SGU Episode 955
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|SGU Episode 955|
|October 28th 2023|
Artist illustration of the black hole M87* wobbling on its axis. (Image credit: Yuzhu Cui et al. 2023, Intouchable Lab@Openverse and Zhejiang Lab)
|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
|Quote of the Week|
This is the age of health misinformation. It is everywhere. It is in our social media feeds, promoted by celebrities and influencers, and permeates the legacy news media. We are bombarded with advertisements pushing unsupported therapies and practices. Health misinformation has also worked its way into TV shows, movies, and books. And, increasingly, it is embraced and promoted by prominent politicians.
Introduction, Bob's Haunt, safe chocolate
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 25th, 2023, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Cara Santa Maria...
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey guys.
S: ...and Evan Bernstein.
E: Good evening everyone.
S: Bob had an emergency, he can't be with us at the moment. He might join us later or he might record his bit tomorrow, so you still may hear him in the show, but he's not starting the show with us, unfortunately. It's especially unfortunate because this is the last episode we're recording before Halloween.
E: I know.
C: Bob's special day.
E: Oh my gosh.
J: Bob's special day.
S: Bob's magic day.
E: Bob is peak Halloween right now.
S: Yeah, Jay and I and our family went to his haunt on the weekend. This was like the best year for his haunt. They did a super good job.
C: Does it get better and better every year?
S: Yeah. I mean, I would say some years are a lateral move. You know what I mean? It's just different every year and the overall production quality is pretty high, but this year there was definitely a jump, I think, in the production quality from prior years. There was some really good... One thing that I've never seen at a previous haunt, I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but I've personally never seen it, is they managed to bring in an old school bus. Right? That was, I guess, a wreck. On the path, you have to go into the school bus, into the door, the side door that you would normally go into, and then pass through the school bus. Of course, there's like corpses and everything in the seats, and then go out the back of the bus. It had a really creepy driver. It was also a good way to titrate the haunt goers, you know what I mean? It's good.
C: The bottleneck.
S: It's a bottleneck, so they built in a few bottlenecks this year-
S: -to keep people from clumping up. It was very smart and it worked well.
C: You know what? I would be... I'm wondering if Bob's experience at Disney World, this time, if he didn't get a few little ideas. Because I'm reminded of when I was at Disney, just like a month ago or so, now two months, I have no concept of time now, where I was really impressed by how they build a lot of the lines. Of course, there's stuff to do in line. It's entertaining when you're watching and you're waiting. But they also, they're wide and then they narrow and narrow. Like you're a farm animal and you don't even notice. And all of a sudden, you're single file and you're like, how did I get to be single file? And it's so smart.
S: Bob's constantly farming ideas from his experiences, you know what I mean? Anything even remotely relevant. I'm sure he was going through Disney World and looking for ideas for us.
C: Yeah. I love that. That's really cool.
E: By the way, you can write trips off like that as a business expense.
J: It's a good idea. Ev's always got that financial angle.
E: Well it's legit. He's off research for his business there.
S: The other thing, of course, that is relevant to Halloween is candy. And every now and then, not every year, but many years, there's always some kind of candy scare. Jay, do you remember when we were kids?
J: The razor blade.
S: The razor blade.
C: The razor blade and the apple? Yeah, and the wrapped candy.
J: It never happened.
S: It never happened. Yeah.
E: Right. It was a myth.
S: It was a myth. An urban legend. In this related study, we're looking at the levels of lead and cadmium, which are both heavy metals, in different chocolates. And it's a little concerning. They found, first of all, there's lead and cadmium in every, basically, every brand, every type of chocolate that they tested, but mostly below the safe levels, the levels that are considered to be acceptable. But of the 48 products they tested, 16 of them peaked above the safe levels.
J: That's not good.
S: One or the other.
C: Why chocolate, as opposed to, I don't know, sour candy?
S: So apparently, they say that it gets into, it's a contaminant that gets in the production line from the soil.
C: Because chocolate's like a real thing.
C: Yeah. It's like you have to actually farm it.
S: Chocolate's a plant. The cocoa plant or cacao. And it's more in dark chocolate, which makes sense, because there's more cocoa in dark chocolate.
C: Oof. That's kind of scary.
S: So if you go to Consumer Reports, you can check the brands and make sure that if you're buying chocolate for your Halloween giveaway candy, just buy the ones that are below the safe.
E: So if I'm understanding this correctly, it's a soil contaminant. So therefore, when they harvest the cacao, some soil is also brought in as a result.
S: Yeah, apparently.
E: Or is the soil getting through and leaching kind of into the cacao itself?
C: Like the cacao is using the nutrients in the soil, and it's also pulling up the heavy metals.
E: And if that were the case, the latter, would you be able to genetically modify the cacao to be resistant to that kind of contamination?
J: I would bet you could, but who knows?
C: If that's the problem. But you're right. If it's stuck to it, then it's just a washing issue, a cleaning issue.
S: There's a lot of crops that are contaminated with heavy metals. Chocolate's not that much of a concern because you don't eat it every day.
C: You don't eat it every day.
S: You know what I mean? But it all adds up. Heavy metals, that's one of those things where the goal is to just minimize human exposure.
E: Right. To the levels that are considered safe or below.
S: Yeah. Yes, there are acceptable levels. I don't think they'll even use the word safe levels. Because you can't get it to zero because it's everywhere. Everything is everywhere, basically. So they say, OK, if it's below this point, it's acceptable. But the thing is, you have to make sure that we're considering the cumulative exposure from everything in these acceptable levels. I think part of it might be handled through genetic engineering, like GMO. But I don't know. That's a good question. I think it's also just in the processing of the cocoa, not just absorbing it from the soil. Because some of the soil, I think, gets into the mix.
E: And we've also talked about other food products that have these, what, is tolerance the right term to use for impurities? Like hot dogs, for example. I mean, that's probably the classic example. There's a certain amount of, well, let's face it, excrement that they allow to go into those kinds of products that are deemed still safe.
C: Isn't there a whole weird thing with coffee and insect parts?
S: Everything has insect parts in it. Yeah, I was just watching. You guys ever watch Clarkson's Farm, that show?
C: No, I've never even heard of it.
E: I saw Green Acres, but not Clarkson's Farm.
S: It's a modern Green Acres, but it's real. It's a reality show.
C: A reality show with farmers.
S: Yeah, it's like some rich guy from some British TV show. He's famous in England, apparently. I mean, you're supposed to know who he is, but he has a lot of money. So he decided to make a reality show where he buys a farm, and then he just is being a farmer. But he's going for like the dramatic results. But anyway, in a recent episode that I watched, I think there's two seasons completed. They harvest the barley, and they have the barley in the thing, and there's insects all in the barley, and it just gets ground up with the barley. There's no way you're extracting them from the barley. You know?
J: And you just have to be okay with that.
S: Exactly. Just don't worry about it. There's ground up insects in anything that gets ground up, basically.
E: Well, that's where the expression knowing how the sausage is made, it comes from you don't always want to know.
C: I do not.
E: No, I don't. And this is my fear of working in a restaurant when I was very young. You know, sometimes people's first jobs when they're a teenager, whatever, is in the restaurant. But I was always kind of afraid that I'm going to learn things about the food preparation that's going to really make me upset. So I always rejected those kinds of jobs. I did other things.
C: It always makes me laugh when you're at a restaurant, and you can tell genuinely when the servers like eat the food all the time, and they're like really genuinely into it. And when they're like, oh, I've never eaten that. Like when you're like, should I get this or that? And they're like, I don't know. I've never eaten that. And you're like, wow, you just said that out loud.
E: Well, better be honest than not.
S: Yeah, you're right. You can tell when they're like, they have a preference and they're enthusiastic about it.
C: Yeah, that's always great. You're like, oh, you actually eat the food here? This is a good sign.
S: That's a good sign.
What's the Word? (8:48)
S: All right, Cara, you're going to get us started with the what's the word.
C: I am. I don't know if you guys remember, but last week, the story that I covered was on on whales and this kind of historic beaching actually just mass die off event. And we were talking about the specific whales in the story and how they fed and that they were benthic feeders. And I thought this week, it would be fun to go over the terms benthic and pelagic, because these are words that you hear a lot when referring to organisms living in the sea, or really just sediment or anything having to do with with the sea. But I think we sort of take for granted what they mean. So I wanted to first talk about the difference between the two, the benthic zone or benthic organisms and the pelagic zone or pelagic organisms, and then a little bit about their etymology. So the benthic zone is the layer which is immediately above the sediment of body of water. So it starts at the shoreline and it extends into deep waters, which means that benthic isn't really about depth. It's about being near or on the seafloor. That said, oftentimes when talking about benthic organisms, they have been adapted to things like high pressure, low temperatures, low oxygen levels, things of that nature. They may have different adaptations for producing food or energy because they can't photosynthesize at that level. But some benthic organisms are actually close to the shore and have all of those capabilities. Pelagic organisms are in the "open sea". So these are the higher layers of water, the open sea, the open ocean. The top surface is going to interact directly with the atmosphere. And there's going to be all sorts of variation within the pelagic zone because of course there's different layers, there's deeper layers, there's higher layers in the water column. And you can actually look at a schematic of the oceanic divisions and there's all these subdivisions. So when we look at the benthic ones, there's, oh gosh, there's the hadal, I think, abyssal, I'm probably pronouncing them all wrong, bathyl. When you look at pelagic zones, you've got like epipelagic and mesopelagic and bathypelagic and abyssal pelagic and they just keep going. So let's talk a little bit about where we get these words from. Well, benthos, it comes from the Greek, which means depth, the depths of the sea, so deep. And it was actually coined by, I think Ernst Haeckel. You guys know Heckel? H-A-E-C-K-E-L.
