SGU Episode 960

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SGU Episode 960
December 2nd 2023
960 LK-99.jpg

"Researchers seem to have solved the puzzle of LK-99. Scientific detective work has unearthed evidence that the material is not a superconductor, and clarified its actual properties." [1]

SGU 959                      SGU 961

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Skepticism: the mark and even the pose of the educated mind.

John Dewey, American philosopher

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Evan's distal biceps tendon rupture[edit]

Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, November 29th, 2023, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening everyone.

S: Basically, four old white guys and Cara.

C: You guys are so offended.

E: According to a recent email.

S: Many recent emails.

E: Thanks, listener.

C: You're not young people of colour.

S: That's correct. We do not deny the fact. We're very open about the fact that we are a bunch of old white guys.

E: There's lots of things I'm not. And I'm proud of it. Get off my lawn.

S: We're too old to do things like go into rock concerts, right, Evan?

C: Oh, Evan. Oh, no.

E: Not only talk about fashion, but right.

B: Nice segue.

E: But not go to rock concerts. Go to metal rock concerts because you might also risk injury such as a distal biceps tendon rupture in your left arm.

C: And by you, you mean you.

E: Yeah. That happened to me this past Saturday.

S: That sucks.

E: I was at a show and I'm in the crowd doing I've been now to a hundred of these things in recent years with Rachel. And crowd surfing is a thing. It just is.

S: It's still a thing.

E: It's still a thing. It just at every show there will be that occurring. And I'll reach my arms up and pass the person over no issues, no problems. Well, that night somebody to my side who I just kind of caught out of the corner of my eye knows he was going down for the count. Sometimes people fall to the ground and there was absolutely like nobody there all of a sudden for some reason. So I reached my arm out. This guy was going to hit his head and shoulders were heading towards the ground. I reached my hand out, my left arm in order to help break his fall. I caught him by like his shoulder blade. But this guy was big and he kind of took me down with him. I didn't fall to the ground, but it like hyper extended in a sense my arm, but stretched it out and snap ruptured the ruptured the tendon. And I felt and I did feel a absolute tearing sensation. I know why they call them tears now, because that is precisely the sensation I felt.

B: Have you guys ever walked if you guys ever walked to a window, you pull down the shade and you pull it a little bit too far, you let go and the shade goes up all the way up and flips around. That's what happened to Evan's bicep muscle.

E: So that's where it is. My bicep right now is entirely residing in the upper part of my left of my arm near my shoulder. It's all bunched up kind of in this in this.

J: Can you bend the arm?

E: Yes. So Bob was asking me about what I can do with this arm right now, even though it's injured. Surprisingly, I can do just about everything with the arm and I'm not feeling pain in that sense. Only when I put.

C: But shouldn't he probably not be doing stuff with his arm?

E: Right now I have what I'm calling full use of my arm with a few exceptions. If I hold my hand out in front of me, palm up like I'm ready to ask you for alms or something like that, right? Alms for the poor. And I can only hold so much weight in my hand in that position. Maybe maybe a couple of pounds. Anything heavier than that, it will trigger the sensation and I can't do it. By comparison if I have my arm down by my side and I'm holding a grip or a a suitcase or a briefcase, something like that. No problem. I feel nothing regardless of the weight. Obviously it's not working on that tendon.

B: And that's all forearm and deltoids is very little bicep work there. So that makes total sense. But dude, I would be like, knock me out and bring me into the hospital to wake me up when the surgery is done. I would not want to have my arm next to me. I don't know how you do it, man. It's tough. Bravo to you.

E: Well, because I'm not toughing out the pain. I mean, really, it's not like I'm gritting my teeth and just rubbing dirt on it. I'm really not not sensing that that pain right now. Except in that specific position. And my surgery is scheduled for Tuesday, December 5. In fact, when I went in and they and they officially diagnosed because I went to the ER right after it happened, a couple hours afterwards, I'm like, I better go to the ER and check this out. I don't think this is good.

C: A couple hours. You finished the show first, didn't you?

B: A couple hours.

E: Yeah. We all, yeah.

B: Oh, my God. I'd be like, airlift me to the hospital now.

J: Oh, God. So Evan, you stayed till the end of the concert?

C: Of course you did.

E: Yeah. There was only like an hour left.

B: It was a good concert.

E: Anyways. And and Rachel was in there. Actually, Rachel was doing photography for the show. So she was kind of working the show at the same time.

B: Cool.

E: And I was texting with her what was happening. And she's like, well, do you need to go now? I'm like, I think I'm OK. We can wait for the end. So we left at the end. But it was in New Jersey. So I actually drove back to Connecticut that night and went to my local emergency room. Went there. They put me through a few tests. They gave me an X-ray, make sure no bones were broken, anything like that. Fine. But then they said, get to get to the specialist. We'll tell you where to go. Went to this. This was and that was a Sunday. Monday comes. Go to the specialist. And they said, yeah, here's what you here's what you got. We're going to confirm it with an MRI. MRI happened Tuesday, which was yesterday. And it confirmed it. And they already had my it's amazing. With this particular injury, OK, they moved it to what they call STAT. And Steve, you know what STAT means in this. And I tell you, they move. I've never heard of like the bureaucratic nature of the system of that medicine and insurance. And the whole thing is because you've got to get approval for this. I was not in it within an hour of receiving that diagnosis. I had the they had the MRI scheduled for the next morning, had the surgery. They bumped someone else out of the place in line for surgery. They put me in their place. Now I'm going on Tuesday for the surgery. And they already scheduled the first two post-surgical appointments for me. And they had all that done like within less than an hour. That was pretty darn impressive. But it also kind of showed the nature in this kind of injury. They have to get to it fast, otherwise there'll be complications the longer that it goes. And in a matter of weeks, my arm will start to suffer some other problems if I don't get this done right away.

B: I'm seeing some images here. It looks like there's two distal bicep tendons by the forearms. So it's more complicated than I thought, obviously.

C: Your recovery is going to be long. But how long are you in some sort of like sling or like how long are you immobilized?

E: For a couple of weeks, Cara, I didn't say exactly. I guess they don't know for sure. It will not be a cast. They say it will be sling and or brace. I don't know what ultimately determines that. I guess I'll talk to them more about that next week and what they're going to do to me. And I guess I'll start the physical therapy, assuming the two appointments that come after the surgery, which are scheduled within a week, a week later and a week later. If those go OK, then the physical therapy will start at that point. And this will take about three to four months to fully heal.

C: Right, right.

J: And then are you back to 100 percent?

E: Yeah, yeah. Then I'll be. In fact, in some ways, what he was describing to me, this particular procedure he's going to do, it's going to be better than it was before.

B: No shit.

E: Warning, I'm about to describe something medically graphic. So, OK, so plug your ears. They're going to drill holes, they said, through my through the bone in my forearm. And they're going to tie, they're going to pull this stuff back through and tie it through the through the holes in the bone.

B: Whoa.

E: Tie it off tight. And when it heals, when the bone heals and everything, it will cover it will it will make it even stronger. As it as it covers.

B: I got to get this done.

E: As it covers the tendon.

B: Cool.

E: No, you don't. You don't want this.

B: I wonder if that's because that there's very little tendon left on your forearm or your forearm bone. Because I remember reading about that. If there's if there's a little tendon left there after the tear, they they stitch it together. But if there isn't any left, it was if it was cleanly pulled off, then they'd have to stay basically staple it. This is the description I read many years ago, so I'm sure-

S: Yeah. These kind of surgical techniques evolve all the time.

B: But this. Yeah. This seems like an interesting-

C: It sounds like they need to reattach it in a way that they know it won't fall back off.

B: Yeah. Better. So it's much better than a staple, it seems. That's cool.

E: Thy describe several different types of surgeries that they perform for this, Bob. So I imagine it will. It ultimately depends on what the MRI tells you. But he but my particular surgeon is going to do this as he's seen the best success with this particular method. So that's what he's.

S: Yeah, I'm reading about it. Apparently, they suture it to a to like a button that they put through the hole. Then the button is on the other side of the hole on the other side.

E: Interesting. Will it be a metal button, Steve?

S: It'll be. It'll be a biocompatible, maybe titanium. I don't know.

E: Oh, interesting. So I will have metal in the body.

J: That's nuts.

S: It's got to be MRI compatible and it's got to be biocompatible. But yeah, that's really interesting. So that mechanism of injury is very common. Suddenly trying to brace somebody who's falling, especially if they're big. I see a lot of nurse. It's a very common nursing injury because, again, you're taking care of a big patient. They fall. And you got to catch him. You got to whatever. That causes a lot of injury. You got to always be very, very careful because you're not in an advantageous position. You just threw your arm out. Your arm took the whole weight of a big person.

C: It's funny how many, it's like an ACL tear in a soccer player. There's just these injuries that people get over and over because of that kind of motion. It's interesting that they're so common. I also think it's so fascinating how much orthopaedic surgery is just like carpentry.

S: It's carpentry.

C: On body parts.

S: Yeah. I mean-

C: It's like plumbing, electrical. It's just like-

S: Yeah. Neurologists are the electricians. Cardiologists are the plumbers. Orthopaedists are the carpenters.

J: It's rare that you hear such a good outcome for something that seems like such a major injury.

B: Evan, I'm sure from pictures I saw, I'm sure you probably have a lot of black and blue because the arm that I saw was crazy black and blue.

E: Yeah. I'm looking at it right now, Bob, and there is surprisingly very little black and blue.

B: Wow.

J: Wow.

E: There's kind of this one little point-

C: I wonder if it was a super clean injury.

E: I suppose it was pretty clean in that sense. No. There's no external swelling or really anything. I felt no neurological, they put me through a battery of pushing, pulling, asking me all about different sensations I am having or had, and no, nothing like that. I'm fortunate, I suppose, in that regard. One thing I will say to sort of put a bow on this, do you guys remember at NOTACON? We each had to submit some facts about ourselves, things that no one in the audience or certainly anybody else among us would know about each other. It's a fun little game we played. What was one of my fun facts that turned, yeah, I never had a surgery in my life.

J: Oh, yeah.

C: Never had anaesthesia?

S: Your streak is over.

E: Never.

C: Are you scared?

E: Never. Never a surgery to repair something. Yeah. Well, I guess I suppose there's a bit of anxiety just because I have no clue, no frame of reference from a personal standpoint on any of this, so it's all new. I had my first MRI yesterday. I've had x-rays before, but that was my first time in an MRI.

S: Did you get claustrophobia?

E: No. No, I didn't. I thought it was going to be more coffin-like, but instead it's more like an enormous circular disc that you get moved underneath, but it was open to the left and the right of me, so I didn't have that sort of thing.

C: Oh, so you were in an open MRI.

S: That was an open MRI.

E: That's an open MRI?

S: Oh, yeah. Because the non-open ones are very coffin-like.

E: Yeah, I was definitely not in a coffin, so yeah, no problem there. I think if I were in that coffin one, that would have been a little bit disconcerting. I have this little bit of fear about loss of mobility of my arms, of all things, right? If you feel you can't help yourself if you needed to, if it's a helpless feeling.

