SGU Episode 958
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|SGU Episode 958|
|November 18th 2023|
Scientists in France have discovered a potential deposit of naturally occurring hydrogen, or "white hydrogen." 
|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
G: George Hrab
|Quote of the Week|
True science teaches, above all,
Miguel de Unamuno,
Introduction, George's music revelations, an Age of Nostalgia
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 15th, 2023, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...
B: Hey, everybody!
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey guys.
S: Evan Bernstein...
E: Why is sometimes a vowel? Hello.
S: Hey there. And our sometimes rogue, George Hrabb.
G: When my baby smiles at me, I go to Rio.
S: Oh yeah?
G: Yeah. De Janeiro. Hi boys. I'm getting spoiled.
G: I'm getting spoiled. We're seeing too much of each other and I worry that the flavor is going to get like a piece of juicy fruit. It's just going to be like.
S: We don't see enough of you, George.
E: It was so good for like six seconds. Yeah.
G: Boys, I just had a pretty amazing experience on the interwebs over here and I just have to quickly. It's like one of these things, as a supposed musician, I get more and more crusty and crumbly and I'm harder and harder to impress with stuff that I listen to and that I see. People send me links all the time and I go, yeah, that's nice. Or people send me a piece of audio and I go, yeah, that's nice. Rarely is it like, ah, sitting there in tears watching something go by. I just watched. I just watched. You know Daryl Hall from Hall & Oates?
G: One of my favourite bands of all time. One of the biggest hit makers of the 80s. Daryl Hall has a show called Live from Daryl's House. He's been doing this for like 10 years. Very early internet show from way back. He has guests on. People come to his place. It originally started like literally in his house. Now it's in his restaurant called Daryl's House. But he has a musician come on. They perform that musician's music. They perform some of Daryl Hall's music and then they make dinner and they hang out and chat. It's been a wonderful format. Cee Lo was on once. They did an amazing episode. All these artists have been on. Really, really great stuff. Well, today, like about two hours ago, I watched Robert Fripp from King Crimson. His whole life has never done this kind of stuff. He's never done appearances like this. He's never done kind of sort of fun, silly things. He's like a monk. He's like a guitar playing monk. Well, in the last couple of years since COVID, he's really come out of his shell. His wife has really pulled him out. He's gotten very fun, very silly. He and Daryl Hall recorded an album in 1977 called Sacred Songs. This is 40 plus years ago, right? It was like two weeks they worked together. They recorded this album. They released it. It never really did anything. They never played it live. They never played it anything after that for four decades. They get together on Live from Daryl's House and they play a bunch of these songs for the first time in 40 years and absolutely destroy. I couldn't believe how amazing it sounded. Just amazing and the thing that absolutely floored me is both Robert Fripp and Daryl Hall are 77 years old.
B: Aaa! 77?
G: 77 years old. And I cannot, this is everything that music is supposed to be. There is this connection between these two guys that spans 40 plus years to these songs that they wrote quickly in two weeks time in New York City back in 1976-77. You jump forward in time to 2023 and they're sitting playing these tunes for the first time. Literally, Robert says, this is the second time I've played this song. I played it and we recorded it and now this is the second time that I'm playing this song with a bunch of people. It is everything that music is supposed to be. It's like expertise and artistry and connection. By the end of it, they even played a song by King Crimson called Red, which is not an easy song to play, and they nailed it. Daryl Hall's band nailed Red by King Crimson. The fact that I can say that sentence and not raise an eyebrow and be like, it was amazing. I was stunned and just loved it. Once again, reinforce this idea of like, yeah, occasionally you see something that just transcends what you want it to be. It was wonderful.
J: George, did it have a 70s or 80s vibe to it?
G: Neither. It was timeless. Timeless. There's like, because Fripp is his own style. It's this weird and he and Daryl Daryl, just still his voice at 77 sounds amazing. So like no more talk about, oh ageism or yeah, rockers out of their prime or dinosaurs or whatever. Both of these guys are playing like the best they've ever played. It's just astoundingly cool. Yeah.
B: How do I watch? How do I see this?
G: It's on YouTube. It's on YouTube. Just go Daryl's live from Daryl's house. Put Robert Fripp in there. There's a song called NYCNY, New York City, New York, they do, which is this crazy like a rock kind of dissonant, jangly, fast thing that guys in their 20s would probably have a challenging time to do. And they just destroy it. And I'm like, I have to tell, I was so psyched that I was going to come on here and tell you about it.
E: That's what a lifetime of expertise looks like.
G: Exactly. Well put, Evan. Well put. A lifetime of expertise. Robert Fripp in his 70s still practice about two to three hours a day. Like every day. And will. And will until he's in the coffin. It's amazing.
E: I can imagine you just never want to want to stop.
S: First a new Beatles song and now this.
G: What else could I need?
S: We're living in a golden age of nostalgia entertainment in a way. And I don't remember this any previously, I don't know if it's just our age or, or what, but this idea that entertainers from decades ago are getting like the second life or are still in it, you know?
S: Last week we interviewed James Burke, who is-
G: Which by the way, guys, one of my favorite like science TV personalities ever. Nicely done.
S: Yeah. Awesome.
G: Oh my gosh, that was amazing.
S: He's 86.
S: And what struck me was not just that he made a fourth season of Connections at 86, was that he's talking to me as if as if he's 30. Like he's saying, I'm doing this, I'm doing that. It's just like, it's ongoing, like there's, there's no indication that he's slowing down or that he's not going to just keep doing it. He's planning for the future, this guy. And it was amazing. And he sounds totally sharp he's again, still at the top of his form. And it's, the evolution of his style is there, you know?
G: Right, right, right. The best TV shot of all time, with the rocket taking off behind him. Remember that shot from Connections?
G: It's like the, it's like the most famous live, perfectly timed TV shot of all time. Like Google that on YouTube, James Burke, space shuttle, where he finishes the sentence and the space shuttle takes off and it's like, ah, it's amazing. Amazing.
S: Yeah. That was a lot of fun. There's a lot of that going on. I think it is true too, George, that a lot of it, I think is like an end to ageism. I guess, unless you're running for president, but it's just this recognition that, yeah, you could be productive into your seventies, into your eighties, you know?
S: It's not like you put out to pasture when you get to 40, you know what I mean? Like that, it's great.
G: Yeah. I love that line in Sunset Boulevard, one of my favorite films where it's this ageing actress and she wants to get her glamour days again. And there's a young writer who's basically saying, no, it's over, you're done. It's not, it's not that you're done. It's like, it's, you can have a rest of your life. He says to her, uh, Norma, you're 50. It's not a death sentence. And I'm like, she's 50? Like in my head, she was like 90 it's like, oh, she's 50. It's amazing. Meanwhile, Madonna's 65 and she's on tour selling out places and it's just yeah.
E: Rolling Stones.
G: Rolling Stones. Oh my God.
E: And still making good music.
S: But I also think this is something we've been talking about a few times. It has to do with the fact that culture has flattened out a little bit like these artists from 50, 60 years ago were still relevant today in a way that wasn't true, I think in previous generations.
G: It's also, there is a fear to really, push new things that are unproven. So if you know the stones can sell out theatres and arenas because they did it 10 years ago, the likelihood of a promoter saying, oh, let's push the Stones again, as opposed to pushing some other ensemble that isn't as proven you push the stuff that you know will sell. That's why you have sequels. That's why you have remakes and reboots and all that.
S: Yeah. I think that's the dark side of it.
G: It is the dark side of it. Yeah.
S: Joss and I watched first couple episodes of the reboot of Frasier just to see what it was all about. It was pretty bad, you know? And it was, it was just like, yeah, this is a pretty poorly written sitcom, zero imagination and just like nothing new. It's just like, yeah, it was that sort of safe. Just give them something that they've they liked previously and that yeah, I think that's, yeah, that's the dark underbelly of this phenomenon.
E: Oh gosh. And there's whispers of a Seinfeld reunion.
S: If it's done well, sure. You know, more power to them. The ones that I've seen and I've watched a few of these sort of, resurrecting old popular shows, just no, they just haven't, it is, they've all felt kind of lazy and pointless.
B: Yeah. The exception, one of the exceptions, Picard season three totally worked.
S: It took them three seasons.
G: Took them three seasons.
B: It took them three seasons, but yeah.
E: Another one you can point to would be Cobra Kai. I'd say it was-
S: That was fun.
E: Pretty good.
S: But you know why? That was good because it gave you a reverse angle on that story. It's a Karate Kid story. It wasn't just, they didn't do it again. They didn't just give us the retread of the same story. They deconstructed the story and made us question all the things that we think we remember about the original story.
E: Right. Perspective is everything.
S: That's great.
G: Bad guys, good guys.
S: Yeah. That is fantastic.
E: They found the magic in that. And it was an excellent way of doing it.
J: When we were at NOTACON, we were talking, it was, I guess it was Saturday night when we were packing up and we were talking about like, could you recognize clothing from the aughts and from 20 teens, right?
B: 20 teens. Yeah.
J: And most of us were like no. No real style came out. You can visualize the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties. Like there's all these iconic things. I think Brian did say though, yeah, there's, there is some clothing that, that people were like, it was like low, low cut jeans or something was like a...
S: But it's more, I agree, but it's more subtle, more niche. It's not like it was, not like the eighties, like the big shoulders were everywhere, that wasn't...
G: Someone dressed as George Costanza today in a diner, you would never think, oh, they're going to a nineties party.
S: Right. Exactly.
G: You would never, you would just think, oh, that's not the most fashionable person, but they wouldn't be like, they wouldn't stand out even someone dressed as Kramer even or as Jerry, they wouldn't stand out.
B: It wouldn't be a costume.
G: Whereas if you're in a Brady Bunch outfit, oh, where you're consciously deciding to do that.
E: How much of that is a bias being the age we are and talking about the time span.
S: I don't think it's just that.
G: Oh no, it's also marketing because it's like, they know they can sell the shirt with this size collar, this size collar will sell this amount. So they're not going to push it to make it bigger, smaller, they'll have slight variances in it. You'll have slight color variances. But again, they know these are the jeans we can sell to this extent. So we're not going to really go crazy with the making them super wide or super thin or super whatever. It's just, it's all that homogenization of the market that gets slimmer and slimmer and slimmer because they want the returns to be equal or better than they've always been. And the only way you do that is by homogenizing.
E: Someone 30 today, look back at the year 2000 and can they recognize the fashion change? More than say someone our age.
G: Maybe, maybe, maybe. But again, it's going to be subtle.
E: Yeah. It'd be interesting. We should get some opinion on that at some point.
Attenborough's long-beaked echidna (12:17)
S: So have any of you guys heard of Attenborough's long-beaked echidna, Zaglossus attenboroughi ?
