SGU Episode 954

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SGU Episode 954
October 21st 2023
954 Vlad Țepeș.jpg

Vlad the Impaler was a 15th century prince and military leader who was so terrifying, he's thought to have inspired the creation of the literary vampire, Count Dracula.

SGU 953                      SGU 955

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Our ignorance is profound, forgivable and temporary. There are only two true errors: One is believing that we have no errors left to make, and the other is believing that those errors are permanent and irreversible.

Adam Mastroianni, American experimental psychologist

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Annular Eclipse 2023[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 Wednesday, October 18th, 2023, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening everyone.

S: So did anybody see the recent annual eclipse?

C: My mom sent me lots of pictures. I'm in Scotland right now, so I was not there to see it, but my mom lives in North Texas and they drove out and like camped and made a whole day of it and her pictures were stunning.

E: Great. So she had a clear day. That's good.

C: Yeah. Yeah. It looks, I mean, it's like the ring of fire or whatever. Like she has a solar telescope or at least she had a solar filter on her telescope. So she took some pretty cool pictures.

B: Oh, cool.

S: Nice.

E: Very nice.

C: Yeah.

B: Where was it visible?

E: From, or stretching from Oregon to Texas and then a few states in between.

C: And it was partial in the other states. I know that my neighbours in California sent me some pictures of like a partial, through the colander or whatever. All those fun ways.

E: Yeah. We in Connecticut technically had a partial. We had about, I think, 19% coverage.

S: 19%.

E: Something like that. So not enough to really kind of discern what was going on. It was a cloudy day anyways.

S: It was a cloudy day. Yeah.

J: It always is cloudy when something cool like that is happening.

E: Well, somewhere it is. That's why you got to be where there won't be clouds, hopefully, which you can't always predict with a hundred percent accuracy, but some parts of the country at certain times of year have a higher disposition for cloud coverage than others. And whenever you're going to watch an eclipse, you should try to plan on that for your travel and decide, okay, do your research, figure out during that time of the year, which part of which state has the least cloud coverage and head for that point. You'll have your best chance.

S: That's why we're going to Texas next April.

B: Yeah baby.

E: That's right. Yes.

B: The problem is you're taking Bob with you.

E: No, no, no, no, Bob. No, no, no. See?

B: Oh, you're so naive.

E: No, we're putting you in a Faraday cage.

C: We're going to distract him.

B: I've tried it. It doesn't help.

C: We're going to set up some Halloween decorations in the other direction. When he looks away, the clouds will part.

S: So for the record, Connecticut has about 82 clear days a year.

E: That's not many.

S: That's not a lot. Not many.

E: No.

C: How many does Texas have?

E: More than 82.

S: Phoenix, Arizona has 211.

E: You see, there you go. So Southwest.

C: Let's do Dallas. 205 sunny days.

S: Buffalo, New York, 54. So that's why we're not going to Buffalo for the...

E: Correct.

C: Yeah.

E: So the eclipse, yes, goes from Texas all the way up north to New York and beyond. And yes, Texas, when I did the research way back when, Texas had the best chance, obviously, of having no clouds.

C: In the past, yeah. I just looked in LA has 275 days of sunshine.

E: But no eclipses.

C: But no eclipses. Exactly.

E: But zero eclipses to show for it.

S: Well, there'll be one there eventually.

C: Yeah, we'll just be dead.

E: Yeah, but not this century. I think you have to go into the 2100s until you get the next total solar eclipse that crosses the United States.

S: The continental US.

E: Yep.

C: We'll all be dead.

S: There's got to be an eclipse chase. We've got to fly around the world.

E: That's right.

C: An underfile.

E: Oh, 2027. Guys, we should mark our calendars now, 2027. In Tunisia, right? Africa?

C: Ooh.

S: Tunisia.

B: Star Wars.

E: It will be a total solar eclipse. It will be going over the Star Wars set, the movie sets where they shot all the Tatooine.

S: That's definitely where you want to see the eclipse.

E: Oh my gosh. Yeah, that and about 200 million other people trying to get into Mos Eisley's spaceport. Think ahead.

S: 2027.

E: Think ahead. 2027. It's already being dubbed the Star Wars solar eclipse.

S: Oh my goodness.

E: And why not? Why wouldn't you? I mean, yeah, Disney's probably going to do something with that as well.

S: We are going to be doing a private recording of the SGU on the Sunday before the eclipse. We're trying to book something for Saturday, but we won't say until we have that locked in so that the weekend before basically there'll be SGU activity and then the eclipse is on a Tuesday, correct?

E: No, it's on a Monday.

S: Oh, on a Monday. Oh, perfect.

C: And that's in April, right?

E: It is. April 8th.

C: April 8th. Okay.

S: Yeah, so then we have the eclipse event on Monday. Yeah, so it should be a fun, long weekend.

E: We would love to watch the eclipse with SGU listeners. I mean, what? How great would that be?

S: We still have to nail down where we're going to physically be when we see the eclipse though. What field are we going to be standing in?

E: Exactly. Yeah, we started to talk about that a little bit. We still have a little time to plan for that. But yeah, that definitely has to be part of our greater discussions.

S: Either way, it should be awesome.

E: We'll find it.

Swindler's List: The IT Scam (4:59)[edit]

  • [url_from_show_notes _article_title_][1]

S: All right, Jay, you're going to get us started off with a Swindler's List.

B: Oh, boy.

J: Yeah, I haven't done one in a while. And I thought I came across a news item about a scam that has evolved into something even more potent. I thought it would be a good thing to talk about. So have you guys heard basically like the tech support scam?

S: The tech support scam? No, I haven't heard that one.

J: This is a really common scam that's been going on. And this isn't the one I'm going to actually talk about, but I will give you just a quick background because this is the original version of the scam I'm going to tell you about. But anyway, OK, look, here it is. Hacker scam. You get an email. You could even get a phone call where someone is convincing you that they work for Microsoft or Apple or another computer company. And they say, hey, we've detected some hacker activity on your computer. Or they say something like, I'd like to help you install latest update to the operating system, anything to get you behind your computer and talking to them. And then they socially engineer the people that they're talking to for you to give them permission to gain remote access to your computer.

B: Oh, boy. Yes.

E: Oh, my gosh.

J: Of course, the older people get, statistically, the more likely they are to fall for this.

S: Sure.

E: Always. It's true of any kind of scam.

J: Now, in that instance, they gain control of your computer.

B: Game over, then.

J: And then, yeah.

S: Game over, man. Game over.

J: There's a lot of things that they could do to find out your personal information, go through your web browser, autocomplete on any website you've been to, finding a list of passwords somewhere, whatever. They just grab your data, get control of your PC, shut you down so you have a hard time doing counter maneuvers to get them to stop.

S: Do a hard turnoff.

J: Or they're doing it. They are literally robbing you while you're on the phone with the hacker. So you don't even it's happening like right then, right? Okay, that's probably like the worst case scenario of that. But this scam has evolved into something called the phantom hacker. Now, this scam also targets senior citizens. The background is the tech support scam. But what they do with this one is they take it a step further. They say, hey, we think that foreign hackers have gained control of your computer and we need to help you lock it down and get pull your computer back into your control. And then what they'll do is they'll have somebody join the phone call, say, and they'll pose as an official from a United States government financial institution. Could be the IRS. Whatever.

E: Oh my gosh.

J: So they'll have one person on the phone and check this out. They actually convince you to move your money from your bank account to a government regulated safe bank account that will protect your assets. And they're literally real time moving money from your bank to their bank and you're giving them all the information. Now here's where it gets hard. So since 2022, this scam has increased by 40%. So it's accounting for 66% of financial losses to people over 60, $542 million.

B: Wait, so now I'm more at risk now?

J: You are.

E: Yes, you are, Bob.

J: So just in this year from January to June of this year, there were, there was about 19,000 victims of this scam and they were able to pull $542 million away from those people. There's been 33,000 complaints sent in to the FBI and a total losses, I think since 2022, $807 million. So it's a big deal. It's a really big problem. A lot of people are falling for it. It's happening every single day, probably all day. Now I'm going to run through some things that you could do to protect yourself. Like I'm sure most of you know this, but this is important. Listen to what I say and then tell, tell the elderly people in your life, this is really why I'm telling you like turn this information over to people in your life that you think need it. Don't click on any unsolicited computer pop-ups or links. Don't click on attachments that you're not 100% sure are safe on your computer, in emails, text messages. Just don't touch and don't click anything you're not 100% sure you can trust. Don't contact any phone numbers that were provided in a pop-up or a text or an email telling you to call for any kind of assistance. Don't do that. Absolutely don't download software at all upon the request of another individual unless you are 100% sure it's a trusted source. That's the problem. I mean, most of the time people from legitimate companies are not going to ask you to do any of these things. Don't let an unknown person who contacted you have control of your computer, right? Just straight up. Just don't let someone you don't know gain control of your computer under any circumstance.

B: I think a good rule of thumb is if somebody contacts you, if they reach out to you, that's when you should be more skeptical. When you reach out to someone else, then it's less likely to be problematic.

J: Yeah, I think the problem is that older people are getting socially engineered, so they're getting coaxed into a relaxed state where they trust the person that they're talking to. And then they just start whatever things that we're stopping them or that they're using to protect themselves are no longer in play. So in the end, you're right, Bob, you can't trust anybody that you don't know. If somebody's contacting you, it's probably not legit.