S: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I was all the way head-first in an MRI scan for an hour and a half. You're shoulder-to-shoulder in that thing. You can't move, and at some point you realize, if something happened, I am completely helpless. There's no way I could get myself out of this thing.

E: Well, they gave me an emergency button to shut down the procedure. Yeah. They put into my right hand a kill switch or something. They said, press this button if you're feeling anything wrong.

S: They call that the coward switch.

E: Well, I didn't press it.

C: Well, Evan, a little trick that I learned. I had my first surgery last year, and I was scared of anaesthesia for sure. Well, I had two surgeries. Little trick I learned is you can always ask for the, part of the cocktail they give you when you go under is anxiety medicine. It's part of it. Different cocktails have different ones. Mine was Versed. You can always ask to get that a little early. If you're at the hospital and you're feeling really anxious, you can say, can you help me with this a little early?

S: Yeah. Pre-game it a little bit.

C: Yeah. Pre-game it.

E: All right.

C: And there's nothing wrong with that.

E: They are going to put my arm to sleep before they put me to sleep. They're going to deaden my arm. Whatever they use for that is going to last about 24 hours of my arm being...

B: 24, wow.

S: They're just going to give you a block, and your arm's going to be completely.

C: Like an epidural, but up for your arm.

E: They said that, I guess, I don't know, even for people who are under, they can involuntarily move a limb if they don't secure it that way. Is that right?

C: Smart.

S: Yeah. You definitely don't want to move during surgery.

C: Well, at least you know you really won't feel anything, so that's good.

E: Oh, yeah. Yeah. He said you won't feel a darn thing until that starts to fade, but you'll, he said you'll want your painkillers. Okay.

C: Yeah.

E: We'll see. We'll see. Pain's different for everybody.

C: It is.

E: Let's see.

C: And there are non-opiate approaches.

E: I have no way to know. I have no surgical experience about pain at all.

B: Yeah. Also, I'm sure the doctor will tell you, but I had one of the upper tendons of my bicep moved, so it was kind of detached and reattached, and the guy's like, all right, Bob. After a week or so, your bicep's going to feel fine, but don't lift anything heavier than a can of soda, because he's had patients that felt good, and they did stupid stuff, and it tore. The tendon tore, which means that, so one of the tendons detaches. There's two up by your shoulder. One of them detaches, and the doctor said to me, he's like, Bob, if you tear it, I'm not going back in. And I'm like, oh, okay.

E: I'll follow the instructions. Whatever instructions I am given, I will abide by them.

S: Yeah. Don't mess with that. Can you imagine if that happened to you before the 20th century, before modern medicine? That's it. You have to live the rest of your life that way.

E: There it is. If it's untreated, or if they didn't fix this, people can lose about 40% of the strength and mobility and other things related to the arm over time.

S: Hey, Evan, you will not be on the show next week, just so people are aware. We're not going to make you do the show this afternoon for surgery.

C: No, we're going to make him record from the hospital. What are you talking about?

E: Yeah. Right off. No, they send me home same day. They're sending me home.

S: Wow.

E: I'm not having it even at a hospital. It's just an ortho facility that handles surgeries.

B: Oh, wow.

S: Yeah, neat.

B: Is that your dominant arm?

E: No.

B: Oh, you're so lucky. That's good.

E: I'll tell you what. Of my five extremities off of my torso, I'm happy. Of all of them, it was this one. Yeah.

S: That's the one you would choose, right? Your non-dominant arm?

E: Your left arm. Absolutely. My legs I need, and my right arm I need. My head I need.

S: I don't think the head is technically an extremity, but yeah.

C: I know. It took me a second to be like, what five is he referring to?

E: I meant six.

S: Yeah. You could think of something else there. All right. Still, I would put the left arm as the number one. The non-dominant arm. Okay. Let's move on.

News Items[edit]

Internet Use and Mental Health (16:20)[edit]

(click to create redirect page)

S: Guys, I have a question for you. Cara, I know you know the answer to this, but for everyone else.

C: Okay. I won't answer.

S: There's a major study looking at the association between internet use over the last 20 years and mental health. What would you guys guess is the bottom line of the association between internet use and mental health? What would you guys guess is sort of the bottom line of this study? Has there been any effect, one way or the other, on either just general mental well-being or specifically like mental health like anxiety and depression that correlates with internet use or mobile technology? What do you think?

J: I didn't read any article. This is a total guess, but I mean, I really firmly believe that there is an increase in and at least depression, but probably anxiety as well with the increase in internet use.

S: Ev, do you have any thoughts?

E: I would agree with Jay on that. However, if I'm wrong, then I would not necessarily be surprised.

S: So that's the conventional wisdom. So let's take a look at the actual data. So leading up to this study, I like this study and this question because again, it reinforces this notion that there's a lot of different ways to slice up data. There's a lot of different ways to address a question like this. And it's good to think about, we go from that general question to a specific research question, right? So for example, are we talking about at the individual level, like for an individual person, does internet use correlate with any negative health outcome, mental health outcome? Is that occur at any level of internet use only with internet addiction or excessive internet use? Does it depend upon any demographic? Like does it only happen in young people, old people, more in women, more in men? Does it only happen in people with pre-existing problems or pre-existing psychological issues? And of course, if there is a correlation, what's the causation? Is it that people who are unhappy are using the internet more or is it because internet use makes them unhappy? Then you could also then go to population level data, right? Now you're not talking about like for individuals, just like has any measure of mental health or mental well-being been changing over time with increased internet use, right? So you could look at it at the population level. So that's what this study was. This was actually a massive study. It was not a collection of new data. It was using existing databases and it was just an analysis of that.

B: Meta-analysis though?

S: No, it's not a meta-analysis. It's not, look, it's not a meta-analysis that combines previous studies. This is just a study looking at existing data. They didn't collect any new data. They just are utilizing existing databases. So for example, there's a database.

B: Still though, they should call it a meta-assessment.

S: It's not a meta. There's nothing meta about it.

C: It's just an analysis.

S: They used the internet users and mobile broadband subscriptions databases in 168 different countries. And they used the Global Burden of Disease Survey from 2019 and the Gallup World Poll data. So right, so that's, those are the databases they went to. They said, all right, now can we correlate changes in internet use with any of the the Burden of Disease or the Gallup World Poll data in terms of well-being? They looked at the last 20 years. They broke it up into two studies. The first study looked at mental well-being, which they've broken down into three parts. So they used just an overall sense of well-being. Like, do you feel like, what's your overall level of life satisfaction? Then also like how many positive experiences do you think you're having and how many negative experiences, right? And then they looked at them over time, like in the last 20 years, how has this data been changing? And then they also looked at it, compared countries to each other in terms of the level of internet use and see how that correlates with any of those three measures, right? Then the second study, they did the same thing for mental illness, looking at depression, anxiety, and self-harm. Got it? So there's basically two different studies, well-being and mental illness, looking at it over the last 20 years and across 168 different countries, correlating it with the level of mobile technology and internet use as two separate variables. All right, I'll give you the bottom line and then we'll get into some detail. The bottom line is they found nothing.

B: Nothing this year, move on.

S: No, they found no correlation. First of all, if you look at over time, there was no increase in mental illness, no decrease in mental well-being.

B: On average.

S: On average, it's important to note that this is on average. And if you look at it across countries, there was no correlation between the level of internet use or mobile technology use and these variables. Now, that doesn't mean there weren't trends in the data, right? When we use the term trend, we mean that there was an effect, but it was not significant.

B: Yeah, it was close to zero, right?

S: Right, so they used what's called a rope analysis region of practical equivalence. And that's both statistical and practical, right? So that kind of combines a statistical sense of like what is significant, but also like is this actual difference mean anything in the real world, right? And essentially you decide, all right, within this range, this is essentially indistinguishable from zero effect. So you have to be outside this range, outside the region of practical equivalence in order to say that there is a significant effect. None of the effects were outside of the region of practical equivalence. So basically all of the trends were indistinguishable from zero. Does that make sense?

C: Oh, even the excessive internet use?

B: Next news item.

S: Well, no, so the excessive one is not part of this study, to clarify. That's individual level data. This is not looking at individual level data. This is looking at population level data. So it is possible, it is completely possible that when you dive into individual level data that there are effects here that are just averaging out and lost in the wash at the population level.

C: Right, but like if people are using, some people are using it excessively, let's say, for example, and you're seeing a little bit of an uptick in depression, anxiety, and then other people that are using it like not at all, and you're seeing like a more well-being that they would push each other out.

S: Well, and also like there is some suggestion in the literature that like teenagers and young people might have some negative effects, but older people have positive effects. They feel more connected and more happy. And so that could average out. Now-

E: I feel happy.

S: Backing up a little bit, since you brought this up, Cara, say if you're looking at the rest of the data, right, the rest of the studies, and now this is, Bob, where we get into meta-analyses of other studies, the results looking at all different kinds of research addressing this question are mixed. They're basically mixed and inconclusive. They're real, there are suggestions, but not anything that's really solid at this point, probably because there isn't any dramatic effect. The only ones that show like a potentially significant effect are ones that deal with internet addiction, with this excessive use. So, which of course is included in this population level data, but that was not pulled out in any way. But let's look at some of the trends out of interest. Again, these are not, I have to emphasize, these are not significant. They're consistent with the null hypothesis. We can't reject the null. This is compatible with there being zero effect. But basically, over time, there's been an increase in both, this is all self-reported, in both negative experiences and positive experiences. Both have increased, although negative experiences have increased more than positive experiences. And well-being has been pretty flat. In terms of mental illness, the anxiety, depression, and self-harm is pretty flat. There's like really no significant trends there. And then if you look between countries, in terms of correlating it with internet use, there's no real trends there either. There's, if anything, there's a little bit of a increase in well-being with mobile technology, but not necessarily with internet use. So one of the points that the authors bring up, again, this is all correlational population-level data. There's no way you can infer cause and effect. There is no control of variables here. And in fact, there's so many confounding factors, including some pretty obvious confounding factors like socioeconomic status. Like it's very likely that access to the internet and mobile technology correlates with higher socioeconomic status, which correlates with better overall life satisfaction and well-being, right? So yeah, so you would think that internet use correlates with a positive outcome, and that may be masking a negative outcome.

C: Yeah, it's like asking if having a dishwasher or a TV in your house correlates.

S: Makes you happy.

C: Yeah, because we have money.

S: Yeah, yeah, the TV's not making you happy. The money you have to buy that TV is what's making you happy. But the thing is, you just can't know. You just can't know. But one thing we could say, so the authors, though, backing up, they said if there were a clinically significant and statistically significant negative mental health effect of internet use, we should be seeing that in the data. You would think that over 20 years and looking at 168 countries, that we would see mixed in with all the other effects, there would be this internet effect that we could pull out of the data that would show some negative effect. And we're just not seeing it. Again, we can't rule it out with this data because of the potential that it's being hidden by something, that it's hiding in a subpopulation that's being compensated for by other subpopulations, whatever. So we can't say that there's not, for anybody there isn't a negative effect to overusing the internet or whatever, but there isn't a societal level negative effect. Despite the common perception, like that anxiety and depression has been increasing in the last 20 years, it hasn't been. These things are really pretty flat over the last 20 years, which is kind of reassuring. You know, there's no major negative effect in this data.