G: Echidnas are awesome.
E: He's the discoverer?
S: It was named after David Attenborough.
E: Okay. Just named after.
S: Yeah. He didn't discover it, but it was named after him. The last time this mammal was sighted was 60 years ago. And then we had a recent picture of like the first picture of it and the first sighting in 60 years.
G: And it's actually on tour. He's playing with the Stones now. 60 years later. It still looks great.
S: Thought it might've been extinct, but it was spotted.
E: But what is it? The Stones.
S: Yeah. It's an echidna. So echidnas are monotremes, right?
B: Ah, yes.
S: Monotremes are mammals that lay eggs and they include duck-billed platypus and four species of echidna, of which this is one.
G: It's sort of like a vole kind of like-ish sort of looking like it's got a weird nose and a-
S: It almost looks like a kiwi with four legs.
G: There you go. Okay. Yeah.
S: You know what I mean?
E: So they've found... So they have evidence of one.
S: Mm-hmm. The picture.
E: And how many do they think might still be there to have had a population?
B: At least one.
S: At least one, yeah.
E: Well, of course. But I mean... But no sighting in 60 years. I mean, what does... Kind of... How does that translate? And do we have other examples of something passing so long without being seen like?
S: It's an elusive species and a remote setting. So there could certainly be a breeding population that we weren't aware of. This is in Indonesia, the Cyclops Mountains, apparently.
G: One of my favorite Frank Zappa songs is called Echidna's Arf of You.
B: Oh my...
G: It's a great tune. I remember thinking that seeing that title the first time being like, what? And so I had to look up what's an echidna. Oh, that's what it is. It's cool.
Swindler's List: Romance Scams (14:05)
- [url_from_show_notes _article_title_]
S: All right, Jay, you're going to start us off with a swindler's list.
J: Have you guys ever heard of the romance scam?
G: Apart from all my dates? No.
E: Not specifically.
J: It happens. This is this is not going to be a big surprise for those of you who understand that scams happen everywhere. But there's lots of variations on this scam, but the basic idea typically goes like this. You register for a dating site and then somebody pings you on the dating site and it's usually an attractive person of the opposite sex. I would dare to guess that this is mostly like the fake woman seeking out a lonely man type of situation. But whoever their profile is, it's completely fake. It's never the real person's face or whatever. They're just grabbing pictures off the web. Then the fake person begins to show interest in let's say it's Bob, right? They're showing interest in Bob and they eventually want to talk to Bob. They want to email Bob off the platform or they want to text or some type of contact, including like actually real phone conversations. And again-
B: They're catfishing.
J: -they're going to pick people who look more desperate because they're easier marks. So their goal is to build up trust. So Bob's talking to-
B: You're saying I'm desperate?
J: -this person over a few weeks and they're really getting to know each other and they're connecting and there's really, there's sparks flying and everything. And then they start they're giving information about them along the way. It could be anything. I read so many different examples, like I'm in the military and I'm at a military base in Germany and I can't and whatever. Let's say Bob is in the United States and I can't leave I don't have any time off for until next year, whatever. They can't see each other in person. Eventually, they are developing a "relationship" according to Bob. Bob's like, wow, I might even be developing feelings for this person. And then they do what you know is going to happen. They're going to ask for money in some way or another. Give me money for an airline ticket. I'll come see you. I need surgery. One of my family members is sick and I need help, can I borrow some money? I'm sorry to say it, but you know, would you mind loaning me a few thousand dollars or whatever? Victims of this scam reported a record of $547 million that happened. And this is just what was reported in 2021, over half a billion dollars, not insignificant. And that is approximately 80% more from reports that go back just a year earlier. So it's been exploding. It's happening quite a bit. In 2021, victims of the scam reported paying with gift cards mostly. I guess that that's what people are looking for. Like they don't even need to send anything. They could just read off like the serial numbers to the gift card and they can make it work. So you know, if you're out there, look, first of all, if this is happening to you or someone that you know, there's nothing to be embarrassed about because especially with affairs of the heart, you can become very vulnerable and it's something that's happening to a lot of people. So if it is happening to you or has, you're not alone. The FTC on their website makes some suggestions. These are some good pointers that you could keep in mind if this is happening. First off, if it's happening, stop communicating with the person completely and immediately. Just ghost them. Talk to someone you trust. Do your friends or family say they're concerned about your new love interest? You hearing anybody that you care about in your life saying, hey what's going on with this person? What's that? If anybody's showing any kind of like skepticism about someone that you've been getting to know or whatever, listen to what they're saying like take some advice or at least, think about it. Another thing you could do is search online for the type of job the person or the scammer is claiming to have. If they're saying that I work on an oil rig, type in and Google oil rig scammer or U.S. Army scammer and just read stories of other people talking about the scam that got pulled on them. And if it's similar to what's going on with you, you damn well might be involved in someone trying to scam you. Do a reverse image search. I mean, in today's technology, it's so easy to pop an image into Google and do a reverse image search on it and you'd be shocked at what you'd find. This profile picture, I'm sure a lot of pictures on dating sites either don't represent the person. But if you're being scammed these pictures are on the Internet. So if they if they're using them, you probably can find them too.
G: There's a whole thing that's happened. I've had a couple accounts on like OKCupid and some stuff like that and there is a whole trend of sort of CGI created photos that you start to see them after a while. It's just you see these like these profiles and you realize it's like the same basic person, even though all the names are different and all this. And like so the interests are they just they just do this vast, vast kind of sweep of interests and whatever. So they match with as many people as possible. But after a while, you just start to see like, oh, that's a totally fake. So it's not even like you can do a reverse image search because it's just a manufactured CGI face that's there. But they're like the same faces show up all the time. And it's really, really scary and really, really sad, too, that people get taken advantage of like that, because like you said, Jay, it is people that are often very lonely and sort of like reaching out for any kind of connection.
G: And it's just the worst kind of human that will take advantage of that.
S: You guys know where the term catfishing came from?
S: How old do you think that term is?
J: I'm going to guess old.
B: Probably a century.
S: 2010. 2010.
B: I was off a bit.
E: That's what I said.
S: Yeah. It was an American documentary, Catfish, by Nev Schulman. He basically was following his own investigation of himself being catfished. This like 40-year-old woman was pretending to be an 8-year-old girl online on Facebook. And the term catfish itself came from the woman's husband, who compared what she was doing to this myth that they used to ship cod with catfish to keep the cod active and healthy. I don't know why he made that comparison. But then he called the documentary Catfish, and that's where we get the term from, catfishing. It's only 2010. That's it.
G: That guy went on to do a whole series on MTV that's called Catfish. That original movie is pretty amazingly done, and that guy exposed himself. He really laid out how involved he was, like, because they were having intimate phone conversations and it's really something to watch. It's amazing that, yeah, it's only 2010, but what an influence that's had on the culture. It's pretty amazing.
S: Yeah, absolutely. All right. Thanks, Jay.
Whole Eye Transplant (21:15)
S: So, have you guys heard about this whole eye transplant?
S: We got a couple emails about it.
B: What's the skinny on that?
S: People are like, is this real? Is this like an actual thing? But the short answer is, yes, it's real, but I'll give you the deets. (George laughs) You're all right over there George?
G: Oh, that's so good. Please, please don't cut that out. Please don't cut that out.
S: Why would I?
S: He might not even laugh so hard. No, it's beautiful.
B: So cute.
S: It was performed at NYU Langone Health. The patient, it's a 46-year-old military veteran, works in Arkansas. He had an electrical injury, basically burned off half of his face. His nose, his mouth, his cheek, his left eye were damaged. He's lost his left arm, which was a dominant arm above the elbow. And so he's been undergoing a series of reconstructive surgeries. They had to remove his left eye because it was just painful, like it wasn't working. It was just pain. So they got rid of it. But when they removed his eye, they cut the nerve as close to the eye as they could for the specific purpose of perhaps later reattaching it to a transplanted eye. Now he was undergoing a face transplant, which is a thing. There's only been 19 face transplants ever in the US. And the surgeon, Eduardo Rodriguez, who did the surgery, this is only the fifth time that he has done a face transplant. But they decided to do a whole eye transplant at the same time because they figured, well, he's going to need immunosuppressive therapy anyway. It's pretty much a zero-risk thing to also do the eye. It's not going to add anything new. The same donor, there's obviously somebody who passed, it was like a 23-year-old kid who died and donated everything, just donated to a lot of different people. They used parts of his face and nose, and they took his left eye, and they did a transplant. This is the first time ever that a whole eye transplant has been done. Obviously, you can do corneal transplants. That's old. We've been doing that for a while. But this is the first time that a whole eye has been done. So they did attach the optic nerve. They attached the muscles. They attached the blood vessels, of course. And they also did something very interesting. This was, I think, really no expectation that this was going to work. This was just a, let's see what happens. This is clearly just an exploratory kind of surgery, meaning from a research perspective, from the donor, not the patient, but from the donor, they took some bone marrow, and then they turned them into adult-derived stem cells, and they injected the stem cells at the connection point of the optic nerve, between the donor eye and the host. So let's just see what happens. So this surgery was done in May. So here we are in November, and the eye itself is still doing well. So they were only really hoping that the eye would survive for 90 days, and they would consider that a "success". So it's over five months later. The eye is still it's still plump, right? It hasn't become desiccated. The retina is getting good blood supply. Basically, that's a successful transplant from a biological point of view, right?
G: Is he seeing?
B: Is he seeing?
G: Yeah. Is it sensitive to light?
S: So of course, the big question is, is there any function in the eye? And function breaks down, I'm maintaining the suspense a little bit longer. The function breaks down into two parts. One is, does the, can the eye see? Is it sensitive to light? And the second one is, are the muscles working, right? Can he move the eye? Can he raise the lid? So the answer is no. There's zero function at this point in time. Again, there never was any expectation that there would be. This is really just a, let's just see if we could even do a whole eye transplant. Will the eye itself survive? Getting the optic nerve itself to regenerate and to actually conduct light signals to the brain nobody was expecting that to happen. The muscles they said are, they're not functional, like they won't move the eye and he can't raise his eye. He can't like open his eye or blink. They said that there's like little flickers of activity in the muscles. So how plausible, so at this point they're saying we're considering this a cosmetic transplant, but it's not, there was no expectation that it would be functional, but this is just sort of laying the groundwork for progressing in this direction. So what would it take, right? What would it take to do a whole eye transplant like in Minority Report, right? Where they just, they swapped out his eyes and three days later he could see. What would that take? The muscles are actually a lot easier than the eye and the reason is that peripheral nerves and muscles regenerate. And you could actually do nerve grafts and nerve transplants, right? You can move things around and nerves can, peripheral nerves can regenerate and can restore function. So it might get to the point where he does have some motor function in the eye muscles. That's fairly plausible. Optic nerves do not regenerate. They are part of the central nervous system and the biology is just different. Peripheral nervous system regenerates, central nervous system does not regenerate, basically. And so, this is an area of active research there are people looking at like what genetic mutations do we have, whatever. What do we have to do to get the optic nerve to regenerate? But we're not there yet. And again, just like bathing it in stem cells was a Hail Mary, basically. That was just like, let's just see what happens. There was no like trail of basic science where they said, this should work. It wasn't like that at all. As a transplant, successful. Functional recovery of the optic nerve, nothing, right? At this point, there's no sign of any activity. They even there was one report where they did an MRI, I think it must have been a functional MRI scan, like they flashed light in the eye and there was some activity on the functional MRI scan, but it wasn't in the optic area. It wasn't in the visual cortex, so it didn't make any sense. It was probably an artifact would be my guess. You know how tricky functional MRI scans are. But there was no reaction in the brain that you would expect from a functioning eye. So it's not even just that he cannot subjectively see, we're not seeing any activity when we look at it directly.
