. And it was basically too big. And it exploded. It just ruptured and just that was it. Terrible. OK let's go back to number one.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Often called the forgotten genocide, in the 1880s, the Ottoman Empire engaged in ethnic cleansing in the region of Astrakhan, killing over 1 million native Cossacks, and ultimately absorbed the territory. Evan and Cara you think this one is the fiction. Jay and Bob you think this one is science. So a couple of facts before I do the reveal on this one. So first of all of course this isn't the Armenian genocide. That was a completely different genocide that happened in the 1900s.

C: But it was also Ottomans, wasn't it?

E: How could you say of course when you're trying to trick us on the facts of a mystery item. You can't say that.

C: And wasn't it also Ottomans.

S: The Ottomans engaged in multiple genocides.

C: Right. OK. I just know that living in L.A. I have a lot of Armenian friends huge Armenian diaspora.

S: My wife is Armenian Cara.

C: Right. And don't they sometimes call that the Forgotten Genocide.

S: No it's just the Armenian genocide.

C: But a lot of people didn't call it a genocide for years.

S: I know. But it is a genocide.

E: And that's the point, its governments aren't recognizing it for political reasons.

S: I know the U.S. didn't recognize it for a long time. They wanted to piss off Turkey.

C: Exactly. Anyway.

S: But anyway yeah so the Ottomans are credited with multiple multiple genocides. And right so this has nothing to do with the Armenian genocide. Which was sort of reaches peak in 1912. You're correct. This is in Russia. Astrakhan is a city which is now in Russia. But this is at this point in time this was not in Russia. It was its own place. Cossacks are, they are multi-ethnic group that was why widely reviled in the region.

C: Yeah. You hear it as like a slur.

B: Chekhov didn't like them.

C: Yeah.

S: I know. But this one is the fiction. This is the fiction.

E: We were correct for the wrong reasons.

S: So but this was this just was not one of the many Ottoman genocides. One up. But I just made sure the names all lined up. It was the right time for the Ottoman Empire. The Astrakhan existed. It was more of a city than a region. Although it kind of was a region. And but the Cossacks were more in Ukraine. They weren't in Astrakhan. So I just made up those details.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All of this means that in 1862, some soldiers in the Battle of Shiloh noticed that their wounds glowed green-blue, and these wounds seemed to heal faster than non-glowing wounds. Recent investigations suggest the glow was due to bioluminescent bacteria seeded in the wounds by nematodes. This is science. They called the glowing wounds the angel light or the angel glow. Of course all the angels are glowing. They're healing my wound. It's glowing this green blue color and it heals better. So this was this story was pretty well documented at the time. But nobody had an answer for it. And actually about 10 years or so ago these two high school students did a study. Now you hear that but the mother of one of the students was a microbiologist. So she helped them out a lot. They said OK is there a bacteria that could have been responsible for this phenomenon. So they tried to cross reference were there any bioluminescent bacteria that would have been in Shiloh at the time. And they came up with a pretty plausible hypothesis that it was this one bioluminescent bacteria that does colonize nematodes. They usually do not infect humans because the just the environment is not correct. But the soldiers were wet and cold.

C: They were like rotting on the battlefield. It was gross.

S: Because they were normally human skin temperatures too warm for these bacteria and they like a wet environment. But if you have a wet cold extremity then they suddenly they can colonize you. So these bacteria and they do, the nematodes were getting in everywhere too.

C: That's the grossest part of this whole story. Let's be clear here. They had worms in their wounds.

E: Maggots have been used to heal wounds among other things.

C: These were just naturally occurring worms.

S: Civil war situation there Cara. The bacterium is Photorhabdus luminescens.

C: Cool.

S: Photorhabdus luminescens. And it does, it might be like a symbiotic thing with the nematodes because it does keep away pathogenic bacteria. So if it did colonize these wounds it wasn't really an infection because it doesn't infect people. But if it colonized the wounds it would crowd out other bacteria and it kills pathogenic bacteria. The luminescence bacteria does kill pathogenic bacteria.

C: It's awesome, so it's like a natural antibiotic.

S: It was like a natural antibiotic that was yeah. And that happened to glow. Very interesting. So that again it suggests I don't say that they've proved it but that's pretty solid hypothesis.

E: Or it was angels.

C: Yeah or angels.

S: Or it was angels.

E: That's still out there.

S: One or the other.

E: Change my mind.

S: That's the alternative hypothesis. All right. Good job Evan and Cara.

E: Thanks.

C: Hey thanks.

B: Whatever.

E: Yeah I was going to say you were kind of quiet there until that whatever.

J: At least you weren't alone Bob.

E: Yeah that's true.

S: Okay.

E: We lost Bob till next week folks.

S: I like these. Is this real or is it not real kind of science or fiction. Did this happen? Did this not happen?

E: Yeah. Let's have more of those right Bob.

C: Evan stop putting nematodes in his wounds.

E: Right. Well they glow.

S: All right Evan give us a quote.

E: All right.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:48:39)[edit]

Science is the acceptance of what works and the rejection of what does not. That needs more courage than we might think.

 – Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974), Polish-British mathematician and philosopher

E: This week's quote was suggested by listener Craig Good. Friend of the show. Hi Craig.

S: Hey Craig.

E: Thanks for suggesting this one. "Science is the acceptance of what works and the rejection of what does not. That needs more courage than we might think." Jacob Bronowski.

S: Nice quote.

E: Very nice quote.

S: It does shockingly sometimes take a lot of courage just to accept reality.

C: Yeah.

S: Objectively for what it is.

E: I know.

S: It's hard we're really our brains are really good at coming up with bullshit excuses to believe nonsense.

E: Right comforting ideas.

C: Especially when there's a paradigm shift in play like especially when when agreeing with the science means disagreeing with the zeitgeist.

B: The spirit of the times.

C: You have to be pretty brave.

E: Yeah. Super tough.

S: All right. I always like to agree with political beliefs right. When somebody says something that I agree with but they're supporting their own party you only get partial credit for that you know what I mean? I'm really impressed when somebody says something that is reasonable and rational that cuts across their normal party line. It goes against their own party's dogma but they're saying it because it just happens to be true. Then you get credit for it. You don't get credit for supporting the science when it also supports your political ideology. You're not really supporting the science then you're just supporting your ideology. But if you support the science even when it goes against your ideology that's when you could say all right that person's being skeptical. Or rational.

E: Intellectually honest.

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

B: Sure man.

J: You got it.

C: Thanks Steve.

E: Thanks Steve.


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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

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


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