J: Wait, Steve, to clarify.

S: Yeah.

J: You're saying specifically being caused from the internet, but I mean, I've read research that says that COVID has increased anxiety and depression.

S: Yeah, but that's pretty recent. This data's like going right up to 2020. So...

E: Oh, yeah, that's right. It's 19, right?

S: Yeah, 2019, 2020. So if there were an effect, it could have been missed by this study. Although it says from 2005 to 2022, so it might show it at the tail end there, but it just didn't. It's not in this data. We're not seeing it. And maybe because it hasn't had time to filter through these databases yet, I don't know. So again, it's interesting that there is no major signal there. And again, it's really just asking that one level of question. The authors brought up another interesting point is that this, so this study looked at 2.4 million people. That's how many people were included in this study. So that's pretty robust, obviously. And they said they could do this because population-level data exists for these questions. They said, however, that individual-level data also exists because the big tech companies are capturing a lot of information about every individual customer, and they use that for marketing. However, they do not make it available for researchers. And they were saying that should really change because if they did make that data available for researchers anonymized to protect individual confidentiality, et cetera, then they would be able to do these kinds of massive studies looking at individual levels, not just population levels. And so that's something that really should happen is the tech companies opening up their data to researchers, which is something that's not happening right now. So this is still an open question, and this is only looking at the data from one perspective, but it's we do have to, I think, not just go with our gut reaction or instinct or conventional wisdom because it can be wrong. And this data is pretty strong argument to say, well, maybe it's not as much of a problem as we thought it was, or it's more balanced, it's more complicated. You know, it's not just a big net negative because we're not seeing that in this data.

C: Right, so when we say people, I guess it is an important question. Are we talking about adults? Yeah, so, but that's the question. Oh, I see here, one of the data sets was individuals aged 15 to 89. So we can't really make comments at least based on this analysis.

S: Not of young kids.

C: Yeah, of how the internet's affecting an eight-year-old, for example. And that may be different. That may be very different.

S: Although, with one caveat is that, because eight-year-olds in 2010 were 18 in 2020 and would be captured in this data. So if they were being negatively affected in a way that persisted into late teens, we would have seen that later on in this data set.

J: Well, being flat wrong on this topic doesn't bother me at all. I mean, I'm very happy to hear that the internet doesn't have that effect. I mean, I'd be curious to hear something more directed at social media, but I think this is a very-

S: 2005, 2005 was the beginning of social media, you know?

J: Yeah, I mean, look, this is great news because it could have just as easily been doing the exact opposite, and I find it really interesting how many people out there think that the internet is having a very bad effect.

S: But remember, there's a massive negativity bias that people always think things are worse than they are, and part of that is that the media feeds on negative news because that drives clicks, you know?

J: Yep.

S: It may be, and we've talked about this in a couple of different contexts, where everyone thinks that everything is bad except them, right? It's like, yeah, I'm doing fine, but I hear that everyone else is miserable, you know? So it gives us this false impression that things are a lot worse than they are, but it's all friend of a friend kind of hearsay kind of information, but we believe it, we internalize it, and we all think that we're the exception, you know? It's like people who think, we talked about this recently, that all teachers are bad, my kids' teachers are good, but I hear that other people's teachers are all bad, or whatever, fill in the blank with any professional. It's just a bias in the way we perceive information, receive information, you know? It's a confirmation bias, it's a media sensationalism bias, and it's good to be skeptical of that, and it's good not to just go with the conventional wisdom gut feeling until you see data, because the data often contradicts our naive conventional wisdom.

J: Hey, and you know, Steve, it's also a healthy exercise here, like, to everybody that's listening to this news item, if you happen to have agreed with me and Evan before we found out what the answer is, does it bother you that you were wrong, or are you having a different emotional or intellectual response? Like, analyze it, because I'll tell you, like, 20 years ago, I would not have liked to have been wrong. And right now, like, I honestly am happy that I was wrong.

S: Well, especially since it's good news, in a way, yeah.

J: Yeah, I mean, it is good news.

E: Yeah, right, it's positive reinforcement.

J: But as skeptics this is just an example, like, we need to, you need to be able to hear stuff like this, and you have to change your mind with the data, because the data is the only thing that matters.

S: Yeah, and changing your mind with the data is, that's like the first step, like, you have to do that. But I think a little bit harder, because it requires not a reaction, but an action, is to suspend your belief until you see data, is to say even though I feel this way, I honestly don't know, because I've never seen any objective data on this, and just not have an opinion about it until you do see data. That's harder to do. All right, let's move on.

Methane Capture (33:14)[edit]

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S: Jay, tell us about capturing methane.

J: Yeah, even though the release of CO2 is the main culprit in global warming, did you guys know that methane is actually worse?

S: Mm-hmm.

E: Yeah, we've talked about that.

S: We've talked about that. It's worse, but shorter-acting, so it's-

B: Right.

S: It's hard to make one statement about it.

J: Yeah, I mean, it's a different-

E: It's some set of awful problems.

J: It's a different, yeah, it's a different thing.

S: It depends on the timeframe you're talking about. It's worse over shorter timeframes, better, not as bad, over longer timeframes.

J: Right, I'll give you all the details, right? When I'm done talking to you, you'll know more about methane than you ever wanted to. (laughter) Yeah. So, it would be great to limit the release of methane. It would be a very effective thing to do in the short term, right? So, if we wanted to have some really quick short-term benefits or improvements in global warming, methane is actually a good place to spend some time and energy. Now, even though methane only lasts, now, Steve was saying it's a short-term thing, it lasts about 12 years in the atmosphere. It's not very long. Compared to CO2, CO2 lasts hundreds of years. Now, CO2 just doesn't quit. So, methane is more than 28 times as potent as a carbon dioxide greenhouse gas than CO2, though. So, it is worse as far as it traps heat better, much better than CO2. There's existing ways to limit methane release, right? Methane is being used everywhere, right? Think of all the major cities, cities like New York. If you've ever been in an apartment building in New York, it smells like natural gas in most apartment buildings because of methane release that they don't want, but it's a very difficult thing to fix. So, we need to fix natural gas leaks. That's just a standard. We have to raise the bar on what we're willing to say is okay, like how much can be released per building or whatever they come up with. We need to do something about that. Because again, methane and natural gas are being used everywhere. They're all over the place. We, of course, need to get off our coal dependency. I'm not just saying that because we need to get the hell off of coal because coal produces CO2. The mining of coal releases methane, right? I mean, think about that. Like, just to get coal releases a greenhouse gas even before we use the coal.

B: It's like a double whammy.

J: And then, I know you guys know this, the meat and dairy industry's bad, very bad. You know, another huge source of methane because cows are essentially methane-generating machines and meat and dairy both largely come from cows. So, that's a big problem. We have doing all these things would definitely go a long way to lowering methane emissions and if we did all that, we could slow global warming. They're saying by 30% in the next 10 years, specifically just by doing the things that I said in other methane mitigation. But basically those things that I itemized right there are big offenders. This is all backed by research and that's not enough because all of that is considered the low-hanging fruit. This is actually the easy stuff to do as far as what the researchers are saying. We need to do a lot more than just that. That's because as the world warms, it will induce more methane to be released by microbes that are currently right now, they're frozen in the permafrost and when we lose the permafrost, first off, all of those frozen microbes are gonna start generating methane and all the microbes that are already in places that are unfrozen will be more active because of the temperature going up. We will have a huge surge in methane when that happens and we have had a significant increase in methane since the industrial age. So right now, if we were to remove that methane from the atmosphere, let's say that we could snap our fingers and it happens, the planet would eventually cool by 0.5 degrees. That is not insignificant. That is a significant number. So obviously, all this data is saying, we need to, countries around the world, we need to develop technology, we need to develop lots of different technologies and in general, scientists wanna develop several ways to remove methane directly from the air. This is a big challenge though and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, they're currently working on this subject. They're definitely putting in time and energy to try to figure out some heavy hitting solutions that we could then invest a lot of money into. Now, the main problem is that methane is a very strong and stable molecule. It doesn't change easily. It takes a lot of energy to change that molecule to break it up. It's made up of one carbon atom and there's four hydrogen atoms hanging off of that carbon atom. So the methane in the atmosphere, like we said, it doesn't last that long because energy from sunlight and highly reactive hydroxyl radicals can destroy methane molecules and that is happening all the time. So methane molecules in our atmosphere is being destroyed but we happen to be pumping in way more methane into the atmosphere than it is being destroyed. Now, in other settings, methane is much more difficult to get rid of. So microbes called methanotropes, they use enzymes and they actually eat methane. They use it as fuel. Microbes live in the soil and they eat up to about 30 million metric tons per year. Even though that's not insignificant, it's still 320 million tons less than we pumped into the atmosphere just in 2022. So human activity is insanely outstripping what nature is doing on its own to get rid of methane. Microbes called methanogens that live in the soil produce methane faster than their methane eating counterparts. All right, so we have microbes that are eating it. We have microbes that are creating it. Microbiologists are trying to figure out if it's possible to get the methanotropes bacteria to eat more methane faster. So they wanna genetically engineer these microbes to basically be much more effective at eating methane and getting rid of it and turning it into other things.

B: Yeah, CRISPR that shit.

J: Yeah, right, but it's difficult, Bob. And they don't really know. Sometimes they're just guessing and to see what happens. And one of the researchers was saying that they really hope that they get lucky, that they stumble on something that they've modified that is very effective, but they don't know. There's so much information that we don't have that we need to have in order to be better at altering these bacteria. Another issue is speed. So bacteria that eat methane, they typically are pretty slow moving. And as the researchers figure out more about how these bacteria function, they'll be likely able to bend genetic engineering better so they can create bacteria that functionally do the job faster and better. And scientists are hopeful that we could get there sooner, which is great. It'd be great if something happened within the next five years, say, where we actually came up with something that would have a real effect here. Now, another angle that they're coming at it is from the chemistry side of things. So chemists are working on creating methane-destroying chemicals that can be put into reactors that are close to where methane is being created. Though there are hurdles that need to be overcome, high temperatures and very difficult conditions are required in order to destroy methane right now from a chemical perspective. And then there's also expensive components that we need, like platinum. So our current technology, even though it functions, it's really expensive and it's just not moving fast enough. And we need to significantly improve the technology that we have from a chemical perspective. Several researchers are working on catalysts that convert methane into other molecules. Now, in case you don't know, a catalyst is essentially it's something that can affect a molecule, but it doesn't change itself. Like it just does what it does and you're not really using up the catalyst. It just does its thing.

S: It makes the reaction go faster.

J: Yeah.

