SGU Episode 944

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SGU Episode 944
August 12th 2023
944 Undersea.jpg

"A hydrothermal vent displaying many red tube worms and white microbial mats."
Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute [1]

SGU 943                      SGU 945

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

It is hard to tell which is worse: the wide diffusion of things that are not true, or the suppression of things that are true.

Harriet Martineau, English social theorist

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Masks and sickness, Cara's dissertation[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, August 10th, 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: Hello, everyone.

S: So a few things going on here. First, as you can probably tell, I am sick. I have an upper respiratory infection. I am ill. You know, it sucks.

J: Do you feel really sick or you just sound sick?

S: I do. Yeah, it's one of those. It's like the worst day of a cold, where you have the achiness everywhere and a fever and the nose is running like a faucet.

B: I remember those days.

S: Tested negative for COVID. It doesn't really feel like COVID. It feels more like a summer enterovirus, which is I think what it is. But we just like a few weeks ago stopped wearing mandatory masks in the hospital and this is how long it took me to get sick. I haven't had a cold in three years or whatever. Two weeks after no mask policy, I get a cold.

E: I mean, does that mean you were primed to get it in a sense?

S: No. I just had patients with runny noses sitting in front of me without wearing a mask. That's what it means.

C: Yeah, it just means sick people are sick. It's like teachers.

S: People don't feel obliged to wear a mask.

C: It's like the minute teachers went back to that way.

S: So I tested negative for COVID. I did wear a mask all day. We'll see what happens tomorrow.

C: Yeah. Whenever I have just the slightest weirdness at work, I'll wear a 95 for a few days just to be safe. Because yeah, you're in really close court. Like when I'm doing therapy, it's like closed door, tiny room, one on one for an hour. We're going to catch whatever anybody has if they have something.

S: You're exchanging your microbiota.

C: Oh, yes.

E: Steve, slice a red onion and put it in a stocking and wear it to bed tonight.

S: Okay, sounds good.

E: All right.

S: Thank you, Pastor Evan. Tomorrow is Jay's birthday.

C: Happy birthday, Jay.

E: Happy birthday, Jay. Jay. You made it.

J: I made it, yep.

C: He made it.

E: Again.

S: One more circuit around the sun.

C: Yep.

E: It's good to make it.

S: And Monday, Cara, something's happening in Cara world on Monday, I think.

C: Something's happening in Cara world.

B: Sleep in that day. Take it easy.

E: Yeah. Turn your alarm off.

C: Monday, I'm defending my dissertation.

B: Whoa.

C: Whoa.

E: Oh, my gosh.

C: Can you believe?

S: No.

C: I can't.

S: Do you think everybody out there in podcast land knows what that means?

C: I think they do generically.

E: Yeah, we have a perception.

S: All right, Evan, what do you think it means?

E: You are, you basically wrote a book and you have to get up and orally defend it against a group, a panel, effectively, of people from your field.

C: Okay.

S: Not bad.

C: All right.

S: What about you, Jay?

J: It's a great question because I was going to ask you to clarify that a little bit. From what I understand, they read your dissertation and then they're going to basically shoot holes in it. And you have to sit there and explain to them like everything. And their job is to kind of make it difficult for you to, to you're not just going in saying, yeah, I wrote this, like they're going to be like, what does this mean? Explain this in detail. How do you correlate these two things together? All questions like that, that make you have to really explain your position.

C: Yeah.

S: That's close enough, Cara give us a technical definition.

C: I don't know. So different schools do it differently. My school calls it the FOR, the final oral review. And that is, in essence, their dissertation defense. Some schools call it a thesis. Some schools call it a dissertation. My hunch is that thesis is British and dissertation is American.

S: I also thought thesis was masters and dissertation was PhD.

C: I did too. But my multiple dear friends of mine went to Caltech and they had a doctoral thesis at Caltech. But I think that's Caltech being like, we're like the Brits. I really do. So I'm not sure. I think in some respects, they're interchangeable. But yes, when I did my master's degree, I defended a master's thesis. Now I am defending a doctoral dissertation. When it's published in ProQuest or whatever publishing platform they use, it is called a dissertation. But sometimes they're called theses.

S: So just a quick definition that I find is that a thesis, I think, is the more general term for defending your area of knowledge in a graduate program while dissertation is specific to a PhD.

C: That's so weird that some PhDs still use the word thesis.

S: Anyway, it's all language.

C: Yeah, it's all language.

E: Micrometer, micrometer.

C: Exactly. That's fun. So basically, I wrote this, you put it well, Evan, book. Mine's actually not that long, if I'm being 100% honest.

E: Oh, it's a novella, then.

C: Well, it's long enough that when I first opened the document, I don't know how many pages it is because Microsoft Word has to pitch up.

E: Oh, well, then it's long enough.

C: Give me a minute and I'll tell you. OK, it's speeding up now. It is 185 pages. But we have to remember that includes appendices and references and everything.

S: Which is work. It's not like that's not work.

C: Right, exactly.

S: Appendices and everything is like a huge part of the work. Your literature is huge.

C: Yeah, it's true. So basically, you write this thing, and the way that my university does it, and I think that this has become more common practice, to be honest, which is why I'm not overly stressed about this. Maybe I should be. Is that you have a committee and your committee is made up of different people. Different committees have different compositions. My school requires a committee of at least four. So I have a committee chair. I have a second reader who's on faculty. I have a third reader who's on faculty. And that individual is also a methodology expert. So with psychology research, they can be quantitative or qualitative. And so you need a different type of methodology expert for different types of dissertations. And then you have what's called an external reader, and that's pretty common. So that's somebody from another university who's unbiased, who had nothing to do with your work, who sits on your committee, and they're expected to be a subject matter expert. So I was lucky enough to get somebody who's like a really big deal in the field of gerontology and who's published on end of life stuff before. So that's really great. And then you all convene. And basically, I take, 45 minutes an hour to present my work, make a PowerPoint, go through it, show the lit review, show the research that I did, show the results, show the discussion, the limitations, all that kind of stuff. And then, yes, they ask you specific questions. Why did you choose to do this? Why didn't you do it this way? If you could do it all over again, what might you change? What were some of the things you had control over? What were some things you didn't have control over? And then they usually close the door and go rubble, rubble, rubble, rubble, rubble, and discuss amongst themselves and bring you back in. And then from what I hear, it's always, congratulations, doctor. Maybe not always, though, because some people don't pass, which to me blows my mind.

S: So my, having watched this, my wife go through this process, so I had basically front row seats, even though I wasn't doing it myself.

C: Did you go, though? Did you attend her?

S: No, no, I couldn't do it.

C: Oh, you didn't.

S: But she has a thesis advisor, right? And it doesn't show you a thesis advisor who, made sure she passed. You know what I mean? Like their job is to usher you through that process.

C: They should not get you to this point. They shouldn't be like, sure, we're ready for the defense if your paper is not publishable.

S: If you fail your dissertation, that means they failed because they were supposed to get you to the point where you were ready.

C: And this should be publishable quality, like this should be 100% contributing to the field. This should be contributing to the state of the literature. And so I've already gotten really beautiful and lovely feedback from everybody on my committee, which is really nice. My dissertation went through a few different rounds of edits, but the overwhelming feedback was just really positive and really supportive. And so I'm excited about that.

E: So is this more of an exercise or is, what's the net positive coming away from having to orally defend?

C: So there's a couple different things that can happen. For some people, it's the first time everybody is in a room together. And so because of that, things come up that didn't come up before, because each of your committee members should have read it and given you feedback individually. But now you've got a group of colleagues that are sitting down going, oh, yeah, maybe if this, maybe if that, what about that? So it is important to some extent that you're all together and having a discussion. And also, your paper doesn't have to be locked in by the time you defend it. Mine is as close as I can possibly get it. But things will come up during the defense that I can then further dial in.

S: Before you submit it for actual publication.

C: For proofreading, exactly. Yeah. So like you, they call it the final draft that at my university, at least they have to approve my final draft before we can even schedule the defense. But the final draft is not actually final. It's like VF point one. So if anything comes up during the defense that they want me to tweak or that we all agree would make the most sense to tweak, I can still do that before I submit it to proofreading.

S: It's like peer review in a way.

J: How often do people actually legit fail this process?

C: I don't think it happens often at all, but I'm sure it does happen. And I'm sure that when people do fail, like Steve, you were saying it's a failure of the committee. It also probably, I would assume, has more to do with personality problems with like people being like, well, no, I'm just going to push forward anyway, like just like not listening to the advice that they're given.

S: Again, from watching the process, my sense is that you don't fail like at your defense. The defense is kind of the formality cap at the end. But with people who fail to get their PhD, they never get to defend it because they didn't get to that point. They just never finished their project or they never got to the point where their advisor said, yes, you're ready to defend.

C: And I think for me, what I find is really interesting is among a lot of my colleagues who are significantly younger, right, because I'm doing this later in life, this part stresses them out to no end because I think a lot of people have a fear of public speaking. Or they have a fear of feeling, how do I feel confident about my work? And it's so funny to me because this part's the easy part for me. Like I did the hard work already. Like anything they ask me, I know the answer to because it's my research. You know what I mean? Like I did it. I wrote the damn thing. And so for me, and also I'm a professional science communicator, like I do this for a living.

E: Yeah, I can't undersell that.

C: A hundred percent. So even though there's like people are like, oh, it's the defense. It's so stressful. It's so stressful. I'm like, no, no, no. The stressful part was writing the damn thing. Like I'm good to go now. So I'm excited.

S: Hundreds of hours of work that got you to this point.

C: Yeah, seriously. It's so exciting to me because it's just one more checkbox. So once I finished this on Monday, I have two more weeks of seeing patients and then I have one week of paperwork and then I'm done with my internship, which is the last requirement to earn a PhD in clinical psychology.

S: And you get awarded a PhD on a specific date that you know yet or no?

C: The way that they do it is it's not about graduation day. They award it to you the last day of your internship if everything else is submitted.

S: Got it. It will be for you, right?

C: It will be for me. Yeah. I shouldn't have so many changes that it doesn't take a few days before I push it through to the publisher or the proofreader. So for me, yeah, I'm lucky. A lot of my colleagues are in a really weird boat where our internship ends on August 31st/sup> and they have postdocs starting September 1st. So they had to take their vacation the last two weeks. They had to save it all year. Take it the last two weeks and everything has to be backdated for early because you can't start a postdoc if you don't technically have a PhD. Like they will not let you be a postdoc if you don't have a doctorate. So they had to do some like weird manoeuvring in order to make that work. But I'm lucky I don't start until January for my postdoc. I get to take time off and chillax. Yeah.

S: All right. Well, congratulations. We'll keep us updated this last few weeks of the process.

C: Will do.