G: How long does an eye from a donor, like how long could it be viable? Does it go right from, like when you, when the donor, from the donor to the patient like right away or can they store it for a while or what's the deal?
S: Yeah, those kind of things you would do right away. I mean, you keep it chilled you preserve it, but they have a very short shelf life. The longer you wait, the lower the success of the transplant.
J: I would imagine though that it's a medical miracle that the eye has survived as long as it has.
S: Yeah. That's, it's an amazing achievement. It should not be missed because of the thing that didn't happen. But it is interesting to think about like what would it take to do, to not only successfully transplant an eye, but to restore vision through the transplanted eye. Again that, I would guess we're decades away from that. You never know, there could be a breakthrough, but I suspect especially since we've been doing this research for the spinal cord and that's probably a good analogy for decades and, and we're making progress, but it's not like we could regenerate spinal cords. We've learned a lot and, and there have been like basic science breakthroughs and some interesting things could happen like in rats it's like, oh yeah, we could restore a tiny bit of function in a rat spinal cord, but we're not there yet. You know what I mean? That's just not happening. But it could be 10, 20, 30 years maybe we can. I think we're pretty much in the same place with, uh, with optic nerves with actually regenerating optic nerves. Once we get there though, think about that. Think about the potential there. If you could do whole eye transplants, then that opens up an entire new type of, of blindness that we can potentially cure, completely cure with just a new eye. And if we're talking 20 to 30 years to get the optic nerve technology down, maybe by then we'll be able to clone eyes, your own eye, take your a bit of your skin, turn it into stem cells and then there's no rejection.
G: What'll be, what'll be faster you think though? An artificial eye, like some kind of lens or a real eye that's transplanted in.
S: Yeah. So that, that, that was the third thing I was going to mention, George, and then once you can regenerate that optic nerve, could you, could you do a brain machine interface to an artificial eye George LaForge's visor. That's like the three, I think, potentials there. You have a transplanted eye from a human or animal donor, a humanized, yeah, or a cloned eye or a bionic eye or whatever.
J: I would rather have a bionic eye.
S: Yeah. I mean the bionic eye. So here's the other thing. So let's say we can regenerate the optic nerve for whatever transplant we do for a cloned eye, let's say, and restore function. Here's the thing. When you have a nerve injury that dies back and then regenerates and reconnects, the nerve fibers don't always go back to exactly where they were previously. So if this is happening in a large muscle, like your bicep, let's say, it doesn't matter because the bicep is a large muscle that has fairly crude activity. If it happens though in your face, which happens all the time, if patients who have severe Bell's palsy where they, they get good recovery, the nerve regenerates, but they get what's called abnormal reinnervation syndrome. The nerve endings don't go back to where they were previously. And then patients with this situation can't control their face because their brain doesn't map to the new set of connections. So they, like what happens is like they smile and they involuntarily close their eye at the same time.
B: Can it remap?
S: It can remap. And we do what's called mirror therapy. We have them just like stand in front of a mirror for 15 minutes a day and just try to move all the different parts of your face and it takes months. They remap their brain.
B: Change that homunculus, right?
S: Yeah. It's because of plasticity. Exactly.
G: So plastic. Yeah.
S: So imagine your vision being scrambled though. That would be way more challenging.
J: Yeah. I bet.
S: Because what do you do? What do you do well if the two eyes don't match? You know what I mean? You almost would have to patch your good eye and try to do whatever you can to sort of make sense of the new eye that is kind of scrambled, which makes me think that the artificial eye might have a huge advantage because with the artificial eye, you could theoretically map the eye to the brain. Whereas with the cloned eyes or transplanted eyes, you, your only option is to map the brain to the eye, right? You could have AI or something in the controlling the mapping in the, the artificial eye itself.
G: AI eye.
S: You could dial it. Yeah. The AI in the eye. So I don't know. I'm just spitballing here. But I mean, you might theoretically be able to like dial in your vision because you can control what's being fed to the brain so that it matches the original eye. Whereas with a cloned eye, I don't know, it's, I wonder what that would be like, but I suspect that it, the vision might be scrambled at the brain side end of it. You know what I mean? Even if it worked.
B: Holy crap.
S: It's, yeah, it's weird to think about.
J: But if they, if we do have bionic eyes at that point, I mean, this is it's definitely like cyberpunk cyborg, like you, cause you know, once you, you could program the eye to see in the dark, to see other colors that we normally can't see like everything.
E: New rods and cones.
B: Steve, real quick. Why did the, this trans, this guy, why did his eyelid not work? I mean, was it destroyed in the, the injury?
S: Yeah. Yeah. It was just, he had extensive damage to that side of his face. So.
B: Okay. So it just did. All right. It wasn't like they transplanted an eyelid too.
S: No. I don't think so. You could see pictures of him. But, but yeah, the nerve supply to those muscles was, was damaged.
G: Thanks for the deets.
S: Yeah. You're welcome. They were, they were fascinating, right?
B: And detail.
E: You mean totes.
G: Totes. Sorry. Totes for goats.
E: Totes, deets.
Hottest Year on Record (34:51)
S: All right, Jay.
S: Is it a hot enough for you?
J: You know, I've been talking about this a lot. Steve and I talked on a tech talk today a little bit about global warming. So what's going on guys? The last 12 months were the hottest on record and it's a big problem.
G: We keep saying that.
J: And we gotta keep talking about it.
E: It's not a good thing.
J: We gotta keep talking about it. So one in four people experienced bad weather situation in the last 12 months. From November, 2022 to October, 2023, it's been the hottest on record according to a report by the nonprofit organization called Climate Central. So this period surpassed the average global temperature from 1850 to the 1900s by approximately 1.3 degrees Celsius. So that's where we're at now. We're 1.3 degrees above what would be considered the normal earth temperature.
S: What we call it the pre-industrial average.
J: Exactly. The pre-industrial average.
J: Celsius. And of course 1.5 is the threshold that we're trying to stop at. As you all know, this temperature increase is mainly due to human cause, climate change. We're all warming pretty much as predicted by climate scientists. And if anything, global warming is moving a little bit faster than they predicted. So the new temperature is dangerously close to this 1.5 degree threshold that scientists say we need to not exceed because, and pay attention, irreversible damage will begin to take place once we get above 1.5. The report suggests that this warming trend may be unprecedented in the last 125,000 years. Because we have a geologic history that we could look at. And I wouldn't be surprised because this is a situation that's never happened before on earth because humans weren't doing this kind of shit 125,000 years ago. The report's release was on November 9th. Now this was significant and it was strategic because they wanted to have the report come out before the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference, which begins on November 30th. So it was good that the report was able to come out at this point because it'll be something that'll be integrated into that climate change conference that's going to happen. Now, one of the alarming findings of the report is that approximately 25%, or like I said, one in four people experienced a climate change induced heat wave lasting at least five days over the past year. This is very significant. Right now, in the last 12 months, one quarter of the population was in a heat induced climate change situation that was deemed hot and dangerous, right?
J: Already. Yes.
G: Jay, do you know what it was in the past? Like the percentage? Like one in 10 or one in 20? Do you know what it used to be?
S: You can't really say like that because it's all probability. What they did say is that this was extremely more likely due to global warming.
J: So they came up with another thing, which I thought was really smart. They included a new measurement called the Climate Shift Index, it's CSI. And simply put, it's a daily local temperature attribution system. So the index combines observational data and climate simulations that determine the likelihood that local temperature variations are due to climate change. So like for an example, the analysis using CSI reveals that about 90% of the world's population or 7.3 billion people experienced at least 10 days of extreme temperatures strongly influenced by climate change in the last year. So as I rattle off statistics like that, you got to imagine, let's say you're a policymaker and you might not really have an intimate understanding of what is going on out in the world. So yeah, we're at 1.3 and blah, blah, blah. What does that actually mean? Well, now you could say, well, 90% of the world's population, 7.3 billion people experienced at least 10 days of extreme temperatures. That's impactful. The extreme temperature days had a CSI rating of at least three, and it's very simple. Three means that human-caused climate change made those temperatures at least three times as likely. Also nearly 75% of the global population experienced over a month of extreme temperatures. That statistic right there blew my mind. I'm going to say it again, 75% of the global population experienced over a month of extreme temperatures. I mean, this data is clearly showing how pervasive and long lasting the extreme heat was. We had one hell of a fricking hot summer in the United States. I mean, there's southern parts of the United States where it was either the heat index was bad, like kill you temperatures. Stay indoors-
S: And North America is not getting the worst of global warming. They're actually at the low end.
J: That's right. And I was just today on TikTok talking to Steve, and I'm like, you're looking at a map of the United States, and Texas, and going over to Florida. What about Mexico, which is south of the United States? And then you keep going down, and down, and down, all the way to the equator. And then the other half of the world it's really bad. It's already bad.
G: Hell, the wildfires in Canada, I mean, does anyone remember the smoky weekend that we had? It was like, it's unbelievable.
J: We got it a lot worse than you too, George.
G: Oh, I know. I know. I can't imagine. I mean, it's like, I'm 700 miles away, and I walk out for a jog, and I'm smelling this burning thing in the air. I'm thinking, someone's burning garbage. That's really weird. No, it's Canada's on fire.
J: Yeah. Yeah.
G: I mean, it's madness.
J: And they lasted all summer.
G: Yeah. Yeah.