S: And by go faster, it could mean like it takes a million years or it takes a second, right? So it basically, sometimes going faster means happening at all

J: Yeah. Right, exactly. So one of these catalysts converts methane into methanol using high-energy ultraviolet light. And hey, methanol is actually a useful compound to have. So there might be bonuses to doing this, right? If we're gonna be converting methane into other usable atoms or molecules, whatever we can get out of it, methanol is a great thing to have. It has a ton of uses.

B: Yeah, I love meth, man.

J: Right, it's the best.

C: Methanol can also make you go blind.

J: Sure.

S: You couldn't eat it.

E: Is that what they were drinking when alcohol was prohibited?

C: It might've been, yeah. Not intentionally, but yeah.

E: Bathtub gin, right, they were making, right.

J: On a side note, even though there is significantly less methane in the atmosphere than CO2, in the short term, methane removal could show much more progress than removing CO2.

S: So you could buy us some time, basically.

J: Yes, yes, because in the short term, all of these scientists pretty much agree that methane removal is probably like one of the first things that we should start to do. Now, listen to this. Two out of every million air molecules are methane. 400 out of every million air molecules are CO2. So there's a huge difference in the amount of methane and CO2 in the atmosphere. So look, the good news is that researchers are hopeful. There's lots of different researchers that are coming at this in multiple different ways. This is exactly what we want to have happen, but we've got to pump a lot of more, a lot of more, a lot more money into this, much, much more money than we are right now.

S: We basically collectively emit 570 million tons of methane into the atmosphere every year. The world does, right? 570. And methanotrophic bacteria consume 30 million metric tons. So 30 compared to 570. So basically we just need to make enough of these bacteria to like have about an order of magnitude increase in the amount of methane that they're consuming. I don't know how plausible that is or how much it would have to be. I mean, what if we do just have vast lakes and just of the bacteria? I mean, how would you practically do that?

J: Yeah, I don't know how I did not get any understanding on how they would create them and then distribute them and infuse them into the environment. You know, there was a couple methods that I read about that I really didn't like. And even the scientists were saying like, look, we are essentially throwing ideas at the wall.

S: Yeah, they're just like, let's just make the bacteria first and then see, figure out how to use them. But I think the figuring out how to use them thing might be a bigger problem.

J: Yeah, but they came up with this method, Steve, where they were like, we could take chloride and we could put it onto the surface of the ocean in certain areas. And that would have an effect on methane production. And then the scientist said, basically in the same sentence, but we're also pretty sure that if we did that, there would be other sideline effects that might increase CO2, right? It's complicated because you think about when you're talking about changing an environment like that. So there's lots of different things that they're talking about right now. And there's a lot of peer review going on where you have other scientists saying, no, no, no, we can't do that because of X, Y, and Z. But this is science, right? And at least it's happening.

S: But it's important to note with existing technologies, we can significantly reduce the anthropogenic release of methane into the atmosphere, right? A lot of it's natural, but a lot of it is anthropogenic. And so that part could be significantly reduced with existing technologies. We just have to do it. For example, release of methane from cows is not inevitable. That's based on their diet. And if we just fed them a different food, you could have essentially methane neutral cows, dairy and meat farming. Part of it is like feeding them on grass grown in soil that has methanotrophic bacteria in it. They get methanotrophic bacteria in their gut and it eats all the methane before it gets excreted. So there are lots of things like that that we could be doing. And if we do this, it could buy us a significant amount of time in terms of reducing the pace of global warming. So to give us the time to reduce the CO2 emissions and do some more significant carbon capture. All right, thanks, Jay.

Bitter Revenge (47:15)[edit]

S: Cara.

C: Yeah.

S: Will revenge make me happy?

C: We're gonna be talking about sweet revenge, bittersweet revenge, bitter revenge. I found a cool article, cool. I found an interesting article that was written by a psychologist. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of new research in it, so I tried to do some digging on my own and I found some things that are like kind of up to date. But she was posing an interesting question, which is, is revenge sweet? You know, like when we-

E: Satisfying?

C: Yeah, like when we seek revenge, when we engage in revenge behaviors, is it helpful? Is it satisfying? Does it restore justice? Does it make us feel better? You know, all the different questions that we could ask. And I don't know, I thought it was a pretty interesting kind of question to grapple with, so I'm just curious what you guys think.

J: It's complicated. I mean, I've wanted to enact revenge on several people in my life, and I always choose, I choose not to. One, because, you know-

E: Bob's very lucky.

J: I think if you spread around that negativity, you're just making the world a darker place. I don't know, it's difficult, Cara. I personally try to avoid revenge in my life, but I think some people deserve revenge.

E: Well, I think with revenge, there comes this sort of idea of taking the law into your own hands. And there's a sense of wrongness that accompanies that, just inherently. So I think that may give lots of people maybe pause to maybe thinking in a direction that would be defined as revenge.

C: Yeah, and I think that, yeah, those operational definitions differ.

B: I think it's much more fun and rewarding to think about it than actually do it.

C: Interesting. Okay, that's the point I want to come back to, because I think there's something-

S: Yeah, fantasizing about a revenge may be satisfying, but actually doing it, I think nurturing those kind of negative emotions always are going to be more harmful to you.

C: Here's something, there's something pretty interesting about what the two of you just said that I want to come back to. But before I do, I like the point that you guys made about sort of the word, even, revenge, and what we think of. Is revenge about breaking the law? Is it about taking the law into your own hands? Does it involve criminal activity? And that's not necessarily the case. The psychologist who wrote this article dug a little bit into the etymology of the word. And so the root of revenge is vindicare, the Latin root, which is also the root of vindication or vindictive. And it's interesting, because we often think of revenge as the desire to like retaliate, to inflict harm or punishment after somebody was wronged. Vindication, sometimes we think of it as having a different layer, which is like clearing your name or proving your innocence. And then there's words like retaliation, retribution, but they all kind of have some overlapping feelings, at least in, I guess, American English. I don't know if I can speak to other forms. And there are a lot of different ways that people could seek revenge. So there's one, I guess, interesting question is, does it work to restore justice? Another one is, is it cathartic? Does it actually feel good to engage in or to seek revenge? And I think that many of you brought up an important point, which is, is there a difference between thinking about or plotting the revenge and then actually engaging in the revenge behaviors? And so there've been several studies on this. Some of them have been experimental in nature. Some have been more observational. One that I want to reference talks about sort of the steps involved in revenge. So this one, they specifically point to what I just did, which is that the motivation behind revenge is often about injustice, like feeling like there was an injustice that was perpetrated or feeling betrayed or emotionally hurt. And usually there's like a three-step process. There's the planning process, the expectation phase, and then the execution phase.

B: Execution phase, where you kill them?

C: I guess that would be the extreme. That would be the executory execution. Yeah, the extreme version of that. But also it could be a simple act of revenge. It's actually not against the law. It could be a prank, right? Like something that's perfectly legal and above board. Often during the planning, there's quite a bit of almost like kind of borderline obsession over the wrong that's been perpetrated. And like, how am I going to pay them back? What am I going to do? And then the plan starts to come together. And sometimes people feel empowered during that point. They might even feel satisfied. And then they might engage in the actual revenge behavior, which is sort of all over the place. But basically the big takeaway is kind of like with your topic, Steve, there's sort of a bottom line, and then there's caveats and little interesting nuggets. Basically overall, revenge seems to be bitter. It does not seem to be sweet. And actually the point that you guys made previously about how the planning might be healthy or good for you and make you feel better, but then the executing might be the opposite is actually reversed. So when we think about revenge a lot, it actually amplifies the transgression. So somebody slights you or wrongs you, and then you start obsessing over that wrong. It makes it bigger and have more weight, and it actually can affect your well-being and your mood more negatively. It impacts you more negatively. So the longer that you sort of ruminate on that, the more negative mental health consequences it has.

B: So my takeaway is that you enact your revenge as soon as possible. (laughter)

C: Exactly.

E: I mean, before it festers into something worse, right?

C: And so, and then the interesting thing is that the execution of the revenge, right, the actual behavior can momentarily feel really good. And there've actually been, yeah, there've actually been studies like MRI studies where people kind of watched different revenge behaviors, different scenarios, and they would see some people doing something fair and some people doing something unfair. And I could kind of go through the paradigm. It's about like, it's a money-sharing game. These are quite common in psychology where like one person starts with $10, and then the second person, he's like, I could give you all of the money. And if I give you all the money, then they're going to double it. And then if you give it back to me, we'll both have more money, but they all have to agree. So sometimes the first person's like, I don't trust you. So they just keep the $10 and nobody makes any money. And sometimes the second person's like, yeah, that's a great idea. And so the first person gives the second person the money. And now the second person has all the money and doesn't give the other half back to the first person. So this is a common paradigm. Yeah, because it shows like a sense of justice and fairness and betrayal and all of those things. And in MRI studies, they've shown that people who watch revenge-seeking actually feel a sense of satisfaction. And they actually get like a little kind of positive experience out of it. Interestingly, that's more common in men.

S: Yeah, I totally buy that. I mean, that's why a lot of movie plots are based upon that. They set up a bad guy so that the good guy can get revenge upon them and everyone feels good.

E: Yeah, it has to be a satisfying ending.

C: But let me be clear. Most studies show that that cathartic effect of revenge, that like, ha ha, I got mine, is largely false.

J: What do people feel when they get revenge?

C: They feel either nothing or they just kind of feel shitty like they did before they got their revenge.

J: Yeah.

E: Sort of sad to him and put in a position in which they had to feel that in the first place.

C: Right, because their emotions are complicated. It's like the same story we often see when we watch these harrowing, or these kind of really, maybe not harrowing, but these really dark films, documentary films, about a family member is murdered and then they try to figure out who did it. And then that person goes on trial and then the family members sometimes get a sense of satisfaction seeing that person go away. But often you'll see at least a handful of members of the family saying, don't put them to death. Like that doesn't, like two people are gonna be dead then. So you'll often see that there's like this empathy layer to it that makes it complicated. And so the study that I was mentioning before where we saw men have a slightly different response. So when there were fair players, when they would give the money back in a fair way, both men and women reacted positively and you saw more indication of empathy, both in brain activity and also in self-report. But when the bad guy got shocked, women, even if they disapproved of him, were still empathic towards him and felt bad for him, but men weren't. Their reward centers were activated. So that's kind of an interesting-

S: So that's because women like bad boys, right? (laughter)

C: Or women are socialized to be more empathetic and to, they practice empathy more because they're raised to do it more. And men are socialized to kind of view things in that sort of way. But this is only one study. Most studies just show that people kind of feel like shit after, or they don't feel anything at all. And that during the lead-up, it actually just makes whatever slight or whatever betrayal was experienced magnified and amplified and that much worse. So even though it is bittersweet, sometimes people do get a little hit of dopamine after, but it doesn't seem to last.

J: So Cara, what you're saying is that Khan should have forgiven Kirk.

C: Sure.

S: That's what all this is leading to.

E: Who and who?