E: That name sounds familiar. H-A-E-C-K-E-L?
E: Oh. No, I don't recognize that.
C: You'll probably recognize his illustrations. He was one of these very, very famous zoologists and naturalists, also a eugenicist. So a lot going on there because he lived from 1834 to 1919. But if you Google his name, you'll probably recognize his natural history illustrations. Many a coffee table book have been made from Ernst Haeckel's illustrations, yeah. So pelagic, though, comes also from originally, I think, from the Greek, which then became the Latin pelagicos to pelagicus, which means oceanic, marine, or pertaining to the open sea. And so that's in opposition to being coastal or deep sea. And so it really, the word itself is one of those classic words. It's exactly what it sounds like. It's exactly the word that it came from. And for a lot of biologists, oceanographers, different individuals who work around water, these are really, really common words. But for people who haven't spent a lot of time in those worlds, I think they're those classic kinds of science words where you'll see them written or you'll hear them, and then you'll be like, I think I know what that means, but I never really dug too deep into it. So yeah, benthic, deep, ocean floor, pelagic, open ocean. Pretty straightforward.
S: Yeah, I like those words.
C: Yeah, they're good.
Age of the Moon (13:09)
S: Guys, I'm going to talk to you about this recent study looking at the age of the moon.
E: Talk to me.
S: Yeah, this is cool. And it's not so much like the result is like that surprising.
E: 6,000 years.
S: But there's a lot that goes into this that I find interesting. So all right, so first of all, the study is based on looking at zircon crystals brought back from the moon during Apollo 17, which was the last mission, the last crewed mission to step foot on the moon. So this reminded me, you guys remember we were talking about NASA bringing back samples from Comet Bennu?
E: Oh, yes.
S: And one of the scientists said that these samples will be studied in 50 years using technology we don't have to answer questions we haven't asked yet. And so this is what we're doing now, right? We're doing the same thing with samples from Apollo 17 from 50 plus years ago, 51 years ago. So it's like exactly the same thing that they were talking about. OK, so zircon. Zircon is a type of mineral. It's a crystal, and it's a silicate. And it often contains a little bit of uranium in the mineral. They have zircon crystals from the moon. And what they did to age them was they first they have to sharpen one edge of the crystal into a fine point, the finest point that they can. So they use that with ion beam microscope to carve the tip right into a sharp point. Then they do what the technique called atom probe tomography, which I haven't heard of before. They use UV lasers, ultraviolet lasers, to evaporate atoms off of the tip that they just carved, that little point. And then they pass the atoms through a mass spectrometer, and the time of flight basically tells you what the mass of the atoms are. So as the atoms evaporate off, they could say that was silicon, that was uranium, that was lead, right? And they count how much, basically they're looking for the ratio of uranium to lead.
E: That reveals the date?
S: Yes, because the zircon incorporates uranium into its crystal structure, and uranium has a half-life. It decays into lead. And as you know, this radioactive decay is extremely predictable over long periods of time. So the lead to uranium ratio tells you exactly how old it is.
J: Oh, that's really cool.
S: So this is uranium-lead radioactive decay dating is not new, but using this method in zircon is the first time I've heard of it. I know it's not new itself, but this is just one method that we have. So during so yielded an age of 4.46 billion years old. That's now the new minimum age of the moon. The moon can't be older, but it can't be any younger than that.
C: What did we used to think it was?
S: 4.42 billion years old.
S: So that's why, yeah, it's not a huge change from 4.42 to 4.46. And usually, with more precision, more evidence, more techniques, whatever, usually we do push back the date of the first or the oldest or whatever, because it's only as good as the data that we have.
E: Now, does this impact what we think the date of the Earth?
E: How old the Earth is?
S: Well, because remember, there was the proto-Earth, which then at some point had a collision with a Mars-sized planet, and then those two planets formed the new Earth, the Earth that we know and love, and also threw up material that became the moon. Eventually became the moon. It coalesced. There might have been two moons for a time, there's all kinds of interesting analyses that they do. But essentially, the biggest chunk of stuff that got thrown up, which is partly proto-Earth and partly whatever the Mars-sized planet that hit the Earth was. So the Earth and the moon basically formed at the same time after that collision. Now the surface of the moon would have been molten after the collision and then would have cooled, right? So this is basically telling us when that magma cooled, because that's when the zircon crystals would have formed. Does that make sense? So that crystal formed 4.46 billion years ago, so that's when the surface of the moon solidified after it was created from the collision of the proto-Earth and the Mars-sized planet. So pretty cool.
E: Yeah, very good.
S: But when I was writing about this, I wanted to take the opportunity to review the fact that we've been talking a lot about dating methods recently. We had two recent news lines where we were talking about dating. One was the evidence of ancient solar flares, which were discovered in the dating of tree rings, dendrochronology. And what's really cool about that is we have essentially a continuous dendrochronology that is synchronized to the calendar. We have calendar years going back about 15,000 years.
C: That's crazy how old some trees are.
S: Which think about squaring that with young Earth creationists claim that the Earth is 10,000 years old, when we have literal calendar year evidence going back 15,000 years. But in addition, so we can use carbon-14 dating to date the tree rings that we independently date with the dendrochronology, right, because we can line up the tree rings going all the way back. So that confirms the accuracy of carbon-14 dating. With carbon-14 dating, you're looking at the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12, because carbon-14 gets created by cosmic rays, and then it decays into carbon-12. And so if you know the starting ratio in the atmosphere, you can calculate the age based upon the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12. But the dendrochronology, because it's an independent dating method, allows us to calibrate carbon-14 dating. So we could say, oh, look at this. In 373 BCE, this was the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in the atmosphere. So now we could use that to calibrate all other carbon-14 dating around that time, right? So it actually solidifies the use of that dating. They also used the luminescence dating, right, where now they're not even using radioactive decay, they're using trapped electrons that they release. And the ratio of trapped electrons tells them how old, like the last time that crystal was exposed to light, which is totally cool.
C: Yeah, that was in the quartz, right?
S: Yeah, optically stimulated luminescence of quartz, yeah. Remember, that's what dated the footprints to 21,000 to 23,000 years ago.
C: We did two stories on that. I talked about something a few, like a month before that, where they used that dating. It's really interesting. But yeah, it was the first time I'd ever even read about it.
S: Yeah. There are multiple independent dating methods, we have dendrochronology, we have radioactive decay, carbon-14, and this luminescence dating, that are all telling a consistent story about the age of the earth, the age of the moon, the age of human evolution, et cetera. And these things are all lining up, right? We have a very great consilience of these multiple independent lines of evidence. The other one that we don't talk a lot about, but another independent dating method, is ice cores, because ice also has calendar year lines, because you have winter snowfall and summer melt, and that gives you a line, right, in the ice core. You can count back the years by looking at the lines in the ice. When you get too deep, basically the compression of the ice blurs and obscures, and it erases those lines. So it only goes back so far. I couldn't find, I looked, and maybe somebody could send me a link for this, I looked at it, what's the oldest, how far back in the past can we go with the lines, the year lines in ice cores? And I couldn't find the answer to that. But what I did find is that we do have a continuous ice core record going back 800,000 years. That's pretty gnarly, too. And another thing that ice cores have is if there was a volcanic eruption one year, there's a layer of volcanic ash in the ice, and it's pretty undeniable. And you could see it all over the world sometimes, or in different parts of the world, and volcanic ash could be dated with radioactive dating. That also might have some uranium in there, and you could date that, too. And so we could say, oh, look at that volcano, it erupted 450,000 years ago, and there it is in the ice. We could date it, and there's a layer, and it's in other ice cores as well. There's also ice cores that have trapped bubbles of atmosphere. That's how we could tell what the atmosphere was like at a certain time, which also can calibrate carbon-14 dating.
E: Unlocking the secrets of nature is so amazing.
S: It is. Well, I found this news item interesting because of the whole story of using these different methods to date stuff and how good it's gotten, these independent lines of evidence. So I did want to find out, I mean, it's so good, how could the younger creationists deny this evidence? Not that I doubted for a microsecond that they would doubt it, but I'm like, I wonder what kind of mental gymnastics they go through in order to deny this pretty rock-solid dating evidence that we have. So for the ice evidence, one of the things they say is that there are World War II planes that we have dug up out of Greenland ice, and it was like 50 feet down. Then they do a calculation. Well, that was 50 feet in the last whatever 60 years. And this ice is only a thousand years old, it's a young earth creation. But of course they're being pseudoscientists because those planes were not buried by annual snowfall. They were buried by glacial flow, which doesn't follow the same strata, right? You know what I mean? If you have a mixing of layers of glaciers flowing and burying stuff, you can't use the same method for dating, you know what I mean? So it just was completely irrelevant. And they frequently will do that, they'll say, because the same thing happens with geology, there's sometimes one strata mixes into deeper levels because you could tell, you could see it happening, there's an earthquake or something happens where there's mixing of layers, you know? And that's why we do the stratification in locations where there's preservation of the original relationship between the different layers. But you can always find anomalies, right? And say, look, it doesn't work, or look, this is an old thing, an allegedly old thing, or young thing in older layers or whatever. That's what they're doing there, just with ice. So they also say, and they do this for a lot of things, they say, well, maybe the rates of precipitation were not the same in the past, right? Because they say that, well, maybe light traveled a different speed in the past, maybe radioactive decay happened at different rates in the past. This is all special pleading, right? These are just hand waving things they're just throwing out there. It's not a serious scientific argument. There's no reason to think this.
