SGU Episode 964

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SGU Episode 964
December 30th 2023
964 SGU 2023.png

2023 Year-in-review episode

SGU 963                      SGU 965

SGU 912 ← YIR episodes SGU 1016

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


IC: Ian Callanan, SGU tech-guru

Quote of the Week

For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.

T. S. Eliot, British poet & essayist

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, growing old, family changes[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, December 20th, 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: Evan Bernstein...

E: Hello everyone.

S: ...and our special guest, Ian Callanan. Ian, welcome back to the show.

B: Ian.

IC: Gum-gum punch.

E: Ian.

IC: I'm trying a new intro. All my anime fans out there will know what I said, so I'm just going to leave it at that. Anyway, hi. Thank you for inviting me, I guess, or maybe the last time, but thank you.

S: Ian is the disembodied voice that is always in the background running all of our live events and streaming stuff and everything.

IC: That's true.

S: And now he's a disembodied voice on the podcast, like the rest of us.

IC: Forever. Immortalized.

S: This is our new tradition. Ian joins us for the year-end wrap-up show. What is this? Your third or fourth one? How many have you done so far?

IC: Third, I think.

S: Cool.

B: It's a good tradition.

IC: I think the first one, I succeeded in science or fiction, and the second one, I failed. So rolling the dice this time. Totally going to make it. Luckily, I'm not part of the stats, right? I don't think I'm included in that.

S: Well, you will be after we do science or fiction today.

IC: Great.

E: That's right.

S: You did not appear on the stats I don't think so far. But we'll get there.

E: Perfect. Perfect score.

S: So this is the last show we will be recording in 2023. Our next show will be the first show of 2024. And we're recording this before the next show that comes out, which was the live show. So this is the last show. The last week's show was a live show that we recorded at NOTACON. That was a lot of fun.

E: As I've gotten older, my perception of time is that each year seems to move more quickly.

S: Yeah. I think that's pretty universal, right?

E: And nobody told me that when I was 8 or 10 or 12.

S: No.

E: And that would have been some useful information maybe to me back then.

C: I feel like I'm constantly warned of that.

S: Certainly, I remember like into our teens, our parents would complain about all that, you know? Our parents were very vociferous about all of the negative aspects of growing old. So we have been amply warned about every single thing that we will encounter as we get older.

E: The physical breakdown.

S: Yeah. Everything.

E: The time dilation. The whole shebang.

S: Now, I remember like my memory of my own childhood, it seemed like forever. Like, you know what I mean?

C: Yeah.

S: Like the first 18 years of your life. My memory of my child, my children's childhood flew by.

B: Oh, my God yes.

E: Not even comparable.

B: It's ridiculous.

S: It's amazing that those are the same durations.

B: It's ridiculous.

S: Yeah, it's ridiculous.

C: But you know why that is or why people think that is?

B: Yeah.

E: Well, no, I don't. You have a neurological explanation for this?

S: Yeah. Just that, well, more of a mathematical one. Just that the percentage of time you're alive when you're young, it's 100% of the time that you're alive, right? When you've only been around for five years, one year is one-fifth of your life. And the longer you're around, the smaller the percentage becomes. And so it, compared to all the rest of your memories, all the rest of your experiences, literally takes up less space. And so it feels shorter.

S: I don't think it's just that.

C: I think that's a huge part of it.

S: I think that's part of it. I think that's part of it.

B: What's the other part?

S: I would guess that there's also has to do with the fact that when you're a child, your brain is still developing and growing. You're changing over that time. You know what I mean?

C: Yeah. But I think I, 25 still felt longer than 40.

S: Mm-hmm.

C: And my brain wasn't changing much at 25. Not any more than it does now.

S: It's a combination of things.

C: Right.

S: But childhood feels way longer. But even in my 30s, time is going by so fast compared to my childhood.

C: But I think that there is, it's almost an exponential change, or at least it's non-linear. The older that you get, the more you feel that way. And I feel more at 40 than I did at 30, definitely. Also, I think COVID has fucked everything up. And so our perception of time is also weirdly twisted ever since COVID. People are like, oh, yeah, last year. And then they realize they're talking about 2020.

S: Although that is a well-established phenomenon. It's called telescoping. People compress their memory of thing in the past. So rule of thumb, when I'm taking a history from somebody, you double or triple however long in the past they say something was.

C: Right.

E: Interesting.

S: And that's probably closer to the truth. So this happened about a year ago. I guarantee you it was two or three years ago.

C: Yeah. Yeah.

B: Oh, yeah. Our mom does that big time.

S: Oh, yeah.

B: She's just saying, oh, this has only been for a couple of months. Like, ma, it's been three years, a couple of months. What are you talking about?

E: Yeah. The person who's answering that, it's not like they're deliberately lying about something.

C: No, no, no.

E: That's their perception.

S: That is their memory.

C: But I think that means all of us.

S: Unless they anchor, right? So either they will telescope or they'll say, yeah, that happened when I had my surgery. It's like, well, maybe not.

E: Yeah, you tie it to something else.

S: But you've anchored it to that event. And then your memory brings them together.

C: And I think the problem with COVID was that it reduced most people's anchors.

S: It's all a blur.

C: So unless you experienced big flashpoints, yeah, all those years just melded together. And so the telescoping phenomenon became just that much more salient. And people still struggle with it. It's like, OK, it's about to be 2024. Think about that.

S: Oh, yeah. It's amazing.

C: Right? COVID feels like it just happened.

IC: As someone with a newborn at home, it doesn't feel like time is flying. I will tell you. It seems like I had a baby crying in my ear for the last six weeks, which is about how old she is.

E: Enjoy every moment of it, Ian. Enjoy every moment of it.

IC: Yeah. It's pretty cute. But it's trying.

S: Yeah. I'm sure all older parents tell all younger parents, enjoy them while they're young. And it's true. I look at pictures of my daughters when they were in that maximally cute age, 4, 5, 6, or whatever. You absolutely, totally miss them at that age. Obviously, you love them as the people they are at any moment in time. But when you think about it, it is like there is somebody that I used to love very much that doesn't really exist anymore. That little girl is not in my life anymore.

C: Why do you think that is? This is a very interesting psychological phenomenon to me.

S: Why do we feel that way?

C: Yeah.

S: I mean, because that's the reality. Even though it's slow.

B: Because it's a gradual change.

C: No, that's not what I'm asking you. I'm asking you why is it that that thing about the little girl is what you miss so much? Why was that maximally loving or cute?

S: It wasn't maximally loving. I said they're maximally adorable because they were so cute.

C: Yeah, but you also said there's a child that you love that you don't even know anymore or have anymore.

S: Well, they don't exist anymore. But they've been replaced by an adult that I love. And I love them even more because they're— When they're fully developed. We have a much more intense relationship and mature relationship. They're more whatever. But it's still that I look at a picture of my five-year-old. I miss that person that doesn't exist anymore.

IC: Or at least the time surrounding when they existed at five.

S: It is also my life at that time.

C: I have a feeling it's also the type of relationship that most parents have with young kids.

S: It's completely different.

C: They're 100% dependent on them. They're, I think, very good for your sense of self or your sense of ego, for all of those things. When you're a young parent.

B: They believe everything you say.

C: Yeah, totally. Like this is, I think—

IC: Do they? I don't know. Mine is not believing for three or four years.

E: Yeah, this is early.

IC: Yeah. Great. I should have put her in bed.

S: See, that's what grandkids are for then, right? You get to that point where you're like, oh, I really miss having little kids around. And you get to have grandkids.

J: Yeah, there also comes a time in life as you get older where you do spend a lot more time being sentimental and reminiscing about times that have gone by. Because we've had so many different times in our lives and events that have happened and everything. And there's a lot more to ponder about the past than the future.

S: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

C: That's true. When you're young, you're just thinking about how great it's going to be when. I can't wait until—

S: It's all the future.

C: Yeah.

S: Yeah, right.

Best Science News of the Year (9:02)[edit]

S: So for our last show of the year, we always do a year in review. So we're going to look back over the SGU in 2023, all the things that happened. And we're going to start, as we always do, with the best science or our favorite science or whatever we thought was the most impactful science news stories of 2023. We each have our own picks. We got some picks from our listeners who wrote in. Does anybody want to start off with what they thought was the most impactful science news of the year?

Generative AI[edit]

B: I'll jump in. For me, the science news of 2023—and it took me a while to realize this—was generative AI in all its crazy manifestations throughout the entire year. It's not like this one day or this one week, this one news item came out. It was thousands of news items. And generative AI is AI that can create new content, images, text, video, audio, that stuff. There was so much of it. It was almost like it became static in the background, like a constant buzz of AI news, and it's easy to miss stuff. But there were a lot of milestones, like Microsoft unleashed Bing Chat. Remember that? And initially, it would attack users or fall in love with them. It would do crazy shit because it was kind of pre-launch GPT-4. And now it's better now, of course. They've reined it in. Now it's called MS Copilot. There was also increasing restrictions in 2023 on copywriting AI images, like from MidJourney. And now, in the United States at least, pure AI art is in the public domain. You cannot copyright it. You would have to have a significant kind of human in the loop in order to even attempt to copyright something like that. Now I don't know how they determine that. What's the extent? How much input does a human need to get a copyright? I don't know.