S: Yeah, just never interact with somebody who contacts you. That's like the key thing. I don't care what their story is, I don't care what they say. And if you think it might be legitimate, first of all, you're wrong. But even still, if you think it might be legitimate, then what you do, like if someone says, we're from the IRS and you need to give us all your money, then you should say, OK, who are you? And then I will call the IRS and I will connect with your person. And then you find the number independently of the IRS and you call them with that person's information.

J: Yeah, and anybody that's legit won't mind that you do that.

S: Right. Exactly.

J: If they're like trying to convince you, then that's the big red flag.

S: One time somebody contacted me claiming to be from my credit card company and they were looking for information. I said, I don't give information out when somebody calls me. And their suggestion was, hey, well, I'll give you a number and you can call me back.

B: Wow.

S: No, I don't think so.

C: I'll call the number that's printed on the back of my credit card.

E: Do you know why it's even more nefarious with the IRS? Because there's the fear factor involved.

S: It's intimidating.

E: Try to be scammed from a credit card company. It's like a product kind of thing. People have, some people have this innate fear of tax agencies in the IRS and it causes them kind of to not particularly always think rationally when interacting or thinking they're interacting with a person like that. It's that intimidation and that goes and they know that psychology, they know that's a human vulnerability in a lot of people and they'll just, OK, here's a person of authority needing me to do something, IRS, I don't want any problems, I'll give them what they want.

C: Have you guys seen the documentary series? I think it's either on HBO or Showtime called The Telemarketers.

S: No, I haven't seen that one.

C: It's fascinating. It's these guys who worked in one of those telemarketing places like years ago, like in the 90s, who kept all this footage on old camcorders and sort of did their own investigation into these big telemarketing firms that are constantly being investigated and will just close down and then pop back open under another name. And a huge ploy that they use is that they're raising money, they say, we're raising money for the Fraternal Order of Police and it's the same kind of thing, Evan. It's like people think, oh, well, if the police are asking me for help, A, either if I don't help them I might get in trouble or on the flip side of that, if I do help them they send me that sticker and the sticker goes on the back of my car and now they know I'm supporting the police and I feel safer.

E: So Cara, something you don't know about me. When I was a teenager, I was hired to work for several of those organizations and made phone calls at a phone bank.

C: You have to watch this documentary, Evan.

E: Oh, I will.

C: It's like it'll remind you. I worked for a telemarketing firm too for a while, but it was not that, it was like for a credit card company.

E: No, ours was specifically fundraising for police unions and fire unions.

C: That's what most of them were. And still continue to be.

E: They said the promise of the sticker, oh my gosh, how many sales we made based on the sticker promise. Oh my gosh.

C: And it's all a scam.

E: It's so wrong.

C: It's all a scam. And yeah, they dig deep into how it's a scam. Anyway.

E: I'm not proud of it.

C: Oh, whatever, you're just as much of a victim.

E: If I could go back and not do it and like rake leaves or something instead, I would have done it.

C: But that's the thing, the workers at these places are just as victimized.

E: Oh my gosh, it's awful.

C: Minimum wage working. Oh, anyway. Yeah, it's super gross the lengths that scammers will go to, isn't it Jay? Just like the things they'll, like how do they not feel something while they're knowingly taking money from these people?

J: I think there's a lot of different factors here, but one of them could be, especially with people who are in their late 70s and 80s and get into that age and they might not have contact with a lot of people. They might appreciate the attention that they're getting.

C: Oh no, I'm saying the people scamming the older people. How did they not feel guilty?

S: How are they so heartless?

J: I read something funny. I can't remember what platform I was on, but I read something where the person took a screenshot of their interaction where someone was trying to essentially get them to Venmo them $60 and the guy actually outsmarted the scammer and got him to send him $60. And then the scammer completely was like, wow, good on you, man. You totally got me. Totally was like, he dropped a scam and was like-

S: Respect.

J: -respect.

E: And Jay, with computers, that reminds me you can go watch YouTube videos about people who know what they're doing with computers. They'll get the scammers on the phone to try to get into their computers and instead they'll reverse hack the scammers somewhere, lock out their own computers. Plenty of videos to watch on YouTube, entirely satisfying and entertaining.

S: All right. Thank you, Jay.

News Items[edit]

Driverless Cars (15:18)[edit]

S: Guys, I'm going to give you a quick update on self-driving cars. We haven't talked about them in a while. Back in the late 2000 teens, 2015, 2016, it seemed like fully self-driving cars were right around the corner.

B: Yeah.

S: Pretty mature hype there.

E: Control with my Apple 10, whatever was at the time.

S: Then it got to, we got to the point where, I remember we were at Google, right, you guys remember this? When they were bragging about their Google self-driving car, they used to mark its progress in terms of interventions per mile. How many times does the person behind the wheel have to intervene to keep the car on the road per mile? But now they were marking it as miles per intervention, they were way longer between interventions. So it seemed like they were making rapid progress and yeah, we're just, we're almost there. But that last 5% has turned out to be exceedingly difficult.

B: Oh, shocker.

S: But still, but yeah. But it doesn't mean it's never going to happen, just that it was going to take longer than we thought. And the question is, well, how much longer? And that's hard to predict.

B: I bought into it. I'm familiar with the last 5% rule, and I was like, damn, man, this looks good. It's really good. I'm like, oh crap.

S: Yeah, but then the hype goes away. And then with Sans hype, it happens anyway, just a little bit later than we thought. I saw a news item and was like, oh, where are we with this? So there's two companies, Cruise and Waymo, that actually are providing not just self-driving cars, but driverless cars. So there is no one behind the wheel. They are approved in San Francisco, just in one city, though their Cruise has pending approval in Seattle and Washington, DC. Apparently, the technology works. It's very effective for driverless cars. The news item that triggered me to take a fresh look at it was an investigation into two accidents by Cruise in San Francisco. Two driverless cars got into accidents. They hit pedestrians. In the first case, the pedestrian was jaywalking. They were walking against the green light. And the Cruise-controlled car slowed down, but did not slow down all the way. And the investigation found that it hit the pedestrian at 1.4 miles per hour. No serious injury. The second one, a car with a human driver hit a pedestrian and threw them in front of a Cruise car. Again, slammed on the brakes, but could not stop in time and hit the pedestrian. Those were the two cases. Hardly seemed like the fault of the driverless car. So it wasn't really a failure of the driverless car. It was just that they were unable to prevent an accident that was somebody else's fault. Of course, these are just anecdotes, but these are just the two that were under investigation. Now, Cruise, the company, which is a subsidiary of GM, they've been keeping their own statistics, which they started publishing after they crossed a million driver miles. And then now they have several million miles of statistics tracking how well their cars are doing. They also are gathering statistics independently rather than relying upon government statistics just for total traffic accidents in the zone, the San Francisco zone, where their cars are operating. Because they said they didn't really have access to those statistics, and you can't just use averages because they wanted to compare apples to apples. How were cars with human drivers doing in this zone versus the Cruise cars in this zone? And again, this is by their statistics, so take that for what it's worth. They claim 54% fewer collisions with the driverless versus human driver cars, 92% fewer collisions as the primary cause, meaning they were the primary cause of the accident, and 72% fewer collisions with risk of serious injury. So basically, they're claiming we're safer than human drivers. So that's interesting that we're at that point, but keep in mind a couple of things. We talked a little bit about this, but let me refresh your memory. The Society for Automotive Engineers, SAE, has their autonomous driving scale from L0 to L5. 0, 1, and 2 are basically driver assist, where there's always somebody behind the wheel, but they provide different levels of driver assistance, like re-pulling your car back into the lane or warning you or whatever. Level 3 is the first one where the driver's not holding onto the wheel. Not assisting a driver, the car is driving. And then level 4, the car is driving. It's still in limited conditions, but the driver is allowed to not pay attention. Level 3, the car's driving, but you have to be paying attention all the time. Level 4 is the car's driving, you don't have to be paying attention. And level 5 is driverless cars in all conditions. So driverless cars are by definition L4, because there's nobody behind the wheel, but they're limited in the conditions in which they're allowed to drive. So they can't drive in all conditions at all times. At first, they were only given approval to drive at night, and then that expanded to during the day and at night, but it's only during, I think, good road conditions. They are not allowed to do that in adverse weather conditions. So that if driving in all conditions again would be a level 5. So we're basically already at level 4 in terms of self-driving cars, which is the driverless car level. So from this point, it's just a matter of incremental improvements, right? There's really no more milestones to get over. It's just a matter of there'll be an increasing number of locations and conditions in which driverless cars will be allowed to operate until we get to true level 5, which is no restrictions. So when will we hit level 5? Who knows? We could still be a decade away or two decades away. But we are now seeing level 4, full driverless cars, and it's only going to be incrementally increased from this point forward. The other thing to keep in mind, though, is that the level of autonomous driving is partly legal. It's not 100% technical, especially when you go from L2 to L3. In L3, there are times when the car is totally in control, and that means if there's an accident, the manufacturer is responsible, not the driver. And so some cars don't want an L3 designation. They want L2. They basically want to pause at L2 because that's where they have no responsibility for any accidents that may occur. And some cars are marketed as L2 plus. They're like, we're really better than L2, but we're officially legally L2. We don't want to have the L3 designation where the car is driving because then they're responsible. Cruise and Waymo are already past that point, so now it's just incrementally, it advances from this point forward.

E: Can you buy your own?

S: I don't know. I don't know if these could be personally owned.

E: Interesting. So it's proprietary technology just for these companies.