C: That's one of the takeaways that I see across almost all of these studies is that the long-term effects of getting retaliation or getting revenge is not a relief of these emotions, but usually more of like a vicious cycle, an amplification of the actual first slight. They might get short-term satisfaction, but then the conflict usually escalates. It can lead to a big back and forth where it's like a revenge spiral. It can hinder healing and it can lead to increased isolation and loneliness. So a lot of the kind of psychological tools that are usually offered for helping, what do you do in a case where you're trying to seek revenge or where you've been aggrieved is work on yourself, work on your goals and try to move forward. Like use these experiences as opportunities for resolving conflict, as opportunities to practice gratitude and forgiveness, or go through the legal system to ensure that if we are talking about, obviously a terrible crime that was committed, utilizing the system in front of you, which I know is not perfect and which I know this can also be caveated a thousand ways because we all know that victims, for example, of sexual violence are not vindicated the way that they should be, especially in our society. But going through a legal system where individuals are actually put to trial and potentially found guilty of a crime and justice isn't insured in a way that's sort of codified in the law can actually bring some of that comfort to victims.

E: Pointing out that Steve said it, Jay, you alluded to it, we have this Hollywood version of revenge that it's not reality. It's not really the way real life plays out, obviously in the way you want the character to have that sort of victory in the end, but is he really experiencing euphoria or a sense of feeling better about it all? No, surprise, Hollywood is not reality. So we're kind of conditioned also by it to a degree.

C: 100%. Yeah, it's just like an onscreen death is never exactly what, or anywhere close to what death looks like in reality. We have this fantastic version of it and I think we have made it, and don't get me wrong, there are a lot of cultural reasons that we've moralized revenge because they're like biblical reasons, right? There are things that people read in scripture that reinforce the concept of revenge. It's in Exodus, right? We think of like, what's it called? Is it Hammurabi's Code? The eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth? Does that sound right?

B: That sounds right, yeah.

C: Yeah, but then you also hear, like Gandhi said, an eye for an eye leaves the world blind. And so there is a kind of a moralism that comes into play and I think that Hollywood does not do a good job of helping with that because Hollywood portrays a moralistic view of revenge like, oh, when the guy who was slighted finally gets revenge, then all of a sudden he is sort of the hero, right? Like he seeks revenge his whole life and then he finally gets it and now he's the hero and we all are very proud of him. And I don't think that that message is a healthy message. I think it perpetuates, A, some of these misogynistic stereotypes that probably reinforce what they found in that one study, but B, it's a false narrative. And then you go and you go, why don't I feel any better? I actually feel worse, this sucks.

S: Yeah, but it was really cool when he said, I am Indigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.

E: The music was reaching this crescendo in the background. It made me feel.

B: Yeah, but Steve, that plays into what Cara was saying in that scene, it's quite anticlimactic because he just, the six fingered guy just runs away, like, whoa, didn't see that happening.

E: That's right.

J: Yeah, plus and he goes, like I said, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life now. Like, he ruined.

S: He lived for revenge, yeah.

J: You know?

C: True, good call.

J: He does become the Dread Pirate Robert, but still, the point is revenge will do more damage to you, I think, than good.

S: But it is a dish best served cold.

B: Ha, right.

C: It may be more effective, but not better for you, that's true.

Underground Microbes (1:01:11)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, tell us about underground microbes.

B: Oh yeah, this one was really cool. A recent study described the results of examining genetic data of microbes deep under the earth, and the results are not only fascinating, but also have implications for dealing with climate change and potential life on Mars. This is from the journal Environmental Microbiology, and they have accepted this study from researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois, including study lead geoscientist Magdalena Osborne. Okay, so you probably don't give too much thought to microbes deep under the ground, but I do. We know so little, but there's little doubt that there's one hell of a popular place down there for bacteria and archaea. They're just hanging out and doing their thing. And if you just weighed the microbial biomass in the crust, it would certainly outweigh every living thing in the oceans. And far below us is clearly one of the largest biomes on the planet. But it's obviously far harder to figure out who and what's happening deep underground compared to the oceans. The ocean's not easy, but I mean, underground is far worse. So this paucity of information about life deep underground, that's why it's often colloquially referred to as microbial dark matter. And I love that term the moment I heard it, microbial dark matter. So this is where an old gold mine comes in. The old homestake mine in South Dakota is now called the Sanford Underground Research Facility. And of course, the acronym is SURF. So lots of different research happens at SURF. There's lots of experiments that take place down there, including physics-based research and experiments. But there's six areas throughout this mine, throughout this SURF, that are collectively called the Deep Mine Microbial Observatory. So now it's from these various sections and depths of the mine where the researchers took their samples and basically studied the crap out of them. The samples consisted of rock fracture fluids, which was essentially water and dissolved gases, plus, of course, microbial life. They say that many of these fluids are over 10,000 years old and they have been isolated from any surface contact. Jay, you haven't had contact with them, right?

J: Not yet.

B: Thank you.

C: Not yet. Not that hopeful.

B: So from these samples, they created, here comes another scientific acronym, MAGS, M-A-G-S, and that stands for Metagenome Assembled Genomes. So that means that they sequenced all the genetic data from the microbial communities. So that means that they sequenced all the genetic data from the microbial communities. That's the metagenome. And then they computationally reconstructed the individual microbial genomes from that, right? So it's like if the five of us were mushed together into this gross slurry of skin and organs and stuff, and the scientists, stay with me, and scientists distilled from all of our genetic data, that would be our SGU metagenome. And then inferring from that each of our own individual genomes, that would be our MAGS, our Metagenome Assembled Genomes. Okay? Good example? Good. So from this, the researchers get this surprisingly impressive handle on the microbial communities and the members, like their various functional possibilities, the diversity, the scientists can characterize the metabolic pathways, evolutionary relationships, and more. They get this wealth of this data, that they can, this information that they can infer just from this, just from the genetic detritus, really, that's in this water and dissolved gases. In this study, in this specific study, they identified 600 genomes in various stages of completeness. You know, some of them, a bunch of them were like over 90% complete. Some and then another chunk was in 40 to 70% complete and all that stuff. And of those 600, they were, the microbes were part of 50 phyla and 18 candidate phyla. Now, one of their big takeaways was that all of these lineages that they looked at can be characterized as minimalist or maximalist. So I'll let the paper describe what these, what these terms mean in this context. They said, many of the microbes we found were either minimalist, ultra streamlined, with one job that it does very well alongside close consortium of collaborators, or it can do a little bit of everything. These maximalists are ready for every resource that comes along. If there's an opportunity to make some energy or transform a biomolecule, it's prepared. By looking at its genome, we can tell it has many options. If nutrients are scarce, it can just make its own, okay? So the maximalists were fascinating, right? It seems like they, like a lot, those abilities can be used in industry. I mean, it seems like amazingly versatile. The minimalists are interesting as well. Imagine this, these various lineages are hyper-specialized, right? They share a lot. Some of them even shocked the scientists. For example, team lead Osborne said, some of these lineages don't even have genes to make their own lipids, which blows my mind. Because how could you make a cell without lipids? It's sort of like how humans can't make every amino acid, the paper continues. So we eat protein to get the amino acids that we cannot make on our own, but this is on a more extreme scale. The minimalists are extreme specialists and all together, they make it work. It's a lot of sharing and no duplication of effort, okay? That's where the quote ends. So some of the implications of such underground microbial communities really caught my attention. The researchers note that since they live exclusively underground within rocks and water, and they've got no contact with the surface, they could give us clues as to what could survive deep within other planets, right? Like Mars or icy moons in our solar system. If we, when we eventually really look at those planets and those moons, we may find these minimalists and maximalists as well. The implications back on earth though could also be quite important. For example, Steve, we talked a lot about long-term carbon storage, right? And that's becoming increasingly urgent to mitigate climate change. A lot of companies are looking to injecting carbon dioxide deep into the earth. So it's another quote from Osborne. She said, we need to be cognizant of life in the deep subsurface and how human activity like mining and carbon storage could affect it. If we store carbon dioxide underground, microbes could metabolize it and make methane, for example, Jay. There's a biosphere underground that depending on how it's perturbed has the potential to affect the surface. So imagine, you inject a lot of carbon dioxide. Yeah, we're doing some long-term carbon storage and the microbes like, okay, we got a new resource here. Let's make methane. Like, holy crap, that would not be good. I'll end with a quote from that scene at the end of Incredibles. The Incredibles, the mole man comes from the underground.

E: Oh yeah, I remember that.

B: And he says, behold, the underminer. I'm always beneath you, but nothing is beneath me. Oh man, I love that. I hereby declare war on peace and happiness. So if they ever reboot that movie, I think they should have creepy microbes oozing out from underground instead of the underminer. So that's it.

S: All right, thanks, Bob.

B: Sure, Steve.

PopSci Magazine Closes (1:09:02)[edit]

(click to create redirect page)

S: But one thing is for sure, we won't be reading about that story in PopSci Magazine.

B: Ah!

C: Oh, God, how sad. What a sad transition.

B: What the hell, man?

E: Popular Science Magazine, I know. This is so sad. I mean, this is like burying your-

B: Bullshit, it's bullshit is what it is.

E: This is like burying your great, great, great, great uncle, which is something I know we've all had to do.

B: 1870s, right?

E: You're right, 151 years, Popular Science will no longer offer a magazine. Oh, gee. Okay, first and foremost, 151 years of a name brand product, that's impressive. And it's a testimony to withstanding all that has happened on the planet since the year 1872. Hello, President Grant. Oh, and I went to the Wiki page today for it. It has already updated Popular Science with the term was. Popular Science was.

C: Oh, geez.

E: Oh, no, gosh. Over that time, oh boy, 58 individual journalism awards during those years, obviously most of them in the 20th century and 21st. Published in 30 languages, distributed, when it was distributed as a magazine, to at least 45 countries, but probably more. Kathy Hebert, who's the communication directors for PopSci's owner, a company called Recurrent Ventures. She said, we believe that the content strategy has to evolve beyond the digital magazine product. A combination of its news team, along with commerce video and other initiatives will produce content that naturally aligns with PopSci's mission. It's a phenomenal brand, and as consumer trends shift, we must prioritize investment in new formats. So for the first 144 years, you had this magazine, which was published on a monthly basis. Then in January, 2016, time kind of started to catch up with it. It switched to a bimonthly schedule. And then in 2018, it became a quarterly publication. I didn't even know about this stuff. It happened so fast. And then they were done printing physical copies altogether after 2020. So in 2021, it went to being an all-digital issue, but now they've shuttered it.

B: So that's why whenever I looked for it, I was like, oh, there's Popular Mechanics. Where the hell's Popular Science?

E: I know.

B: Now I know why, but now it's too late.

E: Yep, and that's it. Now, the PopSci brand continues, but as they said, it's just gonna do other things other than a magazine, an online magazine, right?

B: That said though, Evan, I read that it says that PopSci will continue to offer articles on its website along with its PopSci Plus subscription. I'm not even sure what that means though.

C: You have to be a subscriber online.

E: So your membership effectively now, your subscription, you no longer get the digital magazine. It's access to exclusive content on And as you said, Bob, the magazine's extensive archives. But you can also, and I found them, that there are a lot of the magazine archives are available online over at what, Google Books and the Internet Archive has several of the old, many of the older issues. So I was actually, yeah, looking around those sites today at some of the old magazines. I remember some of these magazine covers. Boy, when I was reading them. Yep, so I'm an old man, right? An old cranky man in my mid-50s, all right?

