SGU Episode 957
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|SGU Episode 957|
|November 11th 2023|
"A revival of the Connections docuseries on Curiosity Stream with science historian James Burke. Brace yourselves for a mind-blowing look at our past, and our future." (Image credit: Curiosity Stream) 
|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
JB: James Burke, science historian
|Quote of the Week|
Hungry for innovation that will change our ailing world, we're blind to hubris, misguided egos and wishful thinking.
Josie Cox, American journalist
Introduction, "Notacon" reflections
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, November 8th, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...
B: Hey, everybody!
S: Cara Santa Maria...
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey guys.
S: ...and Evan Bernstein.
E: Good evening everyone.
S: So we survived the first NOTACON this past weekend. It was pretty awesome. I had a good time.
C: It was great fun.
B: Oh, I disagree. I think it was very awesome.
S: Yeah? And did anybody get sick? I managed to come away without any infectious illnesses.
C: No. I feel fine.
J: I know, but I didn't get sick either.
E: No. Although I've taken to the habit of really washing my hands quite frequently, especially during conferences or any kind of get-together. It's many, many times during the day constantly I'm in the bathroom washing.
C: I will tell you, I stopped by the pharmacy when I got back here. I was going to do it before I left, but then I realized it's only days before I leave. It's not going to be effective yet. But I went to the pharmacy when I got back here in LA after the conference to get a flu and the new COVID vaccine. So I'm in between my internship and my postdoc, which means I don't have insurance right now. It is ungodly expensive.
S: Oh, yeah?
C: I was so surprised because during this entire pandemic, I guess the government was subsidizing the vaccines. If you were uninsured, you could get one for free. No mo. So, I mean, I don't want to say it was like ludicrous. It wasn't like the Gardasil vaccine, but still, out of pocket, a flu and a COVID jab was going to be like over $250.
J: Yeah, I know. Right?
S: That's a lot.
J: It's crazy.
C: And I was like, are you kidding me? And I told my friend, and she was like, then why do you always see signs that say free flu vaccine in front of all the pharmacies? And I was like, yeah, the fine print says, with your insurance. And I'm like, well, then it's not free.
J: Free if you have other ways to pay.
C: So yeah, I think that's a problem. Like if we're talking vaccine uptake on this most recent version, obviously there's a lot of reasons that people are not getting it, even though they should. But I am concerned that some people won't be able to afford it.
S: Yeah. I don't know if it's in adequate supply. So yeah, the pandemic era subsidies are over. It's like at work. They previously, during the pandemic, they said, yeah, get the COVID vaccine anywhere. We'll pay for it. If you have to go to CVS or whatever. Now it's like, nope, we won't pay for it unless you get it on here and route. So I scheduled them, like scheduled for December. That's like the first time I was able to get an appointment, because their supplies, they're using it up as quickly as they get it.
J: Steve, do you think that we didn't get sick because we were in a high vaccine population at the conference?
S: Probably. Yeah. Probably. I mean, because we were, otherwise it was a normal conference. We were glad handing with 200 people for a weekend.
E: But even a common cold, you expect to walk away with nothing. You expect to walk away with something, but no, not a trace.
J: Well, I would like to say about the event, first of all, it was a pleasure to work with all you guys behind the scenes, like working on the conference for the six months leading up to it. The entire thing went without a hitch. It was definitely the best event that I've ever, ever managed. And the feedback was overwhelming, how much fun people had. So thank you, all of you that are listening right now, that you were there, thank you so much. Steve is indeed a doctor.
E: That's the takeaway from the con.
J: I don't want you to forget that.
E: If nothing else.
S: Yeah. And the big question is, should we do it again next year, or should we wait two years? So we're going to do a survey, and maybe we should just do a survey of our listeners, not just people who went to this year.
J: Well, we did the survey. I got results back on the survey.
S: Oh, you did?
C: Oh, nice.
E: So how many of the people who went replied? What percentage?
J: So far, over half.
S: That's pretty good for a survey like that.
J: It was overwhelming that they want one next year. I think one person said, space it out, but.
S: I think the positive feedback from this conference supports, Jay, that the decision that we all made. NECSS type of conference, which is a series of lectures and panels, we were forced to do it virtually over the pandemic. And we decided, yeah, this actually works well. When all you're doing is just a bunch of talking heads, doing it virtually means that it could be a lot cheaper. You can get people, speakers from around the world, attendees from around the world. But everyone said, yeah, but you missed the social aspect of it. So that's what gave birth to NOTACON. It's like, all right, we'll do a predominantly social in-person meeting, and just have fun, and do a lot of fun events. And I think that worked. So I think we're going to continue to split those two things up that way, do virtual for the panels and lectures, and more social fun stuff for the live events.
J: Yeah, reading the feedback was interesting, because some people were like, we want more socializing time, even more than we gave, which I thought we scheduled a ton of socializing time.
S: There was a ton, yeah.
J: So I had a moment, guys. We had on Saturday night, which was the very last event for the conference, George and Brian, they did an 80s sing-along, right? And a bunch of people that came, a bunch of people in the audience that came were dressed up in 80s clothes, like really good, really good costumes. That was really hysterical. I totally didn't expect people to go that far with their costumes. But at the very last song, my daughter wanted to get up on stage. I'm like, last song, I'm like, all right, come on, I'll go up and I'll dance with you on stage. So we go up on the stage, and I'm dancing around with her. And I wasn't even really thinking about anything other than interacting with her, but then I spun around and I saw the audience, and it was amazing. The entire audience was standing up. Everybody was in the middle of singing the song. Everybody was smiling, and it was an unbelievable moment, because I looked at her in that room and I'm like, oh my God, guys, we made over 200 people happy that weekend. You know what I mean? A lot of people had known each other on Discord for years and never met each other, and there was a lot of first time meetings. So all of that, I just think, made this such a special weekend for us.
B: Yeah, Jay, that segment, I didn't realize it was going to be that fun just playing songs and listening to songs. I was belting them out. The song selection was top notch, like, oh my God, I remember that song. Everyone was fantastic.
J: Steve, somebody asked me, is there any song that Steve would sing? And I go, no. Then the guy comes back to me like five minutes later, what would it take to get Steve to sing a song? I'm like, nothing. He will not sing a song.
J: You will not hear Steve sing a song. That's not happening. But the guy wanted you, I guess, to get up on stage and sing a song, which would have been awesome.
S: George tried to get me to sing, and I told him no. I mean, I just don't, I can't sing. It's a fact.
C: That's the fun.
E: You can't sing well in your opinion.
J: You can't be good at everything, Steve, right? You're a doctor.
S: Cannot sing in tune. How about that? Cannot sing in tune.
J: That's fine.
E: And that's, what's wrong with that?
S: So I sing privately, not publicly. But George did the same thing. Like, what would it take to get you to sing? So I said, all right, George. I thought, listen, I know it's a skill that you could learn. I just never did. I have, like, whatever, no natural talent, and I've never spent one moment trying to learn how to sing in my life. So the agreement is, he's going to teach me how to sing, and if he can get me to the point where I could actually sing in tune, I'll do it next year.
J: Okay. That is awesome. Oh my gosh.
E: I think we just doubled our attendance on that alone.
J: Why am I hearing about this for the first time right now? Oh my gosh.
S: That's a big if. That's a big if.
E: That's a selling point, folks. Come on. Come hear Steve sing for the very first time ever.
S: No promises. No promises.
J: Evan, I heard so many people tell me the best thing that I ever heard or saw Evan do was your build a board game segment at the conference.
E: Oh, that's super, super kind, super nice to hear.
C: It was really fun.
E: It was a lot of fun to put together, and fortunately, I did have an audience sort of that I could practice it with ahead of time, so I will admit that, and made a couple little tweaks to it, I think really pushed it over the edge. So thanks, and it was... Yeah, I hope... Will someday any of the footage be released from the con? I know some things were recorded, right?
J: Yeah, we recorded everything, but it was more like... It wasn't like Don where we're moving the camera around doing close ups. It was more just like we recorded the whole thing from-
J: Yeah, like an archive thing. But you totally got me, Ev. When you started out, so this was for a segment called SG University where each one of us teaches the audience something for 20 minutes, right? It could be anything, any skill that we have, or an interest or whatever. So Evan chooses to build a custom board game live with the audience by asking them questions, and then they fill in the blanks, and Evan kind of walks them through how to make a board game. And it was really cool the way you did it, but you started it by putting up a tax form and saying, we're going to go through form 28G7, and you had a laser pointer, and you tricked me for five seconds.
E: Yeah, deadpan, just total deadpan, as if I was really going to talk about an obscure... And I chose one of the more obscure tax forms out there to leave me on purpose.
C: And it was dense. It was a dense form.
E: Oh, it was awful. It's like nightmare fuel kind of stuff in the world of tax.
J: And I think you fooled a lot of people because there was a sigh of relief when you were like, no, no, I'm not doing that.
E: I did, but there was also genuine laughter at it all, and it teed it up nicely. And then we transitioned into the fun, fun, fun world of board game design, which was a lot of fun to put together, and I'm glad the audience enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. And George told me that one of his favorite things that he's ever done on stage was host the SG Chew, which was our cooking contest.
E: Oh my gosh.
C: I liked judging it. I'll tell you that.
J: Yeah. That was cool. That was fun.
C: We have the best job, Bob.
C: We got to just eat the food. No pressure.
J: Yeah. That was a really cool segment. That was the one I was the most concerned about because we had hot plates and we were cooking, like legit cooking on stage. And for me, I'm like fire code and insurance, and I'm thinking of all the points where things could get dangerous or fail.
E: Yeah. Are we going to blow circuits and so many things you have to think about, a lot of points of failure, high risk, high reward, that segment.
J: But it went off without a hitch. That was a great bit too. So anyway, guys, you got to come next year. We had so much fun. We'll figure all the details out and we'll let you know when it's going to happen and where, and probably know within a month.
Dumbest Thing of the (prior) Week (11:05)
- [url_from_show_notes _article_title_]
S: All right, Evan, you're going to start us off with the dumbest thing of the week.
E: Yeah. Dumbest thing of the week, or I have to qualify this one as, I'm going to call it the dumbest thing of the prior week, because this was the news item I was supposed to, one of the news items I was supposed to present at NOTACON during our live recording of the Skeptic Sky Teen Universe, but we didn't have enough time, even though we all prepped extra news items. So here it is, the dumbest thing of the week. It had to do, actually it tied into Halloween because NOTACON happened right on the heels of Halloween, right, Bob? Halloween is fun.