S: Yeah. They have the technology, and they're using it for their own service. If you see the picture of the car, they have extra doodads on the top. They have sensors on the top of the car. It doesn't look like a regular car because in order to have this extra level of performance, of self-driving performance, you need more cameras and sensors, et cetera. So you can tell that it's a self-driving car just by looking at it. Doesn't look like a regular car. Doesn't look like a Tesla or something. Yeah, so interesting. I was surprised that we were that far along, a little bit more than what I thought. Yeah, cool.

Dead Whale Mystery (24:06)[edit]

S: All right, Cara, have we finally solved this dead whale mystery?

C: This one. This one. Yeah, you guys may not know about this, but there has been a recent die-off of gray whales. Actually a recent stranding, kind of group of strandings, which has been declared an unusual mortality event, which is what is like the technical phrasing for a significant die-off. And it's been unexplained for many years. I mean, there's been guesses as to why these gray whales have been washing up all along the Pacific coast, basically all the way down from Mexico up to Alaska since about 2019. But now some researchers in Oregon think that they know what's causing it, and it is probably what you expect, and it is not happy. So let's get a little bit of background on this. So we have had die-offs before, a major one in the 1980s and another one in the 1990s, but those only lasted a couple of years. This one has been spanning since around 2019 and just a plummet in the whale population. Something like, I think we've lost like 25% of the gray whales that had been counted. And we're only talking about right now 14,500 whales. That's the total estimate of how many whales, how many North Pacific gray whales are in existence. The really cool whales, so they're baleen whales. They actually migrate 12,000 miles. They go all the way from Mexico, where they give birth, up to the Arctic to feed. It's a really cool kind of life cycle, and the way that they feed is fascinating. So they are baleen whales, but they do this really interesting benthic feeding protocol, where they dive to the ocean floor, and they use their baleen to sort of filter feed across the ocean floor, and they're mostly eating benthic amphipods. So it's not actually krill, it's like these little shrimpy-looking things. They're a bunch of different species. It's not krill, because they're not filter feeding in open water. They're feeding these amphipods that are like these little shrimpy-looking things that are down in the sediment of the ocean floor. And so researchers in Oregon went through and basically looked at these most recent die-offs or those two previous mortality events, and then they looked at this mortality event, which like I said, the peak, I think the last peak was in 2016, where there were about 27,000 of them, and the estimates right now in 2023 is 14,500. So we're talking a lot of whales that have been stranding on beaches and dying off in the ocean, and what they have found is that sea ice in the Arctic is melting. There's just not as much sea ice as there was before, and it's following some patternicity, but it's getting worse and worse. And when the sea ice melts, the algae that usually sticks to the bottom of the sea ice is no longer there. It's that algae that falls to the seafloor that feeds those benthic amphipods that feeds the gray whales. And so we're seeing an entire food chain being disrupted because of lower sea ice, because of sea ice melt. And because of that, we're seeing animals that are teeny tiny all the way up to animals that weigh 90,000 pounds that are affected by this and huge populations. Now this most recent die-off, it does appear to be slightly recovering, because as the researchers said, this seems to be cyclic, although it is getting worse and worse. They are not concerned about some sort of extinction-level event right now. I don't know if you followed, but we actually almost lost these gray whales historically, but when a moratorium was placed on whaling, the populations rebounded quite a lot. And so researchers have long wondered, what is the carrying capacity of the ocean? What is a natural homeostatic number of these whales? We still don't really know, but it does seem to be the case that the ocean can carry much more than what we're seeing right now, but not if we don't have enough sea ice in the Arctic, because they're losing their food. It's just yet another outcome of climate change. And it's one thing to say, oh, climate change, and the whales are dying, and the polar bears are dying, but when you see exactly how it's happening.

E: And there are countries that still hunt whales.

C: There are. And there are places where there are certifications for indigenous populations to be able to do it, but usually in those cases, this is, like, well-regulated and their license is available.

E: Sure, and it doesn't present an existential threat to the entire population, right?

C: 100%. Yeah, and it's, like, specific species. But these gray whales are not, from what I understand, are no longer hunted. And yeah, they just periodically aren't getting enough food. And we do have normal climate cycles, and that could be explaining why we saw this in the 80s, and then again in the 90s. But those periods were much shorter. Those events were dramatic, but they were short. And this one seems to be dragging on, and that's very worrisome to the researchers.

S: Yeah, and it's going to get worse quickly 2023 is on track to being the warmest year on record. And it's partly due to the fact that we're in the middle of an El Nino on top of the background warming. But in addition I was reading an article going over the fact that the amount of warming we were seeing this year really accelerating above the rate of warming that we've been seeing in the last 20 years. There's been pretty much a steady increase in the average warming that we've been seeing, but now we just see the sudden jump.

C: Yeah, and the Arctic is warming, I mean, it's something, four times faster. That's the other thing. This isn't perfectly even all over the globe.

S: No, it's global. It's averaged out globally. Yeah. But here's the... And the reason is interesting. It's something that we've touched on previously. It's because as we decrease pollution, we're actually decreasing the sulfites more, and they partially compensate for the warming caused by CO2 because they're highly reflective and they reflect light back out into space, and so it reduces the warming. And so now we're basically unmasking the true warming of CO2 without this partial cover from the particulate pollution. So by getting essentially cleaner pollution...

E: It exacerbates the problem.

C: We're seeing the runway problem.

S: It's actually short-term, it's exacerbating the problem. That may be why we're seeing this compounded warming very...

C: It's interesting that... Yeah, it's so important to not just think about the immediate effects, but I guess the sort of curve of those effects. And it was one little note with the whales that I noticed when I was digging deep into it that I didn't mention is that when the researchers followed this cycle, the whales actually seemed to do better first and then they do worse, and that's because immediately after all of the ice melts, a bunch of stuff falls to the seafloor and they actually get a richer feeding source, but then that completely dries up because now there's no more ice to harbor that algae, and so there's no more food on the seafloor. And so I think sometimes we're really bad about just looking at things in the average and not saying, okay, what's the immediate impact and then what's the long-term impact? Because those could be wildly different.

S: I remember the Save the Whale things back from the 1970s, the big environmental move, Save the Whale. And we did, basically reducing hunting, the whaling was reduced, but now they're facing a different threat.

C: Yeah, a threat that's not so easy to fix.

S: Not so easy, yeah.

E: I saw a documentary recently about the beached whale in Oregon, 1970, the one they exploded. Do you remember this stuff?

C: Oh yeah.

E: Put a bunch of dynamite in it.

C: Yeah, and sometimes they explode on their own, don't they?

E: They do because of the putrification, the gases and things.

C: Yeah, exploding whales are fascinating.

E: This one touches skepticism a little bit because for a long time it was rooted in lore. It was considered partial myth because there was no footage back in the day when you had the news coverage. It was only local news covering it. And if you weren't in the region, you wouldn't have seen it. It's not like it got out there. So word of it kind of spread over the course of the years over the 1970s and became kind of an urban legend. They went back to try to find the footage. They couldn't find it for like, I don't know, 20 or 25 years until they did find the footage of the 1990s or something.

C: Of the actual one, the one that they actually dynamited?

E: Yeah, of the blast. So for 20 years or so, it was considered to some level an urban legend. So it touches skepticism a little bit there.

C: Yeah. The Florence Whale, it's called. I just looked it up.

E: Gosh.

Filtering Wildfire Air (33:39)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, tell us about another unfortunately climate change related item. Tell us about filtering wildfire air, like pollution from wildfires.

J: Yes. So, Steve, we had a hell of a summer here because not only was it hot and wet, but there were really bad fires these forest fires going on in Canada, almost the entire summer. And I got into the habit of going on Google Maps and they have an air quality layover overlay that you could see where the smoke is. I found out that it's pretty interesting, but there are tons of locations in the United States where people are reading and analysing the air quality. And that data gets fed in to Google Maps and you could see it. You could see the distribution of data points throughout the United States. In green means it's safe and yellow means it's not good and red means it's bad. So we had a lot of days where the smoke was bad and that smoke gets into your house as well, right?

E: It was awful. It was like, I've never experienced it in my lifetime.

J: Yeah, nothing like this.

E: Anything as bad as this summer, nothing even close to this. And it didn't have that campfire smell, it had that chemical burning smell to it.