S: I've noticed.

E: But in the 70s, when I was a spry young lad, just growing up, seven, eight, nine, nine years old. Remember guys, you go to the pharmacy or the drug stores, they used to say it, and the magazine rack was huge. You would go in there and spend an hour just looking through stuff. And PopSci, there it was, always among the magazines up front that you would definitely have an eye on because they always had a cool cover.

B: That was my go-to, man, even more than Popular Mechanics or even Scientific American in a lot of cases. It was just a nice blend of accessibility and interesting articles.

E: Check this out. So it began in 1872, and this is from the wiki. I'm gonna read right from it, which I don't usually do, but this was cool. May 1872, Edward L. Yeomans created the magazine to disseminate scientific knowledge to the educated layman. Yeomans had previously worked as an editor for the weekly Appleton's Journal. Appleton is a major name in publishing. My wife used to work for a company division called Appleton and Lang, and that's the modern sort of incarnation of that. But Appleton's Journal and persuaded them to publish this new journal. Early issues were mostly reprints of English periodicals. The journal became an outlet for writings and ideas of Charles Darwin, Thomas Henry Huxley, Louis Pasteur, Henry Ward Beecher, Charles Sanders Pierce, William James, Thomas Edison, John Dewey, and James McKean Cattell. I mean, if you had a time machine, you're going back to that era, and you're looking through this new magazine and stuff, and these are the things that you're reading about, what Charles Darwin's doing, what Huxley is writing about. Oh my gosh, Louis Pasteur's research. Crazy, crazy to think about that. Popular Science was covering those.

C: And what year was that, 87?

E: No, 1872 is when it-

C: Oh, 72.

E: Yeah, 72.

C: Okay, I don't know if you know this, Ev, but the first Nat Geo magazine was 1888. So, PopSci beat it by like a decade, a decade and a half. Next year, they'll no longer sell it on newsstands.

E: And this is part of, and what the article, where I read about this first over at The Verge, was touching on that very point, sort of, Cara, in that, here's what they write. Layoffs have impacted journalists on the science beat particularly hard in recent weeks. National Geographic cut the remainder of the magazine's editorial staff this past June. Gizmodo laid off its last climate reporter, and CNBC shuttered its climate desk just last week. So, there's this trend, apparently, of this shrinking end of the science journalism world.

C: It's sad.

E: And it is sad. And it's part of-

C: Not to knock PopSci at all, but I use a feed reader when I'm looking for articles, and it aggregates all of the different science content from different RSSs that I pull up. And when I look through PopSci's feed, oftentimes it'll be science articles interspersed with the best Black Friday deals. Now you can get this thing on, yeah, these headphones on sale. It's a lot of weird tech promotional content.

S: Yeah, I mean, everyone has to search for a way to survive in the new media environment. You know what I mean? Printing a magazine, maybe it's just not a sustainable business model anymore. But if they still publish all the same articles just like on a website, on a web news site, rather than in something in a magazine format, which is kind of archaic when you think about it, that's fine. You know, articles don't have to go up every month or whatever, or every quarter, just every day you have another piece or whatever.

E: Well, we published a quarterly, and then turned our efforts into a podcast. So we made the transition.

S: Yeah, we transitioned to a blog and a podcast. It's a social media when that came out. And now we're on TikTok. (laughter) But whatever, it's a treadmill. It's hard to keep up. But also it's like these big brick and mortar organizations may not just be well-suited. You know, they may not be light enough to adapt quickly to the shifting social media environment, the way people consume information. Hate to say it but that, we can't just lament what's going away. We have to think about like, well, how do we adapt to the new world and survive and keep good science reporting. And I do think it is a real serious problem, though, the loss of science editors at major news outlets is a problem, because then the quality of the science reporting takes a nosedive. When you have, we talk about this all the time, when you have like the lifestyle reporter reporting on science news, it's always a disaster. You know?

E: Yeah, it never works. Yeah, it always goes south.

Quickie with Steve: LK-99 Debunked (1:17:40)[edit]

S: All right, guys, I'm gonna give you just a quickie with Steve, very quick follow-up. You guys remember LK99? You guys remember that?

E: Oh, it was room temperature or something.

B: Total bullshit.

S: Yeah, room temperature, superconductor, and ambient pressure, that's critical. Ambient pressure, room temperature, superconductor. This made kind of a splash, what was it, a couple of months ago, and we expressed, I think, appropriate level of skepticism[link needed], until this is validated, we should remain skeptical, because this is a pretty big claim. This would be, it'd be awesome if it's true, but yeah, it actually took a little bit longer than I thought it was gonna take, because other labs were actively working at it. Well, it seems that there's been a fairly definitive debunking of the superconductivity claims. A paper was published showing that, this is technical, but the structural transition of copper sulfate, Cu2.

B: Copper!

S: Yeah, I think it's technically copper sulfide, that that was the origin of the data that they were interpreting as signs of superconductivity. Like, nope, it's not superconductivity, it's just a transition phase in this molecule. There is no reason to think that there's any superconductivity happening in this LK99 alloy. So, as predicted, it wouldn't replicate, and that's what happened. This is why, when extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This would have been a massive leap forward. Obviously, we would love for it to have been true. All the more reason to be skeptical, you know, when you really want something to be true. This was like the neutrino, neutrinos going faster than light story. We kind of all knew it wasn't true when it came out. We just had to figure out why it wasn't true. This goes on the list of anecdotes of why you need to be initially skeptical of these kinds of reporting.

Who's That Noisy? (1:20:33)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, it's Who's That Noisy time.

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

[High-pitched warblings]

That's a weird sound.

E: There were a couple of sounds there. It was layered.

J: Yeah, there was a few things going on there, for sure.

E: It sounded like someone was whittling a piece of wood. In the back, right? Kind of shaving, almost, piece to it. What was that?

J: So Visto Tutti takes a stab at this one and says, "This tune sounds like it was played on a water bird. These are a kind of whistle, often shaped like a bird. The whistle sound bubbles through the water to give a bubbling, trilling sound." Unfortunately, my kid just broke the one I got him, like, five years ago.

E: Oh, no.

J: It is not a water bird, but, yeah, there's a little bit of that going on there. But let's move on to the next guest, Adam Russell wrote in and said, "This is the sound of an astromech droid whistling while he works." You're always going to get me with Star Wars references. That is incorrect. Jonathan Cook wrote in. "Hey, guys, long-time listener, first-time guesser. He said, we used to have a Yamaha Electone organ when I was growing up. Above the top keys console was a felt strip that you could run your finger along to make weird noises. There were different switches to change the sound." That was his guess. He is incorrect. It is not a keyboard. I know exactly what he's talking about, though, as far as moving your finger on the thing to change the pitch and everything. Another guest here from Brendan Getz. "Are these the high notes of the electronic organ used for mind control in the movie Strange Brew?" And then he has a quote from the movie. That song's making him fight. Yeah, do it again. Anyway, I do remember that movie. I remember enjoying it when I was young. I probably hate it now, but not correct. And I got a correct guess on this one. I always learn from who's that noisy. I said to myself, no one is going to guess this in a million years. No one's going to guess what this is. Well, somebody knew what it was. Jason Baker wrote in and said, "Hi, this really sounds like the locator sound that drain cameras use. The camera head broadcasts a radio signal and the detector is moved around on the surface until the location of the camera in the pipe is determined from triangulation. So what you have going on here is, this is what Ken Haberman wrote to me to describe this thing. The noise you are hearing is a rigid Navitrack scout locator that is used to locate parts of plumbing lines, such as a boundary trap, when not visible above ground. So basically, there's a plumber who is holding this strange-looking device that is emitting sound and using sound, it's able to locate pipes that are not viewable from the surface. So listen to it again, very briefly. It's an interesting sound. [plays Noisy] It's actually a form of sonar. So thank you for that one.

New Noisy (1:23:38)[edit]

J: I have a new noisy for you guys this week. This noisy was sent in by a listener named Andrew Furmore.

[Deep, airy pulses]

All I got to say about that one is good luck.

S: That was interesting.

E: That was Bobby McFerrin, wasn't it?

J: That is. I love it when somebody sends me a noisy and it makes me crack up. That one made me laugh. So if you think you know what this week's noisy is, or you heard something cool, then you can email me at

Announcements (1:24:18)[edit]

J: A few quick things, Steve. One, first and foremost, I'd like to thank all of our patrons. Without you guys, we really couldn't do what we're doing every week. So we really appreciate your support. If you'd like to help support the SGU, all you got to do is go to and any donation you make is perfectly fine. We appreciate any support that you're willing to give. So please consider that. You could also join our mailing list going on the SGU homepage. We have a link there to join our mailing list. There's also a rating on whatever podcast player you're using. I think Apple still has their ratings mean the most. So if you don't mind, you can go over there and give us a quick rating. That would be fantastic. So we are formally announcing shows that we have coming up in April. So there is a full solar eclipse happening.

E: Total solar eclipse. Absolutely.

J: A total of the heart. Now this is happening. That's a Monday. So we're flying into Dallas because we are determined that Bob's bad luck with making clouds appear when anything astronomical is happening. We don't think that Bob's powers will work in Dallas. We're going to Dallas for the viewing. So we're going to be doing two shows. We're going to be doing an extravaganza with George Robb. That'll be happening on Saturday the 6th. And then we are going to have a private recording of the SGU. This is a private show plus because we'll be doing other stuff as well as recording the show. And that will be happening on Sunday the 7th. All of the information that you need for those two shows will be on the website. So you can go there and check it out.

S: Also, a quick reminder, you can join us for our live streaming. We live stream on TikTok on Wednesdays starting at 1pm and on I think a lot of things, YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok on Friday at 5pm.

C: Eastern.

S: Eastern time, yes. Always. SGU operates on Eastern time. All right, thank you, Jay.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:26:25)[edit]

Email #1: Dr. GPT[edit]

S: We're going to just do one email today. This one's interesting. So Ryan from the Cayman Islands, not sure if we've had an email from the Cayman Islands before. He writes, "My friend suggested I submit this story. I've been using GPT, ChatGPT, for a great deal of software and also family health work. I'm pretty much using it as a personal physician. I understand the risks, but I'm pretty good at corroborating its responses with other research. Toddler banged his head yesterday. I took a photo of it into GPT and asked it how it looked. It was pretty helpful. Baby was right sick last week and it helped us make a decision on care at night. Cheers." So what do you guys think about using ChatGPT for medical advice?

J: At this point, I would say don't do it because it wasn't specifically trained to do that specific thing and it makes mistakes. ChatGPT gives false information.

S: What do the rest of you guys think?

B: Potentially as a starting place maybe, but definitely make it be all end all.

C: I guess a good question would be how does it compare to WebMD? That's like keeping the bar pretty low. So yeah, don't replace your doctor with ChatGPT.

E: Seems like there are other better tools you can access rather than this one.