S: It's substantial.

B: Right? Mid-year, there was the release of Llama. You may have heard of Llama. What the hell is Llama? Llama from Meta was like the first idea of LLM, large language models, like open source AI models. And they could be tweaked by anyone, and then you could run them locally without a data center. That was a real change, between ChatGPT. And then, of course, in March, OpenAI released GPT-4. That was really one of the big AI events of the year. And remember, it displayed impressive human-level performance on a whole bunch of these benchmarks, those academic tests. Really amazing results. And then that started, I think, this whole silly idea that people were talking about mid-year, like pausing AI research for six months. And then we saw like this whole range of pronouncements really kind of, I think, started then where people would say one of two things, really. The AI was going to make me immortal very soon, or AI will destroy the world before years end or whatever, five years or whatever. More so than I've ever seen in my life. And it has died down a bit, but still I see those comments quite, quite often. I mean, even the president of the United States was talking about AI risks at that time. And we also saw – how about all the regulations of AI that people were talking about? It became a huge talking point this year. It was discussed in the Senate and even the G7. I found this out today. The Council of Europe recently finished its provisional agreement on artificial intelligence. It's called the Artificial Intelligence Act to ensure AI systems are used in the EU that are safe and respect values and rights. This was just recently finalized, at least the provisional agreement was. That just recently happened. What about the whole soap opera of open AI firing and then rehiring its CEO, Sam Altman?

J: Yeah, that was crazy.

B: Is this the company at the bleeding edge of such a disruptive technology as AI? I mean it was like a soap opera. Like you didn't know what the hell was going to happen. When was that? In November? I don't know. And that's just a tiny sampling of the generative AI news in 2023. How many articles have you guys seen about AI hallucinations, alignments, artificial superintelligence? I mean it was all over the place.

J: Next to the cell phone and the internet, this might be the most disruptive technology we've seen as well because it's had a massive impact on school and education in general.

B: Healthcare, healthcare. Steve talked about it a few weeks ago.

E: The doctors, that's right.

B: It's had a huge impact on communications within healthcare and also medical advice and all that stuff.

S: Well, it potentially will. I mean it certainly can perform really well but I don't think its use is being dramatically incorporated yet. But I do think that it can.

B: Yes, but it's being incorporated in a lot of things now and it has – it's been incorporated in some things. And to me, once I thought about it, I was like, yeah, this really is one of the biggest science news items of the year.

S: Definitely. It's definitely on my list of like the big categories of news items, yeah.

B: And I don't even know what to predict in 2024. Is GPT-5 going to come out next year? What's that going to be about? But I think we're going to see a lot of advancement like we just saw this year. But who knows how impactful it's going to be. It's going to be dramatic, whatever it is. Some interesting, crazy shit is going to happen next year. I can pretty much guarantee that at least.

Medical breakthroughs[edit]

S: Another category of science news that I thought was huge this year was medical progress. And there's a couple of things.

B: That's broad.

C: Even more than that, just like genetic engineering.

S: Well, just in general, I thought like medical breakthroughs, we had an above average year. There's a couple of big ones. The first one is the monoclonal antibodies in general. But specifically the three that are in various states of approval for Alzheimer's disease. The first disease-modifying drugs for any neurodegenerative disease. That is huge, huge news. And then it also shows the power of these monoclonal antibodies because they succeeded pretty much looking at a similar target where 30, 40 drugs failed. And some of the experts are saying, yeah, they're just more powerful. And so this may be opening up a lot of options for interventions for diseases that just chemical drugs weren't going to get us there. But also we talked recently about CRISPR curing sickle cell disease. It was huge. Suddenly the explosion of weight loss drugs that actually work, that are incredibly effective.

B: Oh, wow. Yeah, that was huge.

C: Diabetes as well.

S: Yeah. They're really diabetes drugs, but yeah, they're weight loss drugs. These are futuristic, high-tech medical interventions that now are becoming—they're getting approved. You got approval for sickle cell disease, got approval for Alzheimer's disease. Think about that. If a year ago we said, hey, next year we're going to cure Alzheimer's and sickle cell. We didn't cure them, but you know what I mean. We're going to have an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease and we're going to basically cure sickle cell disease. That's massive for that to happen in one year.

C: I would piggyback that to say, too, even beyond specific medical advancements for humans, just sort of general public health improvements, especially with these, as we think of them, these kind of like high-tech sort of genetic engineering or CRISPR kind of anchored improvements. Because we also talked this year about CRISPR making chickens resistant to the flu. And we talked about genetic engineering to reduce the incidence of malaria. So different kind of preventive approaches using very similar techniques that can have massive improvements in public health, but not necessarily pharmaceuticals or therapeutics.

S: These technologies are starting to pay off big time.

C: A hundred percent. On a more personal note, there were two news items that I really enjoyed talking about, mostly because they were near and dear to my heart and because there was a lot of really important feedback that I think. Like they had more of a social impact from my perspective. And that was the conversation about basically the lack of or the minimal regret around gender-affirming care. And also the end-of-life conversation that we had. Both of those were recommended by listeners in their own year-end reviews as being impactful for them personally. And I really enjoyed being able to dive deep into those topics that I spent a lot of time professionally thinking about.

Global warming[edit]

J: Steve, I think the global warming news of this year was huge, depressing, incredibly impactful, affecting an incredible amount of people worldwide. It was the first year where I think I really felt like that's it. It's not going to be like it was. My wife and I were recently discussing the fact that we're in Connecticut. We're probably not going to get much snow ever again.

S: Yeah, we wouldn't go that far. But the world seems to have changed. Again, hottest year on record, no doubt. 2023 is going to be the hottest year on record. We had the Canada fires over the summer. Antarctic ice reached a record low this year. And so there does seem to be more of a sense of urgency. But at the same time, I thought COP28 was a flop.

C: Yeah, that's the part of the problem is these big, organized, we're just losing faith in leadership, I think, at this point.

J: Yeah. Well, they're not doing it.

S: At this point, they agree, these vague agreements without any teeth, without any specifics. So they're basically saying that the political class is essentially irrelevant, almost. It makes you feel that way. Although, I think this was two years ago or last year, the Inflation Reduction Act is working out really well. The climate change provisions in there, these things are slowly happening in the background. We are building new nuclear and replacing coal-fired plants. And part of that is because there's money in there to do that. Private companies in the U.S. are investing a lot of money because they know that their loans are going to be guaranteed. And this is the all-carrot approach that that legislation took. And thankfully, it's working out really well. Is it enough? No. It's not even close to being enough. But at least there's that one positive thing that happened. It's a model for what we can do to really accelerate the turnover to the green economy. But the fact that the world leaders get together and they just can't get their shit together was so disappointing.

C: Well, and it sort of goes back to that really intense conversation that we had. I don't remember if it was this year or last because telescoping. But we sort of had like a healthy debate about this idea of incentive and of like whether or not something should hurt, you know? And my position, this just reinforces for me the points that I was obviously trying to make and that I think ultimately we fundamentally agreed on most points across the board. But that like we're just not willing to do the hard things unless we feel like there's some sort of monetary carrot or somehow we're going to be rewarded for our efforts. But the truth is the ultimate outcome is absolute devastation. And we're simply not willing to take a little bit of a hit right now to prevent absolute devastation. And that's so sad.

S: When you think about it, what we're doing, what we are 100% doing in a lot of ways is we're saying we're going to make our grandchildren pay a huge price because we are unwilling to pay a moderate price now.

B: They're going to hate us.

S: We're going to increase our quality of life and our standard of living on the backs of future generations. We're not going to make any sacrifice. We'll just let them make all the sacrifices. That's essentially what we're saying.

C: Because young people today, right, like young people today, like I'm a millennial, but even the next generation, these kids today, they get it. They're literally like boomers, you screwed it up for us. But I think there's still a sliver of like they kind of knew, but they didn't know. But like we have no excuse. We know. And we're still doing it.

S: We collectively. It's not like we're all doing it.

C: No, no. Like, yeah, that's the royal we or whatever.

S: It's the royal we, yeah, collectively. I know because we're politically dysfunctional. We don't want to get into this, but I think that's the bottom line.

E: It's hard to get billions of people to move in one direction.

S: It is, yeah, in the best of times.

E: Arguably impossible. Arguably impossible.

S: Yeah, so I do think it felt like a turning point for global warming in terms of like, yeah, we're going to blow past 1.5. There's just no doubt about that. And it's just now it's just a matter of how bad is it going to get, you know?