J: It actually hurt to breathe to go out a few days. So we were recommended to stay indoors on those days. And I have an air purifier that I was rotating between my bedroom and my kids' bedrooms. And I also, at some point, reviewed my furnace's air filter. And in the United States, there's a MERV rating, right? The MERV rating basically means how small of a particulate can the filter catch. So you need to use for smoke, just so you know, you need 11 or higher. I recommend 13 because 13 can block viruses and bacteria as well as smoke particles. And in different countries, there's different ratings, but basically you get the ones that can block viruses and bacteria and you get really good filtration then. So a recent study that was conducted by Delphine Farber, she's a professor of chemistry at Colorado State University. And she did a study on wildfire smoke and its impact on home air quality. And the study revealed that just filtering out smoke particles is not enough. There's other stuff to worry about. So along with the smoke, there's harmful gases that can pose long-term risks to health. And these gases can enter buildings and remain trapped within the freaking walls on the floors, all over different surfaces in the house for extended periods of time. And it's a problem because what do you do about that, right? You're not just filtering the air like you have stuff that's stuck to surfaces that isn't floating in the air. It's stuck to surfaces, right? Smoke particles will quickly settle in the indoors too once they get in. And then there's these other gases called volatile organic compounds or VOCs. And the VOCs behave differently than smoke particles. So when the air quality is bad due to smoke, now initially the house absorbs the smoke in the VOCs. And they, like I said, they attach to surfaces and they go everywhere and into everything. And later when the air quality improves, the house will gradually release these VOCs back into the indoor environment, right? So let's say that you air out your house, you leave the doors and windows open, you get fresh air in the house. You close it up again and the VOCs that are in the house start to seep back into the air. And this can last for hours, days, even months, depending on how much of a dose your house got of these volatile chemicals. Now the researchers were closely monitoring this partitioning phenomenon through these measurements of smoke VOC concentrations in the air and the weight of smoke VOCs deposited on sensitive surfaces, right? They're actually measuring the weight of the volatile chemicals that were deposited. I thought that was amazing. Now the reason why this is important is VOCs can include well-known carcinogens. Of course they do, right? So you have cancer-causing agents that are stuck to the surfaces in your house. And even if you air it out, they're still there. The study showed over time that the VOC concentrations decreased, but they were still present in the test home. They had a test home where they actually filled it with simulated forest fire. They were just burning similar things that are found in forest fires. And then that's how they were doing the measurements and they studied it for months and months to see what happened to the smoke particles and to the VOCs. So typical air purifiers and home filters, they can remove VOCs from the air, but they can't help with the VOCs that are sticking to the surfaces. Now if you think about it this way, you could clean your house head to toe, right? Which you should do. And that's what the recommendation is. You clean everything that you can. I was thinking about bringing my leaf blower into the house and detach all of those VOCs from everything and kind of air out my house. I don't know if that's smart or not. The scientists didn't say that. That's just me.

C: That's a Jay recommendation.

S: Well, you could vacuum all vacuumable surfaces, right?

J: Definitely. Oh, yeah. Definitely vacuuming is good. But you've got to wipe down all your surfaces. And here's the problem. There's a ton of surfaces that never get wiped down in your house and it's called the ceiling. Shit, right?

E: Walls. How often do you wipe down your walls?

J: Yeah. But at least you can reach them. You know what I mean? You can get an extender wand and quickly brush them over. I've done that. Like dusting, but you just do it with a little damp cloth and that'll do it. But man, doing your ceilings, it's just something that we don't do. What are you going to pay for it? Forget about it. It'd be so expensive. So it's just something to know. I just wanted people to know about this. If you lived anywhere in the United States, at one point or time, you got hit with the smoke from these Canadian forest fires. Even that smoke was going over to Europe. And forest fires are common. They're happening in different places all over the world. If you find that there is a smoke event happening where your house is inundated with smoke that's coming from a forest fire somewhere, be vigilant. Clean up. Clean your surfaces and air out your house on clear days and do the best that you can because those chemicals are in there and they're not good for you.

S: All right. Thanks, Jay.

New Law of Nature Proposed (39:55)[edit]

(click to create redirect page)

S: Evan, it's not often that scientists propose a new law of nature. What is this?

E: When was the last law of nature proposed? I don't even know. It's not even something I've thought about before.

B: Well, I think you've got to define the law of nature.

S: I know. It's a little vague.

E: Yeah, it can be.

S: This is a sweeping law of nature.

E: It is. It is. I read this first at Reuters, but it was picked up by lots of different news agencies where they say this. Here's their headline. Scientists propose sweeping new law of nature, expanding on evolution. Nice. The authors of a study, which was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


E: Thank you. The authors, they are proposing a new law of nature called the Law of Increasing Functional Information. Their study, their paper is titled On the Roles of Function and Selection in Evolving Systems. The law of increasing functional information holds that complex natural systems evolve to states of greater patterning, diversity, and complexity. Think about it this way, maybe. Back in 1859, Charles Darwin's book, The Origin of Species, I think we're familiar with that, proposed that biological species change over time through the acquisition of traits that favour survival and reproduction. That's one of those seminal moments in human beings' understanding of nature. We don't need to talk about that, just kind of a target point. But the law of increasing functional information includes this biological evolution described by Darwin. But it's one example, it's only one example of a much broader phenomenon, a phenomenon that occurs at the atomic level. And it's not limited to just biology, but it affects geology, planetary atmospheres, planets, stars, and even more than that. Here is a part from the paper's abstract. We suggest that all evolving systems, including but not limited to life, are composed of diverse components that can combine into configurational states that are then selected for or against based on function. We then identify the fundamental sources of selection, static persistence, dynamic persistence, and novelty generation, and propose a time-asymmetric law that states that the functional information of a system will increase over time when subjected to selection or function functions. So evolving systems, biological and non-biological, always form numerous interacting building blocks like atoms or cells. And then additionally, there are these processes that exist, such as cellular mutation, that generate many, many different configurations. And therefore, evolution occurs when these various configurations are subject to selection for useful functions. Here is a quote from one of the authors, Robert Hazen. He's an astrobiologist and mineralogist from the Carnegie Institution for Science. He says, we have well-documented laws that describe such everyday phenomena, such as forces, motions, gravity, electricity, and magnetism and energy. But these laws do not, individually or collectively, describe or explain why the universe keeps getting more diverse and complex at scales of atoms, molecules, minerals, and more. The paper's lead author, his name is Michael Wong. He's with the Carnegie Institution. He's an astrobiologist and planetary scientist. He says, I think this paper is important because it describes a view of the cosmos rooted in function. And one of the descriptions, one of the sort of examples that they talk about in the paper, when he talks about view of the cosmos rooted in function, is this. So when you have stars, you start with two elements, hydrogen and helium. Those are the main ingredients in the first stellar generation following the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. Then the first generation stars, you have your thermonuclear fusion. At their cores, they forged about 20 heavier elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. They get blasted into space when they explode at the end of their life cycles. And then the subsequent generations of stars that formed from those remnants forged the other elements, all the other more complex elements that naturally occur. Another co-author from the paper, Jonathan Lunine, chair of Cornell University's astronomy department, the significance of formulating such a law is that it provides a new perspective on why the diverse systems that make up the cosmos evolve the way they do, and may allow predictions about how unfamiliar systems like the organic chemistry on Saturn's moon Titan develop over time. Generally speaking, having read about this, the main question I think is, is a new law really necessary? Did you think the same thing?

S: Well, you have to think beyond biology to think that this is necessary, because I think it's easier for us to understand how this is working in organic evolution and biological evolution. But I do think they're onto something, because it doesn't have to be alive. Any system that is subjective to these dynamic changes over time, where there's any kind of feedback in terms of function, any kind of functional feedback, will spontaneously increase information over time. I think is, on a basic level, is true and something that is not surprising or really new. I mean, yeah, we know that the universe evolved, and even before biological evolution. It's also a pretty swift kick in the teeth to intelligent design.

E: That's for sure.

S: Yeah, because it is basically saying that, yeah, complex systems spontaneously developed increased complexity and information over time, which again is true.

E: The fact that, I guess up till now, has there not been a suggestion that a law needs to sort of be put into canon in a sense?

S: It's a building block, sort of establishing conceptually this phenomenon. I think the next step is going to be to add some mathematical teeth to it. I mean, to say that mathematically, this is how things tend to evolve over time, if that's even possible.

E: Well, when I see the word function, I think math maybe immediately.

S: What in this is testable, I guess, is another question, because it is like a historical kind of science where it's just describing what's happened in the past. It doesn't mean it's not testable, but I'm interested in what ideas in here are something where we could say at some point this is true or not true, or is it just a conceptual framework?

E: Right. Right. It'll be interesting to see where they go with it.

S: Yeah. Okay. Thank you, Evan.

The Real Count Dracula (47:04)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, I guess we're starting your Halloween-themed news items already. Tell us what we've learned about the "real" Count Dracula.

B: Yeah, I've been saving this one for a little while. Yes, medieval Vlad the Impaler is in the news relatively recently. One of the inspirations for our modern Dracula.

E: Who did he impale now?

B: Modern tools, for the first time, have sensitively probed artefacts that Vlad actually touched to see what could be learned about this non-immortal. Researchers, Maria Gaetana Giovanna Pittalà, Antonella Di Francesco, and Annamaria Cucina, et al., now reporting in ACS's Analytical Chemistry. So first off, who was this Vlad dude, right? Most people know probably two things about him, that he was an inspiration for Stoker's Dracula and that he liked to impale people. That's basically the two things that a lot of people know. But there's a lot-

S: And he had a tremendous singing voice, I understand.

B: Yes, that too. But here's a few more things. His official title was Vlad the Third, Voivodi of Wallachia. Voivodi was like a duke. He ruled Wallachia, now Romania, three separate times in the 15th century. describes him like this, Vlad is a well-known, intelligent, elegant, and educated Romanian lord. Vlad the Impaler was an important leader from medieval Europe who, during his reign, stopped the advancement of the Ottoman Empire towards Western Europe. He certainly did his share of killing. Some put the total at 80,000 people, which is kind of impressive in the 1400s. Many were impaled, which of course gave him one of his more famous names, Vlad the Impaler. Since he's Vlad the Third, his dad was, of course, Vlad the Second, and he ruled before him. He was also a high member of a chivalric order called the Order of the Dragon. The badge that denotes that order was shaped like a dragon, as you might expect, and all that dragon stuff gave rise to the sobriquet, or a nickname. That's a good word I just threw out there for you guys. He had a nickname for the dad. The dad's nickname was Vlad Dracul, which you may have actually even heard in the context of vampires. Vlad Dracul, Dracul meaning dragon in Hungarian. Vlad the Third, the son, Vlad the Impaler, would then be known as Vlad Draculea or Vlad Dracula, which means son of Dracul. That's where Dracula comes. Dracula is not a real name. It's because of this order that he was in, and Dracula just means son of the dragon, son of Dracul. Did this Vladasov Dracula, the impaling voivode of Wallachia the Third, did this guy actually inspire Stoker's Dracula? And the answer is maybe. Maybe, probably. Many people think Stoker was inspired by him to a certain degree. Stoker was certainly exposed to some writings about Vlad the Impaler. He did read them and go over them, but there were also many, many other influences as well, and they should not be minimized, some of them probably very important.