"5 to 10 Years" (12:36)[edit]

  • [url_from_show_notes _article_title_][2]

S: All right, Evan, you're going to start us off with a special report. This is a 5 to 10-year follow-up on the Loch Ness Monster.

E: Yes. Yeah. Every now and again, we like to revisit news items to see how a particular subject has come along in the last five to 10 years, as we like to say. For example, Bob, invisible cloaks are 5 to 10 years away, right?

B: Well, what wavelength are you talking about? Invisible? No.

E: How about this one, Jay? Everyone will be walking around with their personal droid or robot in 5 to 10 years. That's something we actually talked about years ago.

J: That can't come fast enough.

E: No kidding. All right. But here we are and it really hasn't happened yet. Cara, 5 to 10 years, CRISPR technology will grow by leaps and bounds.

B: Well.

C: Applications for sure. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

E: Absolutely. This is why it's good to take a look back every now and again when we talk about things 5 to 10 years from now, let's see exactly where we went. Sometimes, yeah, things have progressed and other times, no pie in the sky. So it just so happens it was five years ago when I reported on the latest attempts of researchers to find hard evidence of the Loch Ness Monster. Here's a very, very quick reminder for you. It's Scottish folklore, the Loch Ness Monster, Nessie, which is sometimes called by. It's a creature said to inhabit Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. It's often described as large in size with a long neck and one or more humps protruding from the water. The size of the creature varies. Their descriptions over the years have ranged everything from 6 meters in length to 17 meters in length. By all accounts, it's unusually large, especially for a creature in that particular body of water. Now, many had believed that the creature could be a plesiosaur. Large aquatic faring animals, which arose from the time of the early Jurassic Epoch, about 175 million years ago. But legend of this particular beast rose 90 years ago. And thanks to the media of the day, offering vivid accounts of people describing what they saw as a sea serpent or a dragon. Plus et chance, right? But the bottom line is that 90 years of evidence of Nessie's existence is entirely anecdotal. There have been a few disputed photographs and sonar readings thrown into the mix over the years. However, nothing concrete. Well, just five years ago, and perhaps you remember this news story when I presented it, a global team of scientists scoured the icy depths of Loch Ness using environmental DNA equipment in an experiment that hopefully would discover if Scotland's fabled monster really does or did once exist. Environmental DNA, it's a surveillance tool that's used to monitor for the genetic presence of an aquatic species. For example, here in the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they're using eDNA, as they call it, to monitor for the genetic presence of bighead carp and silver carp, which are two species of Asian carp, and they are invasive. So it's good to know if these invasive species are in fact getting in to our fresh waters. Whenever a creature moves through their environment, they leave behind tiny fragments of DNA, skin to scales, feather to fur, feces to urine, slime to scum, secretions and emissions, the likes of which you probably don't want to know about. However, this DNA can be captured, sequenced, and then used to identify that creature by comparing the sequence obtained to large databases of known genetic sequences from hundreds of thousands of different organisms. That's quite a data bank. So this is what the researchers had done. They took 250 samples of water taken around the lake, from the center of the lake, and the very depths of the lake. These DNA samples were captured, extracted, sequenced, and then compared against global DNA databases to reveal a comprehensive picture of what life has been in Loch Ness. All the way down to bacteria. Fish everything in between. So bacteria to fish in all manner of creature and everything else you can think of. And here were the results. They can't find any evidence of a creature that's remotely related to a Loch Ness monster, a plesiosaur, or anything else within those sequence data samples. So no, the plesiosaur idea did not hold up based on the data that was obtained. One thing they did find was a good amount of eel DNA. So they said, well, maybe it's plausible that you've got some kind of giant eel in this.

C: That's not plausible.

E: Well the eDNA doesn't speak to the size specifically of the creature, but the eel DNA, right? But other than that, you can basically rule it out. But the next big hubbub on the heels of that research was another study showing that plesiosaurs had lived in fresh water. That was new information. This was an oops kind of moment because some very intelligent, I'm sure, very intelligent person over at the University of Bath thought it was a good idea to contaminate their scientific findings with a throwaway comment on how plesiosaur in Loch Ness, it being a freshwater lake, is, and I quote, on a level or on one level plausible. Oh my gosh, that was a feather in the cap of Nessie believers everywhere. If you go back and look for the headlines for that science news item, it was almost universally, they all said, scientists say Loch Ness monster plausible. So that was the end of that. But did the science really finally break in the direction of the true believers? No, because there was a major problem. You see, Loch Ness is only, what, 10,000 years old. And the plesiosaurs went extinct well before Loch Ness was formed. So 66 million years at the same time of the dinosaurs, they were gone.

S: But they say there were connections between Loch Ness and the ocean or whatever. But of course, if there's salt, that's a salt water in a freshwater body of water. So usually people, even though it's not a fish, usually animals don't live in both. But so would you guys remember when we were in Scotland and we were visiting the Highlands and our tour guide, who was a local, very awesome tour guide, she asked us where we wanted to go and we said, take us to the most beautiful lock in the area. And she was like, thank goodness you didn't ask me to take you to Loch Ness. We're good n that.

C: I remember that. She was like, do you guys want to go to Loch Ness? And we were like, I don't think you know who you've got in your bus right now. And we had lots of long conversations.

J: I mean, if it was nearby, I would have been like, sure. I don't mind.

C: I know, but it was super far.

S: It was far. It was way out of the way.

E: It would have tagged on an entire half, extra half day.

S: You would have missed a whole bunch of stuff for that. That's why she was like, but, but she must get that request a lot. And have to like reorganize the day and miss all the cool stuff, just so people could see the Loch Ness, you know.

C: And it's probably so frustrating because I'm sure, I mean, we haven't been, but I'm sure that the Loch Ness is really beautiful, but it's also become this like tourist trap.

E: Yes. And that's the point Cara, because here we are five years later. Okay. And this is despite that scientific evidence continuing to pile up that there's no Loch Ness monster. It doesn't dissuade true believers. No, you see the irony of Loch.

S: eDNA thing is like, that's the last nail in the coffin.

E: I mean, pretty much really. I mean, where else are you going to go from there as far as, as far as being able to come up with something tangible.

S: But Evan, they have blurry sonographic images, of the bottom of the Loch, it's just-

E: And stories about stories about people seeing.

S: Somebody's third cousin's brother said that they saw it once.

E: That's right. Yes. But no, no. No amount of evidence will stop people believing, about fantastical and mythological creatures. Because look, listen to this guys. A few days ago, here's, here we are five years later from that. And here's where we've come to media around the world. I don't know if you guys saw this almost simultaneously my newsfeed practically blew up with this one. BBC, ABC, AP, CBC, CBS, Washington Post, New York Post, Fox, NPR, and let's not forget TMZ, all of them. I mean, really in concert in near perfect synchrony, they reported, this was this past weekend, August 26th and August 27th of this year. So a couple of weeks coming up, a new search for Nessie will take place. Reportedly the largest search in the last 50 years. Okay. Well, is it another scientific search such as the one for the eDNA back in 2018? Oh, no, no, no. Is it a concentrated effort by paleontologists to search for the plesiosaur, maybe specifically for a plesiosaur? No, it's not that either. It's a promotional event organized by the Loch Ness center, in Drumnadrochit, sorry, pronounced that incorrectly, I'm sure. And looking for a volunteer research. And a volunteer research team called the Loch Ness exploration society, apparently. So yeah, not a scientific one, but simply, as you were saying, Cara, tourist trap stuff, people, the local economy basically has promoted this thing to get people to come and participate in this latest, greatest search here, here you go. But all of them quoted the event organizers here. Are you fascinated by the legendary tales of Nessie and the elusive Loch Ness monster? Do you have a passion for unraveling mysteries and exploring the extraordinary? Join us as a monster hunter volunteer in this exciting quest, the biggest search for the Loch Ness monster in 50 years. It's our hope to inspire a new generation of Loch Ness enthusiasts by joining this large scale surface watch, you will have a real opportunity to personally contribute towards this fascinating mystery that has captivated so many people from around the world.

C: It's so sad because I feel like when it comes to this kind of stuff, like you remember the, what were they called? The horse heads, the cupids?

E: The, it began with the Cali.

C: The cupids? The Celkies?

E: Those enormous metal structures, the horse's heads.

C: Oh my god, Scottish people listening right now are screaming the answer to us. Kelpies.

B: Yes.

C: The Kelpies, yes. There was like ancient mythology that was tied to them and the history of that ancient mythology is fascinating and beautiful. And you can talk about it in that way. And it can be something that's an interesting piece of history. You don't have to like feed in to being like, and it's real. That's the annoying part.

S: But the media can't resist it. UFOs, Bigfoot, they will always, they know it's BS. They don't care.

C: Of course they do.

S: If you can squeeze that into a headline, you're golden. That's it.

E: That's it.

C: And how stupid do they feel though? Like these like serious journalists when they have to write something like that.

E: Oh my gosh. I don't know. Maybe they give it to people who, on the desks or something. Yeah, my gosh. I mean, but again, I don't think we have to judge on about all the evidence that's piled up over the years suggesting there is no Loch Ness monster and the eDNA kind of cap that as Steve said. But here we are. Here's where we come in the last five years. Legitimate scientific inquiry and research using eDNA techniques five years ago, all the way down to calling all believers cry from the local economic concerns in order to drum up more interest and future interest in the search for the best known creature in cryptic history. And sometimes, hey, things evolve and get better over the course of 5 to 10 years. And sometimes in that same time span, things devolve into further depths of nonsense and pseudoscience. This is a case of the latter.

S: Well, give us an update in another 10 years.

E: Absolutely. Or in two weeks. Oh, we saw the Loch Ness monster. We got photos and things. Yeah, I got drunk and I saw something.

S: All right. Thanks, Evan.

News Items[edit]

Depression Does Not Cause Cancer (24:59)[edit]

S: Cara, I understand that depression does not cause cancer.

C: Who would have thunk?

E: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, that shaman, whatever that guy name is from Goop, who says that children, sad children is the reason why some children get cancer.

C: Oh, my god. Are you serious?

E: Yes. Shaman Drewim. (Transcriptionist's note: I believe Evan refers to Shaman Durek)

C: Oh, that's horrible.

E: Well, he's horrible.

C: Luckily, that is not what this study is trying to debunk, is that ridiculous claim. But I can attest firsthand as an individual who does psychotherapy with people with cancer that there is a lot of concern about outlook, about attitude, and about the potential negative consequences of clinical depression and clinical anxiety and its effects on cancer. And there has long been, even within the cancer community, a hypothesis that there is some sort of correlation between mental illness and cancer, specifically depression and anxiety. They've been thought in the past to increase a person's risk of developing cancer, but some studies have shown correlations and other studies have been inconclusive. And so a new study that was just published in the journal Cancer, which is the American Cancer Society's journal of record, is called Depression, Anxiety, and the Risk of Cancer, an Individual Participant Data Meta Analysis. So they used an approach called IPD, Individual Patient Data or Participant Data Meta Analysis. It's a specific type of meta-analysis in which, we've talked about meta-analyses on theshow before, right? Do we need a refresher on that?