S: What, Evan? What better tool?

E: Well, like Cara said-

C: Like your actual physician?

E: There are, and there are so many other online physicians and medical professionals that you can access, right?

C: Yeah, but I think I was trying to make the point that WebMD and ChatGPT are probably like ChatGPT might be better than WebMD at this point.

E: Oh, interesting.

B: Really?

C: Yeah, but WebMD sucks.

S: We have some data.

C: Okay.

S: So there was a study that came out in April of 2023 comparing responses to medical inquiries. These are questions that people posted online, healthcare questions. ChatGPT compared to actual physicians answering the same questions, right? So there are websites you can go to where you actually have certified physicians. They've been verified that they're actually physicians answering questions. So they took the questions from the site and then compared ChatGPT's answer with the answer given by physicians and they gave it to a independent panel of physicians to rate them. And ChatGPT was significantly better than actual physicians in answering the questions. They were rated as more empathetic and that their answers were better quality in terms of the medical advice on average than the answers from the physicians who were giving online answers.

C: When you say on average though, here's an important question. Were some of them horrible?

S: No. Oh, okay. The left tail was better than the left tail of the physicians.

C: Amazing.

S: If you look at the distribution of answers.

E: What's wrong with these phisithians?

S: Well, that's a good question. So the thing is

B: Or how good is ChatGPT?

S: ChatGPT's pretty damn good. ChatGPT, we said it could pass the medical board exams. It could pass some specialty exams. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it does. It's kind of close to the line there. The fact is the power of ChatGPT is that it has access to a lot of information and yes, it could make stuff up. That's a big problem. But for frequent questions like this, it actually does a pretty good job. Now before this, I opened up my ChatGPT and I asked it a bunch of medical questions. I pretended to be a patient. I said, hey, I have these symptoms. What should I do? And it got everyone right. It basically I even tried to throw it a few curveballs and its advice was pretty spot on.

C: What happens if you say something like, ChatGPT, I have a cough, but I am distrustful of Western medicine. Like is it going to spew pseudoscience at you if you like frame it right?

S: I've tried doing that too and it does say, well this is not generally accepted by mainstream medicine. Some people think this.

C: That's interesting. So it still caveats it. That's nice.

S: So this is what I think. So first of all, you're right though. You should not use this instead of a physician.

C: Right.

S: And also the first thing ChatGPT says every time I ask it a question it says, I'm not a doctor. You should consult your healthcare professional.

B: Oh wow.

S: That's sort of, that's boilerplate. But then it says, but with what you're saying, you may have this. This could potentially be a serious medical problem. This is something you should go to the emergency room for. Or this is something like these medications have been shown to be effective, but you should consult with your physician about that. And then basic health, like stay hydrated and you know, whatever. So you know, it's pretty it's actually pretty good. Here's the thing.

B: It sounds very good.

S: We don't have a study that says, what are the outcomes of people relying on ChatGPT? I have not seen that.

C: Right. Are people less or more likely to see help?

S: Exactly. And that's really what we would need to see in order to answer this question. But we also have to think, what are these going to what would these people do if they didn't have ChatGPT? Would they go right to a physician?

C: No. They do WebMD.

S: Probably not. They would do WebMD and this is better than WebMD. This is probably better than other online sources.

C: Yeah, because on WebMD it doesn't matter what your symptoms are, you're dying of cancer.

S: Or they listen to their friends or whatever, or they would go with what they think they know. So I think the knowledge that ChatGPT is going to provide people who are going there to look for medical information is probably a hundred times better than what they have without it. And it's probably better than other online sources. It's still, you need the physician to put it all together and to make individual decisions and blah, blah, blah. You can't replace your physician. But as an online resource of health information it's actually pretty damn good. From the beginning, early days of the internet, it's mostly been used for people seeking healthcare information. It's like the number one use of the web, of the World Wide Web. And so it's not like people were not doing it before, you know. So this is at least a bump up in the quality of the information that people are getting. But I agree, though, that because this is the case, I think these tech companies should specifically train them on reliable healthcare sources of information. Because they know people are going to be using it for this.

C: And I could see you mentioned before, Evan, like physicians, sort of like telehealth opportunities. We've got like Teladoc and all of these different sort of online healthcare companies and enterprise software that's happening. I could see this type of AI being used as a decision tree for these companies.

E: Like a triage almost?

C: No no. They put it into their own native software. So when somebody calls and says, I think I have a yeast infection, they go through the AI first, and then they see the doctor. And the AI's already kind of done a lot of the work. And the doctor can just kind of look at what the AI spit out to either confirm or deny. I could see that being really beneficial. Because we know that our healthcare system is pretty bloated and that we have a bad paperwork problem in our healthcare system. Documentation is problematic and patients have to repeat the same thing 50 times. And it would be really, really nice to see this like more streamlined history taking and more streamlined decision trees within healthcare. And I think as we move to online and we move to paperless healthcare, this is a great tool.

S: Yeah, it's a great tool. It's also great for physicians. I use it. Like I will type in a bunch of symptoms or like, has there been any recent research on this? Of course, it's not up to date enough to rely on. That's why I also have to go into PubMed and whatever. But it's still another source of information that might pull something up that I previously was not aware of or that I forgot about or whatever. It's just a good tool for experts to use. Because the thing about computers that are better than people is computers are consistent. They're consistent and they can be thorough. Like they'll give you the same answer every time. Whereas people can forget it. So it's a good complementary, I think, strengths and weaknesses with an actual person, physician. Again, your knee jerk is like, don't rely on that for medical information. But actually, it's not a bad idea when you really think about it.

B: I'm pleasantly surprised.

S: I suspect it would improve outcomes.

C: Yeah, I would think so.

S: It's information and most people probably don't have it, would otherwise not have it. All right. Let's go on with science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:35:06)[edit]

Theme: Mushrooms

Item #1: Evidence shows that many mushroom species will increase their growth after a lightning strike, with shiitake crop yield doubling.[7]
Item #2: Three popular supermarket mushrooms, cremini, button, and portobello, are all the exact same species.[8]
Item #3: Although originally classified as plants, the kingdom of Fungi is genetically closest to the kingdom of Protista.[9]

Answer Item
Fiction Fungi closest to Protista
Science Growth after lightning strike
Supermarket 'shrooms same
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Fungi closest to Protista
Growth after lightning strike
Fungi closest to Protista
Fungi closest to Protista

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items, four facts, two real and one fake. Then I challenge my panel of expert skeptics to sniff out the fake. We have a theme this week. The theme is mushrooms. Mushrooms. You guys ready? Here we go. Item number one, evidence shows that many mushroom species will increase their growth after a lightning strike with shiitake crop yield doubling. Item number two, three popular supermarket mushrooms, cremini, button, and portobello are all the exact same species. And item number three, although originally classified as plants, the kingdom of fungi is genetically closest to the kingdom of protista. Evan, go first.

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Okay. Number one, evidence shows that many mushroom species will increase their growth after a lightning strike with shiitake crop yield doubling. Oh, boy. That's interesting. That's a catalyst. Yes? Tying it all together, right?

S: I'm not sure if that would technically be a catalyst. No.

E: No?

S: I don't think it's no. I hear it says metaphorically, yes. Technically, no.

E: Okay, so that one's science. Based on that answer. Three popular supermarket mushrooms. They're all the exact same species. That maybe? I don't know. I don't know enough about speciation of mushrooms. But I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case. That kind of leaves the last one here. Fungi is genetically closest to the kingdom of protista. Can I get a protista example?

C: Paramecium?

S: Paramecium, yeah. They are eukaryotic but single-celled creatures.

E: I'll say that the protista is not genetically closest to it. So I'll say that one's the fiction.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: Start with two here. So mushrooms, cremini, and portobello. I mean, I haven't heard of some of these. It wouldn't surprise me if they're the exact same thing. There's other examples of food items that have multiple names. So that wouldn't surprise me, although I'm not very familiar with it. I don't like eating mushrooms. Although I love mushrooms, I don't like eating them. So I'm not sure. The third one, closest to the kingdom of protista. I think... God, I used to know this. I'm going to go with that one, which means that many mushrooms will have a spike in growth after being struck by lightning. I'm not buying that. I'm calling that fiction.

S: Okay, Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: I think I agree with the guys about the different types. I don't remember what creminis look like. Buttons are... I mean, they're similar in shape. But yeah, I mean, I could see that. Three of the same species, but maybe grown under different conditions to bring out different features or something. Yeah, I could definitely see that. The last one bugs me a little bit because it's like, okay, although originally classified as plants, maybe they were originally. Who knows? We've been wrong a lot. The kingdom of fungi is genetically closest to the kingdom of protis. Well, they're not genetically close because they're a different kingdom.

S: Closest meaning than other kingdoms.

C: Okay, but kingdoms are so far from each other. So like for me, it's like it just seems, okay, maybe they are slightly... I don't know. I just don't see them being enough closer to be considered... Like kingdoms are all really far apart by definition. So that one bothers me for some reason. Even though, yes, striking the ground with lightning and then mushrooms growing faster also is kind of bothersome, but lightning has a lot of energy in it and mushrooms, I don't know, don't they grow on dead shit? Like they don't photosynthesize. Maybe it increases their energy. I don't really understand how mushrooms grow actually. Something about the mycelium and spores and then the entire world catches cordyceps and then they come back to life. And then we have to find the blood that's untainted in a little girl.

B: Clikers, clikers.

C: I think I'm going to go with Evan on this and say that the protist one is the fiction because I can make a case for the lightning maybe.

E: I feel pressured.

C: Maybe.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: Alright, so the first one is talking about the mushrooms being stimulated by electricity. That's interesting. I mean, Christ, I've never heard anything about that before in my life, but I mean, it's this one I could see going both ways. I mean, whatever. Okay. I'll say that one's science. The second one, supermarket mushrooms, I absolutely think that those three mushrooms are the same goddamn mushroom. (Cara laughs) Because it's all marketing. It's all bullshit. I just saw a news program talk about how all the expensive fish that you buy in restaurants, like 30% of restaurants completely lie and give you really crappy, super cheap fish. So I just don't trust food marketing.

C: Also, you know they changed the name to make them more palatable? I always bring this up on the show, but do you remember what a Chilean sea bass is actually called?

J: It's a mugfish or something.

C: It's a Patagonian toothfish.

J: Toothfish, yes. They're nasty. I almost puked in my mouth when somebody said to me, are you making artesian bread? I'm like, no. I am not making artesian bread because there's no such goddamn artesian nothing. It's a frickin' marketing word, artesian. Yes, I make small batches, whatever. Okay, yeah, I'm not mass producing it. Does that make it artesian? Oh, God. I hate that word. I'm actually offended by that word. I just realized that I'm a goddamn snowflake.

J: I used to like it. Artesian, the hell out of here. All right, anyway, with Evan, I really don't know that much about the different kingdoms and the classifications. It's super nuanced, it's complicated, and you have to have a ton of information in your head to even kind of think your way around it. But for some reason, I think that one is the fiction because the other two just seem cromulent enough to say that they're science.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right, so you guys all agree on the second one, so we'll start there. Three popular supermarket mushrooms, cremini, button, and portobello, are all the exact same species. You guys all think this one is science. Do you guys have any idea what these mushrooms look like?

