SGU Episode 941

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SGU Episode 941
July 22nd 2023
941 Schoningen Stick.jpg

"A 300,000-year-old hunting weapon has shone a new light on early humans as woodworking masters." [1]

SGU 940                      SGU 942

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Science is not about building a body of facts. It is a method for asking awkward questions and subjecting them to a reality-check, thus avoiding the human tendency to believe whatever makes them feel good.

Terry Pratchett, English humorist

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Introduction, Cara's and Jay's trips[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, July 20th, 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: We have a full boat today. We've got all the five rogues together.

E: Hey.

S: Welcome back, guys. Cara, how was Africa?

C: It was gorgeous. I mean, it was stunning. I'd never been to Eswatini. It was a very interesting experience, I have to say. Obviously, there's a lot of conflicting feelings. I shouldn't say obviously. For me, there's a lot of conflicting feelings about Eswatini because of the governance there and some of the values that I struggle with. I mean, it was sad, if I'm being honest. We went to do humanitarian work. So we weren't in rich parts of town. We weren't spending time with comfortable people. We were spending time with people who really, really struggle. One thing about Eswatini that's probably some of the most difficult is, and I didn't really, I don't think I really appreciated this before I got there, but I learned that Eswatini's population, 43% of the population are children under 17 years old. It's a very young population. Of that, 58% of those children were orphaned.

E: Yikes. Is it war torn?

C: HIV.

E: Oh, HIV.

S: Just ravaged.

C: The rate of HIV in Eswatini is the highest in the world, 26% of the entire population.

S: That's terrible.

E: I mean, that's a human disaster.

C: It's a human disaster. And so what we're looking at right now is a sort of lost generation where now there is more access to antiretrovirals. And so newer individuals who are infected now are not all of the, obviously not the most impoverished people, but a fair amount of the country is able to access these drugs and prevent the virus from being passed on to their offspring. But this generation of children that we were visiting in these camps and that we were working with in some of these schools are sort of that lost generation of kids who were born with the disease, like upwards of 80% of the children that we were working with were infected. And it's just, it's horrible. It's horrible that that's happening in 2023, you know? And so, yeah, it's very hard. It's very sad. There's a lot of poverty and there's a lot of problems, also a lot of violence against women. It was, I think, a really meaningful trip and it's complicated, right? Because this is a very, very small country and it is not representative of most of the continent. We spent a little bit of time in South Africa, where I've been several times and it was as lovely as it always has been. We also got to do some really beautiful, lovely things, like we went on a safari and saw some incredible animals, like up close, like, oh my god, we had the best elephant sighting, the best lion sighting, and went on a beautiful hike by this lovely waterfall. It's a gorgeous, gorgeous country, but it definitely has its problems. And so it was for me, it was the fourth or fifth time I've been there, not to the continent, but for some of the students that came, it was their first time even leaving the country. And so I know for them, it was a really impactful trip, but a hard one for sure.

S: And how about you, Jay? You were in a different continent.

J: Yeah. So my wife and I went to Greece with some friends and we went to Athens and then we toured six different islands went to Santorini, which is when you look at pictures of Greece and you see all the white painted buildings with the blue domes and all that, that's Santorini. I got to tell you, the food was fantastic. People are, were very nice, very polite just, it was a very zero drama vacation. It was just very, very comfortable place to be. And the history there is amazing you know, it was basically the place where democracy was created and lots of other things like this incredible history there, we saw tons of ruins and it's really, we took a cruise to go to the islands, and it was like one after the other we even went to Turkey. It was just beautiful. Really, really wonderful part of the world.

S: Yeah, yeah. I love those kind of trips where you're like exploring deep history.

J: I got to tell you though, looking at the map, it was really troubling for me to realize how close we were to Ukraine. I don't know the proximity really made me think, here I am, like on a vacation, having a relaxing time with my friends and there are people fighting for their lives, just right over there.

S: Yeah.

J: And I was near you, Cara. I was like, Cara is south of me right now.

C: And we got stuck in Paris for a layover. We got stuck for a whole night. So then I was like even closer, I guess, same, what do you call it? Hemisphere, at least, because I was in winter in Eswatini, which was kind of weird.

E: Africa is the only continent that touches all four hemispheres, right?

S: Oh, cool.

E: East, west, north, south.

C: Wow. And I say the word really weird. It was pointed out to me many times, so I'm going to now be self-conscious about it, but the equator, don't judge me, the equator really does cut Africa like in half. I don't know. I mean, I've been there and I know it and I look at it on maps and I know this, but I don't think I fully appreciated that there's so much Africa above it and so much Africa below it.

E: Whereas South America is just the, is the exact opposite. Very little is in the northern hemisphere, most of it is in the southern hemisphere.

Steve's bear update (5:56)[edit]

S: So a quick bear update before we go on.

E: Oh, this is good because we got a lot of emails about bears.

S: Yeah, we did. And Jay and Cara, you weren't here for the discussion last week. Cara, I don't know if I sent you the video, I sent it to Jay.

C: I don't think so.

S: Last week I talked about the fact that I had another bear encounter, a bear came onto my deck. Bright Sunday afternoon, bright daylight out my dog, Jay's dog, who's visiting went crazy. The bear would not leave, he was nosing around for food and had no interest in leaving.

E: Cara, it was on his back porch, like pressed up against the glass sliding door.

C: Aww, what did he want?

S: He wanted food.

C: Yeah, that's sad.

S: All right. So I talked about it last week on the show, got a ton of emails about it, which I'll mention a couple. But one thing I did, and look, George, who was on the show last week, jokingly asked me like, what weapons do you have at home if you had to fight off a bear? And I said, he asked about my katana, I mentioned my crossbow, of course we were joking, I would never use either of those weapons against a bear. But I did buy some bear spray because I figured this bear is now frequenting my property and if I ever have to defend my pet or whatever, if he gets really aggressive, I want to have an option. So a couple days ago, just two days ago, the bear was back, he's on the deck, same exact bear, he's on the deck, in the middle of the afternoon, it was yesterday, actually, yesterday afternoon.

E: It knows where you live.

S: Well, yeah, exactly. We had moved the bird seed inside, so it wasn't there. So he made a circuit around the decks again, I only knew he was there because my dog went crazy, I would have not even known he was there. They snarled at each other through the glass. And then he left, this time he didn't stay because there was nothing there to interest him. He walked off the deck into my backyard, went down the hill, ate some pears off my pear tree. He walked up to my apple tree, ate some apples off my apple tree, stood up on his hind legs and was like pulling apples off the branches, and then walked off into the woods. So this time I called the Department of Environmental Protection in Connecticut, just to see what they would say, right? And just to ask some questions, just to talk about it on the show. So I told him the whole story, I said it's the same bear, he's come back to my house at least twice now, because again, probably more, just these are the two times that we noticed. So I said, what do you guys do about that? He said nothing. So you don't relocate bears if they get too friendly? Nope, they don't do any of that. Basically the only thing, the only advice he gave me is I could report it to the researchers on their website. That was it. I could file a report, which says absolutely nothing for me, it's just information for them. But then I asked a few more questions. So I said, so actually I had, I already had the bear spray. My plan was to shoot the bear with the bear spray from the bathroom window above the deck, right? But the bear had left before I got there. So he was out of range by the time I got up there. And so I told the guy, I said, well, I had bear spray, I was going to shoot him out the window. Well, at first I just said I had bear spray. And the guy's like, wait, you weren't planning on going outside and confronting that bear, were you? Like, no, I was going to shoot him through the window. He's like, well, don't do that. So the thing I know about bear spray, first of all, it's like five times as potent as like the human version, like Mace. And even though like it shoots a directed stream, it doesn't only go in that one direction. Like you were going to get pepper spray everywhere. You should absolutely not shoot it out the window of your house. That apparently would have been very bad.

B: Oh, good save.

S: You really should only use it outside. And even when you do, like you you will get affected by it as well. It's not that direction that you're not basically goes everywhere.

B: Well tht sucks.

S: Yeah. And again, it's also really, really potent. It's like bear potent. When I was buying the bear spray, I also noticed that for sale were essentially what they are, they're paintball guns, but they have ammo that instead of paint, it's pepper spray, right? So the good thing about those is that they have twice the range. They have 60 foot range of a 30 foot range as the bear spray itself.

B: That's 30 foot range?

S: The cans have a 30 foot range, although─

E: And it's a stream, right?

S: Yeah. Yeah.

E: It's like this streaming something 30 as opposed to shooting a pellet 60, which will explode on impact. So that's much better.

S: That sounds much better to me, especially now that I realize I can't shoot the bear from outside my window, because there's no way I'm going to go outside once I absolutely have to. If you were attacking my dog, I would probably go out there and spray them. But if I had the paint pellet gun, that first of all, I could pretty much get them anywhere in my yard from the window. And also they also have like these hard plastic or rubber ammo. It's actually, they're sold also for just like home defence whatever. But yeah, but just the pepper spray paintballs are sounding like a good idea. So I think I'm going to get one of those, especially now that I know I can't use the bear spray from inside. So here's the other thing. The guy said, oh, yeah, that you're on his circuit now. The bears have a good memory. He's going to come around to your house over and over and over again. That's it.

B: Forever.

S: Yeah, that's it. You have a bear that looks at your house as food. And I said, what about I told him about the apple tree said, well, you could put an electric fence around the apple tree. That's not going to happen. I'm not going to put up an electric fence. Not very helpful. So I said, well, not really concerned about the apple tree itself. I just I'm just concerned that he might get into a confrontation with my dog. So his his suggestion there was, well, don't let your dog outside.

C: Just like ever?

S: Yeah. You could walk in, but like, don't let him roam free outside. That's his entire life is roaming free outside. There's no way that's not going to happen.

B: Holy crap, man. Yeah.

S: So basically, their solution was you have to learn to live with the bear, but there's that's it. There's nothing that they do to help. There's nothing else you really can do. It's like you're stuck. You now have a bear that's coming to your property.