B: No.

C: Okay. So it's a specific type of meta-analysis, meta being, larger, like overseeing, right? So meta-analysis combines the results from multiple studies and then those results are kind of analyzed so that we can make larger inferences about data. What an IPD meta-analysis does, which is really interesting, is instead of looking at the publications and extracting data from those publications, they actually go back to the original source, the researchers who first published, and they get source data, put it all together, and then reanalyse it. So it's a ton of work, but it's a really important approach to trying to understand large quantities of data. We're looking at an N of 319,613 individuals. We're looking at 25,803 incidences of cancer and 3,254,714 what they call person years of follow-up. There's a lot of data in this study. And they looked to see if there were any relationships, associations between depression, anxiety, and the incidence of various different types of cancer. And here's what they found. There was no association between depression or anxiety and overall cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, or alcohol-related cancers. They did see an association in the incidence of depression and anxiety with, Steve, you can't guess because you probably already read it, anybody else, what kind of cancer do you think they might have seen an association with?

E: Oh, gosh.

C: Think of cancers that are often associated with lifestyle, not always, but often.

J: Stomach cancer?

B: Lung cancer?

C: Lung cancer.

E: Really? Lung cancer.

C: So they did see an association between the incidence of lung cancer and smoking-related cancers, but when they changed their analysis to adjust for those risk factors like smoking, alcohol abuse, and things of that nature, that attenuated the results significantly. And it could be that there's still some variables within there that they're not accounting for. So pretty much the outcome here is that depression and anxiety are probably linked in a very complicated way to cancers that are related to smoking because, again, when we're looking at these linkages, this is not a causation scenario, right? This is correlative. So are we talking about people who are more likely to smoke are more likely to develop depression or anxiety and are more likely than to get lung cancer? Is it that people with depression and anxiety might be more likely to smoke and then get lung cancer? What is that complex relationship? Likely these are covariates there, but we don't see that overall cancer or any of these other specific cancers. And interestingly, alcohol-related cancers, there's no relationship there. So part of why I think that this study is important is because in some ways it puts to bed the mythology that can sadly lead to what you mentioned, Evan, blaming the victim mentality and the opportunity for rampant pseudoscience. But also I think from a mental health perspective, this is just a little bit more evidence that is helpful. I think about this personally when I'm working with individuals who are struggling with depression in conjunction or anxiety in conjunction with their cancer diagnosis, which is not uncommon, to take away a little bit of that guilt, shame, and fear that somehow the feelings that they're feeling are going to make them sicker, which is not an uncommon concern.

S: Yeah, it's a horrible form of blaming the victim.

C: It is absolutely horrible. And it didn't help that people could find papers that supported that evidence in like mildly supported that evidence. It's nice to have a big study like this that says, look, conclusively, we've looked across the board at a lot of studies. And when you reanalyse the data altogether, there's no relationship.

S: Right. And it's especially bad, as Evan alluded to, when it's like alternative practitioners blaming people, the direct result of their negative thoughts and attitudes directly causing a cancer, not through a lifestyle mechanism like smoking, but that your sadness gave you cancer. And so the treatment is to be positive. It's terrible.

C: And inauthentic and Pollyanna, which is it causes all sorts of other negative downstream effects. And it's one of the hardest things I find in therapy that we have to work on. Because there is a strong belief that if I don't keep a positive face, I'm not going to outlive this. I'm not going to be able to fight this. It's going to make me die sooner. It's going to make me die when I wouldn't die otherwise. It's a very, very sad and very common type of magical thinking that our society reinforces.

S: Totally.

C: And the blaming the victim thing, it's so rampant. So many people that I talk to who are struggling with cancer are asking, what did I do to cause this? And it's heartbreaking.

S: And I know we talked on the show before, too, but just to reinforce it, if you know someone who has cancer, it's instinctive to want to find something positive to say. And often that translates into, you're strong. I know you can fight this. Stay positive. But that's really putting a lot of burden on that person. It's not really helping. Because the implication is if it doesn't go well, it's because you didn't fight hard enough and you didn't stay positive. It's your fault. As opposed to just saying, I'm here to support you. What do you need?

C: Yeah. I can speak very specifically to this because in my dissertation it will be publishable research. A participant who is a young man who has glioblastoma, and this is a very difficult type of cancer with a poor prognosis. And he has already outlived his original prognostication two times over. He's on borrowed time. And he says that one of the big things that we talked about in the dissertation was that so often people are like, but you'll be the exception to the rule. You're going to be the one who beats this. And he's like, that's not what all my doctors are telling me. And it's really hard because he's had rifts with people that he cares about for that reason. Because it's like that false sense of hope is actually clouding realistic preparations. And I think that there's a way to be hopeful without being Pollyanna, without being inauthentic. And it's such a common struggle for individuals. Because now all of a sudden, I don't even get to live for myself anymore. I'm having to live to please all of these other people and to make sure that they're not upset by what I'm going through. It's such an unfortunate burden that so many people struggle with.

S: You probably know that we have a close friend, Bruce Press, who died recently of pancreatic cancer. And he was at the opposite end of the spectrum. He faced it as a skeptic, as a realist, as a humanist. And there was none of that. It was like, yep, I'm going to be dead within three months. That's the math. That's the statistics. This is what I'm doing. I have no illusion that it's going to be the exception. He just faced it totally head on. And he was kind of awesome about it. He was very inspirational. He was just like, yeah, this is it. This is what I'm going through. This is what's going to happen.

C: And in some ways, I think that he was lucky that he was surrounded by people who were like-minded. Because this individual that I was describing in my study also looked at it that way, but the people in his life didn't. And that's where there's so much conflict. That's why it's so important to be aligned with the people that you care about. It's not an easy thing to do, but it's a tough thing to do.

S: I'm sure you'll agree with this. It's also why it's a good idea for people who are very close to somebody who was diagnosed with cancer could, like the caregiver or the loved one, they could benefit from therapy too.

C: Oh, 100%. And psychoeducation.

S: Absolutely. Yeah. All right, let's move on.

AI vs Robo Calls (35:27)[edit]

S: Jay, is AI going to stop all these robo calls?

E: Oh my gosh, please.

J: Yeah, robo calls suck. I get them every single day. I don't know about you guys, but-

C: Yeah, I had to change my privacy settings on my phone, so now I don't get real phone calls.

E: Oh.

J: Yeah, I mean-

C: It's not worth it.

J: Right out of the gate, the best thing to do, if you don't have the phone number stored in your phone and it's not telling you it's this person, it's that person, if you don't recognize the number, you just don't pick it up. Because if you pick up an unsolicited call, then they know for certain then that it's a legit phone number because they're just dialing random numbers until you're hoping that people pick up. So just don't pick them up.

B: What if you cancel the call as it's ringing? Does that give them a hint that, oh, did somebody cancel it? Somebody declined the call and it's got it sent to voicemail or do you let it just ring?

J: I don't think so. I think you just cancel it. I don't think it's giving them any data. I'm not 100% sure, but I don't think it's giving them. So let me get into this. So scientists have recently developed a robocall monitoring system that they're calling a SnorCall, kind of like snorkel. And this allows them to determine what the robocall is about, what data are they trying to collect from the person that's been called. And in half the calls, they can actually figure out who is behind the robocall. And I'll explain to you why that's a really big deal. So how is all this possible? Well, in a recent paper presented at the Senex Security Symposium in Anaheim, California, on the 9th of August, lead author of the paper, Savik Prasad, details a new software platform that seems to be able to put a huge dent in the daily annoying phone calls most of us get. The robocall, if you don't know, let me just give you the quick one, two, is when a person is called and there's a recorded message that sounds like a real person's calling. So let me play for you--

(Cara and Evan chuckle)

C: I hate these.

E: (groans) This is for science, Cara. We have to suffer. (Cara groans)

J: All right. Here it is. [funny sound from "La La Dog" video plays] Oh, sorry. That's not it.

(Rogues laugh)

E: See, I would take that call.

C: Yeah, that was great.

E: Oh my gosh. I wish, I wish that was the robocall.

J: All right, so here's a couple of samples of robocalls. I'm sure most of you have heard these.

[plays robocall]

That one is a low level one because they don't even have a human sounding voice, but people fall for it. People fall for that. This robotic voice is basically telling you the IRS, you owe the IRS money and people respond to that.

B: They call people like that all the time.

J: Here's an example. Here's another one. This is what they're more like.

[plays robocall]

So, you got this talking voice saying, hi, is this, are you the homeowner? Whatever, like they identify you by asking a question that people will answer to. There's just a delay in the recording. You know what I mean? Now, of course, some robocalls are really sophisticated. Like I got one where it responds when you respond. So if you say, if it says, how are you doing today? And you say, good, thanks. How are you doing? It'll respond because it has a limited number of tree branches it can go down to depending on what you say. But the point is─

E: It becomes a choose your own adventure.

J: That would be fun. The point is though that, they're trying to engage you. They're trying to hook you. So ultimately in the engagement with you, they're trying to get information out of you. Sometimes they'll even pivot to a real person once they know that they have a willing mark. If you go down, if you get long enough through the phone call, they'll put a real person on there and then they'll really start working on you. So these calls are a really serious problem. Why? Because so many people get them and a lot of people fall for them. To us, it might seem ridiculous because we're skeptics and we understand, this is nonsense. But to a lot of people out there, especially elderly people, when they hear that they owe money, they get concerned and they want to do something about it. So I found some US statistics. So US consumers received over, get this 50.3 billion robocalls in 2022. So all of us are getting tons of robocalls, right?

E: If I had a nickel for every robocall.