S: Bob, how is Jesus like Count Dracula?

B: I don't know, Steve. How is Jesus like Count Dracula?

S: Well, one way is that they're both undead. We can't ignore that.

B: Yeah, right.

S: Both rose from the dead. But actually, I do think that, in my opinion, that the relationship between Count Dracula and Vlad the Impaler is probably similar to the relationship between the character of Jesus and whatever influences there were on the story that led to that. It's similar. And saying that whoever the mythology is based on was the "real Jesus" is just as legitimate as saying Vlad was the real Count Dracula, right? But of course, Vlad the Impaler wasn't a vampire. The vampire legend was grafted onto this person, right, in a way. And similarly, like the legendary parts of the story of Jesus, the whole raising from the dead and being baptized and all those elements all pre-existed. They pre-existed Jesus in many other legends. And they were certainly were grafted onto something, a local story, probably inspired by multiple individual people, but one of them may have been this guy, Jesus of Nazareth. Who knows? Anyway, it's actually very, it's probably a very similar process. And, yeah, give it another few hundred years and we could have a religion of-

B: Oh my God, right? Yeah, I totally agree.

C: I want to join.

B: So recently, more information about the man Vlad Dracula has recently come to light, and the science behind it was interesting, so I want to talk about it. The scientists focused on bona fide artefacts that Vlad himself had to have touched for a decent amount of time. And these are letters that he wrote. Remember letters? They were this thing, apparently, before digitization took over the world. So these letters were made of rag paper, and he wrote them at different points in his life. It was three of them.

S: Basically, they're emails that you write out on paper.

B: Exactly.

E: Using ink and parchment normally, but not necessarily.

B: Somewhat more formal. So two of the three letters have been kept basically in the same place for 500 years. They're in excellent condition and they've never been restored. The third letter was restored, but serious attempts were made to minimize any types of contamination. And over the generations, nobody could touch these letters. You had to wear gloves, and it was documented, and they'd been taking it very, very seriously. So it's not unlikely at all, apparently, that all sorts of proteins and peptide molecules would still be on those letters. Molecules from all sorts of sources, some potentially belonging to Vlad himself, which seems like quite a long time for biological molecules like proteins and peptides to last, but there doesn't seem to be any problem with the longevity of these types of these proteins. So the first step was to use ethyl vinyl acetate, otherwise known as EVA, which many cosplayers will know very, very well. So using EVA and other chemicals, they can very gently harvest the proteins and peptides from the letters with no damage or contamination. And I'm sure the fact that this harvesting was so gentle is basically the only reason that the curators of these letters let the scientists even near the artefacts, because a lot of experiments and techniques similar to this are very destructive, and of course they would never allow that. So it was really interesting that this EVA technique was just so incredibly gentle that it really was just removing the biological molecules that were not part of the paper. So then from there, once they've harvested these proteins and peptides, then that's where they started using mass spectrometry, and using that they were able to analyse the molecules themselves in detail and compare the sequences of those to those in databases to determine what they were, what were they part of. Peptides are small chains of amino acids, which are basically part of larger proteins, and then more fuller proteins were examined as well. So they found many of them. They found many different proteins and peptides from the environment. They found them from bacteria. They found them from viruses. They found them from fungi. They found them from demons. They found them from insects. Wait, wait, sorry, no, they didn't find any demon proteins, I misspoke there.

E: Not yet.

B: Just ignore that. So they found, maybe they found them and they just don't know that they are demon proteins. That's not impossible. All right, so a total of 16 ancient proteins and 100 peptides that in their words were certainly of human origin were found and they were relating to skin, breathing, and blood. These were molecules that were related to those functions. Now you may or perhaps should be thinking at this point that many people have probably left their molecules on Vlad's emails, sorry, I mean letters, right? Over the decades and centuries, lots of people could have potentially have touched that. But yes, of course, and the scientists did think of that. What they did was that they were able to characterize thousands of different peptides, but they only considered the human ones with the most advanced, as they refer to it, deamidation, which simply means that they were able to distinguish the oldest, most degraded, most ancient proteins that were on those letters. And those were the ones that they were focused on, not the less degraded and therefore newer, more recently deposited proteins. Okay, so as I say in my notes here, they therefore ignored these less degraded proteins. They were probably deposited there for other people handling Vlad's letters. So you could then say, well, perhaps other medieval people handled the letters centuries ago, and that's a good point as well. But the authors in their paper address that specifically. They say in their paper, it's presumable that the most prominent ancient proteins should be related to Prince Vlad the Impaler, who wrote and signed these letters. And that makes sense. This guy, if you're writing a letter, you're going to spend some serious time with your hands on the paper. And chances are that the biggest spike of ancient proteins are going to be from that person, whoever it may be. So they describe also their results in their paper. They say, it's interesting to note some peptides related to Enterobacteralis are specific to something called Yersinia pestis, the pathogenic bacterium causing plague. So there were plague related molecules and proteins that were there as well. That's kind of interesting, but it gets it gets even better. The experimental data, as they say, show that he probably suffered from inflammatory processes of the respiratory tract and or of the skin. In addition, proteomics data suggests, according to some stories, he may have also suffered from a pathological condition called hemolacria. So not Steve. What could hemolacria be? How would you guys break that word down?

C: Blood crying?

B: Yes, exactly. Very good. Hemo and then lacria, blood mixed with tears.

J: Good job, Cara.

B: Vlad Dracula may have cried tears with blood in them(Transcriptionist's note: the Casino Royale (2006) Bond villain, Le Chiffre, had haemolacria). So that was just like, to me, that's like, yep, this is the big fun coup that these researchers made with this research. I was thinking, tell me that these researchers weren't psyched when they realized that they could put in their paper that Vlad the Impaler had hemolacria. Of course, they would never find evidence of vampirism, right? That would just be silly. But they found kind of the next best thing, right? They found evidence that points to a condition, a condition similar to what some kinds of vampires have in some of the books that I've read, right? Vampires crying tears of blood is kind of like a thing with a lot of vampires and a lot of the stuff that I've read. I just think that they were just drinking beers that night because they were like, holy crap, what a cool thing to find that Vlad potentially had hemolacria, blood in his tears, which just gave me a real giggle that they found something like that. This could have been totally boring. Yeah, he had a cold when he wrote the letter and we didn't find too much else that was interesting. It could have been totally boring, but instead they find some evidence of some interesting condition, right? I mean, have you ever even heard of hemolacria in real life? Blood and tears? I mean, I'm sure it's a thing, but it's pretty interesting and kind of like weird and macabre in a lot of ways, which is totally appropriate for a finding when you're studying Vlad the Impaler. So I'll end it there. Clearly, these researchers have hope in the future of using these extremely sensitive techniques on future artifacts. Imagine doing this with other letters, other artifacts that are centuries old, that famous people have written and finding other things, finding things about them that we never would have found out really any other way, at least not without the certitude that we have with actually finding these molecules on something that he touched. It's really fascinating and it'd be fun to see where this technology, how sensitive can they get it and what will they apply it to in the future.

E: So Steve, what if we have the remains of someone from all those years ago, we dig them up and start scraping them off and doing tests on them and figuring out all the problems they had?

S: Yeah, potentially. Yeah.

E: So yeah. So I guess if all you have are artefacts and not any remains, this is all you can do. But hey, if you can still go to the source, that'd be best.

B: It's not just finding out what conditions they may have had because what they're depositing on these artefacts are also the results of them living in their environment in the 1400s. So that area of Wallachia in Romania, that was a crossroads of lots of different cultures and armies and things. And you could also learn about the specific environment at the time because don't forget, they also found bacteria, they found fungi, they found those demon viruses or whatever. They found all these other things, even plant matter, plant molecules and things. So the environment also is deposited there too. So you're learning not just about the person, but the environment that they were in.

S: All right. Thanks, Bob.

Who's That Noisy? (1:01:24)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
_brief_description_of_answer_ _perhaps_with_a_link_

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

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

[creaking croaking with echo]

All right, guys. It's a strange Noisy. And I gave a clue last week. I said this version of it that you're hearing is essentially broken. So do you know what it is? I didn't think you did. All right. Tons of people emailed me on this one. One listener named Teresa Rushka said, "Jay and all rogues, this week's sound reminds me of my ancient microwave that has no buttons, is not digital, and used a spin timer. It almost always skipped back a minute or two for some reason, and I thought I heard the same. Love, love, love you guys. I've been a fan for so long. And y'all introduced me to George Hrabb, which changed my life. I lost my husband 35 years ago in August, and I always count on my SGU family to be here. And here you are." Thank you so much for writing in. That's an interesting guess. My grandmother had that kind of microwave. You guys remember that? That dial microwave?

S: Yeah.