IC: So you're saying I should return the snow tube I just bought?

E: Oh, yes.

IC: All right, well.

Space news[edit]

S: I mean, we're still putting out more CO2 every year. We haven't even stopped increasing the amount of CO2 that we're putting out every year. That's how bad it is. You know, so for categories I'll throw out there, there's a lot of good space news.

E: Oh, tons of space.

S: Tons of space news.

E: NASA had a huge year for many things. I mean, OSIRIS-REx.

S: OSIRIS-REx. Huge win.

E: Was the number one. A seven-year culmination of a mission in which they launched it to go pick up samples from an asteroid and successfully return them to Earth. With who knows how many points of failure on that particular mission.

S: Yeah.

E: Including what I just found out today as I was reading up on this. Did you know that one of the parachutes did not open as it was coming into the atmosphere?

S: Yeah, I read that.

E: Yeah, yep. And there was a chance that thing without the – what is it called? The draft parachute or the – because that one didn't deploy. There was a wiring malfunction that occurred. That thing was hurtling at a much faster speed and didn't deploy its main chute until about 9,000 feet above the ground. That thing could have just disintegrated and really hit the Earth.

S: Yeah.

E: But the main chute did it.

B: Litho breaking.

E: The main chute did its job. Thank goodness. And compensated and it did wind up landing intact. But just, hey, one of the many things that definitely could have gone wrong with that mission. And, my gosh, that's an amazing accomplishment.

S: It was.

E: Just incredible. Incredible feat.

S: Yeah. And India's moon landing was very successful this year as well. I think those are the two big – biggest Space News items of the year.

E: Definitely. Chandrayaan-3. Yep. Yeah. And I was reading up on that a little bit today as well. They learned a lot of – because Chandrayaan-2, the one prior to that, which was deemed a failure, but they learned so much from it. They gleaned so much information from that, "failure mission" that they were able to send three up there knowing what pitfalls to avoid and then wound up getting the perfect landing near the south pole of the moon, which is something that's never been accomplished before. And India now, welcome to the moon. Beautiful.

IC: I'm going to let you finish, but Taylor Swift had one of the most ground-shaking concerts of all time. That's my science news.

E: I thought I felt something.

B: Person of the year.

IC: Person of the year. That's right. Do you remember the 2.3 magnitude earthquake, I think it was, that happened in – was it LA? I forget where it was, actually. But, I mean, that's pretty awesome.

C: We don't remember 2.3 magnitudes in LA.

IC: I guess that's a fair point. That was pretty cool. I think they called it a Swiftquake. That's cute. But, I mean, good for her. And since this podcast is dedicated as a Swifty podcast, I figured we needed to do that.

E: Is it? Will she be on the show next year?

IC: Yes.

E: Are you working on that?

S: Get Taylor Swift on the show next year. That's your job.

IC: I'm working on it.

C: Small request.

B: Everything I hear about her is just like, wow, that is awesome.

IC: Well, I do have a connection.

B: That's what I invariably say.

IC: I do have a connection to Scooter Braun, although I think that bridge has been burned severely.

C: I think so. Yeah.

IC: So, that might not work.

COVID endemic now[edit]

E: Well, how about this? Just as a little throw, May 5th of this year, World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 was no longer considered a global health emergency.

S: Yeah.

E: So, we-

S: COVID officially ended this year.

E: Closed a chapter, in a sense, in that regard on COVID.

B: Yeah.

E: Not that it's gone, but-

S: Well, we moved from pandemic to endemic.

E: Okay.

S: Did everybody get their COVID booster this year?

J: Yeah, I'm good.

B: Yeah. Of course.

S: That's going to be an annual thing, as predicted.

C: When are we going to combine them? I want just one shot.

S: Yeah, that'd be nice.

E: Oh, yeah.

S: Oh, it's not that big a deal.

C: No, it's not, but-

Successful cryopreserved transplant[edit]

S: So, there was one news item I came across when reviewing news this year. I wondered how we missed it, like one of those.

E: Oh, a lot of those I came across.

S: I know. There's a ton of those. It's the first successful transplant of a cryopreserved rat kidney.

E: Whoa.

S: Yeah, they took a kidney from one rat. They cryopreserved it, right? They froze it, basically, and then they thawed it out and transplanted it into another rat, and it functioned. That's the key. It was the first functional organ transplant cryopreserved.

B: That opens up possibilities. Wow.

S: That opens up a lot of possibilities, right?

B: Damn.

S: The ability to really preserve organs until they're needed, and I think it was 100 days. They cryopreserved it for 100 days.

B: Wow.

E: That's good.

J: That's a big deal.

S: If we translate that to.

B: What was the breakthrough, though?

S: Well, they had cryopreservatives in the kidney. Things that kept it from being damaged by cooling.

B: Oh, yeah. We've had those before-

S: Whatever, it worked. So, again, that might be one of those things where we look back, and it's one of those other huge medical breakthroughs that happened, you know? Yeah, but that could go a long way to expanding and extending organ donation, and you could hold on to one until you find a really, really good match. You know what I mean? Like, you don't have to use it right away. Yeah, that could be huge.

J: One day, we'll just print them.

S: Yeah. I don't think we're anywhere near that, though. I think that's going to be a long way away. The whole printing thing, like you have to use a scaffold. Basically, all of the connective tissue from an organ, you denude it of cells, and you print the cells on it. It's kind of a laborious thing. You don't really get an organ-like structure. You know what I mean? Like, you don't actually get the organ. I don't know that that's going to be the path to making organs. I think growing them is going to be. I think either growing them or genetically engineering animal for donation.

J: Well, at least we have more than one potential path, you know?

S: Yeah. Yeah.

B: That sounds good.

E: Making organs is a grind.

S: Oh, boy. All right. Moving on.

Favorite SGU Moments (28:17)[edit]

S: All right. What about favorite SGU moments?

C: Oh, I was going to say the North Pole thing. Was it the North Pole? But that wasn't this year.

S: That was last year?

C: Yeah, I think it was last year. I couldn't find it.

E: The telescoping.

S: The time zone thing.


C: Yeah, exactly. Telescoping. I mean, there's the group one and the personal one. The group one was definitely NOTACON. I think that was – you know, I've missed you guys. And so it was just really nice to all get together.

E: NOTACON was special.

S: And that was a good show, that episode.

B: Yeah.

E: Yes, I know. You guys just heard it last week.

Cara's PhD[edit]

C: Oh, yeah. So it's funny because it feels like it was a while ago now just because so much has happened. I also got my PhD and got the fuck out of Florida this year.

E: You did.

C: For me, it was a moment. These are very important things.

E: So awesome.

S: That is quite an accomplishment.

IC: The Florida one.

C: Yeah, exactly.

S: To survive Florida.

J: Steve, are we talking best episode now or what would it be?

C: Favorite moments.

E: No, favorite episode.

Live shows, including Tucson & guest C. Hubicki[edit]

J: I have an odd favorite moment. Episode 947. This happened in Tucson, Arizona.

E: Tucson.

J: The quick backstory. And this is why it was one of my favorite moments of the year. So this episode stands out for me because it was a live show, first of all, which is always great to be with you guys. But it also happened to be 50 degrees that day during a live show. And the meeting room that I rented at the hotel, it didn't have any heat. Remember this, guys? So it was a total clusterfuck. We told the hotel that there was no heat. They had some jackass come out with a screwdriver. Right? He couldn't do anything. You want to know why that guy couldn't do anything, guys?

S: It wasn't even a sonic screwdriver.

J: Because that hotel knew that the heat was broken.

S: Yeah.

J: They knew from the beginning and they never told us.

S: Are you saying it was HVAC theatre, Jay? Is that what you're saying?

J: So we tell the audience hey, guys, the heat's broken in here. I know you're all cold. We're cold, too. And I love the audience because they just decided to stick with us. They laughed it off. We turned it into a feature, not a bug. You know, it was really awesome. The hotel couldn't get out of their freaking way. They didn't offer us another room. So the second half of this story is arguably my favorite part. So I end up talking to corporate. I called Steve right after this phone call because of how ridiculous it was. So keep in mind, I'm talking to someone at corporate of this massive hotel chain, not the local salespeople. And I'll never forget this conversation. So I told her it was 50 degrees in the room. And instead of them simply offering me a refund right out of the gate, she argued with me for 20 minutes. And it was really a horrible experience because I just realized the corporate greed here was absurd. And her worst comment that she said, you remember what it was, Steve?

B: Oh, yeah?

S: I forget.

J: It was that she said, yeah, but the room must have gotten eventually warm because of human body heat.

S: Oh, yeah.

J: I'm like, lady, this room was huge.

S: Lady.