J: It was significant. I track that every day. I looked at the air quality index every day. So going on what you guys just said, the report also showed that there are significant inequalities in the burden of climate change, like less developed regions like Africa, Southeast Asia. They're experiencing relatively high CSI ratings, even though they contributed the least to fossil fuel emissions, which sucks for them, right? So we all share an atmosphere, and countries and regions that aren't creating a lot of pollution are getting hit the hardest from global warming, which is really shitty. You know, it sucks that it's happening there. Now, at the same time, the impacts of climate change are accelerating in many of the world's wealthiest countries. This is including the United States, which we saw prolonged and intense heat waves over the last 12 months. I have a friend that lives in Texas and I said it before on the show he was just like, you just don't go outside. You don't go outside and the pavement and the ground retain that heat. And he was going outside at night, and it'd still be 100 degrees.
S: Next year is going to be just as bad. It'll probably be another record-breaking year because we'll still be probably in an El Nino pattern. And then we'll have a couple of years where it's hot, but it's not breaking records, and then it'll go back and we'll break records again. That's kind of the pattern. Yeah. That's what we're seeing.
G: What does it take? What does it take to, like, convince people that we have some kind of policy?
J: Well, all right. So there's in the report, this is what it's going to take, George. In the report, they have an urgent call for action. They make it clear. We need to reduce fossil fuel use immediately. While some effects of a century of emissions, they're going to persist, but heat absorbed by the oceans and melted glaciers, global temperatures could be stabilized. The worsening of the heat waves could be mitigated by reducing reliance on fossil fuels. It comes down to this. We have to stop burning fossil fuels. We have to move over to renewables as quickly as possible, which means money. Money and manpower. We have to be willing to do it. And I think for the most part people, especially people who in the past 12 months were like, what the hell was that? What was that? What was that heat wave that we just had? That was awful. People are on board. We just need the governments to do it. And I just don't know. Like voting doesn't happen all over the world. Some people can't choose who their government is. But in places where you vote, you've got to vote to people who are paying attention to this.
G: Isn't it, though, a monstrously disproportionate number of small companies and businesses that are causing the most fossil fuel usage? It's something like a hundred businesses cause like 70 percent, a hundred industries cause 70 percent of the global temperature stuff.
J: Yeah, you're right George.
G: Like can we not? Can't those businesses? I mean, how smart would it be for them to say, hey, we realize what's going on. This is what we're going to do. And they can have a massive impact.
J: Self-regulation, George, doesn't work.
G: No, I know. I know. I know. I know it doesn't work. But like, it's just the humanity of it. I know it's such a Pollyanna kind of response to have.
S: But we do have to be realistic in that our civilization runs on fossil fuel, right? And you can't just stop. You can't just stop producing fossil fuel or having electricity or heat or whatever. We have to replace it. I actually wrote an article recently about this question of like, what's more important at this point in time, reducing the supply of fossil fuels or reducing the demand for fossil fuels? And when you really do a deep dive on that question you really have to reduce the demand. You have to replace it. You can't just, like, not give it to people. Because first of all, we certainly don't have the ability to, stop gasoline. All we would really do would be shifting it to other countries, including places that are run by dictators and that don't care about things like this. So we have to stop. We have to reduce the demand by producing electric vehicles and producing green electricity. We have to make it worthless, right? We have to make the fossil fuels not worth pulling out of the ground.
G: But there's modifications, right? It's like, I mean, I just, a couple of weeks ago I did this story about what I call, not cruise ships, but the big container ships. And they've developed these wings, basically, that they put on these ships. And it's these huge tower vertical wings and they reduce, if you have two of these wings on the ship that are like, whatever, that are 100 feet tall and whatever.
B: Like hard sails, yeah.
G: They're hard sails. You know, they reduce. It's like a thousand gallons of a thousand tons of fuel a day or something that it cuts back.
B: It's crazy.
G: It's crazy. Right. But they're expensive. You got to put the, you got to install these things. And they did the first run. It went from, I forget where it was, somewhere to somewhere. It was like a big big, significant cross, cross global journey. And they work. They did the thing that they were supposed to do. Those kinds of solutions where, yeah, we're still going to use fuel, but we use a significant amount less because we've installed this piece of technology, which makes the car more efficient or the ship more efficient or the house more efficient. Why is it so difficult?
S: It's happening. It's just not happening fast enough.
G: Not fast enough, yeah.
S: So the US has reduced the carbon footprint of our electricity sector by 40% in the last 20 years. And we've reduced our total greenhouse gas emissions by 12% in the last 15 years. But, and so has Europe et cetera. But Asia, and especially China, has increased their carbon footprint enough to offset that. And so globally, we're still eking up in terms of our total carbon footprint.
G: Isn't Xi Jinping having a meeting, though, about global stuff, right?
S: He met with Biden, and they have an agreement. And the agreement is that they're going to do stuff about global warming. But it didn't, they didn't say anything about reducing coal or fossil fuels. So it was like a baby step but it's not obviously what we need. But that's, again, that's the problem that it's, we don't really have an infrastructure to act globally. You know what I mean? We're just sort of, we're trying to act as individual nations or as agreements among nations, but it's not enough. So that's the problem. So technology is going to help to some extent the countries that are doing things is helping private citizens are helping, but it's all too slow. It's just not enough. Here's the other thing, though, that the White House the federal government put out their five-year climate report just came out. And the I think that the top line, the important detail was that they estimate that the consequences of climate change are costing us, costing the United States $150 billion a year, $150 billion a year. And meanwhile, they're talking about, yeah, we're going to spend $100 million there and a billion here. It's like, yeah, that's all great. But I mean, we could be investing $150 billion a year, and it would be a worthwhile investment. We could be doing a ton more. The thing you mentioned about, yeah, this works, but it's expensive, but it's not as expensive as global warming. And if we just priced carbon, which I know it's hard politically to do that, but if we do it in some way, if we just say that the cost of burning fossil fuel in terms of the effects on global warming, if we factor that in, anything else that we do is cost-effective. You know what I mean? All these expensive options become cost-effective if we fairly and accurately price the true cost of burning fossil fuel, and that we're just hiding now, right? We're sort of riding on this cheap energy.
G: Like absorbing it. Yeah.
S: But it's a fiction. It's a fantasy. It's not real. It's just because we're hiding and kicking the can down the road this true cost of it. And of course, every option is going to be expensive because nothing is going to be as cheap as pretending like it doesn't cost anything. You know what I mean?
S: Anyway. Yeah, this is our generation. We get we could, we'll talk about this, we'll sit on the sidelines, and we'll slowly watch the world burn, and there's very little we could do about it. You know, as we say, vote, you do what you can, but I don't know what else to do. I don't think that there's any, there's no easy solution, you know?
Neutron Thickness (49:43)
- Using heavy-ion collisions at the LHC, scientists determine the thickness of neutron 'skin' in lead-208 nuclei
S: All right, Bob, tell us about proton thickness and make us understand all the physics.
B: Did you say proton thickness? Neutron thickness.
S: Is it neutron or proton?
B: Neutron. Neutron skin.
S: Neutron skin.
G: Proton girth.
B: Yeah. This was interesting. Interesting little news item about measuring the neutron skin of lead atoms and how it could help us understand neutron stars and also illustrates this principle of special relativity. This appeared in Physical Review Letters. It was called Determination of the Neutron Skin of Lead-208 from Ultra-Relativistic Nuclear Collisions. All right. Did you know that lead-208 atom has a very interesting nucleus? It's got 82 protons and a whopping 126 neutrons. It's the heaviest stable isotope of any element. It's also referred to as doubly magic because both 82 and 126 are among a select handful of special numbers when it comes to neutrons and protons, since those numbers completely fill the nuclear shells and are therefore bound so tight. That's what makes them incredibly stable. They're more tightly bound together, more so than with other numbers of neutrons and protons, whether they were smaller or larger. So that's interesting. It's also very helpful. If you zoomed into a classical representation of this core of a lead-208 nucleus, what you'd see? You'd see neutrons and protons, right? As you zoomed in there to this very center, you'd see a mix of neutrons and protons at the very, very center of the core. But the outermost regions of that core, you'd see mostly neutrons. This is called the neutron skin, right? The thickness of that outer skin of neutrons is what we want to measure here. But determining that structure of neutrons is not easy. Protons are, in fact, a lot easier in that regard. You could just scatter electrons off of them, and you can get details about how the protons are arranged. But neutrons are not charged, so electron scattering is not very helpful. What the scientists did is they looked at pre-existing data from the LHC, Large Hadron Collider, and that was very helpful. One month per year, the LHC—I didn't realize this—the LHC does what's called heavy ion runs in which they fire these lead-208 atomic cores in opposite directions and smash them together with tremendous energies. So what's smashed together, you can imagine as these balls of neutrons and protons, right? But an arguably better mental image would be pancakes of neutrons and protons. This is related to what's called the Lorenz-Fitzgerald contraction. You may have heard of that, which is also one of the many counterintuitive implications of Einstein's special theory of relativity. It's often simply referred to as length contraction. Now it describes very simply, it describes how measured lengths are shorter for moving objects compared to objects that are not moving from the measurer's point of view, from frame of reference, right? So now what's exactly happening here? It's really surprisingly complex and hard to really fully appreciate and even describe. But in terms of this news item, the researchers refer to this Lorenz contraction in their paper. They describe the ions that collided as Lorenz contracted by a factor as high as 2,500. So that means that in some meaningful way, there was this tremendous amount of flattening of these atomic cores as they traveled in the direction of travel due to their relative velocities causing this length contraction. This is just an interesting aside and the more I looked into this, this Lorenz-Fitzgerald contraction, the more I realized that it would take a lot more time to describe properly. So maybe I'll have to defer that for another day. So okay, so where are we? We're colliding pancakes. So these bare lead atomic cores, imagine these cores are colliding with so much energy that it essentially melts away the neutrons and protons into their constituent quarks and gluons, creating my favorite state of matter. What is it, Steve?
S: A Bose–Einstein condensate?
B: Kind of close. A quark-gluon plasma. So quark-gluon plasma is an amazing substance. It's essentially untethered quarks and force-carrying gluons. They're not locked together as they usually are as protons and neutrons. It's a near-ideal relativistic fluid. Look it up if you're not familiar with it. It only existed right after the Big Bang for a very brief period of time, fractions of a millionth of a second after the Big Bang. It existed for a little while. We think that maybe, perhaps, it occurs in the cores of neutron stars. So now the size and shape of this plasma and the particles that are detected as it cools allows the researchers to infer the distribution of neutrons and protons in this lead-208 core and thus to determine the thickness of this neutron skin. So you got that? So by examining the quark-gluon plasma itself, the shape and the size of that plasma, and then tracking that plasma as it cools, because as it cools, particles then appear that can be detected and they can be tracked as well. When you put all that together, you could kind of figure out, okay, based on this, then the distribution of neutrons and protons in the core would have to be this. So using that estimation, that calculation, they were able to determine that this neutron skin has to be probably around 0.217 femtometers, plus or minus 0.058 femtometers. So that's a millionth of a billionth of a meter, a femtometer is a millionth of a billionth of a meter. So this was a little bit less than a quarter of that. So yeah, this is really, really skinny, as you might imagine, since it's the skin of the nucleus of an atom. Now, this is the first time this was ever measured using the strong force, and it agrees with other more indirect methods. I believe one of the other indirect methods they used in the past was using the weak nuclear force, but that's more indirect, I think. They're very proud of this achievement. So now just knowing that level of accuracy, that's not really the goal here. It's not like, oh yeah, we know this number more accurately now, isn't that cool? It is, but you can then use that calculation to improve our understanding, our knowledge about quantum chromodynamics, and one of the coolest things in the universe, neutron stars. So hopefully we'll be reading more insights into neutron stars based on this type of research in the future.