B: Oh, my God.

J: I don't remember it making a sound, but I would imagine if you have one that's that old, it's making a weird sound.

E: It did. It sounded like a zipper, almost, kind of.

J: But that's not correct, but that was an interesting guess. Chris Bovitz wrote in and said, "Hi Jay, my guess for episode 953 Who's That Noisy, is one of those toy cars that you pull back, adding energy into a spring like device and letting it go forward. And it sounds like the spring is broken and the car doesn't want to go very far." Yeah. I've had those when I was a kid. My son had those. That is a I think that's a good guess. I mean, I could see a broken version of one of those toys making a weird noise like that. However, you are not correct with that guess. A listener named Tracy McFadden wrote in and said, "Hi Jay, I'm going to guess this week's Noisy is a grandfather clock being prepped to run by pulling the chain to raise the weights and causing a ratcheting sound as well." It's interesting to think about how varied these guesses are, right? I always like to ponder that, like so many different things that people think that this could potentially be. But I'm sorry, Tracy, you're not correct. I have a couple more interesting ones here for you. Ryan Devos said, "Hi, I've been listening to the show for nine years now and I've never emailed you with a guess. I think this week's noisy is a broken rotary dial telephone." Lots of people guess that particular item. I think that's a pretty valid guess, but it is not correct. And then we come to the close guess. This is a close guess. Joe VanderEden. And he said, "Sounds like someone trying to hand crank a 1915 Ford, but there are a few broken teeth on the flywheel." Well, you are not correct, but you did get close because this is an old Ford item that came with those old Model A's or Model T's. I couldn't specifically locate this particular horn. This horn came from the Ford Museum. This horn sound came from a listener named Michael Stoll who went to the Ford Pequette Avenue Plant Museum, which is in Detroit. So it is a Ford horn. This particular horn, though, is the kind that it's a push button horn. It wasn't an electric horn. They didn't have electric horns at the time. It was like a manually operated push button horn. And the person who guessed correctly is Robert Slawinski, and he said, "Hi Jay, It's my first Who's That Noisy Guess after eight years of listening. It sounded to me like a klaxon or a wuga style car horn with a rotor and stator that we can hear, but a broken speaker cone." I mean, this guy nailed it, and he said the non-broken version would have been too obvious. So let me play it again, and I'll play you like the normal horn sound that it would make if it wasn't broken. [plays horn sound] Hear that? That's a very mechanical sound to it, if you think about it. But that was the original horn sound, which is I think it's a very annoying and old school sound. You know, it's a sound so old to me.

E: It's the auuuga.

S: Auuuga, yeah.

J: Yeah. So I was I am shocked that somebody actually figured this one out. I thought this one was going to be a no-winner, but good job, man. Robert, you kicked ass. I can't believe you figured that one out. That was great.

New Noisy (1:05:27)[edit]

J: Guys, I got a new noisy for you this time. This comes from a listener named Zack Kuzmik.

[Background scratching/swishing, foreground beeps and boops]

B: Wow.

J: Crazy, right?

E: It's like Baby Darth Vader or something mechanical.

B: I've heard that.

J: So be smart on this one. Listen to everything that you're hearing. There's lots of clues in there. If you think you know what this week's noisy is or you heard something cool, you can email me at

Announcements (1:06:12)[edit]

J: A few quick announcements. Hey, you can always join the SGU email list if you'd like to. We do send out some emails periodically to keep people up to date on what's going on. You could just go to the SGU homepage to do that. You can also leave us a rating on whatever podcast player you're using. But iTunes, I think, reaches the most people. So if you'd like, please do that. That can help the show. You can also, if you're interested, become a patron of the SGU. You might notice that we don't have a lot of ads on the show. That's a phenomenon that's been happening this year. There just isn't a lot of ad buys going on out there. So this would be a great time to show your support for the SGU. We really appreciate it. You could do that by going to And NOTACON our conference that we're having. That's going to be on November 3rd and 4th. It's not too late. Even by the time you hear this, if you're interested, there are still some tickets available. Just go to to find out more information.

S: All right. Thank you, Jay.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:07:10)[edit]

Email #1: Last After the Big Bang[edit]

S: All right, guys we have oe interesting email. This comes from Chris Siegel in California and Chris writes, "Hey folks, I listen to the show every week and I recently came across this video research speculating that life may have started almost immediately after the Big Bang. So I want to send it along and ask for your thoughts. To me, I find it absolutely fascinating. And while I know it's highly speculative, I find the idea that we could be connected to life everywhere almost comforting in a way. Anyway, here's the video and it has research linked from it. Chris." Have you guys had a chance to watch the video? I know I sent it to you earlier today.

C: I scrubbed it a bit. I didn't see the whole thing.

S: So you know what this is, right? In a word? This is pan-spermia. It's just warmed over pan-spermia. The idea that the life originated in the ancient universe has just been seeding, spreading out throughout places where it can thrive, right? It starts out with, again, the typical pan-spermia argument, which I think is nonsense, that life arose, "too quickly" after the earth cooled down. It was only a few hundred million years before life arose. So yeah, a few hundred million years. I know it's not a long time geologically, compared to the billions of the earth, but it's enough time that we could say that some processes could have created cells, over a few hundred million years. It's not such a mystery that we have to hypothesize that life seeded the earth rather than forming spontaneously on the earth. It also needs to be said that there's zero evidence for pan-spermia. So I think speculative is being generous. But the other piece that they talk about is the idea that life could have arisen very soon after the Big Bang, and because after the Big Bang, the universe was very hot, and then it cooled down and now it's cooled down to just 2.7 Kelvin. So therefore, at some point, the whole universe was the temperature of liquid water, right? And I don't think they said it in the video, but I looked it up. So the universe would have been at 100 degrees Celsius 10 million years after the Big Bang, and would have cooled to zero degrees by 17 million years after the Big Bang, right? So that means there was a seven million year period where the universe was the temperature of liquid water.

E: Were there complex molecules at that time?

S: Well, that's not that we know of, but that's the question, right?

E: Right. I think the video speculated that there would have been.

S: That would have been possible, but we don't have evidence that there were.

E: Right, that enough stars would have gone through their life cycle early on before they reached that, what, 17 million year point to have, what, exploded or whatever into the more complex.

B: I don't think so.

S: Well, heavier elements, but that doesn't necessarily mean more complex.

E: Well, but you need the carbon, you need the oxygen, you need all those things to have, some kind of even the very foundation of life.

B: Wait, how many years after the Big Bang are we talking with?

S: Between 10 and 17.

E: 10 and 17 million.

S: Million, 10 and 17 million.

E: Right? I mean, that's.

B: Nuclear synthesis wasn't really going at that point. I mean, right?

E: I didn't think so. I thought that's kind of where this thing fell apart.

B: I mean, they're cooked up in stars. You got to wait, you got to wait for the first population of stars to, to go through their life and explode and then killin' over as well.

E: I think they suggested those happened in the first three million years, Bob.

B: What?

E: Is what the video, didn't the video say that in about three million years, some of those early stars went through their whole life cycle?

S: Yeah, they would have to have been massive stars.

B: Well, there are some theories that, that posit that there were stars in the early universe that were far, far bigger than anything we possibly even see today and that they would have they would have burned through their fuel more quickly. And they also use it as an explanation for the supermassive black hole why we have so many supermassive black holes now, which don't seem to make sense. There wasn't enough time for them to actually get that big. So there's all that. But man, I don't know. That seems a tenuous connection. It's tenuous. The other thing is, so the premise of the video, premise one is, you know, two or three hundred million years was not long enough for life to form. But then seven million years was, right?

B: Right.

S: There was only that seven million year window where you had liquid water. You had the temperature at which water is liquid. The thing is, well, we don't know how much water there was. And also it was like not like a planet. It was the universe. It was very diffuse.

B: Right.

S: It's not the same thing. And again, we don't know how many heavier elements there were. We don't know if there was enough time or conditions for complex molecules to form. Whereas we know that the Earth was formed out of not only heavier elements, but probably amino acids were raining down on the Earth. We were already halfway there in terms of complex molecules. And so the conditions would have been much better over a much longer period of time on the early Earth than this seven million year period in the universe where we're not really even sure like how many heavier or complex molecules there were. Or if there were conditions that would have allowed for the formation of complicated molecules, let alone the evolution of living things. And then where were those living things? This is sort of the panspermia thing where they were just seeds spreading throughout interstellar space for billions of years. Again, surviving how? Why didn't they all just freeze out once the universe cooled even further? Because it's really cold now. It's not just freezing. It's like, it's super cold. Anyway, I think, again, I think speculative is being overly kind to this notion, you know? Okay, let's move on to science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:13:46)[edit]

Theme: Infectious disease

Item #1: A new study finds that the risk of getting Guillain Barre Syndrome within 6 weeks after COVID increases by six times, and decreases by more than half after getting the BioNTech vaccine.[7]
Item #2: A new study finds that approximately 50,000 deaths per year in the Americas can be attributed to antimicrobial resistance.[8]
Item #3: Since 2010 the number of reported tick-borne infections in the US has increased 10 fold.[9]

Answer Item
Fiction AMR deaths in the Americas
Science GBS risk with/without vaccine
Tick-borne infections increase
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Tick-borne infections increase
AMR deaths in the Americas
AMR deaths in the Americas
AMR deaths in the Americas

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

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts. Two real, one fake, and then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. There's a theme this week, although it's still just three news items. They happen to have clustered within a theme. The theme is infectious disease. Okay, everyone ready? Here we go. Item number one, a new study finds that the risk of getting Guillain-Barre syndrome within six weeks after COVID increases by six times and decreases by more than half after getting the BioNTech vaccine. Item number two, a new study finds that approximately 50,000 deaths per year in the Americas can be attributed to antimicrobial resistance. And item number three, since 2010, the number of reported tick-borne infections in the U.S. has increased tenfold. Evan, go first.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Okay, so number one about Guillain-Barre syndrome. The risk of getting it within six weeks after COVID increases by six times and decreases by more than half after getting the BioNTech vaccine. Wish I knew more about Guillain-Barre syndrome.