E: I know what a portobello mushroom is, and I know what a button mushroom is.

C: I don't remember cremini.

E: Cremini, I don't remember.

S: Basically, cremini is a brown version of a button mushroom. Button mushrooms are white mushrooms, like a small white mushroom. And portobello are these big, open, flat brown mushrooms.

E: Like a portobello steak.

C: Yeah, you replace burgers with them.

E: Yeah, they're good.

S: They are good. They are all the same species. They're basically the same mushroom. The only difference is the cremini are baby portobello. That's it, they're just picked when they're smaller. That's the only difference. And the button is an albino cremini. That's all it is. Somebody had a white one cropped up in their their, whatever,their mushroom patch. And they said, oh, that's interesting. They just cultivated that. And now, yeah. Then these three mushrooms, that's all the same species, represent 90% of supermarket mushrooms.

C: Random question.

B: 90!?

S: Yeah.

C: I know with, like, fruits and veg sometimes, obviously the richer the color because of the pigmentation, because of the actual chlorophyll that's in the chloroplast, or the different pigments, can increase like nutritive properties. Is that the case with mushrooms? Do we want to be eating an albino version?

E: It has no nutritive properties, right? None.

C: Yeah, I guess it does.

S: No, that's not true in mushrooms.

E: It has vitamins?

C: I think mushrooms have protein in them, don't they?

S: You can get a lot of nutrition from mushrooms. So the difference is that the small ones, the cremini and the button, have a lot more water in them. And so they actually have less flavor, less intense flavor, just because they're more dilute. The portobello are more flavorful because they're drier. That's it.

C: They're drier. That's the difference.

S: Yeah, that's the difference. Otherwise, they're the same. It's the same mushroom. Just pick them young, pick them old.

E: Some magnesium, calcium.

C: Yeah, it just seems to me like a bleached out food.

S: It's not bleached out. It's albino.

C: But it never produced the pigment to begin with.

S: Yeah, right. Exactly.

C: It just seems to me that that would have, I don't know, because I think of nutrition being related to pigmentation.

S: But in this case, I don't think it is.

C: Yeah, because they don't photosynthesize. It's a different process altogether.

S: Right, right, right. Okay, let's go to number three.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Although originally classified as plants the kingdom of fungi is genetically closest to the kingdom of protista.

E: Oh, you're talking about on a map these two kingdoms. Oh. They border each other.

S: Evan, Cara, and Jay think this one is the fiction. Bob thinks this one is science. I'm going to give you a little information here before I give you the reveal. Originally, Linnaeus thought there were three kingdoms of stuff. There was animal, vegetable, and mineral. That's where that comes from.

C: He was wrong about a lot of shit. But right about a lot of shit.

S: Yep. The vegetables and the lapidium, for minerals, regnum vegetabile. Basically, vegetables were everything other than animals that they knew about at the time, including fungus and algae and whatever. They didn't know about microscopic stuff. Then that evolved into three kingdoms of life when they started seeing microscopic stuff. Animals, vegetables, and microscopic organisms were the three kingdoms. Then it went to four when they discovered that the microscopic stuff was divided into prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Then to five when they figured out that fungi were not plants. Then they were in their own kingdom.

B: And then there's another stage after that. Domains.

S: In the US, we divide the bacteria into archaea and bacteria. In other parts of the world, they combine those into the monera. Have you heard that, Bob?

B: Oh, no.

S: The kingdom of monera.

B: I've heard of monera, but I didn't know.

S: Monera is just bacteria and archaea together. Then there's the domains of life, the prokaryote and eukaryote. The prokaryotes are the monera, archaea and bacteria. Eukaryotes are the protista plants, fungi, animals. The question is, when did the fungi branch off from the eukaryotes? Was it closer to the branching point of the protists, or was it closer to plants or closer to animals? That's the question. It doesn't matter how close or far they are, Cara. It's all relative. What was the branching order? This one is the fiction. It is the fiction. If it's not the closest to the protista, it's animals. They're actually closer to animals than they are to plants, even though they were originally classified as plants, because they look kind of like plants. They're closer to animals. First of all, they don't photosynthesize. They have chitin in their cell walls, which no plants do, but animals can.

C: Animals don't have cell walls.

S: Oh, yeah. Membranes. You're right.

C: That's the biggest difference.

S: They break down stuff for food. They break down dead stuff.

C: They catabolize. It's interesting.

S: They breathe air. They're more similar to animals metabolically than they are to plants.

C: Plants are just way more complex. Plants are so cool compared to animals. They do all sorts of cool shit.

S: Fungi are incredibly complicated.

B: Archaea are the coolest of all. Their metabolism are off the hook.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Which means that evidence shows that many mushroom species will increase their growth after a lightning strike with shiitake crop yield doubling is very interesting.

B: Steve, I thought I picked that one because I thought you perverted a real science news item that I read.

C: I hate it when that happens. I hate it when that happens.

B: It totally sucked me in. It's like, damn it.

C: That's the worst.

S: It was observed that some mushrooms would have a crop spurt, a growth spurt after a lightning strike. That was put to the test in Japan. What they did was they said, if the lightning hits a mushroom, it's going to kill it. There's so much energy. What about the deeper parts? You know that mushrooms live underground. It's a massive underground mycelium network. The mushrooms are just the fruits of this massive underground organism. In fact, the largest organism on earth is a mushroom. Also, probably the oldest. They said maybe most of that mushroom is going to get a survivable shock of electricity. Much weaker but significant amount of electricity. What happens? They simulated that by giving a mycelium network a very brief jolt of electricity but not enough to kill it outright.

B: And it transported to the end of the galaxy?

S: They're working on that.

C: It just grew a little bit.

S: What happened was for 80% of the species tested, it increased their growth rate. The shiitake group, the shiitake crop, their yield actually doubled.

C: Wow.

B: What the hell, man.

S: They think that it's a stress response of the mushrooms. They say, oh, we just took a hit. We better grow and replace what we lost. They have a growth spurt. You could exploit that by just giving them a sublethal tingle of electricity. They think, oh, part of us just got zapped with a lightning bolt. We better make more. They metabolically increased their growth rate. Interesting. Could be exploitable for growing mushrooms for crops.

B: They should test people for that reaction.

C: Don't get struck by lightning. It's bad. Not good for the heart or brain or skin.

S: How many mushroom species do you think there are?

B: Four.

J: Twenty-five.

E: Eleven and a half.

C: Species? I don't know. 1,500?

S: 1,500.

B: 1,501.

C: Considering like three are everything we eat.

E: I'd like to clarify my statement. I think there are 10,000.

C: What did you say before?

S: There are-

E: 11.5.

S: There are over 14,000 species that are known. 2,100 of them are edible, but only 30 are commercially grown. It can basically be grown commercially. There's 30 commercial mushrooms, 2,100 edible mushrooms.

E: Edible meaning it won't poison you?

C: Edible meaning, and probably that it's nutritious, too. A lot of people forage for mushrooms. It's a common thing.

E: Oh, abslutely, truffles.

S: You just have to know what you're doing because there are lookalikes. The deadly ones could be really deadly.

E: Oh, gosh. Watch some YouTube videos about that.

C: Watch Into the Wild. Oh, wait. Those are berries. They eat it.

S: Berries are the same way.

C: There's a lot of lookalikes.

S: A lot of lookalikes, and you don't want to get the wrong one. If you watch Alone, where people are trying to survive in the wilderness alone, mushrooms are half of what they eat out there that you could all forage for mushrooms.

B: Did you know that fungi was a dominant life form on the earth, out of the ocean for a period of time? They were like it. They were number one for a little while. I think like a week.

C: In a cosmic sense.

E: Yeah, a couple million years.

B: They were big. Some of them were like small trees.

S: 90 species of mushroom glow-in-the-dark are bioluminescent.

C: That's cool.

S: The largest living organism in the world is called the humongous fungus. (laughter)

B: My God, of course.

S: It covers 3.5 miles, 2,385 acres, and is believed to be 2,400 years old.

E: Happy birthday.

J: You can't eat it?

S: It's called a honey mushroom.

C: I think you can.

J: That sounds nice.

C: That sounds edible to me.

S: Good job, guys.

E: Thanks.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:52:26)[edit]

Skepticism: the mark and even the pose of the educated mind.

 – John Dewey (1859-1952), American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer

S: Evan, you got a quote for us?

E: I do. Can I do a correction first of an old quote before I get to the new quote?

S: Always.

E: This was brought to my attention recently. Back in episode 955, I had a quote from Jonathan Stay and Stephen Hupp from the book Investigating Clinical Psychology. What you're talking about, it's the age of health misinformation. You can go back and read the quote. I got an email from Stephen Hupp, which is always kind of cool when somebody we talk about on the show actually writes us back.

S: He's just fishing for another plug.

C: We've also written books with him before.

E: Stephen's a fan of our show, which is awesome, and delighted we quoted from the book, but wanted to let you know that the quote was actually from the forward of the book.

C: So he didn't write it.

S: No, it was written by Timothy Caulfield, who we also very much appreciate and love. So that's a Timothy Caulfield quote instead of being attributed to Jonathan Stay and Stephen Hupp. So Stephen, thanks for writing it. I do appreciate that.

C: That's a humble write-in.

E: Oh, absolutely. And so kind. So super kind and very appreciative of us getting it. So cool. Thank you, Stephen. I appreciate that. Now, on to this week's quote, which hopefully I won't...

B: Don't screw this one up.

E: Yeah, right. Exactly. Hopefully I won't have to do that.

S: Did you double-check it?

E: I did, yes. And I double-checked it to make sure, first of all, that we didn't use it before, which we haven't. But when I did plug it in to my email, I tell you, what I do, part of my checking there's an online resource about the quotes that we've done for, like, the first 500 episodes or so. And then it tailed off after that. It didn't populate anymore. But also, I run the quote through my email to see if it's come up before. And it'll filter out all the emails going back 15 years, basically, I've got, to see if it's a quote that we've used before. And it didn't come up, but it came up as a suggestion from a listener back in 2015, which I obviously missed picking up, but Carlo just says the West Coast, West Coast of the United States. So Carlo, back in 2015, from the West Coast of the United States, suggested this quote, and I appreciate it. "Skepticism, the mark and even the pose of the educated mind." Said by John Dewey.

J: That's cool.

E: American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer.

S: I put that into ChatGPT. I said, who said, and then the quote, and it said John Dewey.

E: Oh, thank goodness. It said Mark Twain. No. (laughter)

B: Evan, did you say, did you say, is it supposed to be pose or prose?

E: No, P-O-S-E.

C: Yeah, like the pose, like the stance. Yeah, I like that. That's cool.

S: Very nice. Yep, I agree. Scientific skepticism. Yeah, it's all about critical thinking. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

C: Thanks Steve.

J: You're welcome Steve.

E: Thank you, Steve.


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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

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


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