E: Costumes, haunted house exhibits, scary props, ghost stories, candy, caramel apples, trick or treating, all good fun, right? Well, there are some people who take Halloween and all the trappings of Halloween a little more serious, maybe serious enough to the point where they think things like, well, ghosts and goblins and demons and devils are real. Yeah. And I'm talking about some priests and other clergy. And among that lot are the exorcists. And these are the priests who believe that people can become possessed by one of the many forces of hell, or broadly called demons, demonic possession. And according to these priests, these exorcists, when a person becomes possessed by a demon, those supposed victims can only rid themselves of the demon through a religious rite of exorcism. And of course, the priests who perform those rites, yep, they're the exorcists. So there you go. If you are of a disposition to believe that people can become possessed with the correct remedy being an exorcism, then Halloween, if you think about it, actually has to be a pretty stressful time a year for you. Because during the Halloween season, which, what, starts around May 1st, Bob, each year? Is that about right?
E: Yeah, approximately then, right? It's a six-month countdown from Bob's calendar. Halloween for the majority of people in the world-
E: -the majority of people in the world do not believe in possession and exorcism. That's okay. Which is good, actually. And look, they go out and they do their Halloween-y things and they don't think twice about it. And one of the things that pops up sometimes around Halloween time is the Ouija board. People will play with that toy. Yeah, the talking board. We've talked about it many times before on the show. It was a game that was actually first introduced in the United States back in 1891, all part of a rising wave of people's interest in spiritualism near the turn of the century. A fun little parlor trick, kind of a pastime more than anything. But it soon became sort of embraced as a serious tool for making actual communication with spirits of dead people and other entities. Well, right on cue at Halloween, a gentleman by the name of Father Dan Rehill, a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He went on to Fox News for an interview to remind everyone that Halloween, every year, and the Ouija boards are attempts to converse with the dead. They're spiritually dangerous practices and they should not be viewed as innocent fun. Here's what he says, "We too often forget there is much more to this world than meets the eye. Angels, demons, spirits, and souls do exist and they can have an impact on our life." Now attempting occult practices, such as purportedly trying to contact the dead via a Ouija board, that's a way you can open yourself up to demonic activity inadvertently. Because demons lie and they impersonate dead people. When you're asking a board for information about a deceased person or even a life decision, they're all too happy, the demons, to embed themselves into your life. And using a Ouija board is inviting a demon into your life, whether the person has that intention or not. He goes on, Ouija boards should not be viewed in the same way as a typical board game. Speaking of board games, although it is advertised as a game, it's far from it. Rather, it's a form of divination. The very action of using it has a profound spiritual consequence beyond our control. Victims are left with night terrors, suicidal ideation, despair. One man was impaled with chicken bones in his leg that flew across the kitchen because he was using a Ouija board.
B: Hate when that happens.
E: And he wraps it up by saying, once the deliverance prayers are prayed, so this is how you get rid of it you do the prayers and you exercise the demons, and the participants are renounced, they have to renounce it all, then all demonic activity will cease. And that was what happened in the case of this particular person who was impaled with chicken bones in their kitchen. So this person went on to Fox and actually warned people about the practical dangers of using a Ouija board, especially around Halloween time. It's not a board game. It's quite serious. Don't make fun of it, whatever you do. And now you have the dumbest thing of the week.
S: Pretty standard fare, though.
E: Pretty standard fare, yes. But you would think something like this would evaporate, kind of.
S: Why would you think that?
E: Well, just because, I know, because of the, well-
S: Because it's not real?
E: -first of all, it's not real. It's been totally, if you want to call it debunked, debunked. The entire phenomenon can be attributed to the ideomotor effect. We've talked about it for decades now, doing our skeptical activism, and certainly this podcast. You could read so much about it. But despite all of that-
S: Most people don't know about it though.
E: -isn't it remarkable that they don't, that they should by now?
S: All right. Thanks, Evan.
ESA Plans Space Capsule (16:57)
S: Jay, tell us about the European Space Agency's plans.
J: Yeah, the European Space Agency, also known as the ESA, they are embarking on a new initiative to develop a commercial space capsule for transporting cargo to and from the International Space Station. So this is very similar to what NASA did with SpaceX, right? So traditionally the ESA would engineer and build their own equipment, but now they want to have outside companies to become significantly involved in the construction and deployment of spacecraft. So the key highlights of this new ESA initiative, sorry, let me say that again. So here are some key highlights to this new ESA initiative. So first of all, the ESA is organizing a competition to create a robotic space capsule that will be designed initially for cargo and resupply missions to the ISS. And they're saying that this project could be launched as early as 2028. So whatever company wins this competition, they will receive funding and technical support, of course, from ESA, but the company has to operate the space capsule on a commercial basis. And this means that the company has to partially fund the capsule's development and then sell the service essentially to ESA, very similar to the way SpaceX and NASA operate. So this company would become a primary vendor or customer of the ESA. If the cargo resupply endeavor ends up being successful, of course, which is what they're hoping, the company responsible for the capsule will likely be asked to upgrade the ESA to be able to carry people, right?
E: It's people!
J: The article actually called them astronauts, but is that what they're called?
B: I guess some countries just use the generic astronaut, but there's multiple terms, right?
J: Yeah. Well, yeah, many countries like cosmonauts and-
E: It has to do with the distance you travel, right?
J: No. I think it's country of origin.
E: Oh, it depends on the country?
J: So this would also be done on a commercially contracted service basis, and there's potential here for the capsules to be used in future missions to the moon, which is a big deal if you think about it, because as they're designing this, it's going to be a cargo carrier, but then they want a modified version that would potentially take people all the way to the moon. That's not just being in low-earth orbit. We're talking like a trip to the moon. So this thing has to be engineered with the bones of that already inside the capsule, I'm sure, right? They're going to make that claim. That's a really big deal, and it's great. It's also great to have more than one vehicle that can go to the moon in case of emergencies or whatever. The ESA's Director General, Joseph Aschbacher, emphasized that this approach represents a paradigm shift for the agency. So they're moving from public sector ownership and operation of space vehicles to a more commercially oriented model, which I think is a great idea because it basically lends itself to more innovation, better pricing. The competition makes companies work harder and faster to get to the goal, which is great. We see this in the XPRIZE, Bob, right? You and I like to follow what the XPRIZE does. At one point, the XPRIZE was awarding companies who got a driverless car. We're going back, what, 20 years now, maybe even more. So I think it's an important step for them to take because it will speed things up and give them access to new and really awesome technology. Several companies that can enter the contest already exist in Europe, which is good because you don't want to have to wait for companies to be formed to meet the requirements. So there's a couple of startups like the Exploration Company and another company called Rocket Factory Augsburg. So we're hoping that they're going to get involved with this competition, and one of them definitely will win. ESA member states are considering also applying this new commercial model that they came up with to future rocket development projects, which is great. They're projecting into the future that this is the way that they're going to go. Now this is to avoid issues faced by current launch projects that they've been having a lot of trouble with. So there's two in particular, the Ariane 6 and the Vega-C rockets just ran into financial problems and development problems, and they're trying to avoid repeating these mistakes in the past. The ESA meeting also discussed the use of satellites to support European nations' net zero emissions goals, and this is a really cool thing that some space agencies are actually taking into account now. Now these goals include leveraging space data to optimize the air travel routes, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and then the thing that I'm the most happy about is they introduced something called the Zero Debris Charter, and this is going to be put in place to encourage responsible space operations by promoting the removal of what? The hardware.
S: Space debris, yeah.
J: The hardware that they're putting up, right? So they're going to, everything that they put up can potentially collide with other missions that are currently happening, and not just that, but you have to de-orbit your stuff. So these are going to be built into all the new missions that they're planning. The United Kingdom, which is one of the major ESA member states, they said that they plan to introduce a regulatory framework aimed to promote responsible behavior in space operations, and this is going to incentivize compliance with faster licensing, which is great because you don't want companies and projects being hung up by the bureaucracy, basically. They'll be offering better insurance, quicker access to finance for operators. So this is all a big positive move, and when you zoom out and you look at this whole thing and basically everything that's going on globally, we're seeing a new space race develop. We're seeing a lot of companies and organizations that are rushing to develop workflows and abilities to create spacecraft and to put industry into outer space. We are still in the very beginnings of it, but it's happening. We're seeing it happen in many countries. So I wasn't surprised to read this news item, and I'm very encouraged about it because the more attention that we put into outer space, I think in the long term, the better it's all going to be because eventually we're going to have to clean up all the debris that's in orbit. So money and attention will be put into that. We're going to be able to, there'll be the ability to avoid meteor strikes, anything dangerous that's going to come near or hit the earth. We're going to be exploring the moon and Mars, like all these things are ahead of us. So for those of you who are younger than most of us here on the show, you're going to see a lot of really cool stuff. You have a lot to look forward to.
S: What I'd like to see them working toward, this is, I think, fine. This is a good add another, everything that you're doing, everything you said, but the infrastructure we need to get to is that there is a space station in low earth orbit, there's a space station in lunar orbit, space station in Martian orbit. If again, if we want to get to Mars, you have ships whose only job is to say, for example, get up and down from earth or up and down from the moon or up and down from Mars. And then you have shuttles that travel between those locations. And that's it. Anywhere you go, you're going to be taking three ships and two space stations, basically. But that's going to be the most efficient system for ever, basically. You know what I mean? The whole romantic idea of like a Millennium Falcon taking off, going someplace and landing is never going to be practical.
J: No. Not in the near future.
S: I mean, not in the foreseeable future. I would go beyond near future.
B: True. Getting off the earth will probably be chemical based. And then once you're in low earth orbit, then you can go for the snazzy fusion or fission.
S: Yeah, right. It's just never going to be practical. The way they portray ships, like super advanced ships like the Millennium Falcon, is with anti-gravity. And if anti-gravity is impossible, no Millennium Falcon. Never, ever.
S: Right? Bob brings up a great point. Chemical rockets are the only thing with the thrust to get off a gravity well like a 1G or greater. And they're usually inefficient for long distance travel. So it's just, there's never going to be one ship that's going to have everything.
J: But Steve, I got to say this. If we ever do, if humans ever do develop the technology to build a ship like that, man, do I hope they build a real Millennium Falcon.