S: I'll tell you what it is. It's a post-infectious autoimmune inflammatory disorder that attacks the myelin of peripheral nerves causing weakness, numbness, autonomic instability.

B: That sucks.

E: And it does have a, there's always been an association with vaccination and Guillain-Barre syndrome?

S: That's a complicated question. Let me just say that.

E: Okay, I've heard the two discussed in the context of each other. And that's primarily where I've heard it. But I mean, that's a bias and that's news or media bias or whatever. But okay, I don't think I can detect any problem there. Not that that doesn't mean it's fiction. The second one about the new study finding approximately 50,000 deaths per year in the Americas can be attributed to antimicrobial resistance. When we're talking about Americas, are we talking the Western Hemisphere? Americas?

S: Right.

E: Okay. 50,000 deaths per year. I'm surprised it's not higher. So I suppose, I don't know, it shouldn't, it shouldn't seem higher. I mean, that's a lot of people. And, uh, boy.

B: Higher why?

E: I'm sorry?

S: Not your turn, Bob.

E: Antimicrobial resistance. We've been talking about that for a long time. And the problem that it continues has been and continues to be. I'm just surprised it's only 50,000. So maybe that one's fiction. The last one here, though, since 2010, the number of reported tick-borne infections in the U.S. has increased tenfold. This one I'm kind of having, I think, a real problem with. There have been programs and things, I think, to help mitigate tick-borne infections, treatments, and other things that, technologies, I think, that have become available in which you would think in the time where those preventive measures weren't available prior to that. How could, how could it be a tenfold increase? Wouldn't it be a tenfold decrease by the, so I'll say that one's the fiction, the tick one.

S: Okay, Jay.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: I don't know. The one that's sticking out to me is the, the second one. The new study finds approximately 50,000 deaths per year in the Americas can be attributed to antimicrobial resistance. I mean, that seems that, I don't know. I agreed with what you said. That number seems crazy low.

E: It seems low, yeah. But until I read the third one, it was like, ah.

J: I'm going to go with that one. I'm going to say that the 50,000 number is not correct.

S: All right, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: I mean, that seems like, at first blush, that seemed like a lot because, sure, there are, there is increasing resistance to antibiotics. And we've been talking about it for years about getting, it's going to get, it could be bad and absolutely can be bad. And it's actually, and it's scary. But how many times how often do you come across somebody that says, oh, I have an infection and no antibiotics work on me at all? I've never met anyone, really anybody. To me, that's not something that is necessarily happening a lot right now. It's just the risk in the future is so scary that entering an age when antibiotics doesn't help where a scratch can kill you. That's what's scary.

E: Is this the risk versus hazard argument?

B: No, it just seems like that where we're early in the stages of, there's still a lot of antibiotics that work that there's only pockets of, there's only some microbes. There's only some infections that are resistant to all antibiotics. So typically, or most often, you will have some antibiotic available that will help, even if it needs to be, like you need to go to the hospital and get an antibiotic drip it's got to be and you got to be on this for a while. Sure, it just seems like a lot. But then again, it says the Americas and that's like what? Over a billion people. So 50,000 people compared to a billion. All right. That makes that number not as big to me anymore because it's a lot. It's not like just the United States. It's like more than twice that population in the Americas, I would say. So I don't know. It just, it still seems like a lot. Maybe people are dying in more in South America a lot in some of the poorer countries in South America because they don't have access to even mid-range antibiotics. So maybe that's the answer there. Maybe that's the reason. And it's not just like, so it's more of a problem with people that just don't have access to the best antibiotics. So the other two, the Guillain-Barre and the tick-borne stuff, they both can be fine. That makes sense. And I don't see any red flags in there, but I'm kind of back and forth with this, the antimicrobial resistance. So because I'm so wishy-washy on this one, I'll say that that one, I guess I'll agree with these punks and say that that's fiction too.

S: All right. And Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: The Guillain-Barre one seems reasonable. I think there's been a lot of fear-mongering and anti-vax rhetoric around like, ooh, Guillain-Barre post-vaccine, which can happen, but it's interesting here that it might be actually decreased after getting the BioNTech vaccine. But obviously a significant increase immediately after COVID infection. I could see that. So yeah, between the next two, approximately 50,000 deaths per year in the Americas, antimicrobial resistance. The keywords that stick out to me on this one are Americas, which you flagged, Bob. Obviously we're talking about South and Central America here, where healthcare is all over the place. And also another key word to me on this one is antimicrobial. Nobody said antibacterial or antibiotic resistance and microbes can be a lot of other pathogens. Yeah, it could be antifungal resistance. It could be other pathogens. So, and I think the bulk of that probably is antibiotic resistance, but deaths could be attributed to antibiotic resistance in farm animals. I know we're talking about human deaths here, but to antimicrobial, you remember when the hand cleansers or hand washes were banned several years ago because of the risk of resistance to bugs from people using antibiotic hand soap. So yeah, that one seems like it probably is a much larger number. The tick-borne infections, tenfold seems high, but I think maybe the trick here is that you wrote tick-borne infections and not just Lyme disease because there's probably a lot of other, isn't there that one that like makes you allergic to meat? So like, yeah, there's like some weird stuff that can happen there. So maybe it is tenfold with all of them combined. So I think I'm going to go with two of the three guys and say, yeah, that it's the antimicrobial resistance that's the fiction.

S: Okay, so you guys all agree that the first one is science. So we'll start there.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: A new study finds that the risk of getting Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks after COVID increases by six times and decreases by more than half after getting the BioNTech vaccine. You guys all think that one is science and that one is science. Suck it, anti-vaxxers. So yeah, this is not surprising, but the magnitude is bigger than I would have guessed.

B: Six times is a little scary, isn't it?

S: Yeah, more than six times increase.

C: I'd be super interested to see what is that number if you look at vaccinated COVID infections versus unvaccinated, because we're all getting COVID still, even though we're vaccinated. So I want to know what's my risk having been vaccinated and getting COVID.

S: Yeah, so it's basically they asked, did you have Guillain-Barré? Did you get vaccinated? Did you get COVID? So I don't know that they...

C: They even looked at that. They probably didn't, yeah.

S: And yeah, so the people often forget, I could talk about vaccine side effects. The diseases that you're vaccinating against usually have the same side effect, right?

C: But worse.

S: Yeah, but worse.

C: Way worse.

S: They're activating the immune system even more over a longer period of time or whatever. So yeah, it's much more likely to be a problem than a targeted vaccination. Also, when you get a vaccine, vaccines usually target a very few proteins, right? But when you get infected, you may get all these other things coming along for the ride. And with Guillain-Barré syndrome, that's the name of the game, right? It's all about what's happening in Guillain-Barré. It's all pure luck, right? There's no genetic demographic predisposition. It's just that you get infected with an organism that has a protein that looks similar enough to a myelin protein. The myelin is the coating on the outside of the nerves that makes the nerves conduct faster, right? It looks similar enough that the immune system, it gets activated against the infecting organism, and then there's a second reaction against the myelin. That's why it's usually six weeks later. It's a post-infectious inflammatory reaction. It's like, okay, we're done fighting this, but this thing over here is kind of similar. We're going to start attacking that and then build up antibodies against that. And then you get a second monophasic.

C: Sucks.

S: Yeah, inflammatory.

B: Nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

S: That's just how the immune system works, right? There's partial affinity, and sometimes it's enough to create a secondary immune response.

B: Oh my God, that's horrific.

S: It's just luck. It's just luck. So the more proteins you're exposed to, the more likely it is for that to happen. That's why infections are worse than vaccinations.

B: That's an awesome point, man. I got to remember that.

S: Yeah. So the other thing is, what is the relationship between vaccines and Guillain-Barré syndrome? The only vaccine where there was clearly a pulse of Guillain-Barré after the vaccine was the swine flu in the 70s. We lived through that. I remember that. You guys remember that, the swine flu vaccine? It was given to people in the military. Turned out that the swine flu was a bust, but there was this pulse of Guillain-Barré. And that's why this is the H1N1. That's why when H1N1 came out like 15 years ago, there was an extensive monitoring campaign to look for any bump in Guillain-Barré after the vaccine was rolled out. And there was none. And you can't say it was because we weren't looking for it. They were exquisitely looking for following Guillain-Barré rates, and there was no bump at all after that vaccine.

B: Yeah, I must have been a little nervous.