E: You'd have to put up a bear-rier.

C: No.

B: Steve, you mentioned the paintball pellets with the. You know that there are punks out there who got those bullets and used them for paintball against humans. Right? I mean, it's guaranteed. Can you imagine?

S: That would be terrible. So first of all, he said before you spend money on that solution, just check the local laws in your town because it might be illegal. So I checked. It's not it's illegal to shoot people with it, though. It's not just illegal to shoot it in your property, but it is illegal to shoot people with it.

B: As it should man.

S: As it should be. Obviously outside of paintball ranges where people are geared up and everything. But you have to have like─

B: Even within a paintball facility, that would still be a terrible experience.

S: Oh, yeah. With the with the pepper spray balls? Yeah, they're not illegal.

E: Nor do you have to have a license to to use them.

S: Right. I think that sounds like it's under regulated. But I think I'm going to I'm going to get one of those and have it ready for the next time I see the back. So I want basically I want that bear to associate my yard with being hit in the face with pepper spray. Because otherwise, it's just inevitable that he is going to get into a confrontation with my dog. But I think it's clearly this this bear has lost all fear of being around people and pets and houses and everything. Now he's he's adapted to it. That's bad.

E: Yeah, it's going to tell its bear friends also about it.

B: Right.

E: Three bears show up.

J: Steve, I saw a show.

S: Yeah.

J: Where they were using pepper spray at a campground to dissuade the bears to be in certain areas. The bears were catching fish and then they would bring the fish to where the pepper spray was sprayed and they would rub the fish to season the fish.

B: Whoa.

C: That's awesome.

B: There's like spice.

E: No, there are other examples of animals doing that. Don't they don't they treat what were they? They were the macaques or something that bring the the food to the vegetables to the salt water.

S: The potatoes.

E: So the potatoes. Yeah.

S: They rinse in the salt water. Yeah. But that's different than getting it in your spray in your face. To a person, it would take you out. I mean, it would completely incapacitate. You couldn't breathe. It would be actually dangerous if you had asthma or something. It might even kill you.

E: Steve, I mean, if you want to be really super safe about it, you'd get one of those, masks with the filter containers on the front. And that that should protect you from accidentally getting any of those fumes. You'd have to gear up, though, you know.

S: Yeah, I have to gear up.

E: Get all tactical.

S: So whatever. I mean, I'm sure I'll see him again.

B: Tell him I said hi.

E: Take more video.

S: But yeah, it's a little surprised at how completely unhelpful they were.

B: It's like your only recourse is literally a paintball gun.

S: We have to avoid him. He didn't even I suggested that he didn't suggest that I asked him about. It's like, you could try that. Just check the laws in your town.

B: But I mean, your only real resort for like, a near worst case scenario is basically that paintball gun, because nothing else really is.

S: Yeah. I mean, it's basically his advice was stay inside and put up an electric fence. Right. Those were. Yeah, that was that was the stay inside. He had that bear owns my property now.

E: Gee whizz.

B: Keep up apprised.

S: I will. Jay, you're going to start us off with ancient woodworking. Tell us about this.

News Items[edit]

Early Woodworking (15:31)[edit]

J: A recent study led by Dr. Annemieke Milks. Wow. Anamique Milks.

C: Milks?

J: Yeah.

C: Like M.I.L.K.S?

J: Pretty much.

C: Yikes.

E: Pretty much.

J: Because because it's Milks, I'm like, there's maybe there's another pronunciation like millicacies or something. I don't know.

C: Can you just say Dr. Milks?

J: Dr. Milks from the University of Redding's Department of Archaeology has shed significant light on the advanced woodworking skills of early humans. This is so fricking cool. So we're going back three hundred thousand years.

B: What? Wait, wait. Three hundred thousand?

J: Yes.

E: A long time. Yeah. Right. Where that which which species was stuff.

J: So they found that three hundred thousand years ago that people were capable of sophisticated woodworking techniques. They found a double pointed wooden throwing stick found in Schöningen, Germany, which was likely used for hunting. I mean, it's like, of course, it was used for hunting. It's definitely a weapon. The researchers found that the stick underwent various woodworking processes, including scraping, seasoning, sanding before they used it as a hunting weapon to kill animals. So the research suggests that early human humans woodworking abilities were, they were more developed than, of course, we previously thought after they had found this this artefact. They were making lightweight weapons. They were used for throwing. They probably facilitated group hunts for medium to small animals and the tools. They think that the tools were probably used by the entire community, including children, because of their size and how easy they were to use. The researchers said or Dr. Milks said discoveries of wooden tools have revolutionized our understanding of early human behaviours. Amazingly, these early humans demonstrated an ability to plan well in advance. A strong knowledge of the properties of wood and many sophisticated woodworking skills that we still use today. So just think about it. They're using woodworking skills that we still use today. Three hundred thousand years later. Right?

S: Yeah. Bob, by the way, the oldest homo sapiens fossils are three hundred thousand years old.

B: OK.

S: Could still be homo sapiens.

J: It just it makes me feel like we have a connection to humans that go all the way back.

S: Yeah.

J: They're people. They were people. They were smart. They were clever.

S: And it's also because we think it's just it's the past. Right. This is one homogenous time. But also think about it. Early humans, if they were using wood for hunting tools, they had tens of thousands of years to to improve their skill. That's a lot of time to just get good at working wood. That's a lot of collective knowledge. I also like the fact that you touched on this, but the fact that they put so much work into that weapon means that this wasn't some quick one off stick they picked up and threw at an animal. This was a prized possession. They use this over and over and over again. This is─

J: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

S: Of their hunting kit. Yeah. Who here has watched the show {{w|Alone (TV series)|Alone?

E: I have.

S: So there's they they hunt a lot of small game on that show. And one of the techniques that I've seen them contestants use is throwing sticks. It's actually not a bad technique for taking out like squirrels and rabbits and birds and things like that sticks.

B: Throwing sticks?

S: Yeah.

J: Yeah.

E: Very accessible.

S: Because─

J: It works, Bob.

S: It works. A small animal like that, you will kill them if you hit them with a small stick with enough momentum. That's enough to kill it. You don't have to pierce it. You don't have to hit it with an arrow or anything.

B: [inaudible] bludgeon it to death.

S: They they use blunt tipped arrows to kill small game, too. Because it's just the blunt, the bludgeoning force is enough to kill them. So, yeah, this was this would have been a very useful technique. And and they said it was like designed like a boomerang. So it could have been like effective at 30 feet, which is a good distance.

J: So they they made it out of spruce. They said that its creation involved multiple steps. They had to cut it. They had to carve it. They had to aerodynamically shape it. They had to scrape it. They seasoned it to prevent it from cracking. And then they actually sanded it to make it handle easier.

S: 30 meters, not30 feet, 30 meters.

J: Yeah, 30 meters.

S: That's far.

J: Yeah. So they they think that they use them to hunt medium sized animals like deer or possibly small, fast moving small animals like birds. And this was the type of the way that they created this. It was it was thrown so it would rotate as it was going through the air. Like Steve said, kind of like a boomerang. And 30 meters, that's a pretty far distance to be hunting an animal. Imagine being good enough to hit an animal at 30 meters. That's pretty amazing. But they said that the high velocity that this thing could be moved at, it was deadly, very high energy impact. You could just you could just crack a crack animal pretty damn hard and you can kill it like that. So this particular artifact was was well preserved. And the researchers believed it was something that someone was very happy to have. It was a prized possession, personal hunting tool. And of course, discovering something like this, they find one item, they date it. We estimate this is about 300000 years old. And it opens up an entire wing of new possibilities. Think of all the things that that the researchers are thinking about now. We found out so much about early humans just by this one item.

S: Yeah, that's the thing about the woodworking is that and I remember back in the 80s studying human evolution at college level. And that was sort of a big point was that we have no idea what they were using wood for, because wood doesn't fossilize as well. And we don't have any examples of whatever. So there could have been, we think of their tool use as starting when they made stone tools. But there probably was a long period of using maybe a million years of using wood tools before they started using stone tools. We have just to have no idea. The thing is, we can't assume that they did. We just have no data because we don't have the preserved wood. So even this is only 300 000 years old, it's not millions of years old. But still, that's a really big insight into the level of woodworking technology that they had at the time. And just makes you wonder how deep does that go into human, into even pre-human, hominid history? We may never know. And it could be extremely sophisticated. You could do well. Wood's a great material. You could do a lot with wood. You can have a whole technology based on it. And we just could know about it because it doesn't fossilize well.

J: Think about how useful wood is to us today. It's one of the most important materials in our world today that we use to do everything.

B: I love wood, man.

J: I just got Bob and Steve olive wood kitchen kitchen spoons that are fantastic. Super, very dense wood. Things will last for last forever.

S: Yeah, that's the thing. And wood is not one material. It's hundreds of materials, right? It's like with all kinds of different properties. And that part of the woodworking knowledge base is knowing which type of wood is good for which application. You probably heard that yew wood is really good for making bows. I know, like in England, all their bows were made out of yew wood back in the day back in medieval times. But that took time to figure out how many different trees you have to try before you forget this wood really bends well. This is the right properties for it's really flexible springy. You need like a maximally springy wood that just there's so many different types of wood that there's just that in and of itself is an important piece of information. All right, let's move on.

Genetic Engineering to Fight Malaria (23:56)[edit]

S: Cara.

C: That's me.

S: Tell us about genetic engineering to fight malaria.

C: People don't know. I'm going to give a little BTS real quick. I'm not sure how much the listeners know kind of how we, I don't know, structure the show and how the show goes each week. But usually what I do is I send five different stories to Steve a day or two in advance. And I'm like, which of these fits in with the show well? And he goes, OK, this one's cool. Or like, I'm already covering this one. So this one's good or whatever, or cover any of these three. They're all they all make sense. But this time I was like, I'm tired. I'm jet lagged. I've only been home for a day. Do you got anything for me? And he sent me a great post that he wrote. So I feel like this is a double edged sword because there's no way I'm going to know this as deeply as Steve does.