G: Does this give us one step closer to a lightsaber? Or is that not?
B: Who knows?
E: Not farther away.
B: Yeah, not farther away. Maybe.
G: All right, good.
B: Who knows? Someday potentially could apply, but don't get your hopes up.
E: Yeah, it's not going to hinder lightsaber technology. Let's just put it that way.
G: Okay, good. That's all I'm shooting for. That's all I'm shooting for.
E: That technology is creeping along at its current pace.
B: I should come up with a number at the end of all my talks, how much this news item helps with lightsabers, potentially. Give it a rating, like a C-.
G: The LS number.
E: The LS scale.
G: The potential lightsaber scale, yeah.
B: I like it.
Hydrogen Deposit in France (57:07)
S: All right, George, tell us about this hydrogen deposit in France.
G: So Jay hit us with the bad news, and I have a little bit of good news.
E: A little bit.
G: A little bit of good news. It could be good news. It might be good news. It's not bad news. So there's that. It also doesn't hinder lightsaber potentiality, so that's always good, too. The LS number is in the positive column. So you gents spoke about this previously[link needed], the type of hydrogens that sort of are available for use in machinery, in whatever, and they're listed by color. So you've got gray hydrogen. So gray hydrogen is stuff that's made in a factory by processing natural gas. It's pretty much the main source of hydrogen. Whenever you have some kind of a bus or a car that uses hydrogen or some kind of device that uses hydrogen, it's using gray hydrogen. It's processed by natural gas, so obviously a lot of CO2 is emitted while they're producing it, so it's not ideal. There's black hydrogen, which is made from coal. So also not really great because all the benefits that you might get from having an engine that runs on hydrogen, you kind of lose because you're processing coal. There's green hydrogen, and that comes from the electrolysis of water, which is better, but you're still using electricity, basically, to produce this hydrogen. So it gets really tough to offset the benefits versus the negatives. And then finally, there's something called white hydrogen, and white hydrogen is hydrogen that is in its natural hydrogen state in nature, and it's pretty rare because you have to pretty much process it all the time. Well, just in the last couple of months, scientists in France in a region there in the Lorraine region were looking for methane, drilling and doing some minimally invasive searching for methane, and they found what could possibly be the largest white hydrogen deposit like ever. It could hold up to 46 million tons of white hydrogen, which right now is more than half of the world's current annual production of gray hydrogen. So all the stuff that's being produced in the world in this single deposit could have half of what's produced in the world in this single deposit in Lorraine. Mostly geologists discover white hydrogen by accident. They're usually looking for fossil fuels, they're looking for methane, and this is exactly what happened. Members of the Laboratoire Georesources of the University of Lorraine and of France's National Center of Scientific Research found they were set up to look for methane gas under this old coal plant in this portion of the Lorraine, and all of a sudden they found this lovely bunch of, at 1,200 meters deep, they found a bunch of methane, and they were surprised at the percentage of it. So following chemical monitoring of the rock strata and accompanying methane deposits, geologists were surprised to find a high proportion of hydrogen was present, and its concentration grew as they got deeper and deeper, reaching 20% at 1,250 meters. Such levels allowed them to speculate that at 3,000 meters below the ground, hydrogen content could exceed 90% according to their modeling. And on the basis of gas data at 1,100 meters below ground, 14% hydrogen, the Lorraine deposits could contain up to 46 million tons of white hydrogen, which again, they say is more than half of the world's current annual production of gray hydrogen. This also comes on top of France's other potential white hydrogen reserves, which they have in the Alps, in the Pyrenees, and in New Caledonia. So together with that Lorraine deposit, it could enable France to produce three million tons of white hydrogen gas a year. There's other untapped deposits, and they could be in the US and Australia and in Europe and Spain and Germany and Iceland and Finland and Ukraine and Norway and Russia and Kazakhstan. And they have this probe that's called the CISMO-G probe. I couldn't figure out what that stands for, but it stands for something really probably cool, I guess. But it's the CISMO-G probe, and it's a minimally invasive probe. You don't have to drill gigantic boreholes to find whether this hydrogen is viable and usable or not. There's one place in Mali in West Africa that has the world's only exploited white hydrogen mine or site. And it produces about five tons a year, which is nothing compared to what could be close to 80 million tons coming from France alone, if this sort of gets taken advantage of. So this potential supply of white hydrogen, it's a huge advantage that you don't need additional energy to use it. You have to mine it, but once you've got it in whatever containers they got it in, it's good to go. So they're pretty excited about it. The theory is they're leaning towards that this will explain the presence of this hydrogen under Lorraine could potentially be as close to an infinite supply as infinite is feasible. So it's pretty exciting.
S: Now, George, I was trying to understand this report, though, because it says at one point the Lorraine deposit could contain up to 46 million tons of white hydrogen.
S: Is that the total amount that it contains?
G: I think that they can, that it potentially could contain with the measuring devices that they have right now, where they could like, there might be an infinite supply, they're sort of saying, underneath that measurable amount. From my understanding.
S: Right. Because the 46 million tons is good, but that's one half a year supply, basically, of the amount of gray hydrogen that we're currently producing.
S: So that's not a lot in the big scheme of things. It's not nothing, but it's not going to change the hydrogen industry. But yeah, but there would have to be a lot more than that underneath where we-
G: Yeah. It indicates that there potentially could be this massive, massive reserve there. And if there's a massive reserve there, that means that those kinds of reserves are possible, so they could be all over the planet, which would be really, really exciting.
S: Yeah, and this is what we were talking about before when we first talked about the white hydrogen thing, which is interesting because at first they thought, I mean, like up until very recently, scientists thought that hydrogen's too small a molecule, it's too small and light. The ground could never contain it. This would just leak out of the earth's surface and then go away into space. But apparently there are some places where it could be captured, you could get a bubble of hydrogen. But we had no idea how much. So this is good that this quickly they found this big a deposit of white hydrogen. And hopefully this means that there's a lot of it down there under the earth. Because as you say, hydrogen is fuel, it doesn't have to be made into fuel, it is fuel. And it's green fuel in that you burn it with oxygen, you get water, like there's no CO2. Hydrogen's great. The worst thing about hydrogen as a fuel now is that we have to make it either by stripping it off of fossil fuels, which is worse than just burning the fossil fuel, or by electrolysis from water where you're just basically using it to store energy but not as a source of energy. This would be hydrogen as a source of energy.
G: And a tap. A tap of just pure.
S: It's kind of a game changer if it really pans out in the way we hope. And I doubt it's going to replace other, like the need for other sources of energy. But probably I think the most useful use for hydrogen would be in industry. Because you have to use it to, like for fertilizer and to make steel and to make whatever. Because industrial uses are the hardest to decarbonize. But if you have a high energy molecule like hydrogen, you're there. Like you've decarbonized it.
G: This story sort of felt like either the first five minutes of a science fiction film or like the first couple of chapters of a book where the earth kind of takes a left turn and everything gets great. You know, it's what it feels like, like, yeah, they find this reserve of hydrogen. And as you read it, you're like, yeah, please give me a break. But it allows the plot to continue that they get rid of and they get space travel and more.
E: Yeah, Star Trek optimism.
G: Totally. Yeah, the Star Trek optimism. But as I was reading, I was just like, ooh, this could be like the first five minutes of a really cool movie. Like, oh, my gosh. Like in the prelude, they show like, yeah, remember in 2023 when they found that reserve.
S: Like it's a big turning point, yeah.
G: Game changer. Game changer. Yeah.
J: That's when they released the demon, though.
G: Oh, that's true, too.
E: Right. Well, if you're going to sell popcorn, yeah, you got to have a demon in it.
S: Well, let's just hope that there's a ton of hydrogen down there.
S: That there's a crap ton.
G: More than that, Steve. More than a ton. We need like 100 million tons. You know what I'm saying? More than that.
J: Isn't that a shit ton?
S: You think a shit ton is one gigaton?
G: Shit ton. Femto ton. Femto shit ton.
E: Femto's small, right?
S: Now, is a shit ton T-O-N or T-O-N-N-E?
G: That's a shite ton.
S: A shite ton.
E: A shite ton.
Trust In Science Declining (1:06:51)
- Americans' Trust in Scientists, Positive Views of Science Continue to Decline
(click to create redirect page)
S: All right, Evan, tell us how much everybody just loves science. (laughter)
E: Well, if we were polling this audience, we might get a different result than what the Pew Research Center found out just recently. For those of you who don't know the Pew Research Center, they are a very well-regarded polling and survey organization based here in the-
G: They stink. Pew!
E: Thank you, George. You saved me the time there.
E: Yeah. And what they do – look, they take America's collective temperature on all sorts of matters, politics-
E: -religion. Oh, yeah. I mean you got to go to the heart of the matter, right? The economy, consumption habits, relationships, and certainly science plus much more. But yesterday they released the results of a survey which was titled Americans Trust in Scientists. Positive views of science continue to decline. We're trending in the wrong direction here. So they conducted this study to understand how Americans view science currently as well as their levels of competence in groups and institutions. For the analysis, they surveyed 8,842 US adults and it took place during the week of September 25th this year. Here were their key findings. 57% of Americans say science has had a mostly positive effect on society. That is down 8 percentage points since November 2021 and down 16 points since before the start of the coronavirus outbreak which was early 2020. About one third, they say 34%, now say the impact of science on society has been equally positive as it is negative. And a small share, 8% think science has had mostly a negative impact on society. Those are the key findings and the key sort of changes.
G: They fill this out on a computer using their internet.
E: Well, that is sort of the irony, right? As the antibiotics keep them healthy.
G: Right, right. Under electric light with the – yeah, yeah. In a heated house.