E: Are there arguments for those? There are no arguments for those.
E: It's like light traveled at a different speed.
S: They just say, how do we know that that's not the case? That's why, because they say, well, how could light from a galaxy a million light years away have reached us in 10,000 years? They go, well, maybe light traveled faster in the past. It's just ridiculous. But the thing is, precipitation rates wouldn't affect the layering unless they think that we had 20 seasons a year or something, you know what I mean? Like 20 melts a year for precipitation. It doesn't make any sense, you know what I mean? There's still an annual seasonal pattern that we're seeing. That's like with dendrochronology, where you guys think trees grew different rates in the past. It doesn't make any sense. It's still there's an annual pattern, you know? But it's just they're just throwing out plausible deniability for people who are scientifically illiterate. So they could say, oh, yeah, I could ignore all the scientific evidence because of whatever. But meanwhile, in the real world, yeah, we've had a sort of string of news items dealing with these various dating methods recently.
E: And like you said, 50 years from now, there will come more, more new, better.
S: Yeah, as I said, in 50 years, we'll be using some new technology to evaluate samples from the moon, samples from Bennu, and maybe samples from Mars.
E: I wonder what that will be.
S: Yeah, that's why it's good to preserve stuff that's pristine. And I know that like 50, 60 years ago, scientists generally didn't do that they would collect things so that they were optimal for our existing methods of investigation. They didn't really preserve it for the future.
C: Sometimes they did in medicine, which was smart. It's like, I'm going to take this blood sample and I'm going to deep freeze it. Maybe we can do something with it later.
S: Yeah, that's true. That's true. But it's become way more standard to just say, you know what, we're not going to dig this all the way out of the ground, we're going to leave half of it there because who knows what they're going to do in the future to analyze this that we can't even imagine today, or we're going to take some of these samples and just cold store them and let future scientists have have access to them because they'll have techniques that we don't have today.
E: Yeah, like archaeology has LIDAR technology now. You didn't have that 30, 40 years ago for discoveries. That is so cool.
CVS and Homeopathy (27:38)
S: All right, Jay, tell us about CVS and homeopathy. This is not going to be a happy story.
E: Oh, here we go.
J: Well, yeah, this is a good news, bad news situation. So CVS, for some reason, has remarkably taken the initiative to remove specific over-the-counter cold and flu medications from their shelves because there is a growing body of research that proves that certain drugs used don't actually work like a decongestant and things like that. The big offender is a pretty ubiquitous decongestant called phenylephrine. Other similar products are gone, too, but that phenylephrine is the big one. CVS's decision is due to a unanimous vote by the FDA's advisory panel, who essentially determined that phenylephrine is incapable of effectively treating nasal congestion. And as of today, the FDA hasn't formally revoked its approval of phenylephrine. It's likely it's going to happen soon, though. So phenylephrine's efficacy has been scrutinized all the way back since 2007, where there was multiple clinical trials confirming that it simply just has a lack of effectiveness. And despite this, though consumers continue to spend a ton of money, guys, close to two billion. You know, that's U.S. money in 2022. Two billion dollars on decongestants, and they don't work. So CVS removing these medications is significant, but there's still some serious issues with CVS's available products, and this is where things go off the rails. So CVS is still selling. What do you think, guys?
J: Exactly. Boy, I'm with smart people. Two doctors and a very smart accountant. They're still selling homeopathic products.
C: I see them all the time on their shelves. It's so infuriating.
J: Oh, my God. It's so pathetic.
E: And by the way, it's not just CVS.
J: Yeah, of course.
E: Other chains are accountable for this as well.
J: But they're placing it next to conventional medications, and the nice way to put it is that homeopathy is based on outdated and scientifically unsupported principles. But it's you know. But listen, that's a nice way to say it. It's based on frickin magic.
S: Yeah, I wouldn't say outdated. That kind of makes it seem like it was legitimate at some point. It was never legitimate. It was always mocked.
J: Yes. You're right, Steve. You're absolutely right. Now, homeopathy, if you don't know about it real quick, it supports a couple of baseless ideas that like cures like and there's also something called the law of infinitesimals. So let me give you a basic understanding here. Homeopathic potions, as we like to call them here, because it's basically witchcraft. They typically start with a bizarre or even toxic substance. And then they dilute the substance to a point where none of the original substance is in the bottle. All the molecules of whatever that toxic substance was or whatever it was, there's they keep diluting it, diluting it, diluting it until there's no more original substance there. It's like pouring a bottle of caffeine in the ocean in Europe and then going to Australia and testing the water there for caffeine. But it's even worse than that, Cara. I know that's funny, but Steve and I have said this many times that they make things that are so dilute that it would be like if our solar system was a body of water, there'd be one molecule of the thing in a body of water that big.
E: It defies all probability, all probability that any molecule would remain.
C: So it's just water. But it's because they think it has a memory, right?
J: Yeah. So they think that the water then has a memory of substances that used to be in it. And then the more scarce that substance is, the stronger the effect. Everything about this is 100% wrong based on zero science. You can't prove it in any way, shape or form. It's magic. So scientifically homeopathic products, they're essentially placebos, and their efficacy is exactly the same as plain water. Drink a glass of water instead, right, it'll do you more good than taking a few drops of a homeopathic remedy.
E: Save you much more money, that's for sure.
C: So that's the rule of infinitesimals. But what about the whole like makes like or whatever? Aren't you trying to cure a snake bite with snake venom? Don't they do weird stuff like that?
J: Yeah, but they'll take the snake venom and then they'll dilute it out of existence because the water has to have this memory type of thing.
C: But even if they didn't do that, the principle behind it doesn't make any sense. They're like treat the like treat botulism with more botulism. Like it doesn't make any sense.
S: It's sympathetic magic. And it gets really ridiculous because they there's they actually made a homeopathic preparation of the Berlin Wall in order to treat ennui, right? Because the Berlin Wall is sad.
J: My God.
S: That's what we're talking about. It's like I said, they take fairy dust and dilute it out of existence. That's basically what homeopathic potions are. It is pure, pure pseudoscience. It is witchcraft.
J: So what what's happening here, right? Why is why are we still letting this exist? And here is the strange situation that follows homeopathy is not approved by the FDA as a drug. But there is a designation for homeopathy that allows it to exist and to be sold. Essentially what happened was Congress carved out a special exception for homeopathy because there was one senator that pushed incredibly hard. He's a true believer and he pushed for it and he was able to-
S: He was a homeopath.
J: He's a homeopath and he got Congress to make a special exception for homeopathy. Now the FDA chooses to not make a move on homeopathy because they essentially they just have limited resources. The FDA is underfunded, it's understaffed and just doesn't have the ability to take on homeopathy because it's a it's a giant now. It's a huge industry.
E: And I guess and I suppose they look at it like, well, people aren't getting anything out of it anyways. So therefore we don't have to deal with it as severely as people who are trying to peddle things that do have real things in them that do harm people. Perhaps that's their rationalization for as to why they don't go after it as hard.
S: I mean, initially it was simply because it was so rare. There were so few people actually prescribing it that it wasn't worth their limited resources. They had to then reconsider their stance towards it when it became a multibillion dollar industry. And we talked about this a few years ago where they had sort of their review. What should we do about homeopathy? But nothing really ever came of it. And they still just don't have the resources. They certainly don't have the resources to review every individual homeopathic product. I think they should just what they could do is say you have to provide evidence of safety and efficacy in order to get approval and the companies won't be able to do it. You know what I mean? They would basically overnight they could kill the homeopathic remedy industry. They don't have the balls to do that. And it's not just that. They probably make the correct calculation that if they try to do that, Congress would tell them they can't. You know what I mean? They don't have the political power to do it.
E: Oh gosh. Come down to lawfare at that point basically.
S: Yeah. So we have to change the hearts and minds of the public at this point in time in order to really do anything about it. Now regarding CVS, the argument put forward by them and by defenders is that, well, they're allowed to sell it by the FDA and the FTC. And so if they don't do it, their competitors are going to do it. Fine. I don't agree with that. I would like for CVS to say, well, this is not real medicine. I don't care if the FDA, it doesn't have the resources to properly vet it. We're not going to sell it. But if they do sell it, at least put it in its own special case somewhere else where it's not next to legitimate medicines, where it's clearly labeled, where there's no deception involved, where people don't think it's just another brand of actual medicine they should strip the, they should have full transparency and strip any deception out of the way they're selling those products.
C: Where do you think it should go? Like if they did that, do you think it should go with the vitamins?
S: No, I think it should go in its own special case, surrounded with stars and moons.
C: Like a dream catcher on it.
S: With a little witch's hat on top of it, I don't know. Next to a cauldron.
E: A cauldron. Yeah.