J: A lot of people, sadly, like I said, man, they do fall for this and people are losing money. And the worst, one of the worst things that can happen to you, and it happens all the time, is identity theft through a robocall. So there's a lot of criminal fraud going on here. And a lot of it is coming from overseas, which make, doing something about it even harder. Telephone companies and government regulators and independent researchers, they historically have only been able to access something called like the metadata of these robocalls. Metadata in this instance is almost nothing. Like they know the number that's being called, right? Your number. They know the number that was being called from, which is the robocalls number, which can be faked. And I'll tell you more about that in a minute. And they know how long the phone call has lasted. It's useless. This is useless information. It doesn't do anybody any good. They can't do, it's not actionable. So that's why we still have these robocalls, because even if the government passes regulations and stuff, like they can't police it. The current monitoring methods have zero insight into actually what is going on inside the robocall. So again, they can't do much about it. Another major issue with monitoring phone calls, and this is a big one, is privacy, right? We don't want the phone providers to be listening to our phone calls, even if they're trying to help. A lot of people out there would freak out if they found out, oh yeah, they're listening to all of our phone calls. A lot of people believe it's happening anyway. But if they're listening or not, they're not doing anything with the information about robocalls. But we have to take people's privacy very seriously. So that's a huge factor while trying to solve this problem. And another big problem is the volume of the calls, like I said before, we're in the billions here. If people were listening to these phone calls, how many employees do you think it would take to listen to 50 billion phone calls? It's physically impossible to police all of this, all this activity. So now this is where this new application called SnorCall comes in. So it's a monitoring system. It listens to phone calls. Now what the developers of this automated software platform have been able to build, I think it's a really powerful platform, what they achieved here. The system listens to incoming robocalls. Now what they did was with the help of a phone company, they created 60,000 phone numbers that are just like everybody else's. These are just regular people-like phone numbers, except they are not people. These are a monitoring system, but they're out there and these are phone numbers that can be called. These 60,000 phone numbers are what's being used to monitor robocalls. So they're not infringing on anybody's privacy in any way because these are just phone numbers that are in a computer system. They're not real people's phone numbers. The SnorCall system, now when an incoming robocall happens, they record it and then the software analyzes it and it categorizes it. So first, the same exact robocall could come in the system hundreds of times. It might be the same exact one that keeps getting put out there from the autodialer that they're using. So what the system first does is it picks all the unique robocalls. So if there's a copy of a robocall, they already process it, it already went through their computer system, they don't need to process it again. And they've saved an order of magnitude of processing power just by checking to see if they've already done it, which is a pretty simple thing to do nowadays. So once a new robocall comes in, they analyze it with something that they're calling their machine learning framework. It's basically artificial intelligence. The call's content can be completely quantified and they basically take everything out of this phone call that they can. They'll know exactly what personal information say that the robocall is trying to gather. If they mention, we need your social security number, they know that they're harvesting social security numbers. If they mention anything about bank information, then it knows, so it categorizes them on all the different things that they're trying to get out of you inside of this robocall. It also figures out the robocalls scam veneer, like what's their scam? What are they actually trying to say to you to convince you to give you the information? Now a common one here is they could be pretending to be the government or a government agency that says that you owe money to the IRS or they're warning you of late taxes or it could be unclaimed vacation awards. I get this freaking robocall all the time. Hey, you have unclaimed vacation rewards. It's the same thing and it is a pre-recorded thing. It's not even a real person on there. If the robocall asks for money, they'll record that. Maybe the call is asking for other personal information that they never even heard of. Well, it can do that too. It can handle basically any scenario that happens inside of that robocall. Now they tested the system on 232,723 real robocalls that came in over 23 months over the 60,000 phone lines that they created and they found that there were over 26,000 unique robocall campaigns, right? So basically it's a different robocall. 26,000. That's a huge number. Oh my god. This is even bigger than I thought. I had no idea.

C: Yeah, you'd figure it was like the same, I don't know, like 500 over and over.

J: No, it's just unbelievably huge. The software was able to correctly identify and categorize all the incoming calls, which was great. Now this is also a huge help for law enforcement. I'll tell you why. Now, incoming robocalls use something called spoofed phone numbers. And you might recognize this. You get a phone call and it's like, hey, this phone call is actually in my town. It says─

E: That's right.

B: Yep.

E: It can't be a fake. Yeah. Or, it might say, somewhere in California or somewhere, whatever. So what they're doing is they're using voice over IP technology, right? It's basically a computer is making a phone call using the internet, using an IP address. And without getting into the intricacies of that technology, what it allows them to do though, is the caller, right? The bad guy can basically say, hey, whatever phone call you're calling, pick a phone number that is in that same town. And it'll make up a phone number that that's seems like it's from your town. And it doesn't even have to be a real phone number. It could be, it could be the pizza joint down the road, but it also could just be a completely made up non-functioning phone number. But your phone will look at it and go, hey, it has my area code. It's from my town or it's from my area of the state that I live in. So you can't trust─

B: Or it's from my work town. That gets me sometimes.

J: Yep.

B: I go, this could be somebody calling from the office.

J: So what this means though, is it makes it nearly impossible to track the robo caller, the bad guy using the incoming phone number because it's completely worthless information. So, the snore call software does, however, do something that no other piece of software has ever done in the past. And it's simply, it seems simple, but you gotta keep in mind, this is all automated. People don't have to do it. We're using artificial intelligence here to go in and, reverse engineer the information that's happening in these phone calls. What they do is at least half of these robo calls have a call to action phone number that they want you to call, right? So if they don't pivot you to another person and then that scammer starts working on you, they simply ask you to call this number to redeem your award points or to clear up your late IRS bill or whatever. And with that number, and that has to be a real phone number and it has to go somewhere, it has to actually go to where the scammers are. And with the collection of those phone numbers, now this gives law enforcement the ability to track and actually do something. They could shut down those phone numbers. They could do a lot of different things. I mean, it just depends on the relationship between your country and the country that the phone call is coming from. If they have a good relationship, then, they'll, they will be able to handle it, very easily. They could just be feeding them all of these, these bogus, all these bad scam phone numbers that they're trying to get people to call. You can just feed them through the computer system and they can be automatically shut down. So what this does is essentially speeds up like this unbelievably huge number of phone calls. It speeds up the understanding of what's going on in those phone calls and the ability to do something about it. And this might be the thing that, significantly, finally lowers these damn robo calls that we're all getting. So I was very excited when I read it because it really seemed like it's obvious, we're using the latest technology, we're using artificial intelligence because, it's very powerful and it's really good at this type of thing. It works very fast and it works without human intervention. There's monitoring, but it's like there's 500,000 people that are working on it, or the software. Well, the software can do it better. So I think that, we might actually see some changes hopefully in the next year or two, once this starts getting rolled out and used and finally, law enforcement will do something about all this insane robo calls.

S: Let's hope, but you know, it's going to be just a arms race, right?

J: I know. I know.

S: We got to do it. We got to do it. Otherwise it's just, they're just going to overwhelm.

J: Yeah. Then we'll just, we got to at least keep up, but today, like I said, just don't pick up numbers that you don't know, as a consumer protection idea here, it's a really bad idea to pick up unknown phone numbers, unless of course you have a job where you have to always pick up the phone, which a lot of people do.

S: One thing that might work, I don't know if this exists or not is like within a corporation, could you whitelist all the phone numbers from within the corporation so that, this is a hundred percent of work call. Not that it's not a fake call, but that it is a work call, you know?

E: Yeah, interesting.

S: A whitelist.

E: Blue check for lack of a better term, right? It's a confirmed not robo call.

S: I'm in that position. If a number, if they do a good job, like it doesn't say, this is a possible spam call on my phone or it has my local area code, it's like, this could be work. There's so many numbers at work that it could come from.

J: I know those are the ones I, sometimes I pick those up and I usually, it bites me in the ass.

S: Yeah. But whatever, as soon as I detect that it's a sales call or robo call, whatever, I just say, no thanks, and hang up.

J: Yeah, but Steve, the thing is though, then they know that a human being picked up the phone and they will call you again with another scam. And that's the other thing is like, it's not like one group is using one scam. One scam group could have thousands of scams that they're pushing out in your system and they just bounce you from one to the next, you know?

S: All right. Thanks, Jay.

J: Got it.

Cement Supercapacitor (51:27)[edit]

S: All right, guys, let me ask you a question. What do you think, what would you think if I said there could potentially could be a way that every single building in house, just in the very construction materials itself could store enough electricity to run the building for like one to two days.

E: So I live in a battery is what you're saying.

J: Yeah, that's awesome.

B: That sounds awesome. I say bring it.

E: I think there are positives and negatives to that. (chuckles)

B: No negatives. All positives.

C: You're saying the house itself could do it or that there's a battery integrated somehow into the house?

S: Well, I'll tell you, but I'm going to ask you a question first, Cara. Can you define for me what a capacitor is?

C: Yeah, I think so. Okay. So resistors versus capacitors. Okay. Resistors are things in a circuit that resist the flow of electricity. Capacitors are things that hold on, like that allow the electricity to kind of bounce back and forth and hold, right?

S: It holds on to electricity. You're correct. Yeah. How does it do that?

C: I remember this from my electrophys course.

B: Yeah. So two plates separated by a membrane.

S: Yeah. So it's two conductive plates separated by a non-conductive whatever. It could be air.

C: Right. So it holds it in between there. Okay.

S: Yeah. Medium that's not conductive, right? Yeah. The advantage is it charges up really quickly and it discharges very quickly. Disadvantages are it doesn't hold a lot of power and it doesn't hold on to it for long. The power tends to leak. A lot of leakage. I do think that what we're going to see are supercapacitors, which are basically just capacitors with high density, energy density, that they will start to─

B: That's the holy grail right there.

S: ─be incorporated in vehicles, not to replace the battery, but to supplement it. Because then you could have your capacitor for regenerative braking, which would be much more efficient, but then that energy can go into the battery or just use it to accelerate and clear it out. Because that's what it's really good for. It doesn't have to hold on to it for long, but it's very good at quickly absorbing the energy even in cold weather, where battery efficiency starts to go down.

B: Yeah. But wouldn't that also, Steve, be basically like the dream battery would be a supercapacitor that has the energy density of a conventional battery, but is a supercapacitor? I mean, that─

S: Yeah. Again, the leakage thing is also important. And if it held on to it for a long time, because they do tend to have many charge-discharge cycles, right? Because it's just a physical substance.

B: Endless. It's almost like as many as you want, almost.

S: So supercapacities are interesting. We talked in the past[link needed] about how good they're getting. A typical high-energy density supercapacitor, for example, might have an energy density of 16 watt-hours per kilogram, whereas some experimental carbon nanofiber supercapacitors might be up to 73 watt-hours per kilogram. And for comparison, a current lithium-ion battery is 265, and the Amprius batteries are 500. So it's almost an order of magnitude. And this is more than an order of magnitude from existing supercapacitors. So there's still a long way to go. But we're talking about cars. What if we're talking about buildings? We don't care that much about the energy density or the specific energy. We don't care much of waves. And even to an extent, we don't care how big it has to be, as long as there's enough energy density that it could be useful. But you could have a massive amount of if it's in the building structure. So what do you think would be a good substance, building substance, to develop into a capacitor?

B: Something cheap and plentiful.

S: Yep.

E: Yeah.

B: Maybe... concrete!?

S: Concrete? Yeah, cement. (Cara chuckles) So a study by MIT scientists has on a proof of concept, which means, proof of concept means it works in the laboratory at small scale, and don't get excited about this. There's a lot of potential practical issues. This is the whole─

B: Too late. I'm already extremely excited.

E: You said potential.