S: So what's the risk of getting a vaccine-related Guillain-Barré syndrome? It's so close to the background rate, we're not sure it's real. It's like a million to one chance of that happening. If it is real, it's a million to one. Literally, that's the statistic. It's like one person in a million vaccinations. But again, that's the background rate, so it may not even be an actual effect. What's interesting is that getting the BioNTech vaccine, just because that's the one that they studied, but doesn't mean that they looked at and it was not present in the other vaccines, because that's the only one they had data for, that it actually cut the risk of Guillain-Barré in half. That makes sense because you're protected from an infection that has a huge risk of Guillain-Barré. So you could imagine that people had subclinical or mild infections, may not even have known it, but then got Guillain-Barré. But you were less likely for that to happen if you were vaccinated. And also the vaccine, as Cara was saying, the vaccine blunts the infection and therefore would reduce all of these other proteins that might be stimulatory to produce Guillain-Barré.

B: What are the proteins?

S: In other words, there's lots of proteins on the virus, more than what's in the vaccine. So you have the immunity provided by the vaccine reduces the infection, so it's less of a chance of it stimulating and triggering a Guillain-Barré episode. So that makes sense.

C: And probably less of a chance of it triggering all sorts of like cytokine related problems.

S: Yeah, all the complications of COVID are less if you were vaccinated because there's less of an infection, less severe infection. So yeah, so just COVID happens to be one of those viruses that has a huge affinity for Guillain-Barré syndrome.

C: Interesting.

S: Yeah, interesting.

C: God, it's such a nasty virus.

S: It is. It really is. It's a very nasty virus. It is a systemic illness. It's very serious. It's way worse than the flu. It really is. Okay, anyway, let's move on.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Number two, a new study finds that approximately 50,000 deaths per year in the Americas can be attributed to antimicrobial resistance. Evan, you think this one is science. Everyone else thinks this one is fiction. And you guys did a good job of sort of keying out some of the details here, which is what you're supposed to do. So you're thinking of the Americas, so what's the total population of North and South America, and also antimicrobial, not just antibiotic resistance. Things other than bacteria as well, including funguses, et cetera, and protozoan. So the question is, is that figure accurate, or is it higher, or is it lower? I think, you guys, the consensus among those who think this is fiction is that that number should be higher.

C: Yeah.

S: Okay, so this one is the fiction. This is the fiction. The number is higher. It's over 500,000. So I did the order of magnitude.

B: Really?

C: Wow.

S: It's over 500,000 deaths per year in the Americas attributed to antimicrobial resistance. This is according to the World Health Organization, a recent study that they did. So yeah, it's a huge and growing problem. And Bob, I think you're thinking of it kind of narrowly. From my perspective, I was a little surprised at what you were saying, but then I realized, well, yeah, I work in a hospital. Antimicrobial resistance is a massive problem in hospitals.

C: In hospitals especially, yeah.

S: And it can't contribute to people dying all the time. You get a serious infection. We can't really fight it well. It's not an all or none phenomenon. These bugs are resistant to many antibiotics. It makes it harder to treat it. We may still give them antibiotics to have some activity, but just not enough.

B: But they're already overwhelmed.

S: If you get a serious bloodborne infection like sepsis, it's a coin flip. The mortality rate's 50%. That goes way up if what you're septic with is resistant to antibiotics.

C: And there are people who are in the hospital with a garden variety infection who develop an antibiotic resistant infection from having ports and IVs.

S: The hospital is just colonized with super resistant bacteria. There was a study not too long ago where they looked at dust on the floor in a hospital, and it had antibiotics on it. So it's just there. So much is dispensed in that building. Even no matter how clean we try to be, it's just everywhere. Let's go on to number three.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Since 2010, the number of reported tick-borne infections in the US has increased tenfold. That is science. That is huge. What do you think the number is? Again, you could say it's a reporting bias, because I specifically said it was how many are being reported. Maybe we're tracking it better, and that may be playing a role. But there is a genuine increase in the number of tick-borne illnesses. In the US, there are over 400,000 cases per year of tick-borne illnesses. Back before 2010 there was only in the 40s, like 48,000 in 2013, even less in 2010.

E: Why has it gotten out of control like that?

S: That's a good question. So there's multiple reasons. So one reason is sort of a good thing, and that is that we have been reforesting a lot of areas over the last 100 years. We don't necessarily realize it ourselves, but around 1900, we had deforested a lot of the United States for farmland.

E: Oh, yeah. At one point, Connecticut was 70% deforested.

S: That's right, and it's been thoroughly reforested.

B: There's more trees now than 300 years ago.

S: Yeah, and along with trees comes?

E: The ticks.

S: Deer.

B: Leaves.

S: Deer populations are out of control, and along with deer comes deer ticks. So that's one vector, if you will. More trees, more deer, more deer ticks.

J: So we kill the deer. That's how we do it?

S: Yeah, we got to bring in the mountain lions, have them eat all the deer.

B: I've hit three of them, so I'm helping.

s: Well, that's the reason why we talked about this. They're actually saying, you know what? It's not such a bad thing if mountain lions move east, because even if one person gets killed every now and then by a mountain lion, they'll actually save more lives by reducing the deer population so that fewer collisions with deer, plus it'll reduce the deer tick population. But also, another phenomenon is climate change. With climate change, the ranges of these ticks are increasing. They are spreading out, because the environment is more amenable to them. So most of these infections are still Lyme disease, but there are many others. There's rickettsia is another common one, or ehrlichiosis is another common one. And there's about 20 tick species which are responsible for most of these infections, but 90% are due to one species of tick, and that is the Ixodes scapularis. It's a type of deer tick, a black-legged deer tick. Yeah, so it is a deer tick. It's 90% of human infections, tick-borne infections, go through that tick, that species.

E: Time to introduce some genetically modified ticks to get rid of that stuff.

S: Yeah, I mean, it is a problem. We do have to address it. So we do need to control tick populations. If you have a pet, you need to make sure that they are protected from ticks. They have a tick collar or whatever. They get treated to protect them as well.

E: I have two dogs and I have my yard treated for ticks.

S: Don't walk through the woods in shorts, as much as you might like to.

E: Yeah, stay covered.

S: Cover your legs, yeah. And if you are out in nature, when you get back, do a tick check.

E: And have tick removal tools handy.

S: So you can't assume you will feel a tick on you. Good news is it typically takes about 24 hours of the tick being attached to you in order to transfer like the Lyme spirochete, for example. So you have 24 hours to get that little bugger off of you. But you got to look in your crevices. That's the thing. That's where they're going to go. They're going to go to the nether regions and the dark places.

J: Yeah, where it's dark and sweaty.

S: You need to have a relationship with somebody that you're very intimate with. And you could tick check each other.

E: Your tick part.

B: Jay, I'm not looking at your crevices again.

C: Lyme obviously originated in Connecticut, right?

S: No, but it was identified.

C: Oh, it was identified. Okay. So it was first identified in Connecticut. I mean, you probably don't know this off the top of your head. But what percentage of cases are still in Connecticut? Is this like a very Connecticut issue?

S: It's endemic in Connecticut, but it's endemic in large parts of the United States now.

B: I know somebody who just got Lyme's disease from Florida.

C: Interesting.

S: It's pretty much all over the place now. But it was first identified from a case in Lyme, Connecticut. Yeah, that's where it gets its name. But it's not just a Connecticut disease. So 75% of tick-borne illnesses are Lyme disease in the U.S. So it's still the majority.

C: But it's still mostly in the like Northeast area, right?

S: I don't even think that's true anymore.

C: Really? Okay.

S: So the black-laded tick, it's basically the Mississippi East.

C: It's definitely spread over time.

S: It includes half of Texas and basically a Lyme North there. But that's the East. That's the black-legged tick I told you about, the Ixodes scapularis.

C: Yeah, but it's...

S: Rocky Mountain Wood tick is basically the Rocky Mountains. The Lone Star tick also basically half of Texas East, although not quite as far North.

C: Yeah, but the thing is those don't necessarily spread Lyme, do they?

S: No, these are other tick-borne illnesses.

C: Yeah, exactly. So if you look at Lyme, Lyme is very heavily concentrated in the Northeast. It's interesting, but it has spread all over the country. But like in tiny pockets compared to the Northeast.

E: It's gone viral.

C: Yeah, exactly.

S: Although it is a bacterium.

C: It's gone microbial.

S: Just so we don't get emailed.

E: It's also going to say don't post it on TikToks. Thank you.

C: How dare your pun not be 100% accurate, Evan.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:36:58)[edit]

Our ignorance is profound, forgivable and temporary. There are only two true errors: One is believing that we have no errors left to make, and the other is believing that those errors are permanent and irreversible.

 – Adam Mastroianni, American experimental psychologist 

S: All right. Evan, as the sole loser this week, you get to give us...

E: That's a nice way of putting it, Steve. Thanks. Thank you. Appreciate it. So this week's quote was suggested by Jody from Burlington, Vermont, a listener in Vermont. Thank you so much. She was reading a New York Times op-ed and found this. So I'm going to give you a piece of it. It was longer. I truncated it. "Our ignorance is profound, forgivable, and temporary. There are only two true errors. One is believing that we have no errors left to make. And the other is believing that those errors are permanent and irreversible." Adam Mastroianni, experimental psychologist, author of the science blog, Experimental History, and also an op-ed contributor to the New York Times.

S: I like it. Don't confuse currently unknown with unknowable. And yeah, ignorance is not a problem. Only denying your ignorance is a problem. Or the illusion of knowledge.

C: Ignorance is the path to knowledge.

S: You think about all of the knowledge that exists in the universe. Any person only knows a tiny sliver of it anyway. So we're mostly ignorant no matter what we do.

C: And not knowing something is how we learn things.

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

J: You got it, Steve.

C: Thanks, Steve.

B: Thanks man.

E: Thanks Steve.


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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

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


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