J: Remember Jurassic Park the guy, when they try to go into his computer and he goes, uh, uh, uh, I want that video to play when people go near those shelves.
E: When they approach it. Yeah, it comes up. Don't do it.
Paranormal Investigators and Police (36:35)
S: All right, Evan, tell us about Paranormal Investigators and the police.
E: Yeah, and the police. All right. Well, it's that time of year, right? Halloween, paranormal, October 31st approaching fast. We're definitely bombarded right now with sights and sounds and sugar that inevitably overtakes our culture this time of year. I wish Bob were here to kind of back me up on some of these things I'm talking about. And you know, news being the consumable that it is, it's a wash with all things related to ghosts and hauntings and spirits and all the related paranormal trappings right now. Halloween is good for business right now. And by the way, next Sunday, not this Sunday, next Sunday, don't forget to set your clocks back.
C: Oh, man. Oh, wait. No, that's good. Right?
E: Yeah. Yeah.
C: More sleep but darker.
E: You get the extra hour.
E: That's right. But only after Halloween. So, and as I get into this news item, which is going to take place in Texas, I read another article today about the reporting on the most haunted state in America. They actually figured it out. And guess which state came up number one?
E: Nope. Connecticut was 40th, Steve, on that list, 40th. Texas was number one.
C: Yeehaw. I'm there right now.
E: Now, but, but I mean, here's what they used to analyze that. Number of cemeteries, number of reported ghost sightings and number of what they classify as paranormal activities.
S: So wait, number or number like per population?
E: So here it is. In other words, Texas has, they counted over 13,700 cemeteries. Ghost sightings reported 7,500. Reported haunted locations, 925. And they also figured in how many paranormal investigators, I guess, per the population, 158 is what they came up with. I don't know how many per million or something like that. I don't know exactly how they came up with that. But they threw all these crazy statistics together and did it for each state. And this is how they came up with Texas as being-
S: Sounds like they're just measuring population and size. That's why Connecticut's 40th.
E: Yeah, it does.
C: Texas is big.
E: Maine was second.
S: That's because of all the lighthouses.
E: Low population. But here, before I tell you the news, let me put a few other things. This is all for background. But so you'll understand better when, when, when I wrap up this news item. So who did this poll? This was Ipsos, I P S O S and Ipsos poll recently, 46% of people surveyed believe ghost are real. 70% some interaction is possible between the living and the dead. This is United States, by the way, 44% have felt the presence of a deceased person, 20% have reported getting help, whatever that means, from the dead 14% have communicated with the dead. So, I mean you got a slice of America here. It's pretty into this, or at least have at least some level believe I think that 46% say they believe ghosts are real. That's nearly half. So this news item goes back to March 9, 2021, a man by the name of Jacob Dubois was reported as a missing person in the town of Schertz, Texas, S C H E R T Z, Texas, San Antonio region. I didn't look it up to see how close but effectively San and this was a San Antonio news story. His remains were found on September 10th, 2022. So I was about 18 months later in a wooded area about one mile away from where detectives had originally searched when they were retracing Jacob steps from the night he went missing. Authorities shortly after September 10th of 2022 arrested Jacob's friend. His name was Ethan Beckman and charged him with murder. Okay. That's the backstory. October 25, 2023. This news item just came out today, a website called my San Antonio or mySA they ran a story by their lifestyle reporter. Her name is Katherine Wilson. That's not to be mistaken with longtime SGU listener Katherine Wilson whom we've known for a long time. This lifestyle reporter published an article about how a Texas paranormal investigator helped investigate this murder case. Yeah. So the paranormal investigator, her name is Candace Hickox. She pursued her ghost hunting hobby for the prior 20 years, kind of grew up doing it. According to the article, she started out with the typical tools of the trade such as dowsing rods, Polaroid cameras and voice recorders before taking a more scientific approach in which she started to use air pressure gauges, electricity gauges, a thermal camera and an SLS camera. Here's a quote from her. She says, "I really started paying attention to the scientific aspect of it. I already had proof that the paranormal was there. Now my goal is trying to figure out how to communicate with it better." According to this article, the detectives reached out to her. What happened was they worked with her, brought her to the place is basically when they were retracing the steps of the of the victim who wound up going missing. And at one of the spots, she set up a thermal imaging system where the victim's car was kept and she captured something where it was kind of suspicious. She said, I noticed something in the passenger seat of his car. They found his car, walked up and it just kind of then faded away. I show the other car, which is a car next to it, showing no other heat signatures in it. And I couldn't explain that. Basically, the victim's car had this heat signature in it, whereas another car did not. OK, fine. She also used a spirit box, which is something we've talked about recently[link needed], I think earlier this year on the show as well. A radio basically that jump scans, it scans through radio frequencies and it does it for a couple seconds at a time. And whatever you hear, you hear as it jumps around every few seconds. Well, she was monitoring it, no response, no response. But then all of a sudden she heard a man's voice cut through the static. The voice, here's how the article reads. "The voice struck her straight to the core and baffled police at the same time. It was the only voice that they heard that night using the spirit box." And she believes that in that moment, I think the young man knew what we were doing and wanted to be found as much as the detectives wanted to find him. This is all confirmed, by the way, by the police department. Sure, it's the police department confirmed that that Hickox did work with them on this case. Now, his remains, the body remains were found in a wooded area less than a mile away from where Hickox received the man's message using the spirit box. And therefore they were attributing this as a success to the paranormal investigator for having picked up on her radio a voice for a few seconds because it happened about a mile away from where the remains were ultimately found. All right, that's the story. Here's my take. It's unsurprising, this whole story, but it's infuriating at the same time. Organizations of authority, police departments, sheriffs, law enforcement, I mean, what are they doing here? They're totally lending their legitimacy to the world of the paranormal. There is zero scientific evidence for anything paranormal ever, zero, none. You can have all the personal belief you want in this kind of nonsense, but I think you draw a different line when your governments, your public departments, they're using your taxpayer dollars for this. They have a responsibility to use these resources and their law powers responsibly. This is not it. Chasing unicorns, ghosts, Bigfoot, leprechaun. What is this? This is a violation of that responsibility and trust, and perhaps worst of all is their lending of the credibility to these communities of delusional and reality detached peoples such as ghost hunters. Shame on them every time this happens. This is not a one-off thing either. There's a lot of news items about police reportedly using dowsers and ghost hunters and other crazy, crazy people out there doing these things. They are contributing to what I call the credulization of society. Yeah, I made up that word, but who cares?
S: That's a perfectly cromulent word.
E: I think so. I mean, they're allowed to make up a bunch of crap that has contributed zero to the advancement of humanity and our understanding of the universe, so I can come up with a word called credulization. And there you have it. That's my take. Happy Halloween.
S: So we've talked about this. We've investigated this previously, and Joe Nickell has also done a lot of work on this as well. We've spoken to him about it, about the use of paranormal investigators or psychics by police departments. It's actually not that common, and most of the time the psychics or whoever are just trying to impose themselves on the situation so they could use it for marketing, essentially for self-promotion. And when you actually talk to the police officers involved, they're like, we did good old-fashioned police work. That's how this case was solved. And the information that was given to us was vague, unhelpful, really nonspecific, or very, very common or likely. Like, are you going to find him in a shallow grave? No kidding. Really? Wow. That's really insightful. And of course, then they try to retrofit whatever happens. And they'll say things like, there was water nearby, there's always water nearby, or there was a red door, or whatever. We heard this blip a mile from where the body was found. So that's a mile radius. That's a pretty big area. And of course, we don't know how much they had narrowed it down prior to then. But when there is more active collaboration, it's usually because there's one true believer on the police force, right? There's like one person who's really driving it. And I don't know if that's what's happening here or not.
E: No, no, I don't have that level of detail. But all they did was they confirmed that they did, that they called her in for help. So somebody from that police department.
S: Who said that they confirmed it, though?
E: The reporter for mySA reached out to the Shirts Police Department, receiving confirmation that...
S: I don't biy it. I wouldn't trust that reporting.
E: Okay, that's how it's being reported.
S: Yeah, I hear you. I'm just saying, unless somebody more credible followed up and...
E: Right, like the police chief or something.
S: I've dealt with these local ass reporters all the time. If they have a story and they're just looking to backfill details into that story, they're not doing real investigation or trying to find out what's actually going on. I don't know that's what's happening here, but I'm not confident that it isn't going on unless there's some independent verification. When you get a real skeptical investigator in there, they often find a very different story than what gets reported in the news. So I wouldn't trust any of that. Again, it all is just about clicks and eyes and selling a narrative. Mainstream media treats this as fluff, which means they don't...
E: This is the lifestyle reporter for this news group, right?
S: It's a lifestyle reporter, so it's worthless. It's worthless. If you're sending the lifestyle reporter out there, it's a fluff piece. They don't think they have to do actual journalism. It's just tell a Halloween story about this. That's it.
E: It's a Halloween story is what it boils down to. At the same time, there have been other news items like this, other reports in which there have been law enforcement agencies that apparently have either entertained rights. To what level? You're right, Steve. We don't know. The slightest communication gives them all the legitimacy that they need. Now this person, this Hickox person, is now tagging this on her resume going forward, and she's going to sell her services to people saying, I worked with the police. I worked with detectives. I helped solve a murder case.
S: Yeah, I think it's exaggerated over time.