S: Somebody will.
J: Right? That is so freaking cool. But the things about this that I like, I like hearing things like, they're going to be putting in a way of doing business in outer space. Global standardization is what we need. All space-faring countries need to respect the laws that are coming at some point. Hopefully, they'll all buy into that. And I want to hear more about decluttering Earth's orbit. We have so much debris out there.
S: That's a huge problem that we have to tackle.
J: But we could do it. This is like the perfect thing for humanity to tackle. Give me a big problem.
S: We know we're making it worse so far.
Oldest Evidence for Projectile Weapons (26:19)
- Terminal ballistic analysis of impact fractures reveals the use of spearthrower 31 ky ago at Maisières-Canal, Belgium
(click to create redirect page)
S: All right. I'm going to go to the other end of human technology.
J: Do it.
S: I'm going to reverse 2001, The Space Odyssey. You know how they went from a bone to satellite? I'm going to do the opposite. I'm going to go to the other end. So let me ask you guys a question. How old do you think is the oldest evidence for the use of projectile weapons?
E: Projectile weapons?
S: So I'm going to say bows or atlatls like the spear throwers. Not just spears, because that's hard to say.
C: But the thing that actually projects it.
S: Yeah. So like if we have spear points, we don't know if they were just jabbing with the spear or if they were throwing it. But just to take it one step further, what's the oldest evidence for your spear throwers or bow and arrow?
J: Oh, man. I mean, 50,000 years?
E: 40 I was going to say.
C: Yeah. Tens of thousands, plural.
S: Yeah. Not bad. That's a pretty good guess. It goes back about 61,000 years. In Africa, in Europe, it's a lot sooner, although there was a recent study which pushed the date back to 31,000 years in Europe. But in Belgium, I'll talk about that in a second. But the other question is, how do we know? Because the bows and the spear throwers themselves are probably made of wood. And they are not going to fossilize or preserve for tens of thousands of years. So how do we know?
J: Well, I would say by the design of the if they're using some type of stone, if they're making something that's as small as like an arrowhead, you would think it makes sense that that would be something that would be shot. If you're going to hold a stone tool, you'd want something that has a bigger blade to it, that has a little more heft to it.
S: What do you guys think? Do you agree with that?
B: I mean, wood can conceivably fossilize. It could last that long.
C: Yeah, but that's super rare.
B: It's extremely unlikely.
S: Yeah, well, it hasn't. We just don't have... I mean, definitely. I mean, we talked not too long ago about a bow that was found that was thousands of years old. But we don't have... But there's definitely evidence of bow and atlatl use going back a lot farther than any wooden-
J: How about cave art?
J: How about cave art?
S: That's a great one. Cave art, yeah.
E: I was kind of thinking that, yeah.
S: But the oldest evidence predates any cave art evidence. So you're right, Jay, that that is the primary evidence that is used to decide, to determine, basically infer that early humans were using these projectile weapons is just the size of the stone spearheads or arrowheads. And it's assumed that, yeah, the small ones were arrows, like the medium-sized ones were probably for the spears that were thrown with the spear throwers, and the bigger ones are for just the handheld spears. However, that's controversial because when you look at, even like in more modern examples, the sizes of the arrowhead spearheads the medium spearheads and the bigger spearheads, they all overlap. So it's not completely clear.
J: So you're saying there isn't like a clear demarcation, like these are the small ones, right? It's like they're just...
S: Right. So you could be looking at what you think is an arrowhead, but it's actually just a small spearhead, right? But again, this is debatable. And then there was one study where they attached the small arrow, the small stone points to a spear and said, yeah, it doesn't really work very well, it doesn't do much damage. So these are probably only useful on arrows. Like, okay, that's a reasonable argument, but it's not certain. It's not...
E: It's not like there was a bow found.
S: Yeah, exactly. So the evidence from the spear slash arrowheads themselves is equivocal. It's suggestive. And if you go by that alone, just the size of the spear points, that's where you get the dates of like 61,000 years in Africa that I cited to you, or 21,000 in Europe. However, there's a new, this is now the new study that is trying to bring to bear another form of evidence that we didn't previously have. What they did was they reproduced arrowheads and spearheads, and then they shot them or launched them or threw them, right? So now you're shooting stone tipped arrows or you're using the atlatl, the spear thrower, or you're just throwing the spear by hand. And they did that a bunch of times, and then they examined the stone heads microscopically to look at the fracture patterns that were created. And they were able to distinguish the fracture patterns. They were able to find characteristic patterns of each of those three methods of projecting the weapons. So in this study, the authors argue that if you, and they were using this analysis on stone points that were found in Belgium and that are dated to 31,000 years old, and they argued that the pattern of fracture on those stones are consistent with spear throwers, with atlatls, not with bows, but with atlatls. So that pushes that technology back significantly in Europe. We have older evidence for it in Africa. And they're saying if we should apply this method to all of our evidence, if we look at all of the stone points that we have, then maybe we might push these dates back even further. And it also is a more detailed type of evidence than just the size of the point, right? So even the, you might have a small point that might've just been a small spear, not an arrow. But if the fracture patterns match arrow fracture patterns, that would be a stronger additional piece of evidence to say that, yep, this was shot from a bow. This was not just thrown with a spear thrower or thrown by hand. So yeah, so I thought that was interesting. It's a new type of evidence, and it might change all these dates about how far back these technologies go. But they do go back a lot farther than you might think.
C: How does the community feel about this new? Are most people agreeing?
S: It just came out. So I haven't really seen a lot of pushback or a lot of response yet. It seems, it was peer-reviewed, published study. It seems pretty legitimate, but it's got to go through the meat grinder of the community, as you say. And then sometimes later, like months later, we'll hear, it's like, yeah, people don't really buy it. So we will see. Yeah, so I think we'll be hearing more about this. But the other thing to think about is that the early humans, like Homo sapiens, go back 200,000 years. So why wouldn't they be using this technology?
S: They were humans. It's probably true that we're biologically smarter than they were, because it's not like our intelligence stopped evolving 200,000 years ago, and there are genes.
B: Yeah, but to what degree?
S: Well, not insignificant. Probably not insignificant. There are genes, gene alleles that correlate with greater intelligence that have a higher frequency today than it did a few hundred years ago.
C: But I guess the idea of using a point, like an arrow with a manual on a spear, versus using some sort of mechanical tool to expel the arrow or the point, is just slightly... I don't want to say slightly, maybe it's significantly, but it's more sophisticated tool use. But it's still a tool use. And even pre-Homo sapiens, we have evidence of tool use.
S: Oh, yeah.
S: Yeah, tool use goes back millions of years. But the arrow points are much finer, more sophisticated stonework than what pre-humans was able to do. So a couple of things. How far, Cara, do you think you could throw a spear with an atlatl, with a spear thrower? How far?
C: I have no idea. This is, I'm the wrong person to ask that question to.
S: Well, let's just...
B: I remember we tried it. I remember it was difficult.
S: Let's assume with practice. We'll assume that you get good.
C: I don't even know how an atlatl works.
S: Yeah. So it's a-
C: Googling it.
E: It's like a sling for a spear.
S: Yeah. It's a sling. Basically, it's a fulcrum. It gives you that leverage.
C: I see.
S: So the spear goes on top, and it pushes against the back. And then you hold it at the front end, and you sort of flip it. You know what I mean? So...
C: Right. So I guess the question is, how much more effective is spear throwing with or without an atlatl?
S: It's way more effective.
S: So with that, with the atlatl, you could have an effective range of 80 yards, which is...
C: Oh, wow.
S: Yeah. It's like almost a football field.
S: When you think about hitting something and killing something from that distance, there's no way you could do that, anything close to that with a hand-thrown spear. Yeah. We saw a guy who knew how to do it.
E: Oh, yeah.
S: Whoa, that was fun.
S: Yeah. Very, very effective. Now, the other thing... One last point is that in Europe, it seems pretty clear that the arrowheads are only found with human bones, not Neanderthals. So it's very, we only have evidence of just spear throwing with Neanderthals. No spear throwers, no bows. And so that probably was a key technological advantage that Homo sapiens had over Neanderthals. Because there's always that question, did we cooperate with them? Did we out-compete them? Did we kill them? We know we had sex with them to some extent, but it seems like in this arena, there's pretty good evidence that we had bows and spear throwers for humans going back 30,000 years, but no Neanderthals. Neanderthals did not have it. They were just using spears.
Vaccine for Cocaine Addiction (36:32)
- Scientists Unveil World-First Experimental Cocaine Addiction Vaccine
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S: All right, Cara, tell us about vaccines for cocaine addiction.