B: Oh, yeah, you're screwed.

C: Bear with me. But Steve, jump in as you'd like.

S: Absolutely.

C: This is not a new, new story. But there are some new twists. There are always a kind of like new advancements. But gene drives have been. OK, let's just start at the top. Malaria, bad, kills lots of people. You actually cited a 2021 UNICEF statistic. 274 million cases globally. 619 000 total deaths. 77% of which were children under five years of age. Incredibly expensive attempts at vaccination, drug therapies, malaria drugs are also really difficult because you have to take them consistently as a prophylaxis. If you live in one of these places where it's endemic, you're actually probably just going to take the treatment course, which can be if you can catch it early enough, can be as simple as pills. But for a lot of people, they're hospitalized. It may even need to get IV treatment. So it's malaria is horrible. I remember interviewing somebody from the Gates Foundation years ago on my podcast, on Talk Nerdy, about malaria and the experience of malaria. We're talking about mosquito nets and all of the eradication efforts that were going on. And they had had malaria. And I was like what is it really like? Phenomenologically, I wanted to know, what does it feel like? And they said, think back to the worst influenza you've ever had in your life. It's like that times a hundred. It's really intense, like you feel so sick. And so malaria is bad, right? We know it's bad and we know that it happens to the most vulnerable people with the fewest resources because of the places where it's endemic, often in Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of Africa, also in South America. But we're starting to see malaria in places we never saw before. Four cases in Florida. Yay. So how are we how are we fighting it? I already mentioned vaccination, drug therapy, pesticides are important. But we've been hearing now for several years about genetic engineering and specifically the gene drive. So we'll talk a little bit about the gene drive. The gene drive we've known about for quite a long time. You may have read Dawkins, The Selfish Gene. He actually talks about it at length about natural gene drives. We have also developed, we, as if I had anything to do with it. Scientists have also developed synthetic gene drives. And so really what gene drives are, are there mechanisms by which the way that genes, genetic information is passed down, is inherited by offspring, is induced to be more common. So if you've ever studied classical Mendelian genetics, you've looked at Punnett squares and you've seen what the probabilities are of certain alleles. Alleles are just like one version of a gene. You get one from one from male parent, one from female parent. And it's crapshoot, it's crapshoot, which which version of their two is going to get split down to one for you, the offspring to inherit. And so a gene drive makes it less of a crapshoot. It's just more common that a certain gene is going to be passed down. And there's other there's different reasons for why that happens. So gene drives have been around for quite some time. Scientists have been working with them. And they're they're using like old school techniques like zinc fingers. And I don't know if you ever took like molecular biology back when I did. But we talked a lot about zinc fingers. And then came Bob, your favorite biological advancement.

B: Zamba, what? (Cara laughs) Oh CRISPR, yes.

E: Second favorite.

C: And what does it stand for, Bob?

B: I hate you.

C: I know.

E: It stands for CRISPR.

C: Something palindromic repeats. That's what I always remember. I'm actually Googling it right now to clustered regularly interspace short palindromic repeats.

B: Yes.

C: We've talked about CRISPR so many times on the show. We know that CRISPR was discovered. It's a natural bacterial defense system that was then sort of harnessed and utilized. The CRISPR is the actual the palindromic repeat, right? It's the actual kind of coding region. Cas9, which is often paired with is like the molecular scissor, which allows it to go in a really specific place onto the gene and insert a very specific sequence. And in doing so, we can literally change the genetics of an organism. And how then does CRISPR and the gene drive work in tandem? Well, the gene drive CRISPR is used to produce a gene drive in an organism which drives natural selection. It actually changes the probability increases, I should say, the probability that certain genes will be passed down to offspring. And we've seen it happen in a really, really effective way. So what about adding this to mosquitoes? How do we induce a change? A genetically modified mosquito utilizing a gene drive so that it just floods through the population very, very quickly that fights malaria? There's a few different options that different scientists have been working with. There's an option that just basically renders only. I think it's only how does it actually do it, Steve? It renders only male offspring.

S: Yeah, yes, they have they have only male offspring. Which has two benefits, right? Because the females are the ones that bite humans. And if it's only males...

C: They're not going to mate much longer.

S: There's not going to be another generation of females. So it reduces the population as well.

C: And then there's also an option that makes it so that the malaria itself is basically incapable. So let's talk actually about malaria, because I think that requires a little bit of background. Malaria is a protozoan, right? It's a plasmodium. There are four different plasmodiums that make us sick. Falciparum, VIVAX, ovale and malariae. And different ones occur in different regions, which is why it's also really complicated when if you're traveling, you're concerned about malaria or you live in a region, you actually need to take the right drugs for that species. It's not one disease. Because it's a protist, which is a parasite. It's not it's not as easy. I don't want to say it's not as easy, but it's it's different. It's just different than the way that we treat viruses, the way that we treat bacteria. Although, weirdly, some anti-malarials are anti-bacterials, but they also fight the parasite, which is fun. And so a mosquito takes in the parasite and spreads it around their vector. So they carry the parasite inside of them when they take it from an infected person, they can spread it to another infected person. So I think is Steve, is this the new study?

S: Yes. The new bit is it's inserting genes into the mosquito so that they make antibodies against the protozoan.

C: So they already kill it as it's inside of them. So when they bite somebody else, there's no active protozoan to infect the individual with. And that's a really, really interesting approach because we're probably not going to eradicate mosquitoes. And I guess my concern would be and I'm curious if you thought about this as well, if we utilize a gene drive that basically just kills off the four species of mosquito that carry malaria, is there going to be some situation in which other species evolve to carry this plasmodium?

S: Yeah, that's a good question. I don't know. But it's important to note there's about 3000 species of mosquito.

C: There's a lot of mosquitoes out there.

S: Getting rid of only a few of them, the ones that carry malaria to humans. But that's interesting to think about. If we successfully eradicated those three or four species that bite humans that carry malaria, would malaria adapt? Would it jumped to another species? Or if we disrupted cycle, would that knock out malaria, too? I don't know. It probably depends on how quickly we did it.

B: I think you're missing the biggest risk, though. The biggest risk is that we wipe out those species. And then in the future, a probe, an alien probe comes to the earth looking to communicate with those mosquitoes and can't because they're gone and wipes us out and we have to go back and wait. I'm sorry. I'm just watching a lot of Star Trek movies. Sorry. Never mind.

E: Oh, that was a movie?

B: Voyage Home, movie four.

C: It's not just people that get malaria, right? And even if we eradicate this one vector, we're going to see that a lot of different animal species can still have malaria. It would be a really I think it's not like polio in that one intense, very quick public health measure cannot wipe it out because there's going to be too many reservoirs for this thing. And yes, although we know that these four species of plasmodium across these four different basically these four different mosquitoes are the main vector for malaria, even if we eradicated those, there would probably still be organisms out there carrying it. And it's transmitted blood to blood. Other things bite animals. And so we have to remember that, like it's not that simple, which is why I like this new approach, because it doesn't have this lofty ideal that just the mosquitoes will be gone. The mosquitoes are still there. It's just that the main vector that Caras them is actually neutralizing the infection while it's carrying it, which is such a cool idea.

B: Yeah, it's a great angle.

S: Yeah, yeah. Recruiting the mosquitoes to fight the malaria.

C: Exactly. In like the coolest way. And so, of course, just like with this new study that you covered, Steve, it's the same ethical concern of what happens when we genetically modify a living organism and then we actually genetically modify it with something called a gene drive, which induces the change. It's sort of like the opposite of checks and balances. It's like saying, go out, reproduce, spread as quickly as possible. And that in our bones, I think we often feel scared of when we think because we're like unintended consequences.

S: Yeah, spreading it in the wild deliberately.

C: Exactly. Deliberately. But you make you make an important point in your paper. And it's a point that I think a lot of us have grappled with on the show from a kind of neuropsychological kind of cognitive bias perspective. And I think it goes back to that bias. I can't remember what it's called. But it's like the active versus the passive bias. When we looked back to Covid and we had a group of individuals who were hesitant to get that vaccine because it felt like, well, if I do something, then what if I give myself these terrible side effects? What if what if the vaccine makes me sick? There's not enough research. What if what if what if? And they felt like if I don't do that, I'm not actively doing something that could harm me downstream. But what they forgot was that passively not doing anything, meaning not getting the vaccine, was putting themselves at like orders of magnitude more risk because Covid was already out there. And I think it's the same thing with this. We have to look at it that way. Not doing a gene drive means that passively 619,000 people are dying every year.

S: And we're going to be using a lot of pesticide.

C: And we're using all these pesticides.

B: And billions a year, billions a year.

C: The vaccines so far, the drug therapy so far, it's not enough. The mosquito nets so far, the pesticides so far, it's not enough. It has made a massive dent in the problem. The problem is like so many more lives are saved because of those efforts. But it's not enough. People are still dying.

S: You can't just say what are the what are the risks, the unintended consequences, risk versus benefit. And you could manage the risk and you think about it. I mean, obviously something completely unintended, unknown can happen. It's the unknown unknown here. But we're modifying the mosquitoes so they make antibodies against malaria. OK, I mean, it's hard to imagine what could go wrong. It doesn't mean that something can't go wrong.

E: Something worse than the malaria?

S: Something worse than the malaria. Probably not.

C: It's that weird fallacy that we see all the time with, with anti-GMO activism where it's like, but, but you're making a Frankenorganism, it's like, no, we're changing one thing. Like nature changes thousands of things all the time. We're literally going in and changing one thing. And yes, you're right. There could be the unintended consequence of what happens when this gene drive goes out and it's something we never thought of. But also that could happen with malaria. Malaria itself could mutate the mosquitoes themselves could mutate. And so it's, I feel like it's, it's not real. It's kind of a disingenuous argument when you really─

E: In this case. Yeah, in this particular case, sure.