S: (chuckles) It is exciting. Just the idea is exciting.

B: And it works on a small scale. I mean, why wouldn't this scale up?

S: There's a lot of reasons why that happens why. But anyway, let's talk about what they did.

B: Maybe one, not a lot.

S: So they added carbon black to just ordinary cement. So these are two very common substances, right? They're not exotic or expensive. And by doing that in a certain way, basically at the nano scale, at the small scale, there's a bunch of little capacitors in there, right? Because you end up having the conducting carbon separated by insulating cement, right? The capacitors are all about surface area, right? And so what they were able to do was get, when they cured the cement with the carbon black, they found, and then they examined it at a microstructure level, they found that the carbon black formed fractal patterns. If you remember what a fractal is, it's like branches of a tree is. It's like branches on branches on branches on branches, right? So as you zoom in, it still looks the same, like the coastline from space. It looks as the same kind of rough complexity, no matter what level you're at.

B: Or a mountain peak.

S: Yeah. So that massively increases the surface area, which is what you need to have a high storage capacity for a supercapacitor. So they calculated that with their, again, their laboratory proof of concept cement, that 45 yards of the stuff would be able to hold enough electricity to run a typical American home for two days, like one to two days. So it's on the right order of magnitude, right? One to two days, running your home for one to two days, that's the order of magnitude of home backup. It's enough that you could peak shape, right? You could use your solar panels during the day and store that energy to use later that evening. It's enough for two days for a lot of applications. That's all the backup power you need, right? For example, I've been in my house now for about 30 years. One time, did we go more than two days for a blackout?. We had one three-day blackout. Other than that, they've all been less than 12 hours, most of them. So one to two days of backup power would handle most situations. And if you have solar panels, that means your solar panels can continue to work because they have a source of power, which ironically they need to function. So what the appeal of this is not that it's like a great supercapacitor or it isn't, it's that basically the world could be built out of this stuff, right?

B: Oh my god.

S: It's that the materials are common. They're already in wide use. They're relatively expensive. This process can be incorporated into the process of making cement fairly easily. So there's a lot of advantages here, but we do need to see how it scales up. We do need to see what happens. How much structural integrity does it lose? Remember, cement is a significant source of carbon dioxide release as well. So if we have to increase the amount of cement that we need to use because we're using weaker cement so that we get the capacitor function out of it, we have to calculate what that means as well. But it's an interesting idea, building stuff out of either a capacitor or a battery.

B: More than that. I would dig a gargantuan pit in my backyard and fill it with concrete so I'd have like two weeks of house storage.

S: If it's cheap enough, yeah.

E: Yeah.

B: People will be doing that. Hey, how about this? This occurred to me. Imagine if the Hoover Dam was made of that stuff. Yeah, that's power like California. Ha!

S: Well, yeah, you could build wind turbines on top of a massive cement block.

B: Right, to store the wind energy power right there.

S: It basically turns an intermittent power source into a pretty reliable one and almost a dispatch one depending on how much capacity it has.

B: This is so cool. What it reminds me of, Steve, we talked a couple of years ago about using manufactured diamond to hold radioactive material that could actually supply energy or power for literally for centuries. It's very similar in that it's not very similar to a supercapacitor, but it could basically, if you have a, and it's all size dependent, so if you had your sub-basement filled with this, you could literally power your house for decades.

S: Yeah, build your house on top of it.

B: For decades.

S: And having thicker cement foundations is not a bad thing. Make them big, twice as big as they need to be strictly, but just so you have additional energy storage and you get a more solid foundation out of it to boot.

B: I'd make my whole house out of it.

S: Yeah, think about it. Would you pay an extra 10 grand or 20 grand on a $200,000 or $300,000 house to have this?

E: No-brainer. No-brainer.

S: Sure.

E: Of course you would.

B: Yeah, they're saying that it might not even raise the price for your foundation. It might not raise it at all, so they make it even more of a no-brainer. This is exciting. This really is something that could make a dramatic change.

S: I hope it pans out. Again, I'm always skeptical of the one solution to a complex problem thing, but I don't see any one thing as a panacea, but this could be one additional tool in our bag. One additional thing that could, because grid level storage or really dispersed home residential or commercial storage really is a game changer for our ability to turn over into a green energy infrastructure. We've spoken about different options in the past, raising heavy blocks to the closed-loop hydro, I think is probably the most promising, but this may be one more thing, one more option that works in some contexts.

Hidden Undersea World (1:01:58)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, tell us about the world hiding under the sea.

B: Under the sea. (Evan laughs) Listen, I just saw The Little Mermaid too, so this song is going to [inaudible]

E: How can you not sing that song?

B: An international science team has found an unknown ecosystem under the seafloor, underneath another but well-known ecosystem surrounding hydrothermal vents which spew super hot chemicals and minerals, probably one of the least hospitable environments on the planet. This was a lot of fun. This expedition was led by Dr. Monica Bright from the University of Vienna, along with an international science team from the United States, Germany, Netherlands, France, Costa Rica, and Slovenia. Okay, so to understand this discovery, you need to know about hydrothermal vents, and I'll quote Robin George Andrews from the New York Times describing the vents involved in this discovery. He said, "Off the western shores of Central and South America, there's a Lovecraftian lava-laked realm thousands of feet beneath the ocean. There on the seafloor, volcanically powered exhaust ports known as hydrothermal vents fire off jets of water that reach temperatures up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit." I just love that description so much. Lovecraftian lava-laked realm. I mean, the guy has such a way with words. I love it. Okay, so we've known about these vents since 1977, which of course is the year that Star Wars released, btw. But now when they were found, they were found near the Galapagos Islands, and they're often near mid-oceanic ridges, which are diverging tectonic plates. If you can imagine, tectonic plates separating from each other, and that creates like a gap, a little bit of a gap as new seafloor is created. So there's volcanic fissures in the seafloor when this happens. Frigid seawater seeps into these fissures and eventually meets the magma, or some people were saying that it even gets to the Earth's mantle, which seemed like quite a journey to me, but that's what they said. Now this super-heated seawater rises back up, and as it does that, it's picking up minerals along the way. When it rises through the seabed and hits the cold water, then chemical reactions take place, and the minerals that were dissolved in the hot water precipitate out a solution, and they slowly build up, creating these iconic vent chimneys up to 12 meters high. So now this vent water is just stupid hot. I mean, we're talking 400 degrees Celsius, 760 degrees Fahrenheit. That's hot enough to melt lead, but why doesn't it boil? Yes, listener, Timmy from Chicago, you're correct. Because of the intense pressure under all that water. It's like an Uber pressure cooker down there. So that's why, when they found this diverse ecosystem living down there in the 70s, it was so astonishing. From microbes to tube worms to crabs and more were just living around these vents. But the best part for me, though, wasn't all the life that was down there, but the fact that it was based not on photosynthesis, but chemosynthesis, extremophile bacteria and archaea, which can survive at 120 degrees Celsius, 248 degrees Fahrenheit. They use chemical energy down there, not photons, to convert carbon dioxide into sugar, which is basically food. They are the base of the food chain down there. Like the plants are on the land, and the algae and cyanobacteria are in the sunlit parts of the ocean. These microbes also help larger organisms to survive using symbiosis. For example, tube worms, you may have seen those tube worms, they're red and they poke out of these little tubes. They don't have any mouth or stomach because they don't need them. The microbes essentially say to them, hey, you keep me safe inside and you send me the water chemicals and I'll make food for you. It sounds like a good gig. Would you do that, Jay?

J: Sure.

J: Probably not. I think you would like your mouth. The point is that the sun is absolutely irrelevant down there. Unlike pretty much all life higher in the ocean and on the land, this could very well be the type of life that first evolved on earth. And if there's life on Europa and Enceladus, it will almost certainly be chemosynthetic life. It's just fascinating stuff. This now gets to the new discovery. The marine researchers wondered how the tube worms attach to the rocks when they're really tiny and just floating around. They can't come at it from above because the vents are just way too hot for them to go through that super hot water. So maybe they come from below. They started thinking that maybe something lives under the sea floor that's not just the microbes because basically before this, we knew that microbes were down there, but we didn't really think anything else was down there. They took a vessel called Falkor II to a spot called the East Pacific Rise off of Central America. If you remember Falkor, they specifically named it Falkor because of a German fantasy novel, The Neverending Story, and a wonderful movie as well. They then went down to the hydrodermal fence and they used a remotely operated vehicle called, of course, Sub Bastian, which is also related to the book. It had manipulators that actually lifted a chunk of the sea floor up near a vent and they saw, what did they see? They saw an underground labyrinth, a network of caves and tiny passages filled, of course, with life all over the place. Not only that, but the seawater in these labyrinths were 25 degrees C, 77 degrees Fahrenheit. That's kind of ideal for a backyard pool. It's also ideal for microorganisms and larger creatures like snails and worms down there, which is why they were proliferating. Monica Bright, leader of the expedition and a zoologist at the University of Vienna said, "We've known about the vents above for a long time, but this is basically a completely new ecosystem below. It's especially strange that we found it in a place that's very well studied." There's still a lot to learn, but one mystery they think this could solve is how those tube worms colonize new vents so fast because sometimes you have a vent that's wiped out by volcanic activity and all the tube worms and all the other life forms are wiped out. But then a new one forms even a mile or two or three away and those tube worms can colonize it within a very brief period of time of just maybe a couple of years. So the researchers think that the tube worms use these passageways to colonize other vents as they form. One researcher even calls them the sub-seafloor conveyor belt. In the future, I'm sure there'll be more expeditions sent to study this new ecosystem to reveal its secrets. One concrete plan that they already have is to genetically sequence the creatures on the vents and below the vents to see what the connections that might exist between them to see if these ecosystems are genetically related, which I think they probably are. Wendy Schmidt, president and co-founder of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, who financed this, said and brings up a very important point, "The discoveries made on each Schmidt Ocean Institute expedition reinforce the urgency of fully exploring our oceans so we know what exists in the deep sea. The discovery of new creatures, landscapes, and now an entirely new ecosystem underscores just how much we have yet to discover about our ocean and how important it is to protect what we don't yet know or understand." So that was a very interesting quote. Yeah, very important because we could cure diseases with the genetic information that we may find down there and who knows what other discoveries are awaiting us. Throwing plastic in the ocean and also these minerals are also very desirable from mining companies. They just could blindly go in there and start destroying these ecosystems, these beautiful ecosystems and these new ones that we just discovered just to make a few bucks as usual. So the more we know about it, the more we can do hopefully to prevent that from happening.

S: Yeah, I agree with that, but it's a little more complicated than that because mining these minerals also is better than what we're currently doing in terms of the environmental effect and the human cost of mining cobalt and nickel, etc. And also this allows us to have our battery-powered future. How much of an effect is that going to have on the environment? And so it's kind of a risk-benefit thing which is more complicated than that.