C: Yeah. So it's interesting because I hadn't really heard about this technology, but this new, I guess, it's not really one study, but this new kind of effort in Brazil to develop a vaccine against cocaine addiction is not new. There are actually already two cocaine vaccines registered for clinical trials. One of them failed, I think in phase two, and the other, we're still waiting on results. But this third vaccine, the one that is kind of getting a lot of buzz right now, is different. It takes a completely different approach to vaccination. And so that's why we're seeing a lot of conversation about it. They are, I think, about to enter into human trials, so seeing pretty exciting results in animals. But of course, as we know, something working in a mouse is completely different than something working in a human being. So let's talk about it. They're calling the vaccine Calyx-Coca, and that's kind of based on the molecular structure of it, coca being cocaine, calyx being a shortened version of a really long word, which I'll get to later, which has to do with the molecular structure of the key ingredient in the vaccine. And historically, one that people may have heard of, it was a vaccine which was built on a TACD molecule. That's the one that was developed in America. There's also another vaccine that's still in the works based on a DAD5GNE molecule. But the difference here is really how the new vaccine was made. So it's not a protein vaccine. It's actually using a molecule called V4N2. It's a completely synthetic molecule, and it's based on a human being's immunogenic response to cancer that is also enacted when somebody utilizes or uses cocaine or crack. So basically, somebody uses the drug, and they have an antibody response to the drug. And this happens naturally, especially in high doses or long-term use. What this vaccine does, which is pretty ingenious, is it binds to those antibodies and it prevents the molecule from being able to pass the blood-brain barrier because now it's too large to get in. And so you don't get high because it never makes it into your brain. And if you don't get high on the drug, at least the hope is going to be less likely to use it. Now I actually read, I've been reading a lot about this, I read an article in The Conversation that was written by the researcher himself in Brazil, who has been spearheading this research actually since his PhD. And he doesn't talk so much in his article about kind of treating cocaine use broadly. He talks quite a bit about treating cocaine use specifically in mothers to reduce transmission and addiction of their unborn children. And so he really focuses on this as being a driving force. And I think it's based on some kind of legal and political changes in Brazil that almost automatically take the children away from mothers when they're born and put them into foster care. And this was like a huge tragedy in a lot of clinics. And so he was trying to figure out how can we make it so that if somebody's struggling with cocaine or crack use or abuse, that the fetuses aren't as affected. And so that's where it looks like his motivation for developing this vaccine was. But I'm seeing a lot of more broad coverage of helping prevent relapse in individuals who use across the board. Regular cocaine or crack users in the world is estimated to be about 20 million people. And of those 20 million people, one in four are diagnosably struggling with addiction or use disorders. So you can use drugs regularly without becoming addicted. But one in four crack or cocaine users do become addicted. And so there's a huge problem here, a huge market for this. Brazil is one of the largest producers of cocaine. Interestingly, America is one of the largest utilizers of cocaine. And across the board, I think a lot of fingers are crossed because if this new approach works, if it's effective, if it's safe, a lot of lives could be saved. And something else that's kind of interesting is that the approach to how this vaccine works could be applied potentially to other drugs. The author in the Conversation article kind of calls it a vaccine platform. Yeah, he's calling the V4N to not just a vaccine, the Calix-Coca vaccine, but also a vaccine platform that could be used to produce other vaccines like against methamphetamine or opioid use or nicotine addiction. We already have some good treatments and some good approaches for opioid and nicotine, but we really don't have much for any other drug that's out there. Yeah, super interesting. I mean, we've had these great ideas before and they haven't worked out. So hopeful, but not holding my breath. But this new approach seems to be pretty promising thus far, so time will tell. They're raising money right now. They just, I think, won a $4 million grant in Brazil and then another like half a million euro grant from a European pharmaceutical competition. But they're actively trying to get more and more funding to be able to push forward with this.
S: Yeah, it's really interesting just to use like the whole vaccine platform, that technology for things other than immunity to infectious disease.
C: Yeah, it's really smart. You have an immune response to almost anything you encounter in the environment, sometimes it's minimal, sometimes it's high. But if you're taking a drug and it produces, oh yeah, I mentioned earlier the molecular structure, they're called calixerenes or calixerenes. And so they synthesized a molecule based on that. And yeah, your body has an immune response, utilize that, take it to your advantage and then basically bind it to this molecule so it can't make it into your brain anymore. Something as simple as changing its size can have a really intense effect. Now it does still exist in the blood, but it can't reach certain targets like in the heart, for example, to cause, or at least they're hypothesizing that, they're seeing it in mice, but they're hypothesizing that in humans, it won't be able to reach certain targets in the heart, for example, to cause damage to the heart muscle, which is quite common with cocaine.
S: All right. Awesome.
Ancient Planet Buried in Earth's Mantle (43:22)
- Bits of an ancient planet called Theia may be buried in Earth’s mantle
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S: All right, Bob, we've got an update on the whole planet smashing into the early Earth thing. Tell us about it.
E: Finally. It's only been billions of years.
B: Yeah, right? Yeah. Recent studies suggest that two odd blobs in Earth's mantle may be remnants of that event that created our moon. This comes from a study recently published in the journal Nature by researchers from the California Institute of Technology, Arizona State University, and Shanghai Astronomical Observatory. So how the moon was created, it's always been compelling, right, from myths to modern rigorous theories. I found one interesting one in Finnish mythology, Ilmatar, daughter of the air, allowed a duck to lay its eggs on her knee. The eggs fell and the whites became the moon. But you may be more familiar with the more modern science-based theories. There's things like the capture theory, where essentially the moon just came flying by and we kind of grabbed it, the Earth's gravity kind of grabbed it and put it in orbit somehow. There's the accretion hypothesis, where the moon was created with the Earth at the same time. And the fission theory, where this one always struck me as kind of odd, where the Earth is spinning so fast that the moon just kind of broke away and just stayed in orbit. But then there's the giant impact theory. This is the one that's accepted by most scientists today. This involves a collision with a Mars-sized planet called Theia, or Theia, depending who you talk to. This is over 4 billion years ago, during the Hadean, or Hadean Eon, which is the first geologic eon of Earth's history. In Greek mythology, Theia was one of the Titans, mother of Selene, the goddess of the moon. So Theia makes perfect sense, that it would have been partially responsible for the creation of the moon. It's hypothesized that Theia orbited one of the Earth-Sun Lagrange points, probably L4 or L5. And then from there, it orbited the sun in an orbit similar to the proto-Earth's orbit, and then some sort of gravitational interaction with either Venus or Jupiter or some other planet like that. Most often, it's either Venus or Jupiter potentially perturbed it and caused it to crash into the proto-Earth. Now, Apollo rocks from the moon show that the Earth and the moon were very similar, but not identical. And so that alone, at least in my mind, makes some of these hypotheses much more suspect, right? Because you'd expect the samples to be much more different if we captured the moon, say, in the capture theory, presumably because the moon would have been created much farther away, maybe deeper in the solar system. And so you wouldn't expect it to be quite as similar, perhaps. On the other hand, if the Earth and the moon formed in the same place and time as in the accretion and fission scenarios, you'd expect things like the type and proportion of the minerals on the moon to be basically the same as the Earth, but they're a little bit different. But this giant impact theory doesn't explain away all of these chemical differences, though. That's not why it has a lot of utility. It's very helpful because the theory does help explain some key aspects of the Earth-moon system that these other theories do not. For example, the impact theory nicely explains the current angular momentum of the Earth and the moon. It accounts for the moon's small core, apparently, and it also accounts for the high mass of the moon compared to the Earth, which is very unusual compared to all other moons in the solar system. So it is very helpful to explain those, which is powerful. But this is all indirect evidence for Thea, right? I mean, it's nothing that's like, oh, yeah, we know it now. Thea was a thing. Direct evidence, though, would be quite a coup. And this is what these researchers claim that they may have found. And it has to do with yet another one of those ubiquitous scientific initialisms. This one is LLVPs, which stands for Large Low Shear Velocity Provinces. These provinces, these are the mysterious odd blobs that I mentioned. They found these, I think it was in the early 80s, seismic studies of Earth's interior showed that there's these continent-sized chunks of rock in the mantle where sound travels slower than anywhere else, meaning that they're a little bit denser, right? So one is under West Africa, and the other blob is under the Pacific Ocean. And they're in the lower mantle right above the core. They call it the CMB, the Core Mantle Boundary. And they're deep. They're about 2,900 kilometers or 1,800 miles below the surface. And I found out they even have names, Tuzo and Jason. And they named them after plate tectonic pioneers, which of course makes sense. How cool to have your name refer to these dense blobs deep in the mantle. So some scientists hypothesize that Tuzo and Jason are just old crystallized chunks from the magma ocean from the early Earth. Or they say that perhaps it's pieces of ocean crust that sank deep into the mantle. Lead author of this Nature paper that I'm talking about, Qian Yuan, he thought that the blobs may be pieces of Theia. And to find out, he and his colleagues ran some really interesting simulations. They have the highest resolution and most detailed simulations of this giant impact that have ever been done. So the models show that the proto-Earth's crust and upper mantle melted from the impact, which is no big surprise. One of the big differences, though, between their simulation and other simulations is that the core was not involved in their simulation. No real energy got quite as deep as the core. And if you look at some of these Theia giant impact scenarios, especially ones that haven't been updated, you'll see that they claim that the entirety of the proto-Earth was impacted. And so according to these simulations, it's really just the crust and the mantle that had the biggest impact. But that's really not critical to the main thrust of this paper, though. What they showed was that 10% of Theia's mantle could have ended up in our mantle and sunk very deep because it was very likely relatively rich in iron, similar to the moon. So then you'd have all these bits of Theia floating down at the lower part of our mantle, and then convection currents would then have gathered potentially all of these together to form the modern-day Tuzo and Jason, these provinces that we see as we see them today. But so yeah, this is really interesting, but it's far from settled. This is not proof, unfortunately. Even Dr. Yuan says our study cannot exclude other reasons. So the Tuzo and Jason blobs could still potentially be from the old crust or other primordial remnants, and it will take future studies to more definitively show that the Earth does indeed have pieces of Theia stuck inside of it. One bit of interesting evidence that could help is finding these LLVPs, finding the analogs of this Tuzo and Jason in other planets. We could potentially find them in Venus, for example, and that would actually make a lot of sense because there literally is a phase in the early solar system, in the development of the early solar system, that we call the early bombardment and the late heavy bombardment. I mean, that lasted for many, many millions of years where there was still tons of debris flying all around the solar system, and the planets were big enough where they could attract and be big targets for a lot of these. So it makes sense that many of the planets in our solar system would have also been bombarded, and even exoplanets, of course, as well. But of course, determining getting seismic readings, detailed seismic readings from other planets, let alone other exoplanets, would probably be very difficult, but it'd be really interesting to see if they also have LLVPs inside them, other blobs.
S: So we have a big chunk of Theia like a blob from Theia in our planet? So what do they think the confidence on that is?
B: I didn't see any confidence levels in the paper or any other research. It'd probably be difficult to do that, but yeah. So I don't know. They seem fairly confident. And I mean, the fact that they're, I've read a lot about their simulations and their models, and it was super complicated. Like holy crap, I just barely scratched the surface on their models and their simulation, but it was the highest resolution, most detailed. There was no mention of any sigma levels of confidence, so I don't know.
S: But just to clarify, I mean, when Theia hit the Earth, a bunch it increased the size of the Earth. A bunch of Theia, of course, merged with the Earth. So the question is just, where is it?
B: In a sense. But there's also conflicting information in terms of, was it a glancing blow or was it a head-on collision? And I read of a study from 2016 that said that counterintuitively, it wasn't like a hit at a 45-degree angle like they thought for years, but it was probably a head-on collision, which would explain some of the oxygen isotopic readings. There would be even, no matter what, there would be a bunch of Theia, but they thought that it would be mixed in and undetectable. What makes it interesting is that it can kind of all glom together in these two big chunks instead of just being mixed in all around.
S: All right, so it's chunky.