S: Yeah. All right. Let's move on.

How We Determine What's True (38:12)[edit]

S: So this is an interesting study. I think I'll probably cover this fairly quickly. How do we determine what to believe is true? This is obviously any psychological studies like this are always very complicated and any individual studies only looking at one tiny slice of this, but this was, I thought was an interesting little incremental tidbit to this line of research. How do people decide what to believe? How do we determine what's true in this particular study they did something interesting. They told people a fact, then they told them where it came from, and they told them what the motivations were of the source of the information.

C: Interesting.

S: So the people had all the information in front of them. Then they said, is this fact true or not?

C: Even though they already told him it was true or not.

S: Well, they said that this is a fact, right?

C: Okay. But yeah, we don't know how, yeah, that's how credible that was.

S: If the subjects thought that the information came from a source that was trying to give them information, they were more likely to believe that it was true than if they thought that the source of information was trying to deceive them. So, but you hit upon, so your initial reaction, Cara, is, like, well, but they know the answer. So what, what is going on here? But here's the thing. The study is not really about how we decide what's true and what's not true. It's how we define what's true and what's not true. So here's an example. If I said that 114 people attended this event, right? And then I give you two sources of information. Source A says it was 109 people. Source B said it's a hundred people. Was source A correct? Was that truthful or not truthful? You could decide, well, it's close enough, right? 109, that's an approximation of 114. I'm going to say that was true, right? Or you could say it wasn't exactly correct. I'm going to say it's false.

E: I would take the latter.

S: So you could deem the same facts, true or false based upon this subjective assessment of whether or not it was true enough, right? And so we have this wiggle room in terms of how we define what's "true", and we are biased in how we determine subjectively how much wiggle room we give facts.

C: This is very relevant for science or fiction.

S: Oh, totally. I think it comes up a lot. And I get, and I think this is, they're really hit upon something because when when I get in discussions every day in the comments of my blog, where it's like, here are the facts, like the facts are not even in dispute and yet we disagree about how to interpret those facts. And that disagreement often comes down to these subjective assessments of what you count as true or not. Which is interesting. Did scientists accurately predict global warming over the last 20 years?

C: Yeah, how do you define that, yeah.

S: Even if two people have the same facts, like, well, that's accurate enough to say it was accurate and somebody else might say they got it totally wrong. Even though you're going off of the same information, you could spin different narratives.

C: Have you noticed also like on Snopes, like when you go to look something up, sometimes it's like true, false. Sometimes it's like mostly true.

S: Mostly true.

E: Yeah, it's a spectrum.

S: You have to give yourself a little bit of a spectrum or like an example I use when I wrote about this is like, if I said the earth is a sphere, Bob, what would you say? Is that true or false?

B: I'd say both. No, you could say it's false. It's a lopsided oblate spheroid.

S: Yeah, right. So you could say it's true enough. It's a sphere. Sure. Sphere ish. But if you want to be a stickler, you could say, no, it's an oblate, a spheroid.

C: If you want to be technically correct.

S: Yeah, right. Exactly. Exactly.

B: Sphere is close enough.

S: But here's the other thing─

B: Depending on what you're doing, of course.

C: That's true. What's the context, right? How true does it need to be?

E: Context is important.

B: If you're talking about─

S: Context is everything.

B: ─mass distribution you are absolutely wrong.

S: But here's the thing as science communicators, we confront this all the time because we're never in any discussion going to get down to the highest level of technical detail. It's just not possible. And so we, but we want to be true as far as our discussion goes, right? We want to be true enough. Like for the purposes of our discussion, it's, it's adequate to say the earth is a sphere, right? That the extra level of technical detail actually doesn't make a difference for the level that we're having a discussion about.

B: As fascinating as it might be.

S: Right. And sometimes we'll mention that as it's actually a sphere, but don't worry about that for our purposes. We're going to talk about it as a sphere. It's the same thing. It's like, we even joke about, it's correct within an order of magnitude, which also is wrong. It all depends on what story you want to tell about it. But they also, the other thing that this means that there are degrees of right and wrong.

S: So saying the earth is a sphere is mostly correct, but it's technically wrong, but it's not as wrong as saying the earth is a cube. And it's really not as wrong as saying the earth is flat. So that's a co that's completely wrong.

B: You hear that flat earthers?

C: But cube earthers, you're kind of okay.

S: And sometimes it's like, there's a distinction without a difference. Like are you really making a distinction that matters in any practical way, if you're talking about any kind of applied science, like if we're going to be talking about like this and Cara and I know there's anything clinically, the only distinctions were really interesting clinically and are ones that make a clinical difference. If it doesn't reach the threshold of something noticeable clinically, then do you really got to worry about it? If you're a researcher, it might be important to your research questions, but if I'm deciding how to manage a patient, you have to be in the realm of clinical differences that are clinically meaningful or same thing like if you're setting policy, does it make a difference for the policy? Does it really matter? Or, but of course, if you're sending a probe to Pluto, it absolutely matters down to the tiniest detail the tiniest nuance. It's completely context dependent. But to me, what I was most fascinated about this is like, oh, that's right. People choose to define what's true and false subjectively. It's not just, it's not completely objective. And when you start to think about that, when you think about the conversations, you get in with people where you, you're working off the same facts and yet you still disagree. That's the level where you're disagreeing and your subjective assessment of how true or false things are, or how likely or unlikely something is. There's always, we can't completely factor out subjectivity, even from the kinds of things that we're talking about.

E: It's good to remember that.

S: That's why being unbiased is so critical and there's no substitute for that.

C: And also I think remembering that it's nearly impossible to do that.

S: Exactly.

C: And like checking that I think is also really important.

S: Absolutely.

C: I think about the dissertation that I'm writing, I think I've told you guys about this before is it's a phenomenological approach. So it's trying to get to like the reality of somebody's experience, which is a very difficult thing to do. And it's, it's based on Heideggerian philosophy and like, it's all very like heady and complicated. But one of the things, one of the reasons that I chose the Heideggerian approach as opposed to the Husserlian approach to doing phenomenology is because Husserl said, we have to bracket our biases before we go in. We have to take them and put them to the side and just set them to the side so that as we go in to learn somebody else's experience, ours don't get in the way. And then his student Heidegger was like, that's impossible. Like you can't do that. So instead his approach is we have to make our biases explicit at the beginning of the research and then the whole time we're going through the research, we have to keep rechecking our biases and asking ourselves, how does the way that I subjectively feel affect the way I'm interpreting what they're saying and how is what they're saying now changing the way that I feel and my subjective interpretations? And that is, that has been a really interesting approach for me. And it's, it's so fascinating to dig deep into that idea of like, how do we perceive reality through our lens?

S: Yeah. Yeah, that's so important. My personal approach is do both. You could try to minimize your biases, but also be explicit about what they are at the same time. And hopefully you're just minimizing the bias as much as possible. You can't ever completely get rid of it.

[commercial brake]

Killing Bacteria (49:13)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, tell us about some new ways to kill bacteria.

B: Yeah. Two interesting news developments this week in the struggle against harmful bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, one involving light and the other involving cicada wings. That's how you pronounce that, right?

S: Cicada.

E: Cara, do you want to correct him there?

C: No, that's correct. That's absolutely correct.

B: Recently in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, researchers describe their success using combined frequencies of light to literally just like deactivate deadly bacteria, ones that are notoriously unresponsive to most of even the most powerful antibiotics, scary stuff that if we don't do something about it, the next generation could see some scary, scary outbreaks of infections that used to be easily cured, but no longer can be. So the light that they used combined, UVC, which is at 222 nanometers and blue led light at 405 nanometers. And now the wavelengths are important here in this case, especially for UVC and UVC is a more interesting component here. So I'll go into a little bit more depth. We've all heard of UV light, ultraviolet light. This is the light that can tan our skin, but also photoage your skin and of course cause cancer. 95% of the UV that hits you is the longer wavelength, so-called UVA light. And 5% is the shorter, more dangerous UVB. And that's the kind of stuff you want to block when you put on sunscreen on broad spectrum, you want to block UVA and UVB, that's the stuff that can do the most damage. Well, and there is worse UV out there and that's UVC. It's the worst of a lot. Luckily it's absorbed by the atmosphere. It doesn't get very far, because UVC can cause mutations in DNA and other nasty stuff far worse than in many ways in UV and UVB. So this is why germicidal UVC light is a thing. It's a thing that people use it to kill germs. It's just shining the light at it.

C: Yeah, we had in our, what do you call it? Clean room back when I used to work in the neuroscience, lab, in the cell culture facility, we had this like massive UV light in the clean room. And so after we were done for the day, it would run for like hours and just like on top of everything else, sterilize the room and, and there were some inside of the vent hoods as well to sterilize.