J: You would need to be shoulder to shoulder to feel human body heat. You know what I mean? Like it was just crazy. So anyway, I wanted to thank anybody who made it out to that show, who left along with us and just we had a great time in spite of ourselves.

C: And I love the photos from that day because everybody is wearing like beanies and scarves and gloves inside. But we're all happy.

J: I remember when I asked everyone, I'm going to send this picture to corporate. So look as cold as you possibly can.

B: Yeah, that's right.

J: So the whole audience was like it was really a great time.

S: I think all the live shows this year were great. And I really agree. The live shows are special. There's a totally different energy. You know what I mean? It's just we're all physically in the same space. We feed off of each other and they feed off the audience so much more. Those shows are always special. And one of the live shows that we did, we had two live shows actually where we had Christian Hubicki with us.

E: At Dragon Con.

S: At Dragon Con. Two episodes were recorded at Dragon Con. He's a Survivor star. He's such a nice guy.

B: He was awesome.

S: Awesome. Super funny.

B: Hey, Christian, if you're listening.

S: He said the one thing that was like one of my funniest moments of the year. And there's a little back story here. But during one of the events, I think he was giving a talk at Dragon Con. And Jay had made a comment to him about something. It wasn't a question. It was like Jay, you were telling him maybe how to troubleshoot something he was having trouble with. And his response to Jay was, that's a great question, Jay. And the back story is we had told him the story of an interview we did where we're chatting to each other while the interview is going on. Because we were on Skype. And the person we were interviewing, I asked him a question. He said, that's a great question. And then Bob asked him a question. He said, that's a great question. And then Jay chats to us. I'm going to get him to tell me that I asked a great question. And so Jay asked him a question. And his response was, I don't understand the question. (laughter) So we told this to Christian. So the next time Jay said anything, he said, that's a great question, Jay.

B: What a sweet guy, man.

J: I picked Christian as my favorite interview because we actually worked with him twice that weekend at DragonCon. We did two different shows with him. And then we also got to hang out with him. We had dinner with him.

B: I agree. I agree, Jay.

J: We met his wife. And then we all spent some time with him. And it turns out Christian is, first off, it was fascinating to hear him talk about being a roboticist. And he was the very first source of information about robotics where I learned that it's going to take a really long time. And he was very honest with us about that.

E: It's supposed to pie in the sky immediately.

J: And I think he was perfectly aware that the media is getting it completely wrong. It's moving slowly. It's moving, but it's moving slowly. And it's not going to be like we're not going to have Android robots walking around in 10 years. That's not going to happen. But anyway, he was a pleasure to be with. And he was also on Survivor, the TV show. And he told us all about the behind the scenes stuff about that as well.

B: That was great.

J: It was a ton of fun. So I'm going to make something happen where we can work with him again.

B: Yep. Do it. Do it.

S: Ian, as the non-regular rogue here on the show, what are your favorite moments from the STU this year?

IC: I mean, yeah, I'm super partial to anything live, especially since I'm usually so involved with it. So NOTACON is definitely top tier in my opinion.

B: What a tour de force of awesomeness that was.

IC: Yeah, and the fact that we threw it together. I mean, we planned it out carefully and had everything secured beforehand and weren't winging it in a way.

E: Very few fail points.

J: That event wasn't winged at all.

IC: There were a lot of potential fail points, but they all stuck together with the duct tape that we applied.

J: Ian and I kept having these meetings six weeks out, five weeks out. What are we forgetting? What's going to break? Where's the failure point? Like we kept trying to figure out, like, where is it going to go wrong?

IC: Yeah.

J: And so where was the fuckening, Steve? Did we have one?

S: Yeah. They didn't cancel my schedule.

J: Ah, that was it.

S: I had to work.

IC: Forgot about that.

C: Yeah, because he's a doctor.

IC: Yeah, doctor.

J: So to get even with Steve, we made fun of him mercilessly on Friday when he missed part of the conference.

IC: That was fun. I got to say also Jay's rant about, or not rant, but like his explanation of the customer service issue in Tucson. Basically every week or biweekly, meaning twice a week, I would get that phone call from Jay about something before NOTACON. Like with just any random thing that he wanted to.

J: To troubleshoot.

IC: To troubleshoot or dump on.

J: Yeah, I mean, Ian, I needed you to not only complain to.

IC: I know.

J: But to double check because we need another pair of eyes on things.

IC: Yeah, I know. It is the nature of it. But I love that stuff. You know, I kind of love the stress of it. So it's fun.

J: Yeah, definitely.

Discussion on end-of-life care[edit]

S: Yeah, we'll have more interviews to talk about. But just finishing up with just the SGU moments, we had a listener, Cara, who wanted to give you props for your discussion. Here's the quote that had a really big impact on them. You're talking about aggressive medical care at the end of life. And you said, "But I think more often the reason that aggressive medical care happens is because there is a culture of, well, we have to do everything we can. Otherwise, we didn't love you enough. Otherwise, we didn't try hard enough. Otherwise, we didn't do our job so well enough. And there's this really intense sense of failure and shame around not doing everything." So this was from a listener who their mother was dying of cancer. And he was saying how, his father, he usually only like half listens to the show, listened very intensely to this whole exchange. And it was very impactful to them that you have a loved one who's dying. It's not your fault. And you don't have to feel guilty about not doing absolutely everything.

C: Yeah, and that sometimes death is a kindness. And even if it's not death, sometimes doing less is a kindness as well. We just got that email like just this week when we were asking people for their favorite moments. And that was, yeah, that was pretty meaningful for me. So I appreciate that a lot.

S: Before we start talking about interviews specifically, does anybody have any other best moments?

"Dr. Novela goes to Washington"[edit]

E: I do. Mr. Novella goes to – or Dr. Novella goes to Washington. Do you remember that, Steve?

S: Of course I do.

E: That was cool. So you got called in, like, last second. Hey, come on down to Washington and participate in this discussion.

B: Oh, yeah.

E: About what? By the Health Care Education Committee, something like that.

S: Yeah, yeah.

E: The Senate committee.

S: One of the Senate health committees. And it was about a potential initiative to spend money on wellness care. But it really was a thinly veiled attempt at just promoting alternative medicine. I was the only one there who was not pro-alternative medicine. Only one. Only one.

E: That's great that they found – that somebody found you, basically, to come be a part of that discussion. How many discussions like that take place in which there is no representation of a science-based approach to this?

S: I mean, it was – yeah, you see how easy it is to do a hit job like that, right? Just by – you get to cherry pick who you invite to speak. And it creates the narrative, right? In the guise of doing a fact-finding sort of committee exploration where you're getting interviews from experts, it's a predetermined outcome, you know? Yeah, I wrote about it on Science-Based Medicine, if you want all the nitty-gritty details. But it really shows where the narrative is these days. And it's basically – the whole narrative was that preventative care is alternative medicine. Like, those two things are the same thing. They just absolutely equated those two.

E: Wow.

C: Yikes. What?

E: Blurring the lines. Yep.

C: And that weird narrative that somehow mainstream medicine doesn't care about preventing disease.

S: Yeah, it's crazy.

C: Ugh.

S: Nonsense.

B: Well, my favorite episode was 960.

E: What happened on that episode, Bob?

B: Cara was doing her talk on – called Bitter Revenge. And I got my biggest laugh of the year. So therefore, it's my favorite episode.

J: What was the laugh?

C: What was it? Remind us.

B: Go listen to it. That was the one you were talking about how it's people who get revenge and they wait a while. It's psychologically worse. That period of wait is not good for you. So I'm like – so my takeaway here is that you should exact your revenge as soon as possible. It was like – it was funny.

S: So the thing you laughed at the most was your own joke is what you're saying.

B: No, I'm not saying I laughed the most.

C: He got the biggest laugh.

B: I'm saying it got the biggest laugh of all you punks. So therefore, I enjoyed it.

IC: I'm going to say best episode is this one because I'm on it.

E: Yes, I agree.

IC: Ha-ha. But it's also, yeah, backhanded compliment to myself. Sort of. What?

S: This is a fun episode every year.

IC: Yeah.

E: This will be episode 964, by the way, if you can count.

IC: Before the Swifties come after me, the thing was in Seattle. I need to fact check myself before they were like, it's not a label. Although we probably got plenty of emails already.

E: I see.

S: Yeah, even before the show airs.

IC: Yeah, that's true.

Favorite SGU Interviews (40:59)[edit]

S: All right. What about favorite interview?

C: I enjoyed the interview with Derek Muller from Veritasium.

E: That's on my list.

C: Mostly I'm biased because he's like one of my closest friends. But it was really cool having him on the show. And he's brilliant. He's very good at what he does. And I also really enjoyed the interview with Dan and Jordan from Knowledge Fight for a lot of reasons.

B: Oh, my God. Yeah.

S: They were funny guys. They were really funny.

C: They're funny. But it was also just there was something very jarring about that interview because it was so out of step with a typical SGU interview. And I really liked having these kind of two worlds colliding in a pretty, I don't know, fantastic way. So that was really fun.