Bankman-Fried Guilty (53:23)
S: All right, Evan, tell us about the fate of Bankman Fried. Is it Freed or Fried?
E: It's Fried, actually, Sam Bankman Fried. So I have to just back up the clock a little bit. At the end of 2022, it was our last show of last year, our review, our year-end review show[link needed]. And we were going over skeptical jackasses of the year. And one person's name I mentioned kind of in quick passing was Sam Bankman Fried. That was because in December of 2022, SBF, as he's known by people supposedly cooler than me, I guess, SBF was charged on an eight-count indictment for wire fraud conspiracy to commit wire fraud conspiracy to commit money laundering and campaign finance offenses. And I held off officially actually declaring him like a jackass of the year because it's an indictment. It's not the same as a guilty verdict. So I kind of reserved it and said, let's see what happens here. I was going to keep my eye on it. Well, here we are 11 months later, SBF. Just last week, November 2nd, was found guilty on seven of the original eight counts. That count for campaign finance offenses was ultimately dropped because God forbid the political class be dragged into this. But he was guilty on all the fraud and all the money laundering and all the conspiracy charges. He had pled not guilty, but he was found guilty by a jury. So now here we go. He's going to face up to 115 years in prison.
S: Wow. So he's officially a fraud.
E: Yep. It's official. Sentencing date will be March 28th. So here's the quick background. It's kind of a long story. I'm condensing it into a handful of paragraphs here. Alameda Research. That was his crypto trading firm. So Sam is the founder of a crypto trading firm in 2017. Alameda Research. Fine. In 2019, he goes on to create the FTX Crypto Exchange and their product that they offer is a token called FTT. His trading firm, Alameda, is one of the traders of FTX. OK. So Sam owns the exchange and he also owns the crypto trading firm Alameda. Now that's considered kind of a conflict of interest and it kind of sets off some red flags. But when he founded FTX, he put his girlfriend in charge of running the day to day operations over at Alameda, the crypto trading firm. So they thought somehow made everything kind of kosher. But Sam still retained ownership of Alameda. So it was really kind of a thinly veiled attempt to represent it all as being on the up and up regardless. Alameda. Now, again, this is a private company owned by SBF, by Sam. Alameda's balance sheet gets leaked to the public on November 2nd, 2022. And guess what makes up the vast majority of assets listed on that company's balance sheet? It's FTT. That's the token issued by FTX. Well, that's a problem. That sets off alarm bells by crypto investors and other crypto exchanges basically saying, hey, there's a major problem here. And a lot of other prominent voices in the world of crypto immediately kind of spoke up and said, oh, my gosh you're not, you can't do that.
S: So to clarify, his company's assets were mainly its own crypto?
E: Right. That's right.
S: So it's all like the snake eating its tail kind of thing?
E: And he owns both. So it's not like you'll have a company, right? If you want to invest in a company and you'll look at that company's balance sheets and company X is invested in among other things, Coca-Cola, right? Perfectly fine. You know, not invested. But if it's company X owning company X subsidiary, it's kind of this lateral move. It like means it's like, OK, what is it? What's really the asset here? Is there really an asset to be had? It's a very it's very questionable. And it's considered bad business practice, obviously. And again, it was a private firm. So you don't. Oh, so it's not like a public traded company. So you don't have normal access to things like balance sheets of a private company. But someone leaked it from the inside. And this was on November 2nd of 2022. Well, just a few days after that, November 6th, 2022, FTX's value began to plummet. Now its peak value was once measured at value at thirty two billion dollars for FTX. Yep. But between November 6th and November 8th, about 72 hours, 80 percent of the value evaporated. Investors were taking out their money left and right, an alarming rate. And sure enough, the people who got out first got theirs. But everyone else who tried to withdraw, they were not able to do so if they were late to that game. And by November 11th, a few days later, FTX declared bankruptcy. All withdrawals ceased. And that was it. So what was really going on here? Well, according to the author Michael Lewis, who wrote a book on this, on the rise and fall of Sam and his FTX. And the book is called Going Infinite. Lewis explained, I saw this on an interview on the show 60 Minutes. He said what happened is that much of the money that was invested into these FTTs at FTX had to deposit their money into Alameda. So basically it works like this. You have Alameda as an intermediary because that business, that company is allowed to open accounts for customers. Whereas FTX is not allowed to open accounts for customers. So if I'm an investor, I'm going to send my money into the account set up by Alameda. Then that money is supposed to be moved over to FTX from there, basically to buy those FTT tokens. But what if some of my money never got used and never made it out of Alameda to go and purchase the FTX product? What if it just sat in the Alameda account, which Sam solely controls Alameda. He is the sole owner of that business. And basically when you're depositing money with a company like that, it's effectively like how a hedge fund works. You put your money in, you relinquish control of your money, but you trust that the fund is going to do the right thing and make the investments that they say they're going to make on their prospectus. But in this case, $8 billion, this is $8 billion of an investor's dollars that people deposited into Alameda never makes it over to FTX. It stays in Alameda where Sam retains the control and that is considered fraud. So a jury has decided he acted with criminal intent. He took customers' funds designated for FTX, but never got it. He used that money instead to pay for things like real estate, venture investments, other things, corporate sponsorships, political donations, and to cover other losses that Alameda was doing with other cryptocurrencies that they were investing in. But the whole crypto world was kind of going crazy in 2022 and a lot of those cryptos plunged in value. So he had to cover all those losses.
C: So isn't that also in some – I mean I guess it's not technically a Ponzi scheme because does a Ponzi require that you borrow now to pay for your debts like from previously – like you're taking more money from investors to pay for previous debts?
E: Yeah. You use new money to service the original money that goes in.
C: Whereas he's using new money to service debt over there.
E: Right. Right. So it's kind of like a cross.
E: It's Ponzi-esque. Right. It has the taste of sort of a Ponzi in the sense that when the investor tried to pull their money out, oh, we think this company has $32 billion. Let's take all of it out. There wasn't all that money to take out. At least $8 billion of it was not able to be recovered and that's the $8 billion fraud.
S: So the $8 billion, did that like – did that $8 billion like never exist? Was that vaporware or did he-
E: No, it got used. He spent it.
S: He spent $8 billion?
E: Apparently so or to cover other losses that Alameda, his company, was making.
S: He lost a lot of that money.
E: He lost a lot of it. But it was a lot of-
C: But he lost it by spending it. That's how you lose money.
E: On that Super Bowl ad, if you remember, I mean he's kind of infamously known for having done a Super Bowl ad for this FTX currency. $25 million right there, one advertisement. He had all these celebrities and things that he endorsed. He bought the naming rights to a sports arena in Miami. That cost $100 million. That's just one thing right there. So it adds up. It adds up. And before you know it. Yeah. $8 billion. Made a lot of political investments all over the place. It wasn't – it was bipartisan. He just threw money all over the place like many very wealthy people do. They play both sides of the political aisle when you're at those levels, when you're billionaire levels. That's what you do.
C: So why do certain – like fraud cases like this become national news and others become things we never hear about? Is it the magnitude of the money?
E: That's a fair question. It is the magnitude. It's one of the largest schemes like this that's ever been perpetrated they said. It's not as bad as Madoff. Madoff was ultimately about a $19 billion scheme and that one was a true Ponzi of which they were able to claw back $14 billion. So the net loss there is around $5 billion as of today. But the other part of this, Cara, and it gets to the kind of the other – another article I read about this is that Sam Bankman Fried was a sort of this celebrity in his own right. In fact the article that I read about it, this was an opinion piece in The Guardian and her name is Josie Cox. She wrote this and it came out just the other day. Here's the title. The Problem with SBF. We Wanted to Believe in Him. So he had this like sort of larger – he was propped up. He was on – well, I will read it to you. I pulled two paragraphs quickly and hopefully it will kind of further explain it. Here's what she writes. "The gloriously outlandish nature of all these anecdotes makes it tempting to think of SBF and his crimes as something more brilliant and idiosyncratic than they are. But in a way his greatest feat of genius was being so eccentric that he threw so many people, most notably those of us who should have known better like journalists and policy makers, off the scent. He inspired us to collectively craft a totally nonsensical narrative around who he was and what he was doing, a portrayal so bizarre that we wanted to believe it because it would be such a damn good story to tell. We think of him as this nerdy whiz kid who is brazen enough to ignore the editor of Vogue but who is also heroically altruistic and profoundly passionate about saving the world, someone who deserved to be lauded on the covers of Forbes and Fortune magazines and share a stage with former world leaders. In reality he's an arrogant felon who committed a bog-standard white-collar crime, good old-fashioned fraud, and conspiracy. The nature of these crimes at their core is as old as time, stealing, cheating, and lying." So he had the celebrity. It was kind of like an Elizabeth Holmes kind of thing, hobnobbing with this high-end crowd in which there was a lot, a lot of public exposure. That's why he had celebrities like – and sports athletes like Tom Brady and Shaquille O'Neal, Larry David, among other celebrities and things. This was kind of the company that he sort of kept. So that's sort of why it's – in the original question Cara, I think it seems to be or that it's got covered in the depth and the length that it did because of this sort of celebrity nature that it all took on. I think she put it right, Josie Cox. At the core, it's just stealing, cheating, and lying like so many other people.
S: Just boring old fraud at the end of the day.
E: Right. With the latest, greatest, shiny object to dangle.
C: How much did Elizabeth Holmes get?
E: 11 years she's serving I believe. She was found guilty on four of the 11 counts, was it?
C: Wow. OK.
E: Four of 11. All the ones having to do with like injury to people and those sorts of related charges-
C: Yeah. I'm surprised it's–
E: Yeah, not guilty. So yeah. Mixed bag there. But no, this one, they got him for everything.
S: All right. Thanks, Evan.
Who's That Noisy? (1:06:26)
S: Jay, it's Who's That Noisy time.
J: All right, guys. Last week I played this noisy.
E: It almost has a calliope kind of sound, nature to it. Almost like a pipe organ of some kind, but not of a typical material or a typical instrument perhaps generating the noise.
J: It's a good guess, Evan.
J: OK. Well, a listener named Mr. Tracy McFadden said "My guess for today's Noisy is the theme from Harry Potter" and then he wrote "Harry Potter being played on wine glasses" using friction and wet fingers." I put this one in here because this is the first person who sent it in, but about 50 people guessed that same exact thing. And indeed, it is not that, but I think most of us out there have heard that.