E: Sure, right. Yeah, it'll be embellished beyond belief in order for their pursuit. So it's bad. They should have a zero tolerance policy for any of that stuff, and always turn those requests or whatever they are away at the door.
S: What I've seen happen previously, like in previous cases that we looked into, is that the police department, they're neither credulous nor skeptical. You know what I mean? They didn't necessarily seek it out or believe it, but they don't have the pre-existing knowledge to know how to defend themselves against being exploited for self-promotion by a psychic or a paranormal investigator or whatever. So they inadvertently lend credence to it or don't know how to deal with it when they get taken advantage of.
E: And that's also why I wanted to put those poll numbers at the header of this thing, because, hey, 46% of people, if this is even close to true, let's say it's half of it, 23%. I mean police officers are people, too. So that means you've got people, by statistically, in almost every department, you're going to have somebody who's going to believe in this stuff. And if they have the power to make a decision and to go forward on something like this, it may happen.
S: I'm sure. All right, thanks, Evan.
Human Epoch (50:50)
S: Well, it turns out Bob was able to join us. So thanks for joining us, Bob.
E: Hey, Bob.
S: But Cara, you're going to continue with a report about the human epoch. Are we in the human epoch?
C: Yeah, so I think there's been a lot of talk about the Anthropocene and this idea that we are in this epoch of human activity. And maybe it's a good idea to just define, like, what an epoch is. It's a period of time that's basically longer than an age, but shorter than a period, if that makes sense. That you can look up those huge geologic time scale maps that show eons and eras and periods and epochs and ages. And the most recent epoch, or the one that arguably we're still in right now is the Holocene. Prior to that was the Pleistocene. So the Holocene started about, like, just under 12,000 years ago. Pleistocene about two and a half million years ago. And there's been a lot of kind of argument within scientific communities about whether or not there's enough evidence to support a demarcation to say that we are in now a new epoch called the Anthropocene. And so there's a new study that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.
C: Thank you. And it was published by two researchers, one from Stanford, one from the University of Toledo, actually two women researchers, which you love to see it, called North American Pollen Records Provide Evidence for Macroscale Ecological Changes in the Anthropocene. So basically they argue that paleoecological records show enough evidence to support a new demarcation to say, yes, we are now living in a new epoch called the Anthropocene. And the way that they support that argument is based on...
B: Technofossils? The fossils that... What do they call the fossils that we are leaving all over the place? Technosignatures? Technofossils or something?
C: Yeah, I know what you're referring to, because we've talked about this before on the show, like plasti conglomerate rocks and like all these different things, but they actually are looking at sediment cores.
B: Oh, OK.
C: They took, yeah, sediment cores from lakes across North America, and they compared from this giant database, they compared 386 different sediment cores, and they looked back. It's from the Neotoma Paleoecology Database, if you're interested in looking yourself at this repository. And they looked back basically at fossil pollen that's found in sediment cores, and these were taken from the beds of lakes, the deposits there. They went as far back as the late Pleistocene, so about 14,000 years ago, they started looking, and then they analyzed the data. They looked at a bunch of different things. How rich was it in different taxa? How diverse were the species of pollen that they found? When did things first appear and last appear? When were things lost? How abrupt were these types of changes? And they kind of demarcated in these like 250-year time period chunks. They looked both locally, regionally, where there was actually quite a lot of variability, and continentally, and they did a bunch of modeling to try and generate as conservative of estimates as possible. And they found that the changes in the pollen, specifically within the last few hundred years, are comparable to those that accompany the last transition of epochs. So the change over from the Pleistocene to the Holocene, the evidence that was available to geologists to say, this is now a new epoch, enough had changed in basically the 30,000 view of the, it's like we're talking like the forest, not the trees, and enough had changed between just two, three hundred years ago and now that it's similar to the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. And so they argue that because of those changes that were pretty abrupt, and they found changes across the board, like short-term taxonomic loss, abrupt changes, it's only 200 years ago, they found massive changes in the vegetation, specifically the pollen was the marker that they were using during the transition. And yeah, they think that anthropogenic impacts are comparable to the same kinds of changes to the landscape that were seen as we move from a glacial to an interglacial world. So with that large of an ecological transition, human behavior is doing something comparable to the earth right now. And they argue that that should be enough for us to say, yes, we are in the Anthropocene.
S: Yeah, I mean, it doesn't seem like a stretch, you know?
C: No, not at all.
S: We've changed the earth so much in so many ways. I mean, if you think about like a million years from now, a theoretical paleontologist, they would be able to tell, right?
C: Yeah, oh, totally. There'll be a layer in the soil that will be chemically wildly different. The microfossils will be wildly different. The rock will be wildly different. But it is interesting that using a classical test pattern, sediment cores at the bottom of lakes, and looking at the changes to the diversity of pollen species, that we're seeing that that type of a change, that marker is similar to what we saw during the last, epochal, is that a word?
S: Epoch, just epoch.
C: Oh, I was trying to say the last transition, so the last epochal change. But yeah, I don't know if that's a word.
S: All right, thanks, Cara.
Black Holes Do Spin (56:54)
- Scientists just proved that 'monster' black hole M87 is spinning — confirming Einstein’s relativity yet again
S: Bob, let me ask you a question. Do black holes spin, and why do I care?
B: Yeah, so pay attention, and you'll be more informed on that topic. So we have now the first direct evidence of spinning black holes, which is really cool. If you follow black holes, you'll be like, oh, wow, okay, finally. It seemed kind of obvious. But it, of course, puts another feather in Einstein's cap, a cap that is now so festooned with feathers that you could just basically fly to the moon with them. So yeah, he deserves it. You know, he predicted it. His general relativity calculations kind of said, yeah, they're spinning. They're probably spinning. So this is published in the journal Nature. Now, this spinning of black holes has been it's been long predicted. They've thought that, yeah, they probably are spinning. And it makes sense, right? The precursor stars are spinning. And then as they kind of implode, you just spin faster and faster, like the canonical ice skater bringing in her arms and spinning faster and faster, or his arms. Yeah. And then, of course, that black hole will, as it accretes matter from like ripping apart stars and taking gas and sucking it in, whatever, that's going to spin even faster. So yeah, it makes sense that a black hole is spinning. But you never know. And it's good to know for sure that, yeah, at least this one black hole is absolutely spinning. And it's just so difficult to image these, to image at the level of detail you need to determine that it actually is doing something like spinning. That's why it's taken so long. So they studied Messier 87, which is a galaxy that's called simply M87. It's not very close. It's 16 megaparsecs away. So not very close. But in our relatively, in our relative local universe, as they say, it is a fascinating galaxy. It's several trillion stars, making it one of the biggest in this area of the universe. It's really a fascinating galaxy just as a galaxy. Steve, you'll probably appreciate this. The Milky Way has 150 or 200 globular clusters, right? Those little groupings of a million or so stars that kind of buzz in and out around are like, I guess, closer to the center of our galaxy. Messier 87 has not 150 or 200. It's got 15,000 globular clusters, which seems such a gargantuan number to be compared because we have such a paltry number of them. But it also has a central, an active central black hole, the supermassive black hole of M87. It's got billions of solar masses. I've seen different numbers from 2 billion to 6 billion. Usually there's not that much of a divergence in estimates, but I think it's, I think my source for 6 billion was better. So yeah, it's got billions of solar masses. It is the best studied black hole. And if you're really on top of your game, you will remember that this was one of the, this was the first ever directly imaged black hole back in, I think, 2019. So yeah, famous black hole, very, very well known. Now, this black hole, like many black holes, have accretion disks, which we've talked about on the show many, many times. Accretion disks are basically, it's basically all of the gas and debris and everything that the black hole is kind of sucking in. It's going down the drain, right? It's swirling down the drain. And as it gets closer to the black hole, it gets hotter. Friction makes it immensely hot. X-rays are released, super intense. That's probably the best way, one of the best ways to detect an active galaxy is just to find those damn X-rays. So that accretion disk sometimes produces jets. It's such a complex interaction between all this matter that these jets can sometimes just come flying out of the accretion disk area near the black hole. And these jets themselves are very fascinating. Sometimes these jets can move at 99.9% the speed of light. Amazing. Why? I mean, how is it flinging matter that fast? We're not sure. But general relativity, I believe, predicts, and it seems pretty likely, that the gargantuan magnetic fields is what's doing that. That seems like, if you're going to put a bet on that, bet on the magnetic fields always. So using a global network of radio telescopes for the past, I don't know, 22 years, they've been looking at it. They found that these jets go back and forth in 11-year cycles. They described them as metronomes. Back and forth in 11-year cycles. So the black hole is obviously wobbling or precessing. And that is a huge indicator that, yes, this is actually spinning. Because what else precesses? A spinning top will precess. So if you spin a top, the axis of rotation is not going to stay in one orientation for long. It's going to start, that axis is going to start pointing to different areas. And that's what precession is. The Earth itself precesses. Right now, if you extend our axis of rotation from the Earth, it goes where? In our hemisphere and the Northern Hemisphere, it points closely to Polaris, or the North Star. But long after we're dead, that axis is going to point somewhere else. It's no longer going to be pointing to the North Star. It's going to be pointing to something that future cultures will probably call the North Star. But it's not going to be Polaris. So using this method, they've determined now that these jets, these double jets that they found, they do precess, they go back and forth. The black hole is indeed spinning. And sure, probably all of them are spinning. But this is pretty damn good evidence that this one is spinning and probably all of them are. So what can this help with? Well, first off, it's good to know that Einstein's theory was yet again correct on this bit of information. This could help with many different things. It could give clues to quantum gravity. It could give clues to just quantum mechanics in general. It could also help elucidate and facilitate the discovery of photon spheres. So photon spheres are hypothesized. It's essentially an orbit around a black hole where the gravity is so strong that photons are actually in tight orbits around and around the black hole. Now remember, this black hole, M87, is as big as a solar system. It's gargantuan. So it actually takes quite a while for these photons to do these orbits. But these orbits are fairly stable over periods of time. And of course, some of them can escape. They hypothesize by stealing rotational energy from the black hole. That's how we hope to maybe one day see them. And these photon spheres, look that up. They are fascinating. They believe that there's nested photon spheres going way back in time that could potentially really help us determine what is going on inside a black hole, help elucidate black holes. And just in general, I mean, there's so mysterious and so many things we don't know. We believe physics breaks down inside the event horizon. This could help us learn more about black holes, quantum gravity, and all sorts of other stuff. And it could potentially help us finally detect photon spheres. And that would be pretty awesome, too. Thank you.