B: Yeah. It's been used for, for many, many years to sterilize surfaces. And, and Cara, the one, the light that I'm sure you had of experience with was UVC, um, with a wavelength of 254 nanometers, microbes are especially hate it, but you have to be very, very careful with it. This is not stuff that you can mess around with and like shine in your brother's face as much as you would like to sometimes. This is like controlled stuff that got to be careful. Now this new technique uses UVC, but the wavelength is 222 nanometers, which is safer to handle and use the 254 and they combine it with the blue LED, which gives it basically a one, two punch that may become actually the standard going forward. It's really good. The one of the researchers said the coupling of far UVC and blue LED light together increases the effectiveness of the two individual lights through the deployment of different mechanisms of microorganism inactivation. There's great potential for these two light wavelengths to be used together in many applications where safety to the end user is of most importance. So yeah, so that was an interesting angle that I haven't come across too many times in my wanderings of the latest science news. Now, the next news item is an advance in surface design rather than light, to screw over the nasty bacteria that's out there. This one was, uh, really fascinating researchers at Stony Brook University's department of material science and chemical engineering. They were inspired by 2012 research in the journal Small, a great name, that showed the cicada wings could puncture cicada wings. Could puncture and kill bacteria cell walls just by coming into contact with it because of its microstructure of the surface. Now, so they were very inspired by that. And so they wanted to look deeper. Now the research had two broad components to it. One was to make an analog of the cicada wing surface and then use very high power tools to see what was actually happening down at the nanoscale. Now for the design, they used essentially self-assembling polymers to create these periodic nanostructures that are called nanopillars. And now this is at the scale and spacing of about 150 nanometers, very, very small, 150 billions of a meter. And it's these nanopillars, that's the working end of the cicada wings. This is what's causing the bacteria to kind of like freak out and just basically die when they touch it. All right. So the next step for them though, was that they needed a way to powerfully analyze their nanopillars, the ones that they created using a self-assembly. And they wanted to use powerful tools like the summit supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. We've talked about summit before. Essentially, it's a supercomputer. It was the number one supercomputer in the world, from November, 2018 to June, 2020. It had a peak or it has today, it still has a peak of 200 petaflops. It is now the fifth fastest in the world. Still amazingly fast. Now the researchers found someone to actually help and they were able to petition and get approval for the time on summit, which is not easy to get, as you could imagine trying to get time on one of the most powerful computers in the world. But they did get it and they were then able to run large scale, high resolution, molecular dynamics, simulations of what they created and to see how it interacts with bacteria. So when this was all said and done, they created the self-assembling cicada analogs, and then they analyzed it. What did they find? And as is often hoped, they were both surprised and intrigued by the results. First off, they created different analog cicada wings, right? With different designs, different nano pillar heights and separations, because they just wanted to get some variation and to see what the differences were. But they assumed that the ones that most closely resemble the real wings would perform the best, right? And that, that was my assumption going in because nature has millions of years of R&D to tweak and fine tune. And often you find that it's amazingly tweaked and fine tuned in nature, and if you could just replicate nature, then you're doing great. And it would probably be extremely hard to improve on it. But in this case, it turned out that the product that they made that was a little bit different from nature was actually the best. The shorter, stubbier nano pillars, were actually superior to what was out there on real cicada wings today. Now, of course, I'm assuming stubby means anything at the nano scale. I mean, it's kind of a weird to use that word at this scale, but the researchers said, we thought that the height would be important for the nanostructure because we originally expected that the pillars height was acting as a needle to puncture the bacteria's membrane. That's exactly how I pictured it, right? But it's not the way we thought they say, even though the nano pillars height is short, the bacteria still automatically died. Also unexpectedly, we didn't see any absorption on the surface. So it's self-cleaning. This was thought to be due to the insect moving the wings to shake off the debris, but with our methodology and structures, we prove that they just naturally kill and clean themselves. What an amazing surface, bacteria touch it, they die and they basically go away. They don't stay. So this cleaning function is important because you can have an amazing anti antibacterial surface. But if the bacteria die and adhere to that surface, then the next bacteria just has a nice safe place to hang out on, right? And then bam, you've got that. You've got a problem. You've got bacteria on your surface and then you need nasty chemicals to clean your surface. And that kind of defeats the whole idea of using a surface that doesn't require harsh chemicals or even light for that matter. So that's where they are in the future. They just want to be able to fine tune these self-assembled surfaces that they've created. And in the future we may see biomedical devices with this exact surface on it. It sounds amazing that you can have these medical devices in bacteria filled environments, and you really don't have to worry about it too much because if this, if it gets touched, even just touched goes near these nanopillars, it just kind of rips apart the lipid outer wall cell wall. And then it just kind of like sloughs off. It just kind of does not even want to hang out, um, on the pillars. And so it's amazing how interesting this is and how they created this mimicking nature and then even improving nature. So it's fascinating stuff.

S: Cool.

Nanopatch Pseudoscience (58:32)[edit]

S: Okay Evan, I don't even know. How do you pronounce this guy's name? Novak Djokovic?

E: Novak Djokovic.

S: Djokovic?

E: Yes, the D is silent.

S: Uh, Djokovic. Okay. So what's he up to this guy? He's got some more pseudoscience scam going on.

E: Well, absolutely. Every few years I have to bring him up. Novak Djokovic. Look, he's still one of the top three men's tennis players on the planet right now. He's been at the top of his game for a long time. Arguably the most accomplished tennis player of all time. 23 major singles titles. These are the majors. Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open, and the French Open, also known as Roland Garros. And that's more than any other male player in history. He's also a-

B: Has he won the Grand Slam?

E: I believe so. Has he won it twice or three times? Which means you won all four of those in the same year.

B: The major ones. Yeah.

E: In the same calendar year.

S: No, I think they changed it to in a row. Doesn't have to be the same calendar year.

E: It can straddle two years.

B: That makes sense.

E: In any case. Yeah. So I believe a couple of times, but you know what else he's a Grand Slam champion of? Pseudoscience. Yeah. I've been following his wild health and fitness claims and practices. Oh my, for over a decade now.

B: It's very disappointing.

E: Oh, it's everything from his gluten free diet, because according to his physician, who's a doctor of magneto therapy and traditional Chinese medicine, that's what it says, magneto therapy and traditional Chinese medicine. This is his doctor. He has celiac, he was diagnosed with celiac disease and here's, here's what they use to test him. He experienced weakness by holding bread. Apparently that's a test for whether you have celiac.

S: That's applied kinesiology. We talked about that. You hold the substance in your hand and then if you could push the arm down easier, then that means that substance is bad for you. You're allergic to it or whatever. It's bullshit.

E: So he's got that. And all the way up to now, this is a quote. He has a belief that. Energetical transformation through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, people can turn the most toxic, polluted water into the most healing water. Yeah. Those are just two examples. Oh yeah. The last time I talked about Djokovic was three years ago on the show and he reported that, it was reported he caught COVID. This was the summer of 2020 [link needed]. If you remember where he hosted a tennis tournament for charity, but he and all the other participants basically came down with COVID when it was advised that he not do this yet. So making headlines again, but not just for his impressive tennis accomplishments, because he just won the French open again last month. And he was the runner up to Wimbledon just a few days ago. So he's still at the top of his game. Now it's he's been seen in these tournaments lately, sporting a wearable called a towel patch. A circular shaped sticker right on the center of his chest. And he claims this is his biggest secret to his latest round of success on the tennis court. And I first read about this over at Forbes.com. The author's name is Arianna Johnson. She did a very good job I thought with this report and the title is Novak Djokovic's Nano patch. There you go, Bob, real Nano news here calls it his biggest secret. Some experts call it bogus. Oh yeah. Tennis star Novak Djokovic. He continues his march towards another Wimbledon title. This was written right before he lost. And he has religiously worn a nano technology patch. He claims is the biggest secret of his career. Yep. He was first.

S: Gets worse, keep going.

C: Bob's getting mad.

E: It was first spotted in May. He was changing out a mysterious patch on his chest during the French open, but he revealed that the small disc was a Taopatch made by Italian company, Tao Technologies. And yes, that's T-A-U as in the Greek letter Tau or the number Tau, right? 6.28, Bob, is that right? He'd previously claimed.

B: Yeah. That sounds close.

E: And so he's crediting this with his most recent victories and he told reporters the patch uses, and this is a quote, incredibly efficient nano technology to help them deliver the best on the court without it he would probably not be sitting here, meaning like in the winner's circle. Here's a statement from the manufacturer. The nanotechnology in question is called Taopatch Sport. And we at Tau Technologies are the Italian company that produces them. We specialize in patenting and creating innovative nanotechnology devices for human health and wellbeing. The Taopatch is activated by sunlight and body heat. The body's infrared activates Taopatch's layers of nanocrystals. Once turned on, the nanocrystals emit photons towards the body, providing several health benefits. Taopatch is a nanotechnology device that combines light therapy and acupuncture containing nanocrystals that convert the heat from your body into light. It actually glows in the dark. This light is sent into specific acupuncture points on your body, which helps your body remember how to naturally communicate with the rest of the body. This leads to lots of health benefits from better balance and posture to better sleep, focus, athletic performance, pain relief, and even more. Yep. So the device converts. Yeah. So microscopic beams of light into, yeah.

S: This is the old gobbledygook.

E: Stimulates the central nervous system.

C: He can't even like finish it. He's like, yeah.

E: It goes on. I mean, there's so much other crazy. Taopatch nourishes the body with wavelengths of therapeutic light without the side effects or release of any chemicals, by the way. And it will not only improve your posture, athletic performance, movement, stamina, balance, recovery, helps with diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's. All right.

S: So they get evil. That's where they go from your con artist to your evil.

E: How the heck is this not a company not getting shut down? Is this the lax laws in Italy that allow them to make those kinds of claims? Is that crazy? That is absolutely crazy. And of course they point to their published peer reviewed medical reviews in the Minerva Medica journal. Whatever the heck that is. And yeah, so this obviously Tau Technologies in this Taopatch has been looked at before. It's not a new product. It's been out for several years. The author of this particular piece at Forbes does a nice job because she set for the opposite opinion or the facts behind this. She goes to Science-Based Medicine actually. And yeah, linked up at an article that Harriet Hall had written several years ago specifically about the Taopatch. And, you can imagine what she had to say about it and the things that she was citing about how this is entirely pseudoscience, noncept, gobbledygook, none of it makes sense whatsoever.

S: By the way, forgive the self plug, but for all our listeners out there, cause I get a lot of medical questions and 9 times out of 10, I just respond with a link to an article on Science-Based Medicine. So you could just do that search first. Cause you know, we have several authors on there. We're writing every day. Chances are pretty good. If something's been out for a while, one of us has written about it. And if not, then it's a great suggestion for something we can cover. But if you do have any medical question, definitely science-based medicine is a good website to go to first, but yeah, just shocking the degree. This guy just believes in magic. That's what it comes down to. And this is just, this is almost like those auto generators where you just have a random mix of pseudoscientific words, frequency, light, and this and nano.