E: Is that the same as an harmonica? Harmonica without the H, like harmonica? Wasn't that an instrument that involved glass and water and liquids?
S: A glass harmonica, yeah.
J: Is that the one where there's a bunch of, it's like a machine that does it or is it just a bunch of glasses?
C: It's a Ben Franklin invention.
E: Right. That's right.
C: Yeah. It's like a mechanized version.
E: Also known as the bowl organ.
J: Yeah, that's it. The bowl organ. Right. Yeah, I've seen that. All right. Another listener named Jen Gonzalez said, "Hello, first time guesser, long time listener. I believe that the sound may be a feedback loop from a microphone and speaker or even similarly someone FaceTiming too close to one another while playing a single note." That is not correct either, but it was a guess. Another listener named Colin clearly wrote in, I think the last noisy was the sound of rain on the pipes of a large church organ. I thought that was a clever guess. We did have a winner. The winner didn't one, one, 100% guess it correctly, but this was a super hard one to guess and this was very, very close. This is a listener named Nick Hilton and Nick said, "Hi, Jay. This episode's noisy sounds like a set of metal nails and a block of wood being played with a traditional bow like one might use for a violin." That is such a close guess. This one is actually called a nail violin and you can look that up on Wikipedia. Kevin from Moscow who wrote in said, "It sounds like nothing I've heard before and has a spooky sci-fi sound that I thought would be right up your street." It is really cool. It is kind of creepy. I bet you could play it to be even more creepy than what we're hearing and it does essentially look like a block of wood with nail like things sticking out of it. This person was playing this thing with his fingers, not with a bow, but I did listen to nails being played with bows and there is definitely crossover in the way that those two ways of playing it sound, but really cool, very odd instrument and remarkable that someone actually guessed it.
New Noisy (1:09:27)
J: I have a new noisy for this week, guys. This was sent in by a listener named John Farquhar and here it is.
[Overlapping, whistling harmonic vocalizations]
If you think you know what this week's Noisy is or you heard something cool, email me at WTN@theskepticsguide.org.
J: Guys, the conference is over. Usually this is when I would say, buy tickets for NOTACON, but it's over.
S: All right. Thank you, Jay. We have a great interview coming up with James Burke and I'll just let you know that there is a full uncut version of the interview on premium content. There's an extra 10 minutes at the end, so you can listen to that for our premium members. Let's go to that interview now.
Interview with James Burke (1:10:34)
- Connections is a science education television series created, written, and presented by British science historian James Burke
- James Burke discusses revival of famous Connections docuseries: Exclusive Q&A (Note: this article is not from the SGU show notes page)
S: Joining us now is James Burke. Mr. Burke, thank you so much for joining us.
JB: My pleasure.
S: So you have had quite the career. I've been a fan of yours since I was a little boy, starting with Connections and then The Day the Universe Changed, but you've done a lot of other things as well, like being the original host of Tomorrow's World and many other TV appearances and books, et cetera. So can I ask you first, what got you started on this journey of explaining the history of science to the world?
JB: An accident. I mean, after I left Oxford, I ran away to avoid working in industry to Bologna in Italy, the oldest university in the world, got a job there, ran a language institute, spent three years in Bologna, and then got moved to Rome to do the same kind of thing down there. And after about a year and a half, I got fed up with it. And I met somebody, one of the English crowd down there, who said, I know some people coming over from England looking for a director for a movie. And I said, I have no idea. And they said, well, they don't know you don't know. So I went along as a kind of joke and met these guys who were very nice. And they said, it doesn't matter if you don't know, come along as an assistant. So we went to Sicily to do a story on the mafia. And I said, there's no point going to Sicily to do a story on the mafia. There is no such thing as a mafia, they'll tell you. And they laughed. And then everybody we interviewed for the film said, mafia, what are you talking about? No such thing. And we won a prize. And they said, you can do this, you can do this again, if you like. So I did another one with them. And they said, try speaking to the camera, because you seem to be good at that because you're a teacher. So I stood in front of the camera. And we did a show called Why the Leaning Tower of Pisa Doesn't Fall Over. So you can see, I began with some serious thought. And the BBC saw this and said, do you want to come back to England and work for us? And I said, yes, why not? I went back to England, and it happened to be a show called Tomorrow's World, which was a kind of techie show three minute pieces, lasting half an hour, each one about some aspect of technology like how a screwdriver worked or whatever it was. And I did that for a number of years until Apollo came along. And then the guy running the program went to the authorities in the BBC and said, I know a guy who knows everything there is to know about space. And they said, good, put him in charge of the Apollo programs. And I said to him, why did you do that? And he said, I couldn't be seen not to know. And so I began with science on a serious basis, and didn't look back. And I've been lying ever since.
S: Yeah, and I love this style because I've again, been consuming science education programming since I was young. And most of them have like, just a series of talking heads, and maybe a narrator in the background. But one of the things I love about like, Connection series is that you are hosting it, you are there talking to me talking to the camera the whole time, providing continuity. That style, I think, works much better. And that sounds like that was a deliberate decision in terms of moving over to that approach.
JB: Yes, it was. Because one of the things you can do with that kind of approach is go jump any direction you like, you don't set a path that they expect you to travel on. So they don't know where you're going to go next. And the great thing about that is that you can go on making programs, each step of which surprises people. And surprise is easier to hang on to than saying, oh, I know what this is going to be and switching off. So that's really basically why I took that approach.
S: And the Connection series started in 1978. And then part of the reason why we're having this interview is because there, there is now a fourth season of Connections.
S: Coming out this year, or I guess it's out on Vimeo. I was sent the link to the episodes, are they all public now?
JB: As far as I know, but that's not, that's not part of my, I'm not, I'm not in that part of the forest.
S: I gotcha. Yeah. There were, there were six episodes.
S: Yeah. And they're, they're excellent. It's definitely the, it's Connections. It's more of the same. So let's talk about that for a bit. Because again, this is, I think a revolutionary series in my opinion that took a very different approach to anything that I've seen before. And even since I think it is, it is unique in the science education realm. So how did that come about? The notion of telling the story of the history of science around these Connections or one event somehow connects to some other scientific advance?
JB: I don't remember exactly how I thought of it in the first place, but it was certainly to do with the fact that whatever the program was going to be, it had to be a constant series of surprises that you had to start in, in A and arrive at Z and the audience would follow you because they had no idea where you're going. And at each step they would have to say, oh yeah, and move on. So that's really a fundamental approach to programming anyway, as you yourself know, if you don't surprise the audience, they're not going to stay with you.
JB: Science I was stuck with because I was in the science department of the BBC and I couldn't get money from any other departments. So clearly the thing one had to do in a science oriented program was not to do the standard approach to a science. Like here's a program about quantum mechanics and the whole thing tells you about quantum mechanics because that way the audience has to want to know about quantum mechanics. Well, they may do for five minutes, but very often not more. So if you're going to a program that involves quantum mechanics and what, and then that's where you get into the idea of how you structure a thing like connections, which is what I did was what I would have done with quantum mechanics was start with quantum mechanics and go backwards. And in fact, that's how the programs got made. I began with an element in the present or the future and went backwards and each time looking for a link that would surprise the audience and keep on surprising them because as they thought, okay, we've got that. Then the next one was surprising me yet again. And when they were beginning to realize what was going on, they knew it was going to be impossible for them to guess where we were going next because we'd out guessed them. And that's good. People like that. And I had to, all I had to do is to go backwards far enough through enough links, average couple of minutes or three minutes per link to a point where we would be about 48 minutes back. And that would be the length of the program or 50. And that point would simply be the most unusual one we could find. And that's why I was pleased in one of them, for example, to decide to start the show with Napoleon's toothpick, because nobody knows where Napoleon's toothpick is going to take them. Or indeed, potatoes grown by the Incas or Frederick the Great's coffee police or Louis the 14th's wig. The great thing about those things is they're hooks. You hook the audience and you hope they don't fall off the hook.
S: So it's a great formula of storytelling, which is what all communication is ultimately about. And yeah, so we've been doing our podcast now for 18 years and we have published a couple of books. As my editor tells me many, many times, do not lecture. You have to tell a story. There has to be a narrative. I don't care how dry the material itself. You have to figure out what the narrative is. And that's why the Connections is such a great narrative device. And you anticipated some of my questions. I wanted to know, do you work forward or backward? So I thought maybe you might work backward. It seems like the more logical way to go.
S: And you also, and you do refer to this in some of the episodes where at each point, there's a lot of different directions you can go in. There's a lot of different connections you can go in. So you said, I was going to ask you, how do you choose which connection to make? And you said one thing that it's got to be surprising. Were there any other criteria that you used to say, oh, this is a great connection?
JB: Well, I suppose there are as many ways of having connections as there are dramatic structure. Surprise is usually the best one, I think. And because it can enfold other things like new knowledge, information that the audience wants to have and hasn't got. But mainly, history throws the stuff at you. I mean, you only have to look in about from any point, you only have to look three or four ways to discover that one of the ways is not what you're taught at school, but is valid and is surprising. And I think that's true of almost anywhere. I mean, I'm just thinking particularly of one. In one of the programs, for example, there's a guy who is a very important person in the Royal Society. And it's his job to bring in new scientific brains to join the society. And he brings in this nobody that nobody's ever heard of called William Heropath. And Heropath brings with him his latest little idea, which is if you take dog urine and mix quinine with it, it will produce crystals that when you put them sideways to each other, 90 degrees, they block light. Well, before you know it, you were talking about polarization and polaroid. And an American called Lan takes this concept to its logical conclusion and put a land camera on an airplane called the U-2, which of course then is part of the whole beginning of the space race. So dog urine to the space race is the kind of link I'm looking for all the time.
S: Really great. I love the ones where it's like this technology is developed for purpose A, but it also was found to serve purpose B, which takes it in a completely different direction. To me, I find that those are the most compelling kind of connections that you find.
S: And some of them are a little tenuous. It's like the connection is personal rather than technological. You know what I mean? It's like this other person working in his lab was working on something else. Do you find some kinds of connections more satisfying than others?