B: Hopefully we could find some compromise somewhere in the middle, some compromise where we don't have to destroy new ecosystems and especially chemosynthetic ecosystems that really don't exist anywhere else.

C: Well yeah, I might offer an alternative explanation of her quote which is not, we don't know what's down there and we need to know what's down there so we can determine how it can be useful to us and more. We need to know what's down there so we know what we're protecting because if we're not aware of these ecosystems, I mean I have a feeling that is what she is saying, like if we are not aware of the rich and complex life we're going to treat it as if there's nothing to destroy and that is very dangerous.

S: Yeah, we have to go in with our eyes open, know what the choices that we're making and the implication of it and again hopefully find something like okay if we mine it this way we could be minimally disruptive.

Who's That Noisy? (1:11:36)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Optophone scans letters and converts to audible tones[6]

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

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

[Intermittent, musical, mechanical beeps]

It's kind of weird, huh?

E: Sounds old to me.

J: Yes, I'll give you that, that's good.

C: Yeah, it's got like an analog-y kind of vibe to it.

S: Is it some kind of animal interacting with some kind of technology?

J: Lots of people wrote in saying that Steve in different versions but all right so let's get going here. Kyler Dotson wrote in said: "Hey Jay I skipped directly to who's that noisy" which if you want to get at the top of the list that's not a bad idea to do.

B: I didn't think anybody did that.

J: He said: "So of course it's one I have no idea what it could be. Anyways the sound is very similar to the sound effect of Mario getting a coin from the original SNES game."

C: I love how you guys say Mario. Every time it gets me because you all say Mario.

J: I don't know which way to say it correctly.

C: No but the family I think it's the I don't know it's like the Italian novellas they all say Mario.

J: So he says he said I've been learning and messing with synth sound design lately and it definitely has the sound of an analog synth or some kind of old audio chip from that era. So yeah so okay keep that in mind that you're not, you landed a little bit in the correct place. I have a listener named Keely Hill wrote in said "Hi Jay it's right on the edge between musical and data like a modem sound to me. My guess someone cycling through the transmission over sound option on a walkie talkie". And I understand why you picked that because I've heard those sounds and I know what you're talking about. John Kelly wrote in and said: "Hi Jay long-time listener and patron first time contacting you" and then he goes on to talk about his son. So John has a nine-year-old son named Max and his son Max insisted that his dad submit his guess for this week's Noisy and he also guessed it's a walkie talkie. So again you know this is not a bad guess because I do, I have heard similar sounds come out of a walkie talkie but it is not a walkie talkie but good job Max guessing. Use that brain it'll get stronger every time you use it. Will Bellman wrote in: "Hi Jay, is this the first game of Pong with sound?". And I was thinking about that and I'm like yeah Pong had some weird blippy noises, super analogie blippy noises. Not correct but I like where you were going with that. A listener named Paul Osborne wrote in said: "Hi Jay, love your work. I'm hoping you could read my guess even if I'm wrong so there's another Aussie name besides the famous Visto Tutti" which again there's his name it was said again, aaah, can't get away from him. "I think this week's Noisy is one of those vinyl records from the 70s and 80s that had a computer program embedded in them. One example I can think of is from Pete Shelley's 1983 album XL1 that had a track which was actually a program for a ZX Spectrum computer." I included this one because I was surprised that they put computer programming code onto an album. I guess you play the audio and it hears it and it programs the computer. It's interesting. I didn't know that that was actually taking place. So nobody guessed it.

C: Oh wow.

J: Nobody guessed it so let me explain to you what this is here. This is called an OptiPhone. Do you guys know what it is?

C: Optimaphone.

E: Saxomophone.

B: Videophone?

J: All right so coming from the person who sent it in this is from Lucas Snyder who sent this Noisy in. He said the history of written language for people who are blind and or visually impaired and they talk about this OptiPhone and it's a device that scans letters from a page and converts them into audible tones so that blind people could essentially read a book. It's interesting, there's different versions of the device but they did make those noises and those were supposed to be identifiable sounds that that as you scan over the page that a blind person can hear and interpret into letters and words. So very interesting didn't know that this device existed, I think it's pretty cool. It's an old device.

C: I wonder how much that has fallenout of vogue now that there's text to speech and basically the book can just read itself to you as opposed to having that intermediary step but at the same time like kind of the self-efficacy of translating it for yourself. I don't know if that's more of a burden or more of a source of importance.

J: Yeah I don't know.

C: So it would be interesting to yeah to speak with somebody and ask them their experience using that versus modern text to speech.

J: While looking up the OptiPhone I did see a version of it that I think was making braille automatically so you put your finger on like the pad and then as it as you scan the book it pushes like pins up into your skin that simulate braille.

C: To me that makes more sense because then it is the reading that that some people know how to do. That's fascinating.

New Noisy (1:17:10)[edit]

J: Well I have a new noisy for you guys this week. This Noisy was sent in by a listener named Chris Irvine and check it out. [plays lala dog] No, sorry. Sorry I don't know how that got in there.

E: You never have to apologize for that noise.

J: What the heck is going on.

S: Jay, it's like having a picture of a naked lady in your slide deck.

C: It's like a picture of having yourself flexing in your slide deck.

E: Oh, who's that handsome creature?

C: How did that get into?

J: Check it out.

[Background hissing, foreground crackling]

J: It could be so many things.

C: It's fascinating because those lower tones I could like feel it in my bones.

J: Yeah. Oh yeah. This one's interesting. I can think of like three things that it could be. I know what it is of course but I can think of three things that sound like that so good luck on this one. I was thinking about maybe giving a hint and then I decided nah, I think there's people out there that know what that is. So if if you heard something cool or you think you know what that noisy is that I played for you you can email me at

Announcements (1:18:36)[edit]

J: Now I have a few things to tell you guys. First, again I've been saying this recently on the show. We haven't been playing a lot of ads, our ad revenue has dropped significantly and the ad revenue is actually a big part of the income that the SGU makes. So if you enjoy this show and if you feel like you've gotten something out of listening to this show then please do consider becoming a patron. We could really use your support. The cash flow that the company keeps the show going. So please show your patronage go to to check out what we have going on. And if you are a patron or a recent patron I'd really like to thank you for your support. Means a lot to us. We have two things coming up guys. We have a private show, a private SGU recording that's going to happen at Dragon Con this recording is going to happen at 4:30 p.m on Sunday. It's 4:30 p.m on Sunday the what Steve?

E: September 3 I believe? Yes.

J: Sunday, September 3.

B: Dragon Con Sunday. It's all you gotta say.

J: It's the American Hotel Atlanta Downtown. This is on 160 Ted Turner Dr NW, Atlanta, GA 30303. It's 30303. So we, this is the hotel that we've been doing it every year. You can't miss it. It'll be a private show. It'll last at least a couple of hours. Have time to hang out and chit-chat.

S: So it actually have been a few years since we've been to Dragon Con let alone doing a private show at Dragon Con. These are always among the funnest live shows that we do. So first of all if you haven't been to an SGU live show, they are a lot of fun. We have a lot of fun recording them. The audience is always having a blast. We usually rope in a special guest. There's a lot of fun people at Dragon Con that we can potentially get on there with us. And it's just there's a lot more energy with the live shows. They are a ton of fun. So the SGU live show experience, no one has ever regretted going. It's always really really a blast. So if you're going to be at Dragon Con try to carve out some time, come see us for that show and yeah I'm looking forward to it. This is the first one in several years.

J: So you will be able to go to and on that page there'll be two buttons on there. One will be for the eventbrite for this private show Dragon Con and the other one will be for the other big show that we have coming up which is our NOTACON conference happening November 3rd and 4th. Last week I was talking about some of the events that'll be happening but the quick short is that Andrea Jones Roy, George Hrabb and Brian Wecht will all be joining the SGU crew to entertain you for that Friday and Saturday. There'll be events happening all day on both days. We'll have nighttime activities as well but there will be plenty of time to socialize with other people, hang out and have a really good time. We are down to I believe 25 tickets left. So now is the time to buy because if you delay you might not get them because the tickets they've been steadily flowing in as Evan predicted. Right Evan? You said it and I'm like I hope you're right and he was right. We've just had a steady flow of tickets coming in. So if you're interested it's going to be a really good time guys. This is all about having fun and socializing. We're going to entertain the hell out of you. You're not going to be standing, sitting there listening to the same old lectures over and over and over again. We're going to do all new stuff. It's all going to be just a lot of fun. So you can go to, you'll see a button there that says NOTACON on it November 3rd and 4th. Please join us we promise you'll have a great time.

S: All right thanks Jay.


Follow-up #1: More on EVs (1:22:29)[edit]

S: There are a couple of emails. So we got a massive amount of feedback over the last week on the electric vehicle discussion. It was definitely the most popular segment last week or at least the one that most people wanted to talk about.

B: I'd say most notorious.

S: You think so? There's a couple of, I'd say that it was all very mostly positive. I can't remember any like real pushback other than nuances here. Most people were kind of on board with the whole discussion but just two things to add to the discussion. One is that we really have to be thinking not just like a snapshot of where EVs are right now but also the potential for the future. And so one one way to look at that is the internal combustion engine, the technology is improving incrementally but we've picked all the low-hanging fruit. It's mostly plateauing in terms of like efficiency and all that. There's not going to be any massive gains in efficiency in the internal combustion engine. But EVs are still on the steep part of the curve. They're still getting if you include the batteries as well. In five years and ten years they're going to be much better than they are today. So that's something else to to consider in terms of the whole question. The other thing is which I can't remember, I think we mentioned before on the show but I didn't bring it up last week, the increasingly there's discussion and some EV manufacturers are moving in the direction of including with their EVs a DC to AC converter which allows you to use the battery in your car as backup power for your house.

B: Nice.

S: And these batteries are huge. We were talking about the cement thing but your car battery if you have a 300 mile range which is the average range now in a US EV, that's two days of backup power.

C: That's where I thought you were going when you first asked that question.

S: Yeah you thought so?

C: Yeah because you were like and I was like is it your house or is it in your house. No it is your house but it is in the house too.

B: Two days?

S: It is the rabbit.

E: Right, you live in the battery.

S: But the other thing is because these cars, thing is that these cars are basically driving computers. Because you really could leverage a lot of the advantages of the EV technology with having a computer and software and running everything. It is great it is fantastic to be able to just program your car to do whatever you want. Imagine if we have a million EVs plugged into the grid at night. All plugged into the network to the grid as a massive distributed grid storage. You could pull electricity from your EV when electricity prices are high demand is high and then recharge it overnight when demand and prices are low. And that could be a one way again one further way to stabilize the grid. And so we're doing it. We're producing a ton of massive batteries. There's no reason they should just be sitting there. So I predict this is going to be a thing.