E: Oh yeah, the Deepak Chopra generator.

S: Yeah, exactly. It says this is just a pseudoscience generator. Complete nonsense.

B: It's amazing. His doctor, his doctor asks him to hold bread against his stomach. And then he tested his arms right then because of that, he radically changed his diet for the rest of his life.

E: There was that, that was it. That was the test for Celiac. Don't you see?

S: Forget the fact that we have blood tests for it.

E: And this isn't nobody.

S: Unfortunately.

E: Who's like the, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time. This is the top, it's amazing in a way, sort of despite all his lifetime of believing in absolute nonsense, he still excels.

S: Despite that not because of it.

C: Exactly. Yeah. That's interesting. He's that good.

E: But you know, obviously it's having a bad influence because he obviously, there are people who are going to listen to a person like this, any athlete at the top of their game about what there is they're doing.

S: Unfortunately.

E: Yep. Yep.

S: Athletes are famously superstitious.

E: The beat goes on.

S: Okay. Thanks Evan.

E: Yep.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups[edit]

Correction #1: Fishercat vs Red Fox (1:07:05)[edit]

S: A couple of emails. So last week on the show, I mentioned that some of the animal noises that we hear, and I mentioned the Fisher cat carrot, you know what a Fisher cat is?

C: A Fisher cat? No, I've never heard of that.

S: They make this like, they come out at night and they make this screaming noise.

C: Like they do.

S: Yeah.

E: Like their want, like their want to do.

S: Like their want to do. And I, and I know this for several reasons, but then I was watching a UK television show and it was nighttime and there was a Fisher cat screaming in the background, like that's their canned nighttime noise. Well, a bunch of people from the UK emailed me and said that they don't have Fisher cats in the UK. The sound that I was referring to was that of a red fox.

C: Oh yeah. Foxes scream too.

S: They do scream too. I didn't know that. And so I did some research and there's tons of videos which are like, is this a Fisher cat or a red fox? So, cause they sound pretty much the same. Like you gotta be an expert to tell them apart. So what's interesting is the sound that I played on the show was a Fisher cat, but a lot of the people from UK said that's not a Fisher cat. That's a red fox. Like, no, that was a Fisher cat. It wasn't a red fox, but that's cause the other sounds are very, very similar. They're correct though, that the sound, the UK's nighttime soundtrack is a red fox, cause that's what they have in the UK. Although it's, I guess it's possible. Cause as we know, they use the wrong animal sounds for things all the time.

C: It's probably like the American nighttime soundtrack is crickets.

S: Yeah, it's crickets. There's the red fox screaming which I missed a fisher cat.

C: I've definitely been in parts of Europe where I'm like, why are there no crickets?

S: Yeah, it's different.

C: And you just don't hear them at night.

S: There's sometimes the right time at night. It is loud. I love that sound though, but it's, it's, it's loud.

E: It can get loud. Yeah, really.

C: Like I hate it.

E: City traffic noise loud.

B: You know what I'm seeing now that I haven't seen in years and I saw that we saw a lot as kids like lightning bugs.

E: They come out.

S: Fireflies.

E: I've noticed they come out a little later in the summer. I noticed them more in August than I do in July.

C: I haven't seen them in like a decade.

S: Their populations have been dramatically decreasing. They're objectively decreasing the populations of fireflies. I've seen some recently.

B: Looks like they're coming back though.

S: I've seen some recently, but they're, yeah, they're when we were kids that there were more of fireflies. The populations were much, much higher. It's not just subjective.

E: And that's why there was only one season.

S: All right. One other.

B: Oh my god. Don't even get me started.

S: Another email.

Email #1: Thorium Reactors (1:09:49)[edit]

S: This one comes from Max and Max writes, "A friend of mine is kind of a thorium enthusiast and recently sent me this video. This company is working on thorium based modular reactors and claims they will have commercial reactors ready by 2028. What's the state of thorium reactors? Supporters say that they're a better source of nuclear energy, that thorium is more abundant than uranium and produces more manageable nuclear waste. What do the skeptics have to say?" So we have talked about this before, but this is worth an update because this is a new company. And I did what research I could. Although I couldn't really find a lot of independent reviews. The company is Copenhagen atomics and they have a design for a thorium molten salt reactor, which is a small modular reactor. It's like as big as.

B: SMR baby.

S: A trailer truck, you know?

B: Wow, man.

S: So their own pitch is very impressive, but we've learned to be skeptical of a company's own pitch of their new technology. What they're claiming is that they will have a demonstration, a plant ready to go by 2024 and that they'll have a commercial one going by 2028. And then they, after that, they should be able to start assembly line producing them because that's the whole point of small modular reactors is that they're modular, you can build them in a factory and ship them to where they go. But let's talk for a bit about the thorium cycle, about thorium as a fuel. Right now in the world, there is one thorium based nuclear power plant. It's in India. It's really a demonstration plant itself, but it is working. So interestingly, thorium, although it's a radioactive metal, thorium is not a fissile material. And so by itself, it can't be used as fuel for a nuclear plant. You have to combine it with a fissile material and then it, it's like a breeder. So it will become a fuel. It has to be activated though, by something else that's already fissile. So I think the one that's, that is operating uses Uranium-233 to get the process going. But then the thorium will put out a lot more energy because you combine it with the thorium. Does that make sense? So like the the Uranium-233 gives off neutrons, which gets absorbed by the thorium, which then itself can undergo a radioactive decay and heat up and make energy. What the Copenhagen Atomics is doing is they're using nuclear waste as the fissile starter material, which is a great idea.

B: Wow.

E: Instead of having to [inaudible].

S: You don't need new stuff. Just take the spent nuclear fuel anyway. Yeah, it's good in theory. Well, this is their claim. They take spent nuclear fuel, otherwise called nuclear waste. They use that. You combine that with thorium and then they lock it away for 30 years and nobody has to go inside again. And it generates electricity for 30 years. It's all robotic and automated.

B: Wait, robotic?

S: Yeah, basically. Yeah. It's sealed off. Like it's like, but you know, like those small modular reactors, you bury and you don't have to look at them again for 30 years.

B: There's no like robots crawling around and doing shit.

S: Well, whatever. Yeah, it's all automated.

B: That's the kind I love.

S: So, I mean, so on paper, it looks great. And using thorium as reactor fuel again, which once it's activated by actual fissile material is, is perfectly scientifically legitimate. And again there's one reactor doing it right now. So the idea is great. It is true that thorium is way more abundant than uranium. There's a ton of it in lots of different countries. The US has a lot of it. So that is also true. It's also true that the spent nuclear fuel is a lot easier to manage than from the uranium cycle. It's only would have to be stored for hundreds of years, not hundreds of thousands of years. So I think the company sites 300 years, like this nuclear material would need to be stored for 300 years and that's it. Not the geological storage for long periods of time. And it could produce a lot of energies that essentially out of the spent nuclear fuel, when you can do combine it with the thorium and in this thorium cycle, you get 10 times as much energy out of it as you did originally, like when it was originally used as fuel in a regular nuclear reactor which also is in line with what I've read about it as well. So the short answer is that this is all above board and scientific a thorium based nuclear reactor. I have no idea how realistic the claims of this specific company are or of their specific technology will work because, and I haven't read any reviews of it because it doesn't exist yet so like everything you take that with a grain of salt, we've heard plenty of times, oh yeah, here's our timeline for when we're going to have everything working. And the consistent skepticism that I read about thorium reactors is that they're not cost effective, but that's basically the innovation that they're claiming to have made with the small nuclear reactor design. So if they've cracked that nut, basically making thorium reactors cost effective to all the other aspects of it are pretty well established. The fact that thorium is more common, it's safer. It doesn't have a nuclear proliferation ability because it doesn't create any weaponizable spent nuclear fuel. It produces much less waste. That's all true. That's not controversial. The question is, is their design as good as they say it is, will they be able to get it up and running by 2028 and will it be cost effective? So though that's to be determined. But best case scenario, if it works out, I mean, this could be a real important change for the nuclear industry and could be an important contributor to our fight against global warming. I listened to his whole presentation, from the company. And the one thing he said that to me resonated is like power companies are often coming down to the choice of, are we going to build a coal fire plant or a nuclear plant? That's the choice. Nuclear versus coal. As you know, I agree with that. That's consistent with everything that I've read as well. That's basically what the choice comes down to a lot of times. So that's a no brainer in terms of the environment, in terms of safety. The only thing that coal's got going for is that it's cheaper but not when you include all of the downstream effects, only it's only cheaper when you get to externalize all the health effects, all the pollution and the global warming effects, then it's cheaper. But if you count all of that as you should and you also get rid of all the subsidies as you should, then it's a different story. But we still have to get nuclear more cost effective and, and hopefully, hopefully this approach will work. Cause if it does, it'll be great. So yeah, maybe thorium, it may be the wave of the future when it comes to nuclear power but it hasn't been done yet. So we just don't know until it actually, until it's actually happening. You know, you can't say for sure.

Who's That Noisy? (1:17:39)[edit]

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

J: All right, guys, two weeks ago, I played this noisy. What is going on there? Anybody got any guesses?

S: Would you describe that as a tinkling noise?

C: I think so.

J: I don't think there's any other word that fits better, Steve.

E: They have those kaleidoscopes sometimes that make that noise when the little pieces inside all.

S: Like the rain stick kind of thing.

E: Yeah, rain stick. Yeah, perhaps that's a better.

J: Hey, you might be onto something there. Let's see what listeners were thinking. So Bob Whiteman said: "My 10 and eight year old daughters think that this week's noisy is the instrument called chimes made of wood or metal. And my guess is scrap glass that falls onto a hard surface during some kind of glass manufacturing", a little bit of truth in some of what you're saying. You'll understand when I do the reveal, but that's not a bad guess. Visto Tutti said: "The wind chime like sound reminds me of spring melt in a stream water over all those little icicles as the world warms." I like the way he put that. And I can, I can see where you're coming from. You are incorrect, my friend, but that's okay. Cause you've been correct many times. Another listener wrote in named Jared Pain. And he said: "Spokey Dokeys, plastic bead things that go around your bike spokes and make a fun sound." Now, when I was a kid, I used to, right. We used to take playing cards.