S: All right. You convinced me. I care.
Who's That Noisy? (1:04:34)
S: All right, Jay. It's Who's That Noisy Time.
J: All right, guys. Last week, I played this noisy.
[Background scratching/swishing, foreground beeps and boops]
S: It's weird.
J: That's a weird one. Definitely not typical.
S: I'm trying to break it down. There's definitely like an inspirational sound there. And then it might be like it's like you're sucking in air and then you're squeezing air through some kind of liquid, would be my guess, something like that.
J: I had a listener named DT write in and say "The noise is underwater recording a breathing through a scuba regulator." Quite a few people did guess something to do with scuba. That's not correct. But I definitely understand what the thought is because we hear things that might sound like bubbles or something, air being released. Another listener wrote in named Jim Kelly. And Jim said, "Hi Jay. My guess for this week's Who's That Noisy is that it's a pinball machine making the noise it makes when you hit the ball into one of those bonus thingies that take some time to get ready to spit the ball back out." That is also not correct. But I mean, I totally could see that being a pinball machine noise. It does has a highly digital sound to it. Another listener named Keely Hill writes in, "Hi Jay. To me, it sounds like a coin sorter, something pouring in coins and the device making a different tone for each denomination." That was a really, really cool guess. And I could totally see what you mean. I mean, I could kind of I can audibly visualize that. Is that the right way to put that? How would you say that, Steve? You could audibly imagine it. I can audibly imagine it. That's it. Not correct, but a cool guess. Danilo Escobar writes in, "My six-year-old Kai thinks it's a steam-powered computer because it sounds old. And he also says, my boys love the phrase, right now, right now." We've loved that for how many years, Steve? 30 years at this point, right? All right, but let me get to it. So we have a winner for last week named Brad J. And the listener wrote in and said, "I think this week's noisy is a person blowing into several different length tubes mounted on a wheel so that the wheel turns, the different tubes make the different pitches creating what sounds to me like a teleporter sound." So Brad, you guessed correctly. So imagine a whole series of different sized pan flutes, which is basically just one tube, that are connected to each other on a wheel. And when you spin the wheel, the tops of the pan flutes are basically the surface that are spinning. And then the person playing it has an air tube that they're breathing into. So they're blowing air into a tube and they're holding it over the open mouth of each one of those tubes as they pass by. On the spin of the wheel. Can you visualize that?
J: And so the wheel is spinning, the person is blowing air through the tube, and the pan flute tubes come and go very quickly. So it's hitting a bunch of them in a series. So now listen again. [plays Noisy] So as that wheel spins it's basically blowing air into all of the different ones as they pass by. So very cool. And it has such a deep digital sound to it for some reason. Very odd that something so unbelievably analog would sound so digital. So that was a great one. I really liked that one. Thanks for sending that in, Zach. I really appreciate it.
New Noisy (1:08:02)
J: I have a new noisy for you guys this week. This one was sent in by a listener named Kevin, and Kevin is in Moscow.
Another odd one. I love it, though. Very cool. So if you think you know what this week's Who's That Noisy is, or you heard something cool, you can always email me at WTN@theskepticsguide.org.
J: Steve, when people hear this.
S: They'll have one week before NOTACON. Still time to buy tickets.
J: You'll have a scant. It's not too late. If you're hearing this, like say on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, it's not too late if you still want to go. I mean, it would be pretty hard to make all the arrangements, but not impossible. But if you are interested, go to notaconcon.com for all the info. At this point, as you hear this, the tickets for the Friday night dinner are no longer available. And of course, the VIP is sold out. But you could still get the main tickets to the conference. But I would like to remind you of a couple of other things real quick. So one thing you could do to support the show is you can go to your podcast player of choice, leave us a review or go to iTunes. A lot of people look on iTunes for podcast reviews. That would help other people find our show. And you could also become a patron. Now is a fantastic time to become a patron of the SGU. We could really use the support. You can go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide.
S: All right. Thanks, Jay.
Email #1: Driverless Cars (1:09:37)
S: All right, guys, we have a couple of emails I'd like to talk about. We had quite a few emails regarding our discussion of driverless cars. That was a very popular topic. And they were kind of across the spectrum in terms of the feedback. But there were a couple of themes to several of the emails I wanted to talk about. So some of the emailers thought that I was being too optimistic and too positive about the driverless cars and some link to specific other YouTube videos or articles or whatever about it. Although at the end of the day, after going back and forth and reading all of everything they had to say, I don't think that it changed my position. I think I just had to clarify what I was saying. Although I do think one important point came up that I referred to but didn't make explicit enough that the... So we're talking about primarily the Cruise and Waymo driverless cars, not just self-driving cars, but driverless. I mean, there's no driver behind the wheel. And these are like robo taxi services. So the car comes up, there's no driver behind the wheel. You get in the back seat and it takes you to your destination.
B: Johnny Cab.
S: Yeah, it's basically Johnny Cab without the annoying robot. And the Cruise is operating in San Francisco. Waymo is operating in Phoenix. And so this is level four, so autonomous vehicle, right? So level zero to two is driver assist. Three to five is the car can drive itself. With three, there has to be somebody behind the wheel, but they don't have to be paying attention all the time. Four, there doesn't have to be somebody behind the wheel, but it's only under limited conditions. Five is like a human driver, completely unlimited. So by definition, the Waymo and Cruise are level four. And the question was, well, how good are they and how close are they to level five? What I said is I thought that, well, I mean, they're definitely at level four. They're doing it. And with steady incremental improvements, they're only going to get better. I still think we're 10 to 20 years away from level five. And I admit it may be longer than that. So I think the best feedback we got was one email that pointed out that the Waymo and Cruise cars use LIDAR and mapped roads, right? The roads they're driving on are all mapped out. And he said, that's never going to get you to level five because we're never going to be able to do real time road mapping and updating for all the roads everywhere. And so you have to do something more like Tesla's approach, which is all video and AI. It has to be able to, in real time, use AI in order to be able to figure out how to navigate novel obstacles and circumstances on the road, which I get. I see that point. And it's good to make that distinction between those two approaches to self-driving cars. One is where you're using a lot of brute force in a mapped road. The other one is you're using, there is no map, but just using AI to figure out how to navigate. But who knows what's going to happen in the future? Because first of all, we may use a hybrid approach where we have the main roads mapped and then you have the AI for any deviations or going beyond what's mapped and saying we won't be able to map the roads in real time. What if every car is mapping the road as it's driving on the road? You know what I mean? You have data from 300 million cars being fed into the system. I don't know if that kind of thing would work, but I know they're already working on that, using information from all vehicles to sort of...
C: What do you mean by map the roads?
S: So they literally do like a laser mapping of the road. So there's a model of the road inside the software.
C: So you mean like the width and where all the lines are and like the specifics of the road. Okay.
S: Yeah. So it has an internal map already as opposed to just viewing the road in real time and figuring out what to do.
B: So we could basically navigate the road with no vision capabilities just going from that internal map.
S: Yeah, although I think they still need to be able to see that what they're driving on is matching the map. Tesla is really trying to get by with just video because they want it to be like a "human driver". That may not be plausible. They may have to add radar or whatever, other sensing technologies rather than just video, but who knows? It may just be a matter of having enough cameras. So we don't know exactly how they're going to get there, but again, my main point was we actually are technically at level four and it will get better from here, but I do agree that full 100% level five, it's hard to say how far. I think it's at least 10 to 20 years, but it may be longer than that. And we don't know what combination of approaches is ultimately going to get there first. There are some people think we need full AGI to get to level five driverless cars.
S: I don't agree with that.
B: That seems a little extreme.
S: Yeah, I don't agree with that, but again, we won't know until we get there for sure. And so one person pointed out that right after the show last week, California suspended Cruise's licensing for their robotaxi service. But this was based upon the case that I talked about where a human driver hit a pedestrian in front of a Cruise vehicle, which then aggressively braked, but still hit that person. So that's still technically under investigation and they suspended their license until that they complete that investigation. Again, one emailer said flat out that they don't trust the data from the companies, which I get, and I did say it was a huge grain of salt if you're using company data. But the thing is, these are traffic accidents. This is public data. So unless you think the companies are lying, this would be kind of hard to pull off and be very risky for them to do that. So I'm not saying I just trust companies. I'm just saying this isn't the way... I would think it's very risky if they're going to try to tweak the data that much using publicly available data, basically. I don't know about that.