B: Oh yeah.

S: Both for personal use and grid use. Your car battery will be multi-purpose because they're massive. If you wanted to buy a power wall the same size it cost you like 20 grand.

E: Yeah.

S: Why do that when you could just buy a car.

E: Might as well.

C: Like 10 000 more, yeah.

B: Could you buy just a car battery?

C: You can.

S: I'm sure you could.

C: Some cars have battery swap options where you can buy a second battery so I don't know how you would plug that in.

S: I think this is what I think. I like modular technology. I think my desktop computer should be modular to the point where I should be able to hot swap anything.

C: And I'm surprised you have a tesla.

S: Well I know but I don't think there's an EV that has a modular battery.

C: I just think the tesla is like the apple of the EVs─

S: Yeah I agree.

C: Ten times worse.

S: But it's wonderful but I agree. (Cara laughs) Let's say you buy a car, an electric vehicle and it has 150 mile range as sort of the built-in battery. But it has expansion slots at 30 miles per battery and you could put them in take them out. You could get your range up to 350, 400, 450 if you need to. But then you take them out. You put them in the charger in your garage. You don't have to drive around with them carrying all that weight when you don't need it. Long trip? You throw them in there. You could swap share them among your vehicles or even among a group.

B: Or rent them.

S: Or rent them. Yeah you go to your car rental or your dealership or whatever gas station. You pull up, they throw in some extra batteries that are all charged up ready to go and you go on your long trip. Then on your way back you go there they take them out and you're good. So I don't know.

B: 20 bucks, that'd be great.

S: I think somebody should move in that direction. A whole idea of modular batteries could solve a lot of problems. If it's cost effective and practical and all that. But it's an interesting idea.

Follow-up #2: RFK Jr. on Tik Tok (1:27:28)[edit]

S: Anyway. Second email topic. So as you may or may not know every Wednesday Ian Jay and I go into the studio, the SGU studios supported by all of your kind patronage and we are doing, Jay and I do about 20 minute YouTube video on some skeptical topic. And then I record three or four TikTok videos which we then publish throughout the week. Although I'm pretty sure that patrons get early access to it. Right Jay? Or is that just the YouTube videos?

J: The patrons get early access to our YouTube video.

S: Yeah our YouTube videos. TikTok you just have to publish it or not publish it. It's an interesting ecosystem TikTok, you know?

E: Oh yeah. It's interesting that's kind.

B: That's one word.

E: That's very kind.

S: It's a young audience which is which I think is a good for us to reach out to young audience. But they have their own vibe which I think we're still learning what the vibe is over at TikTok. We were having this discussion, we also do a live stream that's the other thing. On Wednesday we're going to try to really make it consistently at one on Wednesday eastern time. We start to stream live on TikTok. We chat with people. Then we record the YouTube video and we do the TikTok videos all while live streaming. And you get to hear our behind the scenes commentary and ask questions have a conversation. It's a lot of fun. So I want to start pulling some of those TikToks into the show occasionally, if there's an interesting one I want to talk about. So one of the ones that Ian and Jay suggested to me that i actually did this week, i don't think it's been published yet is RFK Jr. being interviewed on a TikTok video.

B: Barf.

S: And I had to respond to this one. So you could respond to a video that's already published. It's like you play an eight 10 second segment of the video. Or you could do the whole thing and sort of comment along or you could just say here's a little excerpt, 10 seconds and then I respond. Which is typically what i've been doing. So RFK Jr. was asked about, because he's running for the democratic nomination for president, he was asked what's your plan for dealing with health care. Cara what do you think he said?

C: Oh gosh. Do away with all vaccines?

B: Good guess.

S: Sort of. (laughter)

C: And then everyone will be healthier?

S: We're going to eliminate all chronic disease.

E: Oh good. That's a good plan.

S: That's his plan.

C: That's the plan? It's like the "Underwear Gnomes". It's like, "Then a miracle happens." (laughter) What?

S: That's not a plan. That is an aspiration.

C: Right, that's a fortune cookie.

S: That is not a realistic aspiration but this is what I think. First of all it shows an amazing naivete, misunderstanding, disrespect for the medical establishment.

B: Yeah, all that.

S: The idea that we're not trying to solve chronic diseases? He has no idea what's going on, the guy's clueless.

B: We're not trying to solve them because we want to milk people.

C: Oh right that's probably what it is.

E: Makes money off sick people.

S: Which is nonsense. The other thing is that this was a dog whistle to the anti-vaxxers. And if you read the comments they heard it loud and clear. It's like yes you're right. And he said, threw out things like we're having more chronic illnesses than ever. We're having, 80 percent of our health care is chronic illness, only 10 percent in 1960. We need to go back to that where it's only 10 percent of our health care. It's like you know you think that might have something to do with the fact that people aren't dying of pneumonia at 40 anymore. People are living longer.

E: Polio.

S: You think it might have something to do with the fact that we've already cured a lot of the the things that we can't cure and then what we're left with are the things that are really hard. We've been researching Alzheimer's disease for 30, 40 years and we still are just now getting to the point where we're seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. This is hard. He's going to just wave a magic wand and cure chronic disease. But again the dog whistle thing people understood that to mean well chronic illnesses are being caused by environmental exposures like vaccines and other things and he's going to do away with them. That's what people understood that to mean. His adoring fans. Which of course is nonsense.

C: So it is what he said?

S: It is what he said sort of, it was more of a I think in my opinion it was more of a dog whistle. Because you can read the comments that's how they took it. That's 100 percent how they took it. And it just is ridiculous. My plan is─

B: It's pathetic.

S: ─cure chronic disease then all everything's good. That's the same plan as the natural law party back in the day. Remember them? Those are basically like the transcendentalists. That was also their plan for health care we're just going to pray and meditate and cure chronic illness. Just utter nonsense.

E: Just think that you're healthy and you'll be healthy, great.

S: He also does this thing which drives me crazy that politicians are famous for, but a lot of people do. It's you throw out a statistic and then you are encouraging a certain implication to be drawn from that statistic but it's incomplete and you're not really trying to figure out what's going on. So he said Americans spend more money on health care than any other wealthy industrialized nation and we don't get better outcomes. And so it sounds like we're doing something wrong. We're doing something profoundly wrong we're spending 20, 30 percent more than like European nations or whatever and without better outcomes. But it's not like that hasn't been studied. Again the implication is that we're doing it wrong. But what would what do you guys think again it's been this is asked and answered. It's been studied multiple times and there's a very clear answer as to why Americans spend more on health care. What do you think it is?

B: Stupidly expensive prescription drugs?

S: Yes! That's it.

J: Good job Bob.

S: It's because things are more expensive in the United States. Health care just has a higher sticker price for the same things. Not just drugs but pretty much everything.

C: But even that is not the reason. I mean that is the downstream reason.

S: That's the 90 percenter.

C: But what I'm saying is the reason for that is complex.

S: Yes, you're correct.

C: The reason things are more expensive here is because of the broken system.

S: That's the proximate cause, but there are deeper causes. Absolutely. So like for example with... A lot of it is drug prices. A lot of it is drug prices.

B: Isn't that because, my understanding is that these companies they put the research in and they develop a new drug and it's very expensive, I get that. But they're trying to recoup their money and make a lot of profit but they go to other countries like here's what we're going to charge for this expensive med and the country's like we're not going to spend that much money, that's bullshit. So the prices go up in the United States and they stay relatively low in other countries.

S: That's exactly correct.

C: That's correct but the way you're explaining it is loaded. You're also─

B: Oh I'm loading the crap out of it.

C: I'm just saying you're neglecting to say that we don't do that here.

S: We don't do that, that's the flip side.

C: Yeah we don't go no we're not going to pay that.

B: Of course. that's the implication. That's what we got to pay.

C: But we don't, we don't.

S: Medicare and medicaid are not allowed to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for drug prices.

C: That's the problem, they're not allowed to.

S: Other countries are allowed to negotiate with them so they negotiate low prices and the pharmaceutical companies make all their profit off of Americans. That's it. That's like most of the problem right there. It has nothing to do with our actual health care not working or being wrong or whatever he thinks is going on vaccines and whatever.

C: Yeah, he thinks it's like a failure of actually doing doctoring.

S: Right, it's not.

C: But really it's a failure of this system of how─

S: Exactly and again there's multiple, there's a complicated problem with complicated answers. I do think that a big thing is that we absolutely need to get to universal health care. We shouldn't have 10, 12 whatever. What's the number now? I know it was 20 at one point then it went down with Obamacare and then it crept back up but you have something in the teens think million people who don't have health insurance. So first of all they don't get preventive care. And then when they have an acute problem they go to the emergency room. They get the most expensive possible care.

C: And they're sicker and they require more intervention over the lifespan. In their shorter lifespan. It's horrible.

S: Exactly.

C: They're more likely to have cancer that's stage three instead of stage one. That's just across the board that happens.

S: So there are some real problems with our system but it's not the medicine.

C: No, of course not. It's the access.

S: The politics and economics. Absolutely. All right, let's move on with science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:36:13)[edit]

Theme: Oldest living things

Item #1: The oldest extant branch of life is the ctenophores, which go back 700 million years.[7]
Item #2: Polypodiophyta, a type of fern, is the oldest extant plant genus at 380 million years.[8]
Item #3: The record for the slowest evolving vertebrate goes to the elephant shark (Callorhinchus milii) which has changed little in 450 million years.[9]

Answer Item
Fiction Polypodiophyta fern
Science Elephant shark
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Polypodiophyta fern
Elephant shark
Polypodiophyta fern
Elephant shark

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts. Two real and one fake. And then I challenge my panel skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. I have a theme this week. The theme is the oldest. The oldest thing. And this is dealing with living things. You guys ready?

J: Mhm.

E: Mhm.

C: Mhm.

S: Here we go. Item number one, the oldest extant branch of life is the ctenophores, which go back 700 million years. Item number two. Polypodiophyta, a type of fern, is the oldest extant plant genus at 380 million years. Item number three. The record for the slowest evolving vertebrate goes to the elephant shark (Callorhinchus milii) which has changed little in 450 million years. I'm just gonna give you a couple of points of explanation before you bother to ask. Extant means it's not extinct. It's still living today.

B: We know that.

S: I'm just, this is for the audience Bob, just relax. (laughter)

C: Chill Bob. That's amazing. I love it.

S: In none of these am I talking about species. So it's─

C: Okay, there's were larger groups.

S: A type of fern, I'm talking about a major group of ferns. Or branch of life. It's not a species, it's a major branch of life. And when I say that the elephant shark has changed little I mean morphologically. So they look, the fossilized versions of them look very similar to the extant versions. Not genetically. Just to clarify those things before it comes up, okay? Any questions? This is a little complicated so I'm happy to answer any questions just out of the gate.