E: Yeah. You'd put a card in there.

J: And it would, it would give your put on the back wheel or whatever.

E: Our parents use baseball cards used to parents and grandparents would put baseball cards in their spokes.

S: Yeah. And yeah a laundry clip, what do you call those?

C: A clothes pin.

J: It worked. It was fun. Another listener named Haya Simpkins said: "Dear skeptics and especially Cara." Get ready Cara. Cause you're going to get some love thrown at you. "I actually think that this noisy is a barrel full of plastic monkeys being dumped out. I have a big memory of playing with small plastic monkeys, just like those mentioned in the expression. And I remember a noise like that. The amount of noise tells me that the barrel is very full of monkeys." I used to have those. I had them.

S: We had those.

J: They were fun. And this person closes out with: "Yes, Cara, you my favourite skeptic and my favourite guest on God awful movies, keep up the good work."

C: Thanks for not saying, and you did 9/11. It's getting old.

J: So I do have a winner. There was a good, there was a lot of people who guessed correctly actually. But this week's winner is Shane Hillier and Shane said: "Hey Jay, I think I got it. This is a playground toy where a punch of steel rods." I think he meant a bunch, "a bunch of steel rods are driven between two rocks and you can drop little rocks between the rods to make this noise." So essentially what you have is you have two pieces of flat stone. That are about two inches apart from each other and they've driven steel rods in between them. So when you pick up a handful of rocks and drop them down, they fall down and hit all the different little steel rods and make these noises as they drop. So listen again real quick and you'll get it. Right? Get the idea?

S: Rocks falling over steel rods. We kind of had the basic idea correct.

J: Yeah, definitely. And it and apparently there's lots of playgrounds around the world that have this, so parents and kids would probably be familiar with it. Anyway, I thought that was a cool sound.

New Noisy (1:21:18)[edit]

J: I have a new sound for you this week. This week's sound was sent in by a listener named Nicholas Andrew. I will tell you that this is probably going to be the quietest who's that noisy that I've ever done. So listen carefully and it's not long either, but take a listen.

[whirring in background, scratching sound fading in foreground]

Let me play it again.

S: That was it.

J: Yeah. You got to listen up. If you guys think you know what this week's Noisy was, or you heard something cool, you can always email me at WTN@skepticsguide.org.

Announcements (1:21:52)[edit]

J: Steve, this is the time of the show where I like to tell people a few things about the SGU. Things we have coming up and whatnot. Right out of the gate I'd like to thank those people who became patrons to help support us. As you know, we have not been running a lot of ads on the show. This is going to be basically the norm for quite a while for us.

S: Well, we got one this week's show, but it's like the first one in a couple of months, I think.

J: Yeah. And it took me a month to get that ad out of our, out of the company that gives us ads. It was it's hard. It's just the market is doing very poorly. Like there's not a lot to do it. So bottom line is, I've been asking listeners, this is a great time to show your support because we really could use it right now and if you've been listening to the show and you get something out of this and you feel like it's worth it, we would really appreciate you becoming a patron, to show your support. So you can go to patreon.com/skepticsguide, and you'll see a lot of different patron levels in there and things that we promise.

S: Yeah. We're not that far from the 24 hour show.

J: That's true. So I think at 5,500 patrons we do the 24 hour show.

B: Oh boy.

J: We are already doing the 5,000 patron thing, which is basically making a new video series, which Steve and I are doing every week. So we've already given you guys that and patrons get early access to those videos, by the way. So anyway, please do consider becoming a patron. We could use a support and it goes to a very good cause. Another thing we have coming up we'll be at, we will be at Dragon Con, so if you're going to go you know, we'll be on the skeptic track. We have a few things planned. We're going to be doing a live SGU show. We're also going to be doing a panel on artificial intelligence, which we are very much looking forward to.

S: And we'll be on other panels.

J:The last thing I want to remind you guys is we have a conference called NOTACON because it is a conference, but it's not like any conference you've been to. This is a conference that revolves around two things. One - socializing and having time to have meaningful and fun times with the people that are there typically conferences don't give you that much time to socialize, but we are going to give you plenty of time to socialize. And we're also going to be, it'll be the entire SGU and we'll also have Andrea Jones-Roy, Brian Wecht and George Hrabb. And we will be putting on a ton of fun entertainment segments and different things that we have planned. We're also going to be doing some nighttime entertainment where we'll have a live boomer versus zoomer. We'll be pulling people out of the audience to be the contestants. And then there's going to be something called the insane eighties sing-along. Brian and George will be doing this. It's going to be a lot of awesome songs from the eighties that we will, ask you to please sing along to them. You can wear eighties garb if you want.

S: Bring your big shoulders and your fat hair.

J: I'm going to look for a members only jacket. I actually think I have one.

S: Members only jacket?

B: Or bring your fat shoulders and big hair.

S: Yeah, either way.

J: So if you, if you're interested in going to the conference, which you really should be, cause it's going to be awesome. Go to theskepticsguide.org, scroll down just a little bit. You'll see a button there that'll take you to the page that shows you everything. And we're really looking forward to it. We've got really good turnout. Lots of people are already making plans about different things that they're going to do that weekend over the conference. And you know, and one thing I wanted to tell you guys, I haven't mentioned before is we will be there Thursday night, which is the night before everything starts. And we were thinking about doing some kind of like special thing that night for people who are going to be there. So we'll give you more details on that. We've been percolating a fun idea that might make that Thursday night a little more fun.

S: Jay, I understand we have two tickets to QED.

J: Yeah. So what is QED? So QED is one of, if not the best skeptical conferences that's out there. This is in the UK. We loved QED. I highly recommend that if you have a chance to go, you should go see this. We will be giving a lot more details about QED in future shows, but the most important thing I wanted to say is that QED gave us two free tickets that we are going to give away to two SGU patrons. So here's how this works. First, you got to be a patron to enter. If you're a patron, we're going to create a form and we're going to let you say that you're interested because we don't want to give this away to someone that lives halfway across the planet that won't go. So if you're going to be able to go we'll give you all the details. This is in September and then we will pick two random patrons out of that list in a month or so. We'll give you, give you plenty of time to, to register if you want to and plenty of time to make your plans to go. So keep keep an eye out for that. That's coming very soon. We'll give you the link for that next week. So go to QED. It is an awesome conference. I promise you, you will have a great time.

S: All right. Thanks, Jay. All right, guys, let's go on with science or fiction.

[top]                        

Science or Fiction (1:26:46)[edit]

Theme: Animal sound tropes

Item #1: The famous sound made by Flipper the dolphin is actually a recording of a kookaburra bird sped up.[6]
Item #2: The only species of frog that makes the “ribbit” noise is the Pacific tree frog, which is native to Hollywood, CA.[7]
Item #3: Horses make a variety of sounds, but they don’t whinny like in the movies, which is a sound recorded from a donkey.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction Horses don't whinny
Science Dolphin = kookaburra
Science
Pacific tree frog's "ribbit"
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Jay
Horses don't whinny
Evan
Pacific tree frog's "ribbit"
Cara
Horses don't whinny
Bob
Horses don't whinny

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 I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We have a theme this week. Theme is animal sound tropes. So these are all things that movies and TV get wrong about animal sounds.

E: Okay. Here we go.

B: I see what you did there.

S: Right. But the fiction is something that's not wrong, right? Does that make sense? All right. Again, that's all I know. It gets confusing, but the statements are either true or false as stated. That's the only thing you have to worry about. Okay. Here we go. Item number one, the famous sound made by Flipper the dolphin is actually recording of a kookaburra bird sped up. Item number two, the only species of frog that makes the ribbit noise is the Pacific tree frog, which is native to Hollywood, California. And item number three, horses make a variety of sounds, but they don't winnie like in the movies, which is a sound recorded from a donkey.

J: So you didn't do the eagle one, huh?

S: Well, I knew you guys know that one.

C: We know the answer to that one.

J: I thought I had this.

E: The Wilhelm scream. You didn't do that.

S: All right, Jay, go first.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: Me? Holy shit.

S: You volunteered.

J: All right. First, this first one here, the famous sounds made by Flipper the dolphin. I totally believe that that is not a dolphin. They're very distinct sound. I don't know. I mean, maybe that's a real dolphin noise, but I bet you that, I bet you that that's legit. I don't know. Now I'm second, totally second guessing that. Hold on. Let me just keep going here. The second one here, the only species of frog that makes the ribbit noise is the Pacific tree frog, which is native to Hollywood, California. I mean I hear a lot of peepers out there in New England, there's peepers out it's all I hear. I don't hear ribbit. I hear different kind of peeping kind of sound. I would believe this. I would believe that there's only one frog that ribbits. So I'm going to say that one is science. And then this one about the horses has really got me a little freaked out. So horses make a variety of sounds, but they don't whinny like they do in the movies, which is a sound recorded from a donkey. Damn. I really don't think that that's true. And if I do take that one, that means that the flipper one, that is a real dolphin noise. All right. I'm going to do it. I'm going to, I'm going to follow my gut. And I'm going to say that the horses one is the fiction.

S: Okay. Evan.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: We're so contaminated by Hollywood and so much of what we think and perceive about lots of different things. Animals is just one of them, right?

B: Damn you Hollywood.

E: Exactly. I mean, if, unless you're working with dolphins, working with frogs or working with horses, how will you really know? Turns out at least two thirds of animals that you're exposed to in this case are wrong or are only correct and one third are wrong. A flipper, the dolphin. Yeah. Kookaburra sped up. I mean, these are all plausible. I can see why that one maybe would be fiction. It may have been hard to get a standard sort of sound out of a dolphin. I'm sure they tried and they just decided to go with something else that was easier to deal with. The ribbit noise and the Pacific tree frog. The way, the reason I think this one might be fiction, I don't know, native to Hollywood, California. Is that like a, is that like a cue? Is that like?