E: But a couple of breakdowns for you. In scientists themselves, so this is the – anyone who is considered a scientist, 73% of those surveyed, they have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in scientists to act in the public's best interest. That's 14-point drop since the early stages of the pandemic, again, early 2020, 14-point drop since then. The share expressing the strongest level of trust in scientists saying they have a great deal of confidence in them has fallen from 39% back – this is back in 2020. Now it's only at 23%. That's the strongest level of trust in scientists. So we've lost kind of a certain chunk of people there out of that category. Distrust has also grown. Roughly a quarter of Americans, 27%, now say they have not too much or no confidence in scientists to act in the public's best interest. That number was only 12% in April of 2020, more than doubled since then. And they give you some political breakdowns if you care to know, not that we focus on politics directly, but hey, this is a science poll and a science survey, so it is relevant here. Republicans, yeah, Republican-leaning independents as well, they – let's see, 38%. They say they have not too much or no confidence at all in scientists to act in the public's best interest. It was 14% back in April of 2020. So there your number is not quite tripled, but approaching it. Fewer than half, 47%, this is Republicans. They now say that science has had a mostly positive effect, but back in 2019, that number was 70%. So whoa, that has fallen really far. Democrats, Democrat-leaning independents, their high was 55% in November of 2020, but now it stands at 37%. So this phenomenon is not limited to one political side or the other or however you lean in this regard on this binary scale. But still 86% of those who identify as Democrats or leaning Democrats, they express at least a fair amount of confidence in scientists to act in the public's best interest. That's not too different from around the time of the beginning of the pandemic.
G: How's that question phrased though?
E: Yes. So they do have several questions here. I'm actually reading the survey question wording and top line. Let me read this for you exactly how it was worded. How much confidence, if any, do you have in each of the following to act in the best interest of the public? All right. There were two categories, medical scientists and scientists. Okay. So those are the two science categories. And it's a scale. It's like basically a, well, I guess a five-point scale, no answer being one. I guess, or zero, zero through four. Number one being no confidence at all goes up to number two, not too much confidence. Three is a fair amount of confidence. Four is a great deal of confidence. So that's the question. And it's based on those, you have to vote in one of those categories.
G: Yeah. See, even that feels like so slotted, you know?
J: I agree.
S: But I think if you're going by the peak at the very beginning of the pandemic, maybe a little bit misleading. If you go from 2016 to 2023, for Democrats or lean Democrats in terms of society having a mostly positive effect, they went from 72% to 69%. That's pretty negligible. That's not really dramatic. Republicans went from 67% to 47%. That's huge.
E: That's a, yeah, that's like, oh my gosh.
S: That's a 20-point drop. So that's, yeah, that's a very different picture. I mean, I think that Democrats are bouncing around a little bit, but there really isn't that much of a statistical trend, whereas there's definitely been a downturn on the right. And I think it has to do with the conspiracy theory surrounding the pandemic and the vaccine and masking and all that stuff.
G: Of course.
G: They're just asking questions, Steve. They're just asking questions.
S: But we also wonder, is this because we are living in a post-truth world whatever that means. There's just so much misinformation out there that everyone feels like you just can't know or trust anything which I think is like the goal, right, of spreading it. Part of the goal. So partly you spread misinformation because you want people to believe the misinformation, but it's kind of a win-win. Because even if they don't believe the misinformation, you kind of sour them on information. You kind of create this idea that, well, I guess I could just believe whatever I want. But I can't really know anything. So I'll just believe whatever feels good to me. And that's just I have my experts. You have your experts. It's all good. You know what I mean? And that's a really pernicious thing that, you know.
G: I wonder if you could if you could phrase questions, though, like, do you trust that your GPS will take you to your destination? Or if you cut off a finger, would you go to an emergency room? Or if your Internet's not working, do you call your cable company? I bet you could form questions that wouldn't be. Do you think scientists are trustworthy or whatever they want to say?
E: However, yeah. But the practicalities of it.
S: You're right, George.
E: Yeah. They've been asking this question apparently for several years. And so I guess there's a consistency aspect to to why they.
S: There might be some internal validity, even though you're right, George, how you phrase the question could give you a very different perspective. The other thing is that I know this data has been true for many, many years. If you ask people, do you trust doctors in general? They give a very different answer than if you ask them, do you trust your doctor? And people mostly trust their doctor. It's those other doctors that are the problem. And it's the same kind of thing. Everyone thinks like even I've read-
G: Teachers. Same thing with teachers.
S: My teachers are great. Other teachers are terrible.
G: My kids' teachers are great.
E: That's the personal investment psychologically you have in that individual because you don't want to feel like you've invested your effort, your time, your money or something in something that is really maybe not turning out to be as good as you think it is.
G: The post office is awful, but my mailman's nice.
E: We've talked about that bias before.
S: It's not just that, Evan. It's partly that. And it's partly that people are listening to rumors and urban myths, but they know that their personal experience is the "exception". So for example, I've read multiple articles about economic views in the United States recently, right? So most people think the economy is doing terrible, but you ask them, well, how are you doing? It's like, I'm great, but everyone else is suffering. But everyone thinks that. Well, they're doing fine. Yeah, inflation's a pain in the ass, but everyone thinks that they're doing okay, but it's the other people that they hear about. I hear other people aren't doing well, and so that frames their perspective where, right? When you ask them about their own personal experience, well, that's just fine. My doctor's fine. My teacher's fine. My economic situation's okay. Yeah, so I think it's a combination of things, and it's frustrating because people listen to, partly the media is creating these impressions because it's what generates clicks, and partly it's like people believe dramatic stuff because it's dramatic and interesting, and partly the people believe conspiracy theories and urban legends. But rather than looking at hard data, we listen to stories, not data, and that's part of the problem, too.
E: Yeah, we've talked about that a lot, too. And trust, once eroded, is very difficult to bring back, or it takes time. It doesn't happen overnight.
S: But Evan, if you look at trust in science and scientists versus other professions, it's still pretty high.
E: Oh, they're still the highest.
S: It's still pretty high, yeah.
E: It's still the highest of all the, yeah.
G: That's good.
E: Right, compared to business leaders, religious leaders.
S: Well, it's good and bad. It's good, but it also means that people don't trust institutions they just don't trust experts.
E: Right, generally speaking, the whole trust in, right, in various institutions is down, goes down.
E: So, eh. And, you know.
S: Some of it deserved.
E: Some of it deserved, but at the same time, we needed to keep enough of it together to maintain a relatively stable society.
S: And I've said before, it kind of makes our job difficult because our, as science communicators, I always feel like we're threading this needle that, yeah, science is awesome, but it sometimes sucks. It's usually good. You can trust it most of the time, but not explicitly. You have to be skeptical, but at the same time, you know what I mean, it's like there's this balance of science generally works its way out it grinds forward, but it's-
E: Despite the mess.
S: But it's messy and dirty along the way, and you have to have this healthy skepticism while still believing in the scientific method, and that science works itself.
E: Yeah, and patience.
S: Yeah, and patience. And it's a hard, it's a very high energy, unstable kind of position to be in, but that's where skepticism is. It's not a simple narrative, but it's always right, or it's always wrong, or you can't believe anything, or the government always lies, or all those simplistic narratives just don't cut it. You know, just we're all about nuance and uncertainty and complexity, and it's a hard message to sell.
E: I know.
S: All right. Thank you, Evan.
Who's That Noisy? (1:18:47)
S: Jay, it's Who's That Noisy time.
J: All right, guys. Las week I played this noisy.
[Overlapping, whistling harmonic vocalizations]
S: That's Tibetan nose singing.
J: Nose singing? (chuckles)
G: It's close.
E: It has a theremin-like quality to it.
G: Oh, it's so cool. It's so cool.
J: Yeah, this is, I actually think I used this noisy many, many, many years ago, but it's one of my favourites. It's really, really impressive.
G: Is it Tuvan?
J: I will tell you. Let me read some guesses here. So a listener named Evil Eye, you might have heard of this listener before, many, many times, guessing here. He says, "When I was little, there was a toy. It was basically just a long ribbed tube, about three feet long. And when you whirled it around, it would make those tones." Right? I had that.
B: Oh yeah.
S: Yeah, we had that.
J: This is a very good guess, but it's incorrect. But I had it. Lots of kids have that and had it. My kids had it. And it does a very similar thing. But you were on the right track. So let's keep going here.
G: Peter Shickley, who did PDQ Bach, he called that the lasso d'amour.
J: I like that name.
G: It was the big tube. And it would just go. That was the lasso d'amour. Yes.
J: A listener named Karen Collette wrote in and said, "It sounds to me like someone who is quite practiced at simultaneously whistling and humming." That's a cool guess and a little bit warmer. A little bit warmer. Next listener, David Liedner. "Hi, Jay. Long time listener. I was bicycling through Mongolia last month and heard this very noisy, which is the sound of a Mongolian throat singer." Now, this is a much more accurate guess, but not the ultimate answer, because there is actually a correct answer here very specifically.
S: Tibetan nose singing?
J: And before I read who the winner was, I just want to let you guys know that about 100 people wrote in and guessed mostly correct on this one. So a lot of people have heard of this. So this week's winner, Joe Vanden Enden.
G: Joe! I know Joe. Yay!
J: He says polytonic overtone singing. That is absolutely correct. This is an incredible talent best demonstrated by Anna Maria Hefele. H-E-F-E-L-E. So you are correct. Let me see. I'll read the person. John Farquhar wrote this one in.
S: Lord Farquhar.
J: So the person that sang this, Anna Maria Hefele. Yes. That person guessed very correctly. So yeah, this is really cool. So I don't know exactly what the physics are of what's going on here, but what I do understand is that the person is singing a base note, and then they are singing overtone notes that are happening somewhere in their throat that they have control over. So that's when you hear that bass note happening, that single note that's going on throughout the whole thing, and then you're hearing these overtone notes that are happening over it. This is very difficult to do. I actually don't think just anybody can do it, too. I think this is something that you have to-
G: Actually, there's a sort of... I'm sorry to jump in, but you can teach it. Not to that... I mean, that person, Anna Maria, is a master. But you can teach, it's the vocal cords. You're basically pinching out these upper harmonies. You know how every note is composed of its fundamental, and then there's an octave above that, and then a fifth above that, and then another octave above that, and then a third above that, and a fifth above that? Every note that you hear is a bunch of notes all put together, but you hear the fundamental. When you do this technique, you're basically squeezing out the very, very upper, upper, upper harmonics of that note, and that comes off of your vocal cords. I saw a drum master called Glenn Velez. He taught us how to do this thing. So you sing a tone, and in the switch between vowels, so you go between like an A and an OO, let's say. So you have an A sound and an OO sound. I'm going to do it. I don't know if it's going to come across in this microphone. It might overload the thing. And it feels really silly when you do it, but it's kind of cool, and it's a great thing to do in the car. But I'm going to sing OO, and then you'll hear me go OO, AH, switch to an AH, and in between, you'll hear this whistle tone will come through. So you go [does the overtone singing]. Again, it's not the best, but if you can practice doing like-
B: I heard it.