J: I'm completely lost already, so don't worry about it. (laughter)

S: All right there they are in the chat. Evan go first.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: So the c is silent, huh? Fiction. No, I've never, I don't know this word. Ctenophores. Should I know that?

S: Ctenophores.

E: Ctenophores.

S: It's a comb jelly.

E: Yeah.

S: So that helps.

E: Grape, vanilla and strawberry. Yeah, okay. Wow. 700 million years.

C: Did you just make like a jam/jelly joke, Evan?

E: That's for the audience to decide. (Cara & Evan laugh) I preserve that joke.

C: Oh no. (laughs)

E: Which go back 700 million years. 700 millions oh my gosh, that's a long time. That seems too long to me to tell you the truth. 700 million. Really? What are we? I'm trying to relate it to something else to think about what else might be 700 million years old. I'm having a tough time putting my finger on it. All right the next one the fern. Oldest extant plant genes. 380 million years. That seems more correct to me. I thought that's kind of where we are with plants somewhere around that many years. That 700 million is old. And then this last one about the elephant shark changed a little in 450 million years. Elephant sharks. Well elephants are not sharks so maybe that's the fiction. But, oh boy, I guess the ctenophores one. Gosh could you be pulling a fast one though? I mean that's so extreme that that all winds up being the science, right? So therefore what I have to go with the fern at 380 million years I suppose? Okay. I'll play that game. Fern. 380 million years. Fiction. Total guess.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: I think you are trying to pull a fast one here. I think I'm just gonna say that it's fairly common knowledge I think that sharks just have not changed that much in a long time. I think that's pretty fairly common knowledge. But 450 seems like a lot. The number I remember hearing is 200 million years. Now would you just double it? It seems a little bit unlikely that you would just double it. Typically you'd want to go at least five times more. But I think want us to just disregard the shark one because it's like oh yeah sharks haven't evolved in a long time. And just blindly go with that. Plus I never even heard of an elephant shark. Heard of a whale shark but elephant shark? I haven't heard of that one so that just kind of sweetens the deal. So I'll say that's fiction.

S: Okay, Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: I'm definitely gonna say that the shark right out of the gate I say it's science.

B: Screw you Jay.

E: It's an elephant shark though.

J: Sorry Bob. But it doesn't matter because I think just from general knowledge, from what I understand some sharks if not all of them just don't change much. They're perfect eating machines, you know what I'm saying? Going back to the movie Jaws, they're perfect eating machines. So anyway between the first one and the second one I picked the second one because it has a longer word which I know I (Cara laughs) absolutely cannot pronounce. And I'm going to do it right now. Let me do it myself.

E: All right.

J: Polipottyapfapata. (laughter)

E: Unless the p is silent I think you're right.

J: I can't do it. That one is fiction. I don't like the number 380 and that's it.

S: And Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: So the ctenophores are double the age basically of the ferns is what you're saying here. They are an extant branch of life. So the comb jellies that we see today what you're saying is evolved, we could trace back their evolution to when they first branched off 700 million.

S: They were comb jellies 700 million years ago.

C: Yeah they were still considered comb jellies then. Whereas the polypodiophyta which is 380 million years basically you're saying the same thing.

S: Yeah.

C: That 380 million years ago they were the same ferns. They might have changed a little but─

S: They were still in that group.

C: ─they were still considered the same ferns, exactly. And then in some ways you're kind of saying the same thing in the last one but differently. So the elephant shark, Callorhinchus milii, millii? I can't read I don't have my glasses.

S: I think millii.

C: Also kind of branched off or became what we would consider to be that. But you did specify at the beginning that we're not talking about the specific species or we are?

S: No we're not. Definitely not.

C: Okay we're not talking about the specific species.

S: Species don't survive more than two million years, three million. This is all groups. These are other higher taxonomic groups.

C: A genus and species. But you're talking about today's species as part of a group that evolved.

S: So but this one I'm just saying if you look at an elephant shark 450 million years ago and you look at one today they've changed the least of any other vertebrate. Over that much time. If you say how much have they changed over─

C: Of any other vertebrate. Yeah, that's an important point, right? Because obviously that would nullify the ctenophores if we weren't talking about vertebrates. They're all science.

E: There you go.

C: I can't get away with that, can I?

S: Is that your guess?

C: I can't get away with that, can I?

S: I'm happy to take that as your guess. You're guaranteed to be wrong.

C: I know but then I know I'm wrong. I'm guaranteed to be wrong. I like the ctenophores. I like the comb jellies. I think there are old school friends. Ferns are pretty complex but they're not that complex. I always thought it was like cycads. Cycads? Is that how you say it?

B: Yeah.

C: I think of like the era of the dinosaurs. Maybe that one is. Okay, sorry, who picked? Nobody picked the shark?

B: I did.

E: Bob did.

C: I'm gonna go with Bob. I'm going to go with the shark.

S: Okay. So we've got two for the shark, two for the fern and none of you picked number one so we'll start there.

E: Science.

C: Uh-oh. He sounds happy.

E: It must be science.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: The oldest extant branch of life is the ctenophores, which go back 700 million years. Do you guys remember when the Cambrian explosion happened?

E: Right, wasn't it 580 million years ago?

B: Is that 500?

S: Yeah something the 500s, yeah.

C: Something's got to be older than that.

S: Well something, yeah, but something that's still around today?

C: I don't know. Yes.

S: Well this one is science. This is science.

E: It threw me off that, totally.

S: Yeah this was the gotcha one. I was hoping to say 700, before the Cambrian explosion? No way. But yeah, there are fossilized ctenophores recognizable ctenophores that go back 700 million years. So that makes them the oldest, I mean they basically branched off from all animals right when animals came into existence, you know what I mean? Pretty much soon after that.

B: I don't like you guys. See you later.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right. Polypodiophyta, a type of fern, is the oldest extant plant genus at 380 million years. Evan and Jay, you think this one is the fiction. Bob and Cara, you think this one is science. And this one is the fiction.

J: Yes.

S: Good job Evan. Yeah Evan did the the uh the psychological approach.

E: Yes that's all I had to go with.

S: So yeah so the polypodiophyta is the most common extant group of ferns today but they emerged not that long ago. The 380 is when you go back to all ferns.

C: So they are not that lineage.

S: Yeah. And there aren't any, anything that was around 380 million years ago or not extant today. Those oldest groups died out but the modern ferns─

C: Well something had to continue the lineage.

S: Yeah, they just changed enough that they were from a different group.

C: I see, okay.

S: It's all about how long do things endure as a recognizable.

C: And how do we tax, classify them.

S: Now what do you think is the oldest extant plant genus if it's not ferns?

E: Some kind of mass, not a moss─

S: Moss, you are correct. Go with it, go with it.

E: Yeah moss.

C: Yeah totally, so sure of that. I think so I think you get a bonus for that.

S: You got a win with an asterisks.

E: Oh I love asterisks.

S: Yeah. So the I've read different ones, it's part of the reason why I made this the fiction because I couldn't find. The most recent article I see says Takakia whatever that's word.

B: Takakia Chaka Khan. (Evan laughs)

C: I don't know what that, Takakia?

S: Not changed recognizably in 165 million years makes it the oldest extant group of plants that is still recognizably the same group that it was in the past. But I've read different things. So Takakia separated from other mosses 390 million years ago. So you could also say that goes back that far. But they said that they've been pretty stable over 165 million years. Some sites however say the horsetail is the oldest one. Again giving similar numbers but I don't know if that's just outdated now.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All right this means The record for the slowest evolving vertebrate goes to the elephant shark (Callorhinchus milii) which has changed little in 450 million years, that is science. Now interestingly the elephant shark is not a shark. It's also not even a bony fish. It is a196

B: Cartilaginous?

S: It is a cartilaginous fish.

E: That's good Bob.

B: Thanks you.

C: That's a cartilaginous fish that's not a shark.

S: Right. It's not a shark.

C: The sharks are also cartilaginous fish.

S: Yes, I get that, but this is called196

C: So it's like a circle or a square is a rectangle but a rectangle. No rectangle square, square is not a rectangle. No, it's the other way around, damn it.

S: This is morphologically these things look the same as they did 450 million years ago. And they do look like something out of the ancient oceans of the Earth.

E: Yeah look at that thing, holy crumbs.

S: Yeah. They're sometimes called the elephant fish or the ghost fish is another name. The elephant comes from their snout basically. And yeah they're very primitive morphology of cartilaginous fish. Again, branched off pretty close to where the modern fish lines branched off from each other. The cartilaginous and the bony fish lines branched off. And so it provides a lot of insight into that era. Like what did the ancestor to the different, two major groups of fish, what did they look like. And there are a lot of interesting things. These guys don't have an adaptive immune system. That hadn't evolved yet and they never managed to evolve one over the last 450 million years.

C: How are they still hanging?

S: Well they have an immune system just not an adaptive immune system.

C: Well you would think that they would be at a disadvantage because of that.

S: And they can't make bone. They can't calcify their whatever the cartilage to make bone. So they are cartilaginous.

C: Man, they're weird looking.

B: They can't get bone cancer.

S: But they can get cartilage cancer.

C: Yeah, that's true.

S: So good job Evan and Jay.

J: Of course.

C: Yeah yeah.

S: You guys don't pair up that often.

J: But when we do.

C: This is a weird pairing today.

E: But when we do it's like "Wonder Twin powers, activate".

S: Yeah absolutely. All right Evan give us a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:50:05)[edit]

It is hard to tell which is worse: the wide diffusion of things that are not true, or the suppression of things that are true.

 – Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), English social theorist, often seen as the first female sociologist. 

E: This week's quote is courtesy of a listener Cully from Utah. Thank you for sending this in. "It is hard to tell which is worse: the wide diffusion of things that are not true, or the suppression of things that are true." Harriet Martineau. Somebody I was not familiar with. Anyone know who Harriet Martineau was?

S: I do not know.

E: 19th century English social theorist often seen as the first female sociologist.

S: Cool.

E: Born in 1802 she died in 1876.

S: And this is you could somebody could have said this today.

E: Exactly that's the point. That's why I really like this quote, totally. Ahead of her time.

S: Well it's also I think, yes, in a way deserves full credit for that but it's also I think a manifestation of the fact that that some things just never change.

E: Yeah.

S: And we know that now with skeptics, the same things just cycle around over and over and over again. It's never ending. It's a merry-go-round of pseudoscience and nonsense.

E: I like to say it's human beings being human.

S: Yeah. But yeah it's always good to know though that even 100 plus years ago, what was it, 150 years ago somebody was around who saw it for what it was. The critical thinking was there, it was there at that time. Absolutely. All right well thank you all for joining me this week.

J: You got it.

B: Sure man.

E: Thank you Steve.

C: Thanks.


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

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


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