E: Well, the Blake Lemoine interview.

IC: Yeah, I was going to say Blake too.

B: That was memorable.

E: That one stood out because of the content, because of what the subject was about. And Blake was the Google employee who was fired, right? He was fired.

S: Yeah.

E: Because of his controversial opinion that they're developing AI that is all but sentient.

S: No, sentient. He thinks that the Google AI is sentient. Not all but sentient.

C: Yeah, not all but sentient.

S: Sentient.

C: He believed it was sentient.

S: He believed it is sentient.

E: And still does to this day.

S: And still does.

E: If you read the follow up, he's obviously gone to a lot of places to speak about it. And his opinion has not changed. So we were not able to convince him.

S: Yeah, which is unfortunate. I mean, again, I think that's one of my favorite interviews as well. Because it was confrontational but in a very friendly way. And I do think that we really dug down deep to the bottom of that issue. I also think that we definitively demonstrated that it's not sentient. And I wrote a follow up blog post on Neurologica as well, if you're interested. You know what I mean? So he's just using bad logic. And he's mistaken.

B: The key was, I mean, he compares it to other people. And other people are sapient/sentient. But he dismissed that key thing that you – these other people that you don't know what's in their mind. But they have the same structure, the same type of brain that you have. So it seems pretty likely that if you're sapient, that they are too. But AI is completely different. The architecture is completely different. You can't use that argument. It's not a specious argument.

C: It also seemed like one of the core of his arguments was sort of moving the goalpost a little bit. It was a bit of a straw man that we all kind of agreed with him on, which was, for all intents – it was a very Turing test. Like he was trying to say, well, it's the same thing as being sapient or sentient if it seems that way to us. You know what I mean? Like if we can't tell the difference, then that means it probably is. And it's like, no, no. Those are two very different things. And it's important that for all intents and purposes, we do understand that something may be acting sentient and that may raise concerns. But that doesn't mean that fundamentally it is conscious or whatever you want to call it.

S: That was a solipsism argument.

C: Yeah. It was very-

S: If it acts sentient, we have to assume that it is because I don't think you're sentient. That's what Bob was saying.

C: Right. Yeah. They kind of were two sides. But I did enjoy the interview because it was so – like we got to go there philosophically.

E: Yeah. Yeah. It was fascinating.

S: It was a deep question. Yeah. I liked it.

E: It was fascinating.

J: As technology progresses and very likely that people are going to be living in VR realities more and more as the technology gets better and better, people are going to be interacting with virtual people that really are just software. And they're going to develop relationships with them.

S: They already are. They already are. I mean the chatbots, that's the thing. It's not sentient but these large language models are really good chatbots. And they're really good at being good listeners. And people form emotional attachments to them, that you don't have to be that realistic in order for people to make that emotional connection. That's just the way our brains work.

IC: I don't think you have to be realistic at all. People form attachments with so many video game characters all the time.

E: And when you put it into a humanoid looking thing, it will become even that more emotional. You'll become even that more emotionally attached to it.

C: I think it will become less before it becomes more because there will be that weird uncanny valley, which is interesting too.

B: People marry their sex dolls. They don't even talk yet.

C: Yeah, but that's also not everybody does that.

B: No, but people do it.

C: Some people do that, yes.

B: But the thing at the point is that once they can actually have a conversation with you, it will be more common.

IC: But how many uncanny valleys will there be? Because it seems like they progress and it gets better and you kind of allow it and then it might turn the corner and be like, and then get better.

C: It's cyclical.

IC: It's like the uncanny valley of the gaps or something. I don't know.

C: I agree. Yeah, it's cyclical.

E: It fits and starts, right?

S: Yeah, the thing is there's a sweet spot before you get to the uncanny valley where you look a little maybe cartoonish, but that's okay. You don't have to go for that hyper realism.

B: That's why Pixar is all exaggerated character faces.

C: Yeah, they tried it with the Polar Express. Whoever made Polar Express learned their lesson.

S: That was smack dab in the middle of the uncanny valley.

B: Animated corpses.

E: It was. It's like, what's this?

IC: It's not terrible. It's pretty good for the time it was.

C: It was too good. That's the problem.

IC: Yeah, that's true.

C: Yeah, it was too good. We don't want to see cartoon Tom Hanks. It's creepy and weird. It was too real.

S: My favorite interview, though, my single favorite interview was the one.

B: James Burke.

S: It was James Burke. I was on that interview alone, so you guys didn't get to experience it in real time.

E: Sorry about that.

B: I wanted to.

S: But you could listen to it, but it was fantastic. I mean, James, that's like one of those situations where I got to interview somebody who is like an intellectual hero of mine since the 70s.

B: Yeah, right?

E: I know. How many of them are left?

S: A lifelong science communication hero. The thing I was most amazed about, because this guy is like, I think he's 90 or he's pushing 90, and he talks like he's 30. He's just doing what he's doing. He's planning for the future. The newest season of Connections, there's more of him in front of a green screen than climbing the steps of the pyramid or whatever. I had assumed that that was because he can't do the physical stuff anymore. He was very physical in the early seasons, but it has nothing to do with that. He'd be perfectly willing to do all of that. It was purely budget.

E: Oh, wow.

S: The only reason why he's in front of a green screen is they don't have the budget to send him around the world. Otherwise, he'd be doing it.

E: Well, same with Neil deGrasse Tyson at Cosmos.

S: Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Yeah, but the fact that he's doing that at his age like it's nothing was just – I was really impressed.

J: Makes me hope.

E: Yeah.

S: But yeah, just what a career that guy had. It was so fascinating to talk with him.

E: Oh, and a hat tip to the Richard Wiseman interview, just because he's Richard Wiseman.

B: Yes.

S: He's always great.

E: Have we ever had a bad interview with Richard Wiseman? Never.

B: He's awesome.

E: Ever.

B: I could listen to him all day.

E: Exactly. You never tire of him. So let's get him on next year as well.

S: All our interviews were good this year. I'm happy with all of them, but yeah, there's a couple that stand out.

Skeptical Heroes (48:47)[edit]

S: All right. Let's move on to the skeptical hero of the year. So this is the year when each of us points out somebody, some group or some individual who they felt stood out this year as really representing the ideals of critical thinking and skepticism. Who wants to tell us about their skeptical hero first?

IC: I'm going to jump ahead of it because all the listeners said it. Dr. Cara Santamaria. How about that?

C: Oh, wow.

IC: I know.

E: Absolutely.

IC: Absolutely.

B: That was mine too.

IC: Yeah. See, I know.

J: Mine too.

IC: I mean, that's an incredible amount of work. So I think all the listeners are very proud of you.

C: Oh, wow.

IC: I think we are too. So congratulations.

C: That's sweet.

IC: It's really great.

J: Cara, it was so hard for you that I got tired.

C: Yeah. I'm telling you. It was exhausting. Yeah. It was a lot. Oh, that's so sweet. And it's so funny because I didn't even think anybody would say that. I was literally like, I hope you don't pick mine. But I picked three because I always do that. And the first one we've already talked about so we don't have to get too deep into. And also I kind of stole this from QED when I was there earlier this year because they chose Dan and Jordan from Knowledge Fight to win their award this year because of all of the really, really hard work that they did. Basically pouring through hours of Alex Jones's recordings.

E: Oh, my gosh.

B: That's amazing.

E: That's hazardous work.

C: Yeah, it is.

S: That's good work.

C: And they ended up, it's so much important work. They ended up basically giving their expertise to some of the prosecutors in the case and were involved in some of the depositions because they had done so much work. They were really invaluable to the lawsuit that ultimately saw Alex paying money to the parents of the Sandy Hook children whose lives were lost. So that was, I think, just super important. But I also nominated two people that I interviewed on Talk Nerdy this year, two different, not just writers, but people who also happen to write books, Angela Saini and M. Chris Fabricant. So I've talked about Angela Saini before on the show. She wrote a book about "race science" and also about how women have often been minimized medically. But she has a new book that came out this year called The Patriarchs, the Origins of Inequality. And she does a really good job of sort of debunking the narrative that patriarchy has always existed and that patrilineal societies have always been. And that's just kind of normative. And she points to examples of matrilineal societies and places where patriarchy really came up sort of in lockstep with trade and capitalism. And it's a really fascinating read that blows a lot of preconceived notions out of the water based on very good journalism. And then the other person that I nominated, M. Chris Fabricant, is the director of strategic litigation for the Innocence Project. And he wrote a great book this year called Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System. And he basically talks about how forensic pseudoscience is – there's so much of it is bunk. And so much of it perpetuates a system that results in wrongful convictions. And so that was, I just think, a really important deep dive. And I think that these three groups are doing really, really important work.

B: Good choices. Good choices.