JB: Well, clearly, some are more powerful than others. Some are more surprising. Some are more informative. The hardest ones to deal with are the kinds that you've identified. I mean, for example, in one of the programs, the one with Napoleon's toothpick, Napoleon's toothpick is the toothpick collection is part of a ton of stuff put into this little house on the island of St. Helena in the middle of nowhere in the Atlantic, where they send Napoleon to keep him out of the way after he's been removed from power. And the toothpicks are one of the things that's sent along there with him. And the guy who does the furnishing is called Bullock. And the only thing about Bullock that's interesting, I thought, found out, was his brother, because his brother went to Mexico and came back and set up a thing called the, I think it was called the Living Museum in London, so that you could go and actually see people walking around there being Aztecs and so on. And again, the only thing interesting about that was that one of the things he brought back from Mexico was a hummingbird. And off we go with the story of what happened to the hummingbird. Now, that initial link between one brother and another is not the hottest, high-level, high-tech link possible, but it did allow me to move on to the hummingbird, which then did become an important link. So there are links and links. I mean, there are some mega links and some quiet little links like that.
S: Right, as long as it gets you to another great story to tell.
JB: Exactly, exactly.
S: Right. Do you have, looking back over like the whole series, is there one that really stands out to you as like a powerful, like when you've discovered this, like when you're doing your research or reading about it, like this is amazing that this connection exists.
JB: Well, I think the one I told you, the connection between dog urine and space, the space race.
S: Yeah. That's a good one.
JB: That's my favorite kind of link.
S: Can we talk a little bit about the Knowledge Web?
JB: Yeah, sure.
S: So this is the idea that people can explore the history of science through connections and make their own connections, et cetera. What's the status of that project?
JB: Well, it's not a sort of project in the normal sense of the word that you begin and you move towards the end and blah, blah, blah. I've been fiddling with it for about 20 years. And at the moment it consists of about 2,000 people linked about 20,000 ways. And the name of the game is simply to track through the network. Each person has a minimum of five links. Some have many, some have less. And they go through all aspects of human activity from science to art to music to whatever. And this really, all one can say is spending time on the Knowledge Web will give you the feel for how to build your own Knowledge Web, how to build, for example, the links between you and the rest of the world. I mean, we all live in the Knowledge Web, whatever it is. And it seems to me that that's a very useful way to give people a hint on how to think about predicting their own lives. That a number of things happen a number of ways. And if you spend some time on the Knowledge Web, you see, actually, I think in this series too, you see a number of different ways that change occurs and you can possibly apply that to your own life.
S: Right. Yeah. I also think as we said, it's a great way to learn. And I've felt for a long time the best way to learn science is through the history of science. It's not what we know. It's how did we get to that as something we think is true. And I think the best science teachers have always followed that paradigm. It's like, yeah, like you mentioned quantum mechanics. You can't really understand quantum mechanics without understanding how we got to that conclusion in the first place.
JB: Oh, absolutely. I still don't understand it.
S: Yeah. But yeah, people say, like, it doesn't make any sense. I'm like, then what's the other option now? Like, you have to know, like, what was it that led physicists to say, this might be how the world works.
S: I also have to say, I think of all of the things that you've done, my personal favorite is The Day The Universe Changed. Because I like the philosophy of science and everything. And you go, I think, extremely interesting places there. Any chance of any follow up to that? Or do you think that is a completed project?
JB: No, I don't think it's a completed project. I mean, I could do more of that. The problem with all of this is money. And it's increasingly not available. I mean, when I did the first Connections, we would take a giant film crew around the world. And point it at anything we were doing. And if we had to have an environment that had to look a certain way, we would build it on the spot. There was enough money to do that. And at the same time, as I think I said earlier, there were giant projects going on, like Civilization and Life on Earth, because the money was available to do that kind of thing. Today, that's no longer true. The world of the documentary, I think, has shrunk beyond belief. I think the BBC, I may be wrong, but I believe the BBC only puts documentaries out on one of its channels now. And what are called independent channels in England, which means commercial, I don't think show documentaries at all anymore.
S: Yes, there's just less money available for documentaries just in general, you think?
JB: I think there's less money available for documentaries. I think there's plenty of money available for pop groups.
S: But I have to say, watching the latest season of Connections, to me, it seemed like the production values were very high.
JB: Well, that's very kind of you.
S: I partly attributed to that to the fact that it was way more digital than it was in the earlier seasons.
JB: Well, we had no choice. I mean, we had I think per second of programming, our budget was about maybe five times less than it was on the first Connections. And we had to cut our cloth according to whatever. And the only way to solve the problem was, A, don't travel, because taking a film crew around the world is extremely expensive. And B, use material available, which doesn't cost a lot. And most of that is now digital, as you said. And so really, all we ended up with was me standing talking to a camera and cutting away to material already available in digital form, or sometimes virtual reality. And that had a good and a bad side to it. The bad side was we couldn't go around the world and point the camera at wonderful things. The good side was you had to think much harder about how to tell the story. And you could move much faster. In fact, I think the audience moves much faster anyway than it did 50 years ago. And moving much faster, getting, I think, probably three or four times the amount of content in the same period of time as we used to, means A, that you've got to be very careful about how you tell it so that it's comprehensible at that speed. And B, no, A, that'll do.
S: So I noticed all of that when I was watching. I've been watching the first season again and watching the fourth season so I could compare it. And you notice all of those things. You notice, yeah, in the first season, you go up in a hot air balloon. You're there. You're physically everywhere that you're talking about. And I didn't know how much of it was just the fact that maybe physically you're less able to get around now. Or now you're telling me it was just budget. You didn't have the money to go around the world.
JB: Oh, no, yeah, yes. No, I'm healthy enough to move, yeah. No, that's no problem. I could travel if I but two things. One is that money's not there for anybody.
JB: And B, I don't think the audience wants that kind of thing anymore. The towering show that was Civilization, 13 hours. And you look at it and it goes at the speed of sludge. And you think, come on, hurry up. Because we know much more now than we did then. The audience is much more sophisticated now than it was then, even if it's sophisticated thanks to Top of the Pops or some other kind of show. I mean, things move faster today than they did.
S: Yeah, I think definitely the pace of the show of the current season is more modern. And I think even if there wasn't a budgetary limitation, first of all, you leveraged it very well. I think you probably would have gone in that direction anyway. Like you do, as you say, like we've spoken to other experts about this, because this question of the pace of everything, entertainment, education, movies. And it's clearly like the average shot length, I think, in cinema, has come down from 12 seconds to four seconds in the last 30 years. So, yeah, the pace of everything is increasing. And you have to be pretty tolerant of a slow pace. When you go back and watch the series from 1978, you could tell it's not made for a modern audience. So even though there's less money for documentaries, it's cheaper to make documentaries in the modern style of, here's just a bunch of digitalization, animation. You're just standing in front of a green screen. And you can get away with that these days.
JB: Well, half the time now, thanks to technology, of course, the green screen looks better than the real thing.
JB: So, I mean, there's stuff in this series which has me wandering in a jungle. Well the jungle looked better than any jungle I've ever seen, but I'm nowhere near it.
S: Yeah. Reality, is it real enough anymore?
JB: No, that's good. Well said.
S: Yeah. No, it's in a lot of ways, that's like the way that the industry is going. Like everything has to pop and be more realistic than reality. And because there is this language that the audience now has learned, and you have to speak to them in the language that they expect, which is partly about pacing, but partly also about a lot of other things visually. It's like I noticed you added the, like you actually, when you go back and you summarize, like you keep going back, say, all right, here are the connections that we've made. We started with A, we went to B and to C. And you have that sort of animation of going from the bubbles, like you're connecting, literally connecting. I thought that worked really well, to the point like I would have liked to have seen that in the previous seasons. So that was, I thought, was a great addition, but it sort of just emerged out of, by necessity, the way you had to technologically do the show.
JB: Yes, it did. And the other thing was back in 1978, you didn't do that because you were going so slowly that it gave, you know, people had plenty of time to say, oh yeah, I remember that, blah, blah, blah. And I don't remember ever doing such a thing in the early shows because the pace was such that people weren't being hurried. But yes, and also the other thing about that was stylistically, it was supposed, we were trying to make it look sort of futuristic in a sense, a virtual world, if you like, in which those bubbles appeared.
S: Yeah. And certainly there was a lot of new material, you know, since it's been so many years since the previous season. Did you ever, I mean, obviously you would never, who could guess back in 78? But it's amazing that you've created a work that spans almost 50 years, right? Which is fantastic. It does create this unique opportunity to see, like within one thing connections. It's itself is sort of evolving like technology evolves.
JB: Yes. I think that much is painfully obvious in a way. I mean, I think if I had three years ago when I thought this thing up, if I had been told, oh you can have any money you like, I don't know how differently, I'm not sure. I can't tell you. I think it would have been different, but I'm not sure it would have been any harking back to the old way of doing things. Who knows what it would have been. The plain fact is the limitations on money gave me constraints within which I had to work. And that's what produced the style that I've used.
S: All right. So James Burke, it's really been amazing speaking to you. I'm basically speaking to one of my intellectual heroes. I've been watching you since I was very young, Connections and The Day The Universe Changed or one of my few really classic favorite science communication shows partly modeled my own communication style after you. So it's been wonderful speaking with you.
Science or Fiction (1:33:20)
Item #1: In 1826 the first photograph was created by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, requiring an 8-hour exposure.
Item #2: The Terms and Conditions for iTunes includes the phrase: "You also agree that you will not use these products for the development, design, manufacture, or production of nuclear, missile, or chemical or biological weapons."
Item #3: Apollo astronauts were each insured for $1 million USD in case they did not survive their mission, with coverage ending at the end of the post-mission quarantine.
|Fiction||Astronauts insured for $1M|
|Science||First photograph 8h exposure|
Phrase in iTunes T&C
|Astronauts insured for $1M|
|Astronauts insured for $1M|
|Astronauts insured for $1M|
|Astronauts insured for $1M|
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. Then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. There's a theme this week in honor of Connections, James Burke's connections, which is all about technology. I have three items about technology. Okay.
E: If you say so.
S: Yeah. All right. Here we go. Item number one. In 1826, the first photograph was created by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. You should probably look up how to pronounce that. Requiring an eight hour exposure. Item number two, terms and conditions for iTunes includes the phrase, "you also agree that you will not use these products for the development, design, manufacture, or production of nuclear, missile, or chemical or biological weapons." And item number three, Apollo astronauts were each insured for $1 million in case they did not survive their mission with coverage ending at the end of the post mission quarantine. Jay, go first.
J: Okay. 1826, the first photograph was created by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. Whatever.