G: You sort of hear the whistles come out. Once you develop that and you start to know where that sort of lies in your throat, then you get to that point where you can do melodies with it, and it's amazing. But yeah, it's an incredibly specific kind of skill. And to have that kind of control over it is mind-numbing. It's amazing.
B: Jay, can you play it again?
J: Yeah, I'm cued up and ready to listen. [plays Noisy] She clearly is...
B: What the hell, man?
G: But you hear it's like a bugle, right? So it's like the same notes you would have in a revelry, right? Because those are the fundamentals and the upper partials of that note coming through. Oh, it's so freaking cool.
J: It is really cool.
G: But you hear the vowel, right? She's like A, AH. It's very subtle, but it's like A, O, AH, E, O, AH, and then it pinches that note out. Oh, that's so cool.
J: I would love to hear somebody do this in the same room. I'm sure that it sounds even more incredible.
G: Next time we're together, we're all going to do it.
S: You're going to teach us how to do it.
J: All right. So very cool. And so many people knew about this or heard about it enough where they could look it up and send me the right answer. So thank you all for sending in all those answers.
New Noisy (1:25:15)
J: I have a new noisy for you guys this week. Yes, this is a noisy sent in by Rabbi Adam Bellows. That's the name. You know, the guy might be a rabbi. I believe he is a rabbi. And I think it's really cool that he's listening. This is really cool. I'm not going to give any hints or anything. All I'll say is somebody on this show probably will enjoy this.
G: Wow. Taco Tuesday.
J: I mean, it's cool. I can't wait to tell you guys about what this actually is. So if you heard something cool this week or you think you know what this week's Noisy is, email me. This is the best place to email me. Don't do it anywhere else. Send it to WTN@theskepticsguide.org. I do this because it's very easy to attach the file to a regular email. It comes right to me and I can get those files. If you send it to me through the website, sometimes I don't get files or you can't send the files. Just don't waste your time.
J: So guys, we've been talking and we have landed on a couple of dates for April. This is a save the date request. I'm working out all the details right now. We're having two events that are happening in April. So on April 6th, we will be doing a Extravaganza. And on April 7th, we will be doing a live SGU recording, a private show as we call them. So I'll be giving you all the details where to sign up and everything. Hopefully within about two weeks, first week of December, I think I'll have everything nailed and ready to go. But this is absolutely going to happen.
G: Can you say where?
J: Yeah, we can. Well, you know what? No, the venue wants me to wait until-
G: I mean like the state–
S: But this will be in Dallas.
J: Dallas. That's fine.
J: We're in Dallas.
J: You might ask, why are we going to Texas? It's not because of the waters. It's because – it is because there's going to be a solar eclipse.
J: So included in – if you buy tickets to either of the shows, we will tell you during those shows where we're going to go to look at the eclipse. And that means that you're welcome to drive there if you want to go. We haven't even picked a location yet. We're trying to find a cool place to go. Anybody that's listening to this, if you live in Dallas and you have any suggestions, let us know. But – so basically, if you join us for either of those shows, we'll let you know during those shows where we're going to be. And that's pretty much it, guys. So we have a cool thing coming up. George, of course, will be there with us for both of those shows because we cannot do-
J: Yes, we can't do the extravaganza without George because without the MC, there's no show. So two weeks. Have a great Thanksgiving if you celebrate. If you don't, have a big meal on the same day. Basically call it Thanksgiving. And then we'll see you the first week of December. We'll give you all the details.
S: All right. Thank you, Jay.
Correction #1: Oldest Photo
S: I'm just going to do one quick email. This one comes from Beth Kolbe-Jacob from France. And she writes, after some opening pleasantries, "Science or fiction this week contains some pretty egregious misinformation. You stated that Niépce took his famed 1826 photo out his window while visiting his brother Claude in London. I'm not sure where you got this information because the photo in question is literally entitled, The View from the Window at Le Gras." Point de vue in Le Gras in France. Or is it De Grasse? It could be De Grasse. Le Grasse is an estate in the village of Saint-Loup-de-Verin. So, yeah, I made that mistake. I had the article I had open, which is in the show notes. If you're asking, where did you get that information? It's in the show notes where I got the information. So this is what – this wasn't in the science or fiction. It was just like we were chatting about it, and I was reading quickly the background information. So this has to do with the first photograph from 1826, which was taken by Niépce. He took it in France, but where I got the London part from was he then was visiting his brother Claude in London, and he left the photos with him. That particular print plus some other ones. So they were in London. The photos were in London, but the picture was taken in France. And it does look like what I read. He says it was some estate outbuildings, but what I read is that it's a street scene. It was a streetscape. And then – all right, so the Royal Photographic Collection. From the article that I was reading – and I read several articles, but there was one that specifically stated that some of these earliest photographs were left with the Royal Photographic Collection. I thought they were referring to the photograph that they were talking about, but apparently it was other Niépce photos that were left with the Royal Photographic Collection. This specific one was not among those photographs, but that wasn't stated in the article that I was reading. But it is currently being held at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. There was a couple of other emailers pointed out that this photo, this 1826 photo by Niépce, is the oldest surviving photograph. It's not necessarily the first photograph that was ever taken. He may have done earlier ones that we don't have. So that's a small point, but this is-
G: Well, Steve, don't feel too bad. It's not – sometimes just your Niépce are showing. That's just the way it goes.
S: I'm happy to be corrected on these details.
G: This negates every Science or Fiction though, right, from the last two years.
S: It didn't change actually the Science or Fiction or who won last week.
G: Oh, damn it.
S: Yeah, it didn't change anything.
E: Yeah, we all won, so easy there.
S: You guys swept me last week. So you guys don't want any change. Let's just nullify the one from last week where you swept me.
E: What? (George laughs) All right.
S: All right. Well, you know what time it is, George.
G: Time to bust a rhyme?
S: It is time for Science or Fiction.
Science or Fiction (1:31:26)
Item #1: Researchers have discovered the first "vampire" virus, a parasitic virus that attaches to the "neck" of another virus in order to enter a host cell and take over the reproductive machinery.
Item #2: A new study finds that Google DeepMind's machine learning weather prediction model can outperform existing models for 10-day weather prediction, 90% of the time in under one minute.
Item #3: Scientists present a new fossil of a flying feathered dinosaur, avioptera, which dates to 185 million years ago, 20 million years older than the group (paraves) which is believed to have given rise to modern birds.
|Fiction||New flying dinosaur|
Deep Mind's predictions
|New flying dinosaur|
|Deep Mind's predictions|
|Deep Mind's predictions|
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. We have three regular but interesting news items this week. Are you guys ready?
G: Is it a theme?
S: No theme. Themeless.
G: Oh, okay. The theme is no theme.
S: The theme is they're all science news items. Okay, here we go. Item number one, researchers have discovered the first vampire virus, a parasitic virus that attaches to the neck of another virus in order to enter a host cell and take over the reproductive machinery. Both vampire and neck are in quotes. Item number two, a new study finds that Google DeepMind's machine learning weather prediction model can outperform existing models for 10-day weather prediction 90% of the time in under one minute. And item number three, scientists present a new fossil of a flying feathered dinosaur, avioptera, which dates to 185 million years ago, 20 million years older than the group (paraves), which is believed to have given rise to modern birds.
S: Yeah, this is a tricky one.
G: That's a tricky one there, you sneaky, sneaky podcaster, you.
S: Bob, go first.
J: Wait, George is a guest.
S: Yeah, so what? Don't challenge my order.
E: Wow. I know who's going first next week.
B: All right. I like this vampire virus. That sounds interesting. Yeah, let some other virus do all the hard work. Is there a fatal flaw in that idea, though? All right, second one, machine learning weather prediction model. Yeah, I could see that. I don't have a problem with that one. Three, let's see, a new fossil of a flying feathered dinosaur, avioptera. Hasn't that name been taken already by now? That goes back 185 million years ago, 20 million years older than – oh, before para – how is that pronounced? Paraves?
S: Paraves, yeah.
B: That would be cool. I want that one to be true. I want the virus – I want them all to be true. Damn it. So it's got to-
S: One of them will disappoint you.
B: Let's see.
G: It's like having kids.
B: And therefore... I'll say the paraves is fiction.
S: Okay, Jay.
J: The Google DeepMind machine learning weather prediction model, there's nothing there that surprises me. I would definitely think that – essentially what? This is AI, right, Steve?
S: Yeah. Yeah, machine learning.
J: Not surprised. This one, the third one here, the flying feather dinosaur, 185 million years ago, 20 million years older than the group which is believed to have given rise to modern birds. That's another one. Yeah, I think that's science. I don't see anything in there that seems out of place or whatever. So I'm going to go with the first one, the vampire virus. I think there's something wrong with that.
S: Okay, Evan?
E: Well, vampire virus attaches to the neck. Now neck is in quotes of another virus. Okay, so therefore viruses don't really have necks, but something otherwise you can call the neck.
S: It's a neck-like part of the virus, you know what I mean? But it's clearly not a neck like you think of as a neck.
E: Okay. All right. In order to enter a host cell and take over the reproductive machinery.
G: The naughty bits.
E: Well, yeah, I think – I have a feeling that one's science. Can't quite exactly put my finger on it as to why. I'll tell you what, though. The third one here about the flying feathered dinosaur. So 185, and that's 20 million years older than the paraves. So you'd have to – okay, wow. I mean they do make discoveries, don't they? They will always look for the newest oldest one. Is that – that's an oxymoron. Something older than the most –
B: Makes sense.
E: Than what they know about currently. You know what? I'm going out kind of on a limb, I think. I think it's the DeepMinds one. So here's the problem I kind of see with this one. Not that it's not capable of doing the work, but I don't know about – these numbers are right. So 90% of the time in under one minute. I think there's probably a problem with those numbers. Maybe it's 90% of the time in under an hour or something like that. So I think one or both of those numbers are wrong in this one. So therefore, to me, the DeepMinds machine one is the fiction.
E: All right. Well, George, they're all over the place. No help. What do you think?
G: Seriously. I think I'm going to agree with Evan. Because the DeepMind Google machine weather prediction thing sort of feels right, like what Jay said. Like it wouldn't surprise me if that was true. And that seems to be the most regular of the three. So I think you're pulling a little bit of a Google there, a little fast Google action. And it's going to be something, and weather is notoriously hard to predict, like notoriously hard. So I'm thinking that, yeah, it does the same as other 10-day things but in a minute. It's not 90% more accurate. It does the same in under a minute or it takes an hour or like something's fishy with your Google machine there, Stephen. So that's what I'm saying. So I'm going to say number two.