IC: I had actually a second one. Not that I was thinking of anybody else. But outside of the SGU –

C: Outside of the smoke blowing.

IC: Yes, right. Thank you. Outside of that, I was thinking Dr. Hotez. Now, this might be a lie who I picked for my skeptical jackasses. But Dr. Peter Hotez kind of stepped into the fire a little bit on Twitter. And subsequently, I think, got some death threats and all kinds of other stuff for daring to go against Joe Rogan and RFK in terms of the vaccines and their anti-vaccine nonsense. So, shoutouts to him.

C: Yeah, that's a lot.

IC: Yeah, it's a lot.

C: Because they have armies.

IC: Certainly. I mean, he's one of the – if not the biggest podcast, I think, still, even behind the paywall. So, it's pretty wild.

S: Evan?

E: I've got – I'll do what Cara did. I've got three. I'll start with this. Each year, I try to – we are a podcast, obviously. There are other good skeptic podcasts out there that people should be listening to. And I like to bring up at least one of them when we do the review. And I'd like to throw out props to Science for the People podcast. That's Rachel Saunders, Bethany Brookshiring, Carolyn Wilkie. They do a nice job with their podcast. They're based out of Canada. This is the podcast, you guys. Do you remember? I think we had Desiree Schell on the show a long time ago. She's no longer a host of that. But this podcast has legs, and it continues. And they continue to have really fascinating topics and people. And the fact that more women in science are kind of leading the way here in the world of podcasting, definitely props have to go out to them. So continue the great work over there. I'm also going to give a shout-out to Brian Dunning who released a movie this year called The UFO Movie They Don't Want You to See. Brian is also one of these people who has been kind of in the podcasting game for obviously a very long time, almost as long as we have. And he just keeps chugging along and continually working hard and putting out material. And this movie is pretty well received with high critique ratings, with some awards that it won. And UFOs was definitely a big subject also throughout 2023. I know we touched on it quite a bit on the show, the congressional hearings. And when we get to the jackass stuff, I'll bring up another one there. So I think this movie that Brian did hit at the right time and had some very good people involved with that production and interviewed some very good people and really collectively put it together. A very nice job.

S: Yeah, I had Brian on my shortlist too because Brian's been through some challenges and he basically decided he's just going to pick himself up and just ignore the trolls and everything and just do good skeptical work and let the work speak for itself. And he did that. It takes a lot of bravery, I think, to get back in the game after having a major event happen. And he's tireless. He's putting out a ton of content. It's all very good quality. So, yeah, Brian's doing good skeptical work.

E: And my third one is, and I'm like one of the people who generally don't like TikTok. I'll say that. It's probably my age. Whatever. It's just I'm not a TikTok person. And there's lots of things about TikTok I do not like. But in spite of that, there are people out there who are having a good impact on what's happening over at TikTok. And I want to mention three names. Morgan Johnston, a PhD student researching female neurophysiology. She does a really nice job with her. What do you call it? Channel over there at TikTok? Page? What do they call it?

IC: It's a channel.

E: Channel?

IC: I mean-

B: Hubble.

E: You can see her work at Ask a Neuroscientist. Anna Blakney, whom we had on the show. Yeah, we interviewed her. Yeah, that was a really nice, good interview that she came on. Professor of bioengineering at the University of British Columbia using TikTok to tackle vaccine misinformation. Bravo. Bravo. Much more of that @Anna.Blakney. And I'll also mention a name, Justin Cottle, C-O-T-T-L-E. 8.8 million followers and 84 million likes. He's doing something right over there. Uses cadaver examination and dissection to give short but fascinating insights into the structure and inner workings of the human body. So he's making progress over at TikTok in the world of science as well. And you find him at At Institute of Human Anatomy. So great job to the science TikTokers out there. And continue to do that work because that's very important work going forward.

IC: Including @SkepticsGuide.

E: Absolutely. Yes. I mean, I'm not here to toot our own horn. We're doing what we're going to.

IC: I will.

E: Okay, good.

J: Steve, do you guys know who Jennifer Doudna is?

S: Yeah.

J: So to make sure everybody knows that she's a very famous biochemist. And of course, she's best known for her co-development of CRISPR-Cas9, which, as we've seen this year, is doing incredible things. And it's only going to explode with how many things it can do and how many people it's going to help. I mean, it's going to transform. I think it's going to transform human health. The ability to manipulate genetics, advancements to molecular biology. It's going to be fantastic. And her work has been just absolutely influential and a huge part of the success of what we're seeing with CRISPR-Cas9 right now. So I'd like to really thank her for her work and thank anybody who's doing work on that level that's having that level of impact on humanity. I mean, we need people doing this work.

C: You know that she's only one of eight women who have won a Nobel Prize in chemistry?

J: I did know that.

E: Wow.

B: It's ridiculous.

C: Yeah.

E: That will change as the years go on.

S: Yeah, hopefully.

C: It hasn't yet.

E: That should get better.

C: Hopefully by a wide margin because they've got a long way to go.

E: That's true of a lot of things.

J: I mean, good or better than anybody else.

E: That's why several of them made my list for heroes this year, definitely.

C: Yeah, eight out of 191 is not enough. It's better than seven. It's better than six, but we've got to, yeah, it's got to move faster than that.

S: It's a very tiny percentage, yeah.

C: Yes. And it's not representative of the percentage of scientists who are making an impact. That's the thing.

S: Yeah.

C: It in no way represents the actual work that's being done by women.

S: I had two skeptical heroes. One is Bruce Press, who's a friend of ours who died this year. And really happy that we got to see him before he died. But he really incredibly impressed me the way he – because he got a – you know, he was hit the year before with – out of the blue with a horrible diagnosis. He had pancreatic cancer. He knew that his life expectancy was like six months, nine months. That chemotherapy was a long shot. But basically this is not one of the cancers that we can cure. And he faced that whole situation with such amazing calm and maturity.

B: Incredible.

S: And just acceptance and perspective. Yeah, just really inspiring. Like the – you know, exactly how I think anyone, especially somebody who has a non-paranormal, non-supernatural worldview would face that situation. He really modeled that. I don't think he was trying to model it, but he did. You know, he – and it was – it really was amazing.

J: You know, and not just looking at him through the lens of how he handled his death, which was incredible. But we've all gotten to know Bruce over the years. And he legitimately was one of the best people I've ever met in my life.

S: Yeah, he was a super guy.

J: I mean just generous beyond generous. You know, I mean I – you remember calling him up to talk to him about bread making. And he just – there was no limit to our conversation. He was going to keep talking to me until I was satisfied, which it lasted a long time. You know, like he just was generous that way. You know, go to a gig, he'd show up. Hey, guys, what are you doing? Next thing you know, he's like building sets with us, you know.

S: Yeah.

E: Right.

S: And the other one is all of my colleagues at Science Based Medicine who I don't think I give enough props to. And I like to sometimes recognize people who, yes, who did like one dramatic thing or who somehow peaked up over everyone else. But also I like to recognize people who are just doing day in, day out hard skeptical work.

B: The grind.

S: Yeah, the grind.

S: And so I have a lot of – you know, Science Based Medicine wouldn't exist without all of my colleagues who have been working for free just giving their professional time on this project and cranking out a post every week and facing all of the pushback that we get and everything. So I just wanted to use this opportunity to like really thank everyone at Science Based Medicine. We also lost one of our members this year, Harriet Hall. You know, other people stepped up and to replace those slots for articles and everything. And I have to specifically mention David Gorski who's the managing editor who does a ton of work. Yeah, he pulls it all together, does a ton of work to keep that site humming even when he himself is like facing tremendous professional pressure and also sometimes other personal stuff that interferes with things. Regardless, he keeps the ship going and they definitely deserve props for doing that. So that's sort of that daily grind of skeptical work that has to get done. Even when you know like you're not going to get any huge accolades for it. You're just doing it anyway because you want to fight the good fight. You know, those people need to be recognized too.

Skeptical Jackasses (1:02:49)[edit]

S: Okay. Let's click over to skeptical jackass of the year. I'm going to go first because I don't want anybody to steal my person. (laughter) Unequivocally, number one skeptical jackass of the year for me, like order of magnitude more than anybody else, RFK Jr. That guy annoyed me so much this year. So because he's running for president, which itself is annoying. He's obviously been in getting a lot of interviews, been in in the media a lot. And he is pushing his anti-vaccine, his anti-science narrative really hard and he does it so smugly. You know what I mean? So self-righteously. It's really, really is disgusting to watch. We were watching one video of his on TikTok that somebody put there that we responded to where he's like, oh, yeah, I got the solution for our rising health care costs. So first he says that we know health care in America is not working because we pay two times as much for the same outcomes as European countries. And that's not true. It has nothing to do with the effectiveness or the efficiency or anything of American medicine. It's 100% entirely that we just charge more for stuff. That's it. We pay more for our drugs. We charge more for our services. That's it. That's 100% the reason why the cost is elevated. And that is something that is easy to find out. The evidence is there. And if you're going to make something like that a talking point on the campaign trail and yet he doesn't care the slightest to do the five minutes of research it would take to actually find that there's a definitive evidence-based answer to that question. But, of course more.