B: You get caught doing that even once and that's kind of it for your reputation.
S: Right. That would be worse than just admitting what the actual numbers are. But again, they could be fudging it a little bit. But the thing is, it's hard to imagine that they're fudging it to such an extent that the cars are actually worse than human drivers and their data is showing that they're much better than human drivers. I believe that they're better than human drivers in terms of within that confined space, using the methods that they're using. But as some critics point out, better than human drivers is not a great threshold because the average human driver is not very good. That includes people who are not paying attention, who may be drunk, who are...
S: Yeah, maybe they are very distractible. We should want them to be better than the best human drivers or human drivers that are fully fit and paying attention and not doing things they shouldn't be doing. It's like, yeah, I agree. I don't necessarily know that we're not there even with the data that we have. So it's all still a work in progress. But the other final point that I wanted to make was, as we've pointed out previously, disruptive technologies like this usually have three phases, right? There's the initial hype phase, followed by the disappointment phase, followed by the ultimate outcome, either where the technology dies because it never worked or eventually they work everything out and then suddenly we have smartphones. You know what I mean? Like whatever. In the disappointment phase, it becomes very cool and countercultural to tell the narrative that this is all hype and it's a scam and they lied to you and blah, blah, blah. You know what I mean? That's sort of the cool thing to say. But that's just as much a biased narrative as anything else, as the initial excessive hype was, in my opinion. It's a good overall lesson on how to approach these kinds of questions. Because again, one of the emails was like, listen to this hour-long video, which I did. I was totally unimpressed because the guy said things that were actually wrong and every point was in one direction and it was a very specific narrative like this is all a scam rather than a balanced approach or take on a complicated topic. I get that we're in that post-hype phase and that Elon Musk way overhyped the technology. It was premature. It said all that stuff. It's all legitimate. But that doesn't mean the technology doesn't have potential or doesn't basically work. You know what I mean? I think we will get to the post-disappointment phase. That would be my prediction. It may not be full level five for a long time, but we'll get to level four, super level four. You know what I mean? Most conditions, most locations, it'll function. I don't see any deal killer obstacle between where we are now and getting to that point.
Email #2: Home Air Filters (1:19:19)
S: We also got several emails, Jay, about your discussion of air filters.
S: The main point, so Jay, you were saying that the air filters have a MIRV rating, which is basically how much they filter stuff. The higher the number, the better they are at filtering out smaller and smaller particulate matter from the air. Several emailers pointed out, actually, is that you can't just use super high MIRV number filters. You have to look up the MIRV number that's appropriate for your HVAC system.
C: Otherwise, you'll block it from sucking.
S: It puts strain on the compressor. Because the tighter the weave, the more it filters, the more energy it takes to push air through it, to force air through it. If you have one with too high a MIRV number for your system, your system can't handle it, basically, and it'll wear it out a lot faster. It uses more energy, and it can actually damage your compressor. Don't just get an arbitrarily high MIRV number. They go up to 20. For most home use, you're going to be using between 4 and 11, depending on your system.
J: Yeah, I looked that up. MIRV 13 is the highest rating that you should use for typical residential furnaces.
S: Look up your furnace, and it'll tell you what the safe range is for that furnace. If it says 8 to 11, go ahead and put the 11 in there, but don't use a 13 if you're only rated for 11. Yeah, above that, it's usually for hospitals or commercial centers or clean rooms. A 20 is for a clean room, not your home. That's a very special industrial use. If you're manufacturing electronics and can't have any dust particles in the air, that's when you use those super high MIRV rating filters.
J: Yeah, and if you have an old furnace or whatever, definitely worth checking into.
S: Yeah, so that was a really important caveat, so thanks for pointing that out. Check your HVAC system with the ranges, and you can use a higher number, but it has to be within the safe range for your individual system. All right, guys. Well, let's go on with science or fiction.
Science or Fiction (1:21:40)
Item #1: A new study finds that interactions on Zoom have essentially the same brain activity typical of social interaction and facial processing as face-to-face interactions.
Item #2: Researchers have developed and tested "acoustic touch" glasses that convert visual information to sonic information to assist people who are blind or have low vision.
Item #3: A new model finds that adding crushed rock to global agricultural soil would result in the removal of 215 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the next 75 years (the equivalent of almost 6 years of CO2 at current levels).
|Fiction||Zoom vs F2F interactions|
|Science||"acoustic touch" glasses|
Crushed rock CO2 removal
|Zoom vs F2F interactions|
|Zoom vs F2F interactions|
|Zoom vs F2F interactions|
|Crushed rock CO2 removal|
Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.
S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake, and then I challenge my panelists to tell me which one is the fake. Just three regular news items this week. You guys ready?
S: Okay, item number one. A new study finds that interactions on Zoom have essentially the same brain activity typical of social interaction and facial processing as face-to-face interactions. Item number two. Researchers have developed and tested acoustic touch glasses that convert visual information to sonic information to assist people who are blind or have low vision. And item number three. A new model finds that adding crushed rock to global agricultural soil would result in the removal of 215 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the next 75 years, the equivalent of almost six years of CO2 at current levels. Cara, go first.
C: No, I don't want to.
E: Okay, moving on.
C: Interactions on Zoom have essentially the same. I hate caveats in science or fiction.
S: You know, within some reasonable parameters, it's not going to be identical.
C: Same brain activity.
S: Right, so if you look at the brains of people interacting over Zoom and the same interaction face-to-face, the brain looks like it's basically doing the same thing.
C: And I'm trying to remember like something that we covered years ago[link needed]. Maybe it wasn't years, maybe it was months. But I feel like it was like during the pandemic about synchronicity. So like Zoom versus non-Zoom and how easy it is for the two users to synchronize certain brain waves. And I feel like it wasn't the same or it was the same. I don't remember. Okay, researchers have developed and tested acoustic touch glasses. So this is something where it's like a transducer. Okay, so visual information is changed to sonic information. So yeah, I mean, I buy that. I was covering stories also years ago for NatGeo on like really cool stuff with like the brain port where you hold something on your tongue and it gives you these little tactile electrical pops and you can sort of recreate a visual scene that way. I mean, gosh, they're so different. Yeah, sensory substitution is just a really interesting field. So I can definitely see that one. And then a new model finds that adding crushed rock to global agricultural soil. Okay, so just add some crushed rock to the soil. And then 215 billion tons of carbon dioxide are just taken away over the next 75 years. How the hell would that work? Yeah, I think the one that's bothering me just it's just hitting me wrong is that it's the same like essentially the same via Zoom as it is face to face. You're missing so many body cues and signals like yes, okay, the tone of voice you're picking up on and yes, maybe you can sort of see somebody's eyes. But doing therapy online versus doing therapy on person, it's effective. I'm not saying it's not effective. It's effective and it can be really helpful for people, but it's not the same. And I don't know, my gut is telling me that neurologically it's not the same. So I think I'm going to say that once the fiction.
S: Okay, Jay.
J: All right. So the first one says that finds interactions on Zoom have essentially the same brain activity typical of social interactions and facial pressing and face to face. Yeah, I think that's science. Maybe I don't. That's an interesting thing to think about. I mean, in my experience, I mean, I totally do feel like I'm talking to people. But then now that I think about it, there is a much different experience when you're in a room with people. I got to think about that a little more. The second one about the acoustic touch, I think it's a great idea. And I think that one is definitely science. The third one, a new model finds that adding crushed rock to global agricultural soil would result in a removal of 215 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That's very interesting. I wish I knew how that would work. Maybe it would let more water through and it would. All right, I'm going to do a complete 180. And I'm going to say that I think the Zoom one is the fiction.
S: Okay, Evan.
E: Well, I think I'm coming to that same conclusion as well. The same brain activity, typical of social interaction. But yeah, I don't know. Same as face to face. So it's in the same room, I'm assuming, face to face, right? Personal. So there's a disconnect there, it seems like. I don't know exactly what it is. But Cara mentioned a lot of good points there that reinforced my thinking on that. Where's the other ones? Yeah the acoustic touch glasses. Yeah, that's amazing technology. I'm kind of hoping that one's science. And then the, of course, I'm also hoping the other one about sequestering Template:CO2 using this additive, the crushed rock to agricultural soil. I guess in the pores of the rock or something, it stores it. So yeah, I'm just going to go with Cara and Jay.
S: Okay, and Bob.