S: To clarify, it's not only native to Hollywood, California, but it's range includes Hollywood and the implication is, yeah, that's why it's in the movies, right? That's the implication.

E: Right. Yeah. And there's something there that it's like a, I don't know. It's like bait almost in a way. And the horses make a variety of sounds. Yeah. The winnings, just watched a movie the other day in which. Horse made that classic kind of winning noise, but they didn't show the mouth of the horse making the horse itself didn't, it just kind of, you saw the top of its head moving as the, as the noise came out. So they like hit it. So maybe I think that one's, I thought I'll go with the, with the frog one. I think the frog one is going to be the fiction.

S: Okay. Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: I don't know the flipper, the dolphin one. It's like, who knows? It's definitely a who knows. I do think that there's a ribbit frog in California in Hollywood. It is where I live. And I'm so confused by this last one, Steve, like, I don't know if you're just messing with us by using the word winnie, but like horses winnie, donkeys don't winnie, they bray, they go like, that's the sound that donkeys.

J: Can you do that again?

C: [imitates donkey] Like when you say the Winnie of a horse, it's like that, that sound, right? Sometimes in movies, there's a donkey sound that they use for that, but you explicitly say here horses make a variety of sounds, but they don't winnie like in the movies, but they do. So I don't know. I can't see how that one's science. I have to call that one the fiction.

S: All right. And Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: The frog one I buy the dolphin one kind of rubbed me the wrong way, trying to think of a kookaburra and trying to morph that into a dolphin sound. And I could swear I actually, I mean, we've been to how many dolphin shows have we seen growing up? You hear that noise? But, it doesn't, but whatever, I totally buy Cara's argument though. I have been around horses as well and the donkeys, I mean, donkeys don't really do that, but of course I could be wrong, but I'm still going to say that the donkey one is fiction.

S: Okay. So you all agree with one. So we'll start there.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: The famous sound made by flipper the dolphin is actually a recording of a kookaburra bird sped up. You all think that one is science and that one is science. That's true. That famous I'll play all these noises in the thing. Yeah, it's not a dolphin. [plays the sound] And yeah, so I don't remember what, when this was with you or not with you, but I've heard dolphins make noises a lot, a lot on several occasions, at least it's more of a clicking noise, like a rapid clicking.

B: Oh, yeah, yeah. Which is what they need to do for this, for their communication underwater.

S: That classic noise, which is now the dolphin noise is actually a kookaburra.

B: Oh my god.

S: It's not a dolphin at all. Okay. Let's go on to number two.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: The only species of frog that makes the ribbit noise and is the Pacific tree frog, which is native to Hollywood, California, Evan, you think this one is the fiction. Everyone else thinks this one is science. This one is science. This is science. [plays frogs] Yep. Foley artists in California went out, recorded frogs, and that was the frog sound for every frog ever, ever after that. And we all think it's ribbit, but it's just as one species of frog. That makes that noise.

E: Whoever thought Hollywood would lie to us.

S: Oh my god. I went over like so many fake animals. I'll tell you some more when we're done.

B: That reminds me of reading other languages. The noise, like a meow. And it's just like, not M E O W it's like some, something similar, but different, it's just so funny to see how they interpret the noise that we all know, but with different letters.

S: They use different words to make the animal sounds. All right.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: This means that horses make a variety of sounds, but they don't winnie like in the movies, which is a sound recorded from a donkey is the fiction. Cause Cara is right. Even though she's not supposed to say that she has absolute knowledge of what's true and false.

C: Oh, did I say I had absolute knowledge?

S: You're pretty well saying.

C: Was I just like, have any of you ever heard a donkey?

S: Saying you've heard a horse winnie is pretty much gives it away.

C: Yeah, but hasn't everybody heard a horse winnie in real life? Come on.

S: And actually horses rarely winnie. You must've been around them quite a bit. They make a lot of other noises, but like that classic, like in the, like that one noise you hear for every horse in every movie or whatever is pretty, yeah, that's come on. Have you really heard that? Have you really heard a horse do that?

E: It's the pull string on the child's toy that with the, with the arrow that goes around, that's the noise. Yeah.

C: Here's the thing. I did grow up in Texas and I went to a lot of rodeos.

S: Yeah. Okay.

E: You're saying it's not your first rodeo?

S: You do have to spend a lot of time around horses. We've gone horseback riding and stuff like I've never heard a horse winning in real life. I've been around horses.

E: They snort.

S: They snort. They breathe they do bray. They do do all those kinds of noises, but like, but the way Hollywood works is this is the horse noise.

C: Right, this is the only noise horses make.

Other fake, overused (animal) noises[edit]

S: And donkeys do braid, but donkeys make a bunch of noises too. It's not just that, just not that he ha noise. They make a lot of other noises as well. But here's the thing I had such a hard time finding the fiction because every time I thought of something, it turns out it's fake. Like it's all fake. You know, it's like, all right, what about the sound that a grizzly bear makes? That's fake. That's like, they usually use like a tiger roaring or something. And like in the, every time they're showing it to you, like the bear is just opening its mouth. Cause bears don't roar to intimidate you or whatever. They just kill you. They don't do that. Every large cat is a tiger. It doesn't matter what it is. It's a tiger noise. It's for every large cat, including like the cheetah. Cheetahs chirp.

C: Right. Cheetahs do not sound scared.

B: Because they're not big cats. They're big domestic cats.

C: And some big cats purr.

B: Leonate or whatever. They're not, it's a different, they're in the, the same.

C: Yeah. They're in the same as domestic cats. So they purr and they like, and the big ones, you're right. Like the lions, they roar and they chuff and they are scary. I just saw one, you guys. I just saw one in Africa.

B: Do the eagle one, do the eagle one.

S: Every raptor, every, not just eagles, every raptor is a red tailed hawk. Now I've been reading a lot about this. The reason for this is because─

B: It's an awesome sound.

S: Well, it's deliberate because the logic behind it is, is that reality sounds fake, right?

B: And not just lame, but fake.

S: Yeah. And the purpose isn't to be accurate. It's to communicate with a pre-existing language to the audience. And so the reason why tropes, it's a code. So it's like, this is a predator. So we're going to play a sound that you will recognize as a predator, even if it has nothing to do with the actual animal we're showing you on the screen, it's just a, it's just to trigger a response, right? Or like, this is a majestic animal. We've got to play a majestic sound. We can't play this crazy chirping noise that the eagles actually make, the screeching. We've got to make this majestic raptor noise. [plays the noise]

B: Yeah, I can't really blame them. It's like nature didn't cooperate very well.

C: And also some things are hard to record.

S: Absolutely. It's also partly for licensing. It's partly because of, yeah, I mean, how much time are you going to spend? All these places, all the TVs and movies are all using the same bank of canned sounds, you know?

C: And sometimes they're making them, like Foley artists have a little studio. I did, I did shoot for brain games where we went to the Foley artist studio on like some lot. Like it was so fun. And we got to play on a big screen, a scene from a film. And then like, we did the Foley for it. Like he taught me how to do stuff. And do you know what they often use when somebody's getting punched in the face?

S: Celery.

C: Celery! Yeah they crack a thing of celery. And it really sounds like it.

S: I just saw a bunch of videos on Foley artists.

C: Steve's like an encyclopedia about this now.

B: I remember watching a video of the Foley artists for the Simpsons and they not only do the classic Foley tricks, but they also record it in rooms that are the same size as the room that is going to be on the show. Like if it's in the tree house, they use a room that's that big because that will absolutely affect the quality of the noise that's being created.

S: And you can tell when they don't do that. Like sometimes when they ADR something, like it's like, there's the whole sound quality changes.

B: Wait, what happened there? That didn't sound legit. That's a fail.

S: It's fascinating. But some tropes are so overused. And I think part of it's laziness too. Not just sound, like there's so many TV movie tropes. It's like every bag of groceries has to have the carrot top sticking out the top, I mean, or the bread, you know.

C: Yeah, the baguette. Everybody just gets like a baguette every time.

E: And it's programmed very early. You start hearing these noises when you're a toddler, basically watching your kid shows on television. So a whole lifetime of being programmed.

S: Programmed with incorrect animal.

E: Oh my gosh. The world is just a set of illusions. One more illusion.

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

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:40:35)[edit]

Science is not about building a body of facts. It is a method for asking awkward questions and subjecting them to a reality-check, thus avoiding the human tendency to believe whatever makes them feel good.

 – Terry Pratchett (1948-2015), English humorist, from The Science of Discworld  


E: "Science is not about building a body of facts. It is a method for asking awkward questions and subjecting them to a reality check, thus avoiding the human tendency to believe whatever makes them feel good." Terry Pratchett from his book, Science of Discworld.

S: Sir Terry Pratchett.

E: Sir Terry Pratchett.

E: And the book is Science of Discworld. I have not read it, but now here we go. Got to add another book.

S: I read Discworld. I haven't read Science of Discworld. It's kind of classic science fiction. Yeah. If you haven't read it, it's a classic. It's a good one to read. I like science fiction authors who like, you could tell when they're skeptical. They you know, who's really skeptical is the, is Frank Herbert, the author of Dune. Very, especially if you read the later novels, the sequels to the first Dune novel, he gets into some really good epistemology he like very, very good. And then the prequels that was written co-written by his son, not as good. They didn't, he didn't have the same skeptical mojo as the father.

B: But still fun.

S: Yeah, they were good. They were, it's good to close that circle, but didn't, didn't have the same outlookthat I think Frank Herbert did. All right. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

J: You got it Steve.

E: Thank you, Steve.

Signoff[edit]

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 theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to info@theskepticsguide.org. And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.

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Today I Learned[edit]

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