B: He probably knows.

S: That's the other thing. He doesn't care. He doesn't care because that's not a talking point for him. His solution, by the way, is to prevent disease. Oh, that's a good idea. No one ever thought about it.

C: Right. We're not trying to do that now?

E: If only.

S: Really health prevention. We've got to give that a try. Brilliant. But, yeah, his like, oh, I'm not anti-vaccine. I'm pro-safe vaccine. Go screw yourself. You're an anti-vaxxer through and through. And then he denies saying things. And then, like, the interview is like, well, here we have a clip of you saying it. He just denies saying it.

B: That's great when you fact check the lie. I love it.

S: Total jackass.

J: I got one. Mike Johnson, U.S. Speaker of the House. He recently was interviewed by Ken Ham. You know, this is the guy who built the Arc Theme Park Museum. Who Bill Nye had a debate with.

E: Creationist.

J: So, Mike Johnson, he recently said that we could limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court so that it could not rule on issues of marriage. Because he wants to get rid of any marriage that has anything to do outside of a man and a woman getting married.

C: Are we still on that?

J: He promotes gay conversion therapy.

B: Conversion therapy still?

J: Yes.

B: Wow.

J: He's also argued against the concept of separation of church and state. Church and state.

IC: Old is new again.

J: Go to any country who doesn't have a separation of church and state and just tell me how they're doing. How are they doing? This idiot wants a theocracy and he wants the goddamn Handmaid's Tale to happen. That's what he wants. He's a young Earth creationist. And he's a complete moron.

C: I want to nominate somebody for skeptical jackass that I don't want to say it's easy to, but a choice is to look and see who is leading a massive anti-science movement. And another choice is to look within somebody who ostensibly was supposed to be on our team and notice the failures. And so I am going to nominate, this is probably like the third year running, Elon Musk to be the skeptical jackass of the year.

B: Somebody had to do it.

C: Who in July 2023 changed Twitter to X. And proved once again.

IC: It's Twitter to me.

C: Yeah, he completely de-democratized Twitter by once again proving that you need regulation. And that when you kind of take this laissez-faire approach, all it does is leave huge gaping holes for authoritarians or anyone who feels that greed is good to come in and take advantage of people. And conspiracy theorists and hate speech and just so many terrible things. And I don't know if you guys saw, but very recently he was, I guess he was kind of like a panelist or he was giving like, it wasn't so much a talk as an interview where he said, I disagree with the idea of unions. I just don't like anything which creates a lords and peasants sort of thing. Which the mental gymnastics that Elon Musk often uses to make very twisted points about reality. And the kind of like when we think of like the Rogan tribe, right? Just the massive following that this man has of individuals who are just ride or die. It scares me.

E: The Musketeers.

C: The Musketeers, it scares me.

S: Did any of you guys see John Oliver's piece on Elon Musk, his last piece of the year?

B: No, no. Was it good?

S: It was excellent. And I thought he did a great job of showing the dichotomy of Elon Musk. And he said after doing the investigation for this piece, that he does have more of this dichotomous view. Like on the one hand, you have to admire the guy for what he genuinely accomplished with Tesla and SpaceX and Starlink and some of his ventures. But he clearly has descended into billionaire messiah complex crankery at the same time. And like what do we make of this? But whatever you make of it, it's amazing how much control this guy has.

C: That's the part that scares me the most. Like the fact that he has been so successful and accomplished so much is, like you said, it's both awe-inspiring and it makes all of it so much scarier.

S: Yeah.

C: Because it breeds this following that is basically blind to-

E: Culty.

E: Yes, it's culty.

S: It's little culty.

C: Thank you. And it's super scary.

S: It is scary. I disagree with people who have to have it all one way or the other. Because we get email. And we will get emails after this episode. Absolutely.

C: Of course.

S: There's the Musk lovers who will brook no criticism. And then there's the Musk haters who won't give him credit for anything. It's like the truth is complicated because reality is more complicated. People are very complicated. People are not only one thing. You have to give the devil his due. He does get credit for the things that he did, but he also has to take responsibility for the horrible things that he's doing. And then those two things exist in the same man. And that's just the way it is.

C: And I think that that's often the way it is with this sort of like cult of personality, authoritarian sort of mentality is that usually it's the people who have accomplished something really incredible who find themselves in those positions of power.

S: Yeah. Right.

C: And then there's the people who don't recover, which I think is really problematic.

S: Plus there's also the corrupting power of being surrounded by yes men and thinking that you are a master of the universe. Eventually you start to believe your own hype and you get disconnected from reality.

C: But I also think some people go in that way. And obviously it's impossible to know. But this is not a self-made person. And I think that's important to remember as well.

IC: And if he is a net positive, how much do we put up with?

C: I don't think he's a net positive person.

IC: I know. But that was the argument, I think, from John Oliver that he may be a net positive.

C: Yeah. Like how much are we willing to put up with?

IC: Potentially.

E: Stop buying his product. I mean, what? Is that the answer?

C: Well, that's the thing, though. We don't necessarily buy his products. Tesla? Yes. Some people buy Teslas. You're right. And some people use Starlink. But most of the people who are funding his ventures are governments. And we have to remember that. This is not an individual end user decision to make. We are funding the shit out of him through our tax dollars. And we don't have any control over that.

S: Anyone else?

IC: I think I already said it. But at the risk of being labeled a Joe Rogan derangement syndrome. Yeah, I think Joe Rogan in the RFK hole situation. And I guess Elon essentially facilitating it. So it comes full circle.

C: Yeah, there you go.

IC: With Dr. Hotez. That was a whole kerfuffle.

J: You can't deny.

C: Unholy cabal.

J: Joe Rogan has straight up pseudoscience on his show. Frequently. That's it.

E: Oh, gosh.

C: Yeah.

J: You can't deny that. That's happening.

E: Yeah, he's a variety show.

C: That's a good way to put it.

IC: I like when he tries to pull his comedian friends into the crazy conspiracy thing. Because they're all like, what are you talking about, Joe? And like, please leave me out of this.

E: Here's the bottom line with that. You go on the show because he's got the 100 million listeners. And all you're doing is you're hoping that some of those listeners will download your product after you're gone.

IC: That's true.

E: That's all that is.

IC: He's the gatekeeper.

C: Yeah. And the truth is, there's actually been a platform for some very. I mean, I say this as somebody who's been on his show like three times. And granted, this was a very long time ago. Talk about like a decade ago.

B: 2014.

C: And also in 2014, it was not like it is now. Let's all be honest about that. It has definitely gotten worse.

E: Cara's pining for 2014.

C: No, not at all. But I think that some people do go on to those kinds of platforms. And it's a hard decision to make. But they go on to those kinds of platforms to make sure that they are a voice of reason when they can be. And you're putting yourself in the line of fire. It is not easy to do. I wouldn't do it now. But back then I did. But I also think it was a different show. And Joe is a different person.

E: And there's a reason why he won't have Steve on the show.

C: Exactly.

S: Sometimes you've got to go into the lines then.

C: Sometimes you do. Yeah. But it's a calculated risk you have to take.

S: Yeah, absolutely.

C: And you've got to do the calculations in advance.

E: I narrowed mine down to two people. Jaime Maussan, journalist, longtime UFO enthusiast, in which he showed politicians in Mexico the corpses of extraterrestrials which were basically bodies stolen from Peru back in 2017. And he said, oh, here's a quote. "I think there's a clear demonstration that we are dealing with non-human specimens that are not related to any other species in our world and that all possibilities are open for any scientific institution to investigate it." Yeah. So this guy has a long history of making all kinds of wacko claims having to do with creatures from other planets, among other things. And he had the gall to bring mummies up to the Mexican authorities or Mexican Congress and make a total display out of it. And just horrible. Absolutely one of the low points of the year. So he continues to be jackass of the year. And also I'm going to throw out Avi Loeb in there because he continues to also get it wrong. Oh, the tiny sphere, the spheres that they found, that they collected from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. My gosh. They can only be of extraterrestrial origin.

J: Of course.

E: Oh, no. Wait. And then what? Last month? Independent analysis found this. Yeah. It's coal ash.

S: We talked about that in the NOTACON episode.

IC: Yeah.

E: But then you go to look. Okay. Then where's the what does he have to say about this? Is he changing his tune? Is he adjusting to the new evidence? Nope. Nothing. Silence.

IC: Oh, silence. Okay. I thought he responded.

E: Continuing to effectively, for all intents and purposes, stand by his original claims.