S: Okay. So since we're spread out, I'll take these in order. I'll start with number one.
Steve Explains Item #1
S: Researchers have discovered the first vampire virus, a parasitic virus that attaches to the neck of another virus in order to enter a host cell and take over the reproductive machinery. Jay, you think this one is fiction. Everyone else thinks this one is science. And this one is science. Sorry, Jay.
J: It's okay.
S: This is cool.
B: Yeah, man.
S: A virus. That's a virus on another virus.
G: Is it frightening? Is this like a scary thing now? Is this like super, super COVID?
S: That's not a problem for us.
E: Oh, good.
S: So this is part of a type of virus that we have known about for a long time. They're called temperate viruses. However, the ones that we know about, what they do is they enter a cell. They lay dormant. And then when another virus enters the cell to infect it, then they activate, take over the machinery to reproduce themselves instead of the invading virus. Yeah, they get in front of the virus and they produce themselves instead. But what they found is a type of virus that does this but doesn't have the ability to go dormant inside a cell. So what's it doing? Because the thing is it has to be active in the cell at the same moment the invading virus is active in the cell. And so that's why it lays dormant and then activates because it has to get the timing just right. So how can this temperate virus, this new like parasitic virus, how can it be sure that it will be inside the cell at the same time as another virus?
B: Oh, it piggybacks, yeah.
S: This one piggybacks. So this evolved a way to attach to the other virus. So they enter the cell at the same time and then it takes over the machinery. Now, this specific virus that they are describing has a very cool name. They call it a mini Flare. Mini, capital F, flare. Mini flare.
S: Evan, do you know what the name of-
B: Mind flayer.
S: Yeah. Thank you, Bob.
B: That was easy. Come on. I don't even play that loser game with you guys.
S: So I'm just going to pretend none of this happened. Evan, what do you think the virus it's parasitic on is called?
E: Well, that would be what? Mind flare.
S: The mind flare virus. Yeah, so the mini flare.
B: Oh, that's cool. I didn't know that.
E: Dungeons and Dragons, Bob.
S: Attaches onto the mind flare, which is a bacteriophage.
B: If you guys invited me to play, I'd know that shit.
S: So this is a bacteriophage. So now we have a virus parasitic on a virus, which is parasitic on a bacterium, which is kind of cool. But yeah, but the mind flayer is a monster from D&D. So that's cool that they're using that name. Yeah, very neat.
E: Yeah, cool. We got to get some more.
G: And this only happens in the dark, right? You can't expose it to sunlight because it's a vampire.
S: So as they say, life finds a way. Let's go on to number two.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: A new study finds that Google's DeepMinds machine learning weather prediction model can outperform existing models for 10-day weather prediction 90% of the time in under one minute. Evan and George, you think this one is the fiction. Bob and Jay, you think this one is science. Now, Evan, you were the only one to key in on what I thought was the most salient part of this one, which is the in under one minute.
E: Right. And?
S: This is doing this. It's outperforming existing weather predicting models with less than a minute of calculations.
E: With a 90%?
S: Yeah, beating them out 90% of the time with incredible accuracy. They say for 10 days, this one is science.
E: Oh, my gosh.
B: Yeah, baby.
E: Oh, my gosh.
G: Thanks, Evan. Way to go, dude.
E: You can let go of my hand now, George. Ow.
G: I'm not letting go. I'm not letting go.
E: Ow, ow.
J: You took your thumb out of my ass George.
G: That's my other hand, Jay.
S: So the name of this model is called GraphCast, but it's a model that functions within Google's DeepMind.
G: Is that some nerd D&D thing too? What's going on?
E: No, it's only a model.
S: Yeah, 10 days at 0.25 degrees resolution globally.
G: Oh, my God.
S: And, yeah, it takes less than a minute. And this is the first time that they are really applying this kind of machine learning model.
S: This is like the chat GPT kind of what comes next model where they train it on previous weather data, and then it sort of predicts what happens next. And then here's the thing. It then uses its output as another input, and that's how it could keep going forward for 10 days. It just keeps going day after day after day. It uses its own output as the input for the next prediction.
G: And then it attaches to the next somehow, and it enters the cell. Am I confusing this? Okay. I just got to.
S: So, yeah, it's beating out traditional weather forecasting, which uses really big weather models, and it's a lot of, like, heavy-duty processing big supercomputers and stuff. And this is like blows it away with with one chip. I think it uses one chip and one minute, and it blows it away.
S: So they said that it's not better than the traditional models in every single way. So this is for a while anyway is probably going to be complementary. Like meteorologists will use both side by side, getting the best information from the two different methods. But this is a significant advance in weather prediction, guys. This is like a game-changer.
B: Oh yeah, man.
S: It's huge.
G: High in the mid to low 30s.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: Which means that scientists present a new fossil of a flying feathered dinosaur, Avioptera, which dates to 185 million years ago, 20 million years older than the group Peraevis, which is believed to have given rise to modern birds, is complete and utter fiction. I made it up out of whole cloth that has no relationship to any reality. So there was a few different bird fossil-related items, but none of them was, oh, I'll just make up a bird one.
G: I should have guessed that because that's not a sentence.
S: Yeah. Is it? I forget to make it a sentence.
G: It's not a sentence. Damn it, I should have guessed that. It's not a sentence. Right? Scientists present a new fossil, which is blue.
S: Which is blue.
G: Or which is tasty.
S: Scientists present a new fossil, which is believed. Yeah, you're right. I didn't make it.
G: Damn it. Grammar. Ugh.
S: Avioptera, I just made up. So Peraevis is a real group. Peraevis is the oldest group that contains birds. It also contains other feathered dinosaur groups closely related to birds. But it does include the group that includes Archaeopteryx that went on to evolve into modern birds. They emerged 165 to 150 million years ago. Archaeopteryx is 150 million years old. Yeah, but at this time, there was this proliferation of all these feathered dinosaurs that were not on the line to being birds. And Archaeopteryx is not on the line to modern birds either. That's another offshoot. A lot of these are coming out of China. A lot of these birds were evolving in the part of the world which is now known as China. But yeah, if we found a fossil that was 20 million years older than the oldest Peraevis, that would be huge. That wouldn't be impossible. I'm not expecting that to happen. It would be a real out of left field kind of thing. But you know, it's not out of the realm of plausibility. This is a perfectly cromulent thing.
G: Nicely done, Bob.
S: It just happens not to be true.
B: Thank you.
S: Yeah, good job Bob. But yeah, this set that-
B: I wish Cara was here so I could beat her too. (laughter)
S: She always misses.
E: If I could see the text message, Bob to Cara later. Cara, I missed you on SGU. Sorry I went there so I could beat you.
B: She's so damn good, man.
S: She's having a great year.
B: I'll take any win against her. It makes me happy.
S: All right. Evan, give us a quote.
B: You guys are easy. She's hard.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:45:56)
True science teaches, above all, to doubt and to be ignorant.
– Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), Spanish writer & philosopher
E: Mind flayer, by the way. All right. This quote was suggested by a listener, Nestor, from the Netherlands. Thank you. Appreciate that. Oh, originally from Barcelona. Thank you for submitting this quote. "True science teaches, above all, to doubt and to be ignorant." That's from Spanish essayist and novelist Miguel de Unamuno.
S: It says loosely translated to English. I do think that that second half of that, to be ignorant, I think probably has a better translation is my sense. I get it. To doubt, absolutely. To appreciate our own ignorance, absolutely. To be ignorant, I don't know that that captures the nuance. The translation, I think, is probably missing some nuance. That's my guess. But, yeah, we get it. We understand what he's trying to say there. Absolutely.
E: Right. To doubt and to make us appreciate that we don't know.
S: Yeah. I would say to doubt and to be humble in our own ignorance might be a better way to put it. We say it all the time. We know nothing. Whatever you think you know, it's such a tiny little sliver.
E: We know so little.
S: Yeah. And not only that, not only do we know so little of all the knowledge that's out there, but it's biased, right? And our memories are constantly fading and screwing up what we do know.
E: Hell, yeah.
S: Right? So there's this constant degradation of our knowledge.
G: Have a great weekend, everybody.
S: It's like keeping these plates spinning, you know?
G: Yeah, yeah.
S: It just drives me crazy every time I think I know something, and my stupid brain mixes it up, you know? It's just constant. You have to just constantly be humble about our own intellectual limitations. But the good news is it's all the information's there. You just got to be open to it. Just be open to it.
E: That's right. And it's good for the experts in particular fields to remind us when we are wrong.
S: Yeah. Right. And experts are wrong sometimes too.
S: Absolutely. All right. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.
B: Sure mna.
G: So, guys, it's Thanksgiving next week.
S: It is.
G: I just want to say happy Thanksgiving to your listeners. Happy Thanksgiving to you. And I am honestly just so thankful that we met all those years ago and have had these adventures, and I hope we can keep having adventures together. And I'm just so grateful and thankful to be a part of this whole mishpochah here. I really appreciate it.
S: That's so nice George. It's always a pleasure to have you on the show.
B: It is, George.
S: Always a lot of fun.
G: Thank you. Thank you. Likewise.
S: It's always great to hang out with you. Actually, you were joking at the beginning, but we actually don't get to see you enough. You live a little bit too far away.
G: It's just far enough away.
S: I know. I wish we could see each other a little bit more often.
G: Let's find a hotel somewhere in New York. One of those no-tells. It'll be great.
S: We've got the geographic midpoint between our two locations.
G: Come visit Bethlehem, gentlemen. You're all welcome. It's the Christmas city. The lights are going to be lit on Friday. It's going to be amazing. Come by any time.
S: I'm going to take you up on that over Christmas, because I will be in Maryland, so a little Popeye.
G: Let's do it.
J: Thank you, George. I feel the same way, brother.
B: Yeah, man.
G: Thank you, man. Thank you.
S: Thank you all again.
Signoff/Thanksgiving Farewell (1:48:06)
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
- World Economic Forum: World's largest white hydrogen deposit found in France
- [url_from_show_notes _publication_: _article_title_]
- Science-Based Medicine: First Whole Eye Transplant
- Science News: The last 12 months were the hottest on record
- CERN: Using heavy-ion collisions at the LHC, scientists determine the thickness of neutron 'skin' in lead-208 nuclei
- World Economic Forum: World's largest white hydrogen deposit found in France
- Pew Research Center: Americans' Trust in Scientists, Positive Views of Science Continue to Decline
- Scientific American: Scientists Discover First-Ever Vampire Virus Latched to Neck of 'MindFlayer'
- Science: Learning skillful medium-range global weather forecasting
- Current Biology: The Origin and Diversification of Birds
- [url_for_TIL publication: title]