B: Yeah, you damn lemmings. I'm going to say, I think for the first one with the Zoom, I think it depends on how many people are in the meeting. If it's one on one and you got a nice size screen and their face is right there, I think that your brain will still be chugging away, trying to assess that face and understand what's going on. If it's a 30 person Zoom meeting, then no. So I think I'm just going to assume that it was kind of a one on one thing here with a good size screen. And you know, the body language, I would guess, total guess that the brain, that you'd focus mostly on the face. And body language, sure. But how many of us are really, really good body language readers? Sure, a lot of it is kind of like automatic and you're not even really thinking about it. But I would say that also that maybe we just don't have the resolution to tease out the difference between a good size Zoom face and a face that was really right in front of you. So I'm just going to throw that out there. Maybe I could be wrong. But that was like my initial gut reaction of that one. So I'm going to say that one is a science. The acoustic touch glasses sounds very cool. Sounds totally doable. I'm not sure what techniques they would use to turn sounds into visual information. But I'm sure that's something that could relatively easily be trained on. And it wouldn't take much to be a huge help. So I'll just going to say that something is striking me as weird about this crushed rock. Who the hell is even going to want to do that? It kind of sounds kind of ridiculous that they would even do that. So let's attenuate the quality of our agricultural soil and throw crushed rock into it. Maybe it's at a level where it wouldn't matter so much in terms of how much your plants would grow and kind of probably irrelevant because it doesn't really necessarily address the fact whether it would impact the agriculture itself. It's just totally addressing the carbon dioxide. But I think this probably something wrong. Maybe there's something wrong with that. I'm just going to say, what the hell, maybe that one's fiction.
S: OK, Bob striking out on his own. So you guys all agree with the second one. So we'll start there.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: Researchers have developed and tested acoustic touch glasses that convert visual information to sonic information to assist people who are blind or have low vision. They call them BLV in the study, blind or low vision. You guys all think this one is science and this one is science. Yeah, you're right. You are correct, Cara. This is sensory substitution as an assistive approach. It's like braille, right? Braille is like you're reading with your touch or even using a cane. You're using tactile feedback. That's kind of the low tech ways of doing it. But there are more high tech ways people have been investigating like haptic feedback. This one, the acoustic touch glasses are able to read objects in the room and they provide auditory feedback to the person wearing the glasses. So essentially, like if you're as you turn towards the object, the frequency of the tone that you hear gets gets higher, right? Like you can imagine, like you've seen this probably 100 times on movies where it's like beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. It gets higher and higher as you get closer. And then it peaks when you're looking directly at the object. And I think it also gives you information maybe about distance. And so it enabled people to like reach out and grab objects in their environment based upon the auditory information that they were getting.
B: That's cool.
S: Yeah. So I mean, I don't know again, how ultimately useful it will be, remains to be seen, but this is sort of a proof of concept. But yeah, the basic technology works. Cool.
B: Imagine having that for your formative years where your brain is still malleable.
S: Yeah, you can become very adept at that. Yeah. All right. Let's go back to number one.
Steve Explains Item #1
S: A new study finds that interactions on Zoom have essentially the same brain activity, typical of social interaction and facial processing as face-to-face interactions. Bob, you think this one is science? Jay, Evan, and Cara, you think this one is the fiction? And this one is the fiction. Sorry, Bob, it's a fiction. So yeah, what the study found, the researchers at Yale, by the way-
B: Oh, well.
S: -what they found was-
E: Right there, bias.
S: -that it's like extremely different. So the brain activity that was again, typical of social interaction and facial processing was almost absent or even completely absent on some individuals on the Zoom call. And Bob, you actually hit upon like what they think is the key difference.
B: I knew I hit on something.
S: It's the body language, it's the nonverbal communication that's just missing on Zoom and has apparently has a dramatic effect on our brain processing of social interactions.
C: Yeah, because you're just in a little box. Like you can't see what you're doing.
S: But Cara, I think you're right. I think that doesn't mean that the goal of the interaction isn't working. I have very successful, I think, interactions for telehealth and whatever. It works, but in terms of like neurologically, socially, it's not the same kind of experience for us.
C: Yeah, just because it's different doesn't necessarily mean it's worse.
S: Right. But it doesn't substitute for a social interaction. I guess that's really like the main point. Even though it might be getting the job done in some other way.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: All right, that means that a new model finds that adding crushed rock to global agricultural soil would result in a removal of 215 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the next 75 years, the equivalent of almost six years of CO2 release at current levels, is science. Yeah, so that's not insignificant. 215 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That's the same amount of carbon dioxide that we would be releasing in about 5.7 years.
C: Yeah, but that's assuming that every farm everywhere in the entire world did this.
S: Yes. That's correct.
B: It's kind of silly if you ask me.
S: That's correct. So yeah, whether it's practical or not is another story. But you think about it, every farm all around the world is putting fertilizer on their farm, right? It's not like there isn't a system where this happens. The crushed rock in question is volcanic rock. And when it gets wet, it binds with carbon dioxide in the air, right? So it will fix or combine with carbon dioxide. And so this happens normally, but at very low levels. But if they crush it into a powder, obviously it maximizes surface area. This is what the model was for. Primarily, it showed that, yeah, it would actually be not insignificant. It would actually be able to sequester 215 billion tons of carbon dioxide. And we are going to have to do something like this because even if we stopped producing CO2, which is the goal, and hopefully we'll get there by say 2050 or so, we still have to remove CO2 from the atmosphere in order to get it back down under 1.5 degrees C. So when we map out temperatures for this century, we're including carbon removal in the second half of the century. And so maybe this will turn out to be one of the things that we do. But you're right, Cara. That's a lot of crushed volcanic rock spread on the farms around the world. One of the things that, another question for the model, one thing they weren't really sure about, because it requires water, how well would this work in drier conditions? Like in crops that are raised in very dry soil where they don't get a lot of water, would it still eventually absorb a lot of CO2? And I found out that what they concluded was that it probably would still work. But anyway, even if we do half of the farmland in the world, and we do it in the wettest farmland so it would be the most effective, maybe we get 150 billion or whatever tons, it's still not insignificant.
B: What's the opportunity cost? So what would the cost be to actually pull that off?
S: That's a good question.
B: It might be better served to be paid elsewhere.
S: Yeah, but if you're assuming there's a fixed amount of money, but if it was like on top of everything else, if we spend $100 billion to do this, would that be worth it? That would be more of the question we need to ask. Not, should we spend it on this versus something else? I don't think that we should assume it's a zero-sum game. You know what I mean? It's like we decided to go to war with Iraq and we found a trillion dollars to do that. You know what I mean? Like it's not like...
C: Yeah, but it came from somewhere.
S: I'm not saying it wasn't an opportunity cost, but it depends on how much the whole system cost, the whole thing would cost.
C: Yeah, like what percentage of the global climate fight would this be? And is it worth it to take up that percentage? Yeah, which is an interesting question.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:36:29)
This is the age of health misinformation. It is everywhere. It is in our social media feeds, promoted by celebrities and influencers, and permeates the legacy news media. We are bombarded with advertisements pushing unsupported therapies and practices. Health misinformation has also worked its way into TV shows, movies, and books. And, increasingly, it is embraced and promoted by prominent politicians.
– Jonathan Stea and Stephen Hupp, Canadian and American clinical psychologists, resp., from Investigating Clinical Psychology: Pseudoscience, Fringe Science, and Controversies
S: All right, Evan, give us a quote.
E: "This is the age of health misinformation. It is everywhere. It's in our social media feeds, promoted by celebrities and influencers, and permeates the legacy news media. We are bombarded with advertisements pushing unsupported therapies and practices. Health misinformation has also worked its way into TV shows, movies, and books, and increasingly it is embraced and promoted by prominent politicians." That is written by Jonathan Stay and Stephen Hupp from their book Investigating Clinical Psychology with the subtitle of that book being Pseudoscience, Fringe Science, and Controversies. This is a new book and probably one I will wind up ordering.
C: Yeah, Stephen's my co-editor on the book I just released.
E: Well, look at that.
S: Yeah, and I wrote a chapter for one of his books too.
C: It might have been this book, Steve.
S: It might have been.
C: Now that I think about it, because this is his newest one. Stephen is prolific in his writing and editing.
E: Oh boy.
S: Yeah, but that's a good quote. And of course, I totally agree with it. It's one of the things that's very frustrating. You see the degree to which pseudoscience is just infiltrating the culture at every level. It's really sad when I talk to medical students and they're already pre-indoctrinated into this crap. But it's not that you can't undo it by just appealing to science-based medicine principles. It still is effective, but sometimes you're trying to-
C: But it's easier if you don't have to undo it.
E: Right, and it shows the lack of this type of teaching at the earlier grade levels. It's missing about how to think about these things rationally, reasonably. It's absent, which is how they come to those conclusions growing up. And by the time you get to them, Steve, they've already learned a bunch of crap.
S: Yeah, it's just a cultural phenomenon. It's unfortunate. All right, well, thank you all for joining me this week.
C: Thanks, Steve.
J: You got it Steve.
E: Thank you, Steve.
B: Sure man.
E: See you at NOTACON.
S: Yeah, we'll see you everyone at NOTACON.
S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.
Today I Learned
- Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference
- Neurologica: Age of the Moon Revised
- Ars Technica: CVS ditches common cold meds after FDA advisers say they’re useless
- San Antonio Express-News: Texas paranormal investigator helped investigate a Schertz murder case
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Analysis supports demarcation of new epoch characterized by human impact on planet
- Live Science: Scientists just proved that 'monster' black hole M87 is spinning — confirming Einstein’s relativity yet again
- Yale News: Zooming in on our brains on Zoom
- PLOS ONE: An investigation into the effectiveness of using acoustic touch to assist people who are blind
- Environmental Research Communications: Direct evidence for atmospheric carbon dioxide removal via enhanced weathering in cropland soil
- [url_for_TIL publication: title]