S: Evan, if you're going to name those two, we have to complete the UFO trifecta with David Grush. This guy is annoying. This is the whistleblower, right?

E: Yeah, whistleblower.

S: Who has this crazy nonsense dispute. Like, I heard from this other guy.

E: That's right.

S: And then insert totally batshit crazy conspiracy theory here. It's all hearsay. But the guy is sitting in front of Congress spouting this. And then, again, talk about smug. When he finished giving his testimony it was really just disgusting. Meanwhile, it's like crazy time stuff. You know what I mean? It's not just like, oh, yeah, they got aliens hiding somewhere. It's all like the extradimensional kind of – that's how we're reversing engineering time travel. Like all this really utter nonsense.

E: Right. Yeah, yeah. Oh, this tech exists. You know, we're hiding it. You know, the whole – every level of conspiracy is involved with his arguments. And you're right. And he got a platform. He sure got a lot of news over the summer. That's for certain. So, yeah, UFO world went crazy in 2023. Crazy.

IC: They're all trying to take Stephen Greer's job, right? Are they trying to get his gig, whatever it is? He's been around for decades, right? Stephen Greer has been around for decades, right?

S: Oh, yeah.

IC: I mean that's his main shtick, I guess.

E: Yeah. And the evidence they're presenting has also been around for decades.

S: Yeah. Meanwhile, they're just peddling the same old tired stuff we've already debunked a hundred times.

E: It is. It's the same turd repolished.

S: It's the same nonsense.

IC: It's shiny.

E: Oh, it's shiny.

S: Nothing.

E: Yeah. And the media loves it.

S: They love it. I was just reading a couple of days ago on the Washington Post, although it was a reasonable, it was a semi-reasonable post where the writer was giving way too much credence to the whole thing. But his point was, all right, it's time to put up or shut up now. Like, all right, we've had all the hype and all the testimony and everything like that. Either somebody's got to come out with the smoking gun of aliens or just stop. And we've been saying that, of course, for years. Put up or shut up.

E: Decades.

S: Yeah. But if there was, and he made the point, the same points that we made, that we have whistleblowers who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. Everything has been leaked. Everything has been exposed. And his main reason for thinking that this is maybe not true was that the government is not competent enough to hide something at this level for this long.

C: No. 100% not.

S: Yeah. There's no way. There's so many counterexamples.

B: Right. But even competent people couldn't hide it that long.

C: That's the point, right? It's like, not only have we had intentional, politically motivated leaks, but we've had these like, I just watched the Frontline documentary about the Discord leaks. We've had these sort of like, maybe they were motivated, maybe they weren't, but just like young, stupid person who wants to get famous for having a leak.

S: Right.

C: You know? Like, something would get out there.

S: I know. There would be video on TikTok already. I mean, come on.

C: Yes. That's just the way our world is these days.

B: I mean, it goes against human psychology at its most basic level. Yeah, look, you could be rich and lionized as the person who outed whatever, the flat earth, the UFO, whatever you want to talk about. And people, that's how people behave. That's how people would have behaved over the course of decades to get some fame and money.

S: But then they say, but Bob, they're afraid because they know they'll be killed. You mean like, Grush was killed? Oh, but I guess he's a false flag. Right?

E: Oh, yeah, yeah.

S: It's just a full circle conspiracy theory because none of it makes internal sense, you know?

c: No. Just keep moving the goalposts. Just keep going around in circles.

S: Bob, you got anybody?

B: Yeah. Well, Craig Good sent an email. He recommended we look into Steve Kirsch, and I looked into him. I'm like, oh, boy. A little reminiscent of RFK, Steve. So Steve Kirsch is a tech entrepreneur. I think he was one of the key developers of optical mice, which is really cool. And early in the pandemic, he funded research in off-patent drugs to see if they were effective. And that sounds unsuperficially like that's a potential useful use of his money, especially at the beginning of a pandemic when we had nothing. Maybe there's drugs out there already that could help because lots of drugs have lots of potential uses. I mean, look at that weight loss drug for diabetes. Like, oh, my god. It's like a major weight loss drug. So, yeah. So that seems like a potential good idea. But he basically evolved fairly quickly into a major vaccine misinformation super spreader. Oh, my god. And he's much more pernicious than some of the other skeptical jackasses because he will look at real data, but it's basically his conclusions by looking at his horrible analysis that really is the downfall here. He went to MIT. He was speaking recently, I think just in November at MIT. And he said data from the New Zealand Ministry of Health shows that the COVID vaccines have killed over 10 million people worldwide.

C: What?

B: Earlier this year, he said Medicare data shows that COVID vaccines increase your risk of dying. Like, yeah. Medicare data shows that. And then one of my favorite quotes of his, COVID-19 vaccines have killed 676,000 Americans. And like I said, the problem with this guy is that, in my opinion, he's just not, in a lot of people's opinions, he's not a good data analyst. That's just not his specialty at all. When real experts and fact checkers look at his conclusions, they say things like this. They say these words, factually inaccurate. They say he misrepresents a complex reality. And the CDC described some of his pronouncements as scientifically inaccurate, misleading, and irresponsible. So this guy is definitely one of my skeptical jackasses of 2003.

S: Yeah, that's a good one.

In Memoriam (1:21:12)[edit]

S: Well, let's move on to In Memoriam, where we recognize the people of import that we lost this year, focusing on scientists and skeptics. I already mentioned Bruce Press and Harriet Hall as the skeptics we lost this year. There were a few politicians, all seemed to happen fairly recently. Sandra Day O'Connor, Supreme Court Justice. Henry Kissinger, love him or hate him. He was a very influential person in American history. Dianne Feinstein and Rosalind Carter all died this year. There were quite a few scientists. I'll say the name. You can tell me if you know who they were. You're not going to recognize this one. Dr. Gao Youji, 95 years old, is a medical researcher exposed in HIV epidemic in China against the Chinese government's attempt to suppress that information. So she really went out of her to put herself at risk to do that. Dr. William P. Murphy died at 100 years old. Love it when those images are really up there.

B: Nice.

S: He invented the blood bag. Remember, you ever watch like MASH?

B: Yeah.

S: And they have like those glass bottles that are the IVs are in glass bottles. Remember? Do you remember that?

E: I think I do.

S: Yeah, during the Korean War. But that was the standard also any time before that. Well, this was during the Korean War when they were using these glass bottles for fluid, for IVs. He invented a vinyl blood bag which collapses when the fluid comes out and it's more sterile and they don't break, you know. Especially in a war situation, that was very, very useful. And that became the standard until now from that point forward. Endel Tulving, 96, an influential memory researcher. M.S. Swaminathan, 98, Indian crop scientist and geneticist. Basically, he was responsible for the Green Revolution in India.

B: Oh, nice.

S: Ian Wilmut, 79. Anybody recognize that name? Ian Wilmut.

E: Ian Wilmut. No.

B: Sounds a little familiar.

J: Wilmut.

IC: Just the Ian part.

S: Yeah, the Ian part.

S: So you'll recognize this name, Dolly the Sheep.

B: Dolly's dead?

E: First cloned sheep.

S: First cloned sheep.

E: There's more where she came from.

S: We talked about artificial intelligence this year. This was another one, another scientist from last year, Douglas Lenat, 72, AI researcher. One of his contributions was he did a lot of research in AI. He tried to give AI, "common sense". That was sort of his goal.

C: That's important.

S: Yeah.

B: What was the name?

S: Douglas L-E-N-A-T, Lenat.

B: Oh, yeah. I remember reading about him.

S: Yeah.

B: This was the guy that was explicitly programming into an early AI system all of the common sense knowledge that the context that an AI would need to understand even very simple sentences. He would take a sentence and plug it in, and then he would put in all the information that you would need to know that makes that sentence make sense. I remember thinking that was a really great idea. I think the AI system was Encyc, I think, for Encyclopedia. I thought that was a great idea, but he just reached a point, I think, where diminishing returns of effectiveness, and it didn't really pan out.

S: Yeah. John Warnock, 82.

C: I regonize that name.

S: Developed the PDF.

C: No way.

B: Yeah, but he pronounced it B-D-I-F.

IC: Oh, no. Not this.

S: Sleeman Benzmay, 49, was young. We talked about their work. So neuroscientists developed prosthetics with sensation that could sense temperature and pressure. All right, this is a name you may remember. W. Jason Morgan, died at 87, came up with the theory of plate tectonics.

B: Nice.

E: Wow.

C: That person was still alive?

S: Yeah, I know, that's one of those-

E: Was that in the 50s?

S: Yeah, I think so.

B: That was a great example of a true paradigm shift.

IC: Seismic shift.

B: And it was tough. He had to fight the old guard. It was tough, but eventually the evidence was overwhelming.

C: It just seems so late for that to, you know? We've only really believed that for 80 years?

S: Yeah, right.

IC: What did they think before? Turtles or something?

S: Well, there was catastrophism was