E: (laughs) Nicéphore Nispey. Nispey.
J: Requiring an eight hour exposure. All right. I mean, that sounds about right, I guess, right? Yeah.
S: Niépce. Last name is Niépce.
J: Niépce. Okay. I think I've seen the "first photograph". Very interesting because an eight hour exposure, that would be very hard to do. Okay. So, okay. I think that one is likely to be true. Second one, terms and conditions for iTunes includes the phrase, you also agree that you will not use these products for the development, design, manufacture, or production of nuclear. What? Why? All right. Oh, okay. That could make sense because if you would listen to a podcast that talked about how to do that stuff, they are basically covering, it's a CYA. I think that one is the truth as well. And then this last one, Apollo astronauts were each insured for a million in case they did not survive their mission. Okay. That sounds legit too, but I bet you, my gut is telling me that it was probably more than a million dollars. Okay. I'm going to say that the third one is the fake and that number is incorrect. The Apollo one is a fake.
S: Okay. Evan.
E: Gosh, the first photograph, 1826, does sound about right. And the photograph, if my horrible memory serves, is taken within a city or inside. But again, I might be, I'm likely conflating that with something else in my head. 1826 though, yeah, I don't see really a problem with that. I think it did happen in France. Eight hour exposure, yeah, I suppose it could have been. Not a brand new technology. It would take that long. The terms and conditions, the second one, I agree with Jay. I think, yeah, it's a CYA. It probably says a bunch of other things in there as well that might also seem kind of strange or obtuse in a way. The last one about the Apollo astronauts being each insured for a million, well, that one I think I'll agree with Jay. I think this one's wrong. The Apollo missions stretched over, when was Apollo one? 67, something like that. And the last one, well, 11 made it in 69, but one was in the mid-60s, right? And the last one was 72?
S: Two, yeah, 72.
E: I don't know that the insurance for all of them would stay at $1 million over that course of time. It would seem unusual that there wouldn't be any variance to that. If anything, it would go higher. So that's kind of the reason I'm thinking that one's fiction.
S: Okay, Cara?
C: Yeah, I think I might go with the guys. I was thinking about how the first photography had to be before 1826 because of camera obscuras, but I don't know if they actually made photographs. You know what I mean? I don't know if they printed anything. And so whether it was like a tintype or a daguerreotype or those really early printings, I could see that being 1826. But I think that photography, maybe that's not even the right word, but cameras were developed before that, I think. I have no idea on the terms and conditions. But I guess I was thinking that maybe the Apollo astronauts, that nobody would insure them, that it wasn't even an issue of, is that the right dollar amount? But that it was like, why would we do that? These people are quite possibly going to die. I don't know. It just seems like there's too many variables with that one. So I think I'm going to say that's the fiction.
S: Okay, and Bob?
S: All right. The 1826 photograph, it sounds legit. The time frame seems reasonable. It's not like, oh, in the 1780s, which would be probably way too far back, I would think. And it makes, even the eight-hour exposure makes sense because you're first try it, finding material that could use light to expose an image, probably super inefficient. And taking eight hours seems somewhat reasonable. iTunes, yeah, kind of makes sense. I think Jay may have hit on that. I mean, I believe it. And I would throw that in there just to throw it in there, no matter what I was selling. Like, yes, and also you agree that you're not going to use my tutorial on how to create a zombie to, you can't use that information for anything, for nukes and missiles and chemical or biological weapons. I would just throw it in there just to do it, just even for a goop. And then the third one, yeah, there's something wrong with it. I don't think, I mean, can you imagine what that $1 million policy would cost for basically test flights on experimental technology that's extremely risky? I mean, what would NASA have had to have paid? $100,000, you know? And so why would they even pay that much when it just seems, I think, silly. So I'll say that one's friction, agree with everybody else.
S: Okay, so you all agree on the third one. So we'll start with the first one.
Steve Explains Item #1
S: In 1826, the first photograph was created by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, I looked it up this time, requiring an eight-hour exposure. You guys all think this one is science. This one is science. That is science. Yeah, so he called it a heliograph rather than a photograph, helio from like the sun because it was made with light heliography, but it was basically the same thing. Yeah, it took an eight-hour exposure. He used, yeah, it was very, very primitive. He used bitumen that would become hardened by eight hours of exposure to light, and then you would wash away the soft stuff that remained and you would be left with an image created by the light that it was exposed to. Now, he partnered with another French early photograph developer named Louis Daguerre, right? So this is the daguerreotype. Yeah, but unfortunately, Niépce died in 1833 at 69, and then in 1839, six years later, Daguerre came out with his daguerreotype process, which got the eight-hour exposure time down to 15 minutes.
C: Yeah, that's huge.
S: That's huge, but still 15 minutes exposure. That's a long time.
J: Yeah, it's a long time.
S: By modern standards.
E: Not if you're shooting astronomy.
S: Yeah, right. That's true. But the daguerreotype, it's like completely eclipsed Niépce as like the actual first photograph. You can see a picture of it. The first photograph, we took it basically a picture out his window in London. He was living in London at the time.
E: So it was a city picture. That makes sense.
S: He's visiting his brother Claude in London and took a picture out the window. It's pretty bad, but it's the first picture. It's in the museum, I guess, of the Royal Photographic Society collection.
B: Talk about a milestone.
S: Yeah, pretty amazing.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: Let's go to the third one because I want to ask you guys some questions about the third one.
E: Here we go.
S: I'm going to throw out a few things. So Cara sounds like you think that, or in Bob, you think that they would not be able to get insured. Jay and Evan, you think they would be insured for more. Are you guys aware of the fact that soldiers in World War II at least were insured?
E: $10,000, I think they got.
S: $10,000, yeah. So you had to make sure that they signed the paperwork. If they signed the paperwork and they died, then whoever they indicated was their...
S: Benefactor, yeah.
C: I remember that from Band of Brothers.
E: That's exactly right. Very good.
B: I don't remember that. I did not know that.
S: All right, so let me read this. Apollo astronauts were each insured for $1 million in case they did not survive their mission with coverage ending at the end of the post-mission quarantine. You all think this one is fiction, and this one is...
B: Say it.
S: The fiction. But who's right? Is it because it was a higher amount or a lower amount?
E: Bob doesn't care.
S: A different...
B: We said fiction.
E: See? Told you. Yeah, what's the truth?
B: I think Cara and I are right.
S: The truth is nobody would insure them. They couldn't...
C: Ah, okay.
S: So what did they do?
J: Did they get private insurance?
S: No, the point is no private insurance company would... Nobody would underwrite the insurance policy for the astronauts.
E: So what, they enlisted them into the armed forces and they were covered under whatever policy available at the time?
B: They just told the family, we'll give you a million bucks if they kicked the bucket?
J: Did a fundraiser. Cookies.
E: Oh, it was Kickstarter.
S: Okay, this is what they did. They had autographed postal covers.
J: Oh, I know about this.
S: So this company made these basically stamps.
J: They signed a bunch of stuff.
S: They signed them, and then they had them canceled at the Kennedy Space Center post office the day of the launch. So these could never be replicated after the fact, right? They were commemorative stamps. They were signed by the crew. They were marked at the Kennedy Space Center post office on the day of the launch. So the idea was these would be extremely valuable. If they did die, they would become extremely valuable and they would be given to the family. That was their insurance policy.
S: So this was... Yeah, that was the way... That was to sort of cover the family in case they didn't make it because they couldn't get an actual insurance company to cover them. And these things are still around, obviously, and they go for a lot of money. They are collectors items.
E: Well, the astronauts of Apollo 1 died.
S: Yeah, it was Grissom, White, and Chaffee. That was tragic. That was terrible. So yeah, good job, everyone.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: So let's go back to number two, terms and conditions for iTunes include the phrase, you also agree that you will not use these products for the development, design, manufacture, or production of nuclear, missile, or chemical, or biological weapons. That one is science. I skipped over some verbiage there, but that's basically what it says. So yeah, that was a CYA. It kind of seems like, really, how are you going to use iTunes to make nuclear missiles? But it is a CYA sort of thing because... And I don't know if it was there even before... Because podcasting wasn't always a thing on iTunes. It probably got ported over from other Apple technology stuff, like computers and stuff. You know what I mean? It was just a boilerplate that they had. And this is still active. I went to the Apple legal thing, and it's there. It's still there.
E: Yeah, why ever take it out? They'd have no reason to. I wonder if they've ever been able to bring a charge or recognize a violation because of that part of the terms.
S: Well, it also says, for any purpose prohibited by United States law.
E: Sure, it's a catch-all.
S: It's also included there. Yeah, it's a catch-all. All right, good job, everyone.
E: Good, yeah.
J: Thank you.
S: All right, Evan, give us a quote.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:45:54)
Hungry for innovation that will change our ailing world, we're blind to hubris, misguided egos and wishful thinking.
– Josie Cox, American journalist
E: "Hungry for innovation that will change our ailing world. We're blind to hubris, misguided egos, and wishful thinking." Josie Cox, she wrote the opinion article in The Guardian on Sam Bankman Fried. So I recommend you go and read that. But reminding us that regardless of intentions, we can't detach ourselves from reality. And hoping for grandiose solutions to major problems.
S: And the more grandiose, the more skeptical we need to be.
E: Absolutely, absolutely. And that was what brought Elizabeth Holmes down. Same idea, right? She wanted, and she sold enough people, enough important people into believing that there was going to be this medical product that would save the suffering of so many people. And it was all a fraud.
S: All right, guys. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.
E: Thank you, Steve.
J: You got it Steve.
C: Thanks, Steve.
S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to email@example.com. 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
- Space.com: James Burke discusses revival of famous Connections docuseries: Exclusive Q&A
- [url_from_show_notes _publication_: _article_title_]
- BBC: Europe to develop commercial space capsule
- Nature: Terminal ballistic analysis of impact fractures reveals the use of spearthrower 31 ky ago at Maisières-Canal, Belgium
- ScienceAlert: Scientists Unveil World-First Experimental Cocaine Addiction Vaccine
- NewScientist: Bits of an ancient planet called Theia may be buried in Earth’s mantle
- CNBC: Sam Bankman-Fried found guilty on all seven criminal fraud counts
- National Science and Media Museum Blog: N is for... Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, creator of the first photograph
- Apple: Apple Media Services Terms and Conditions
- Wikipedia: Apollo insurance covers
- [url_for_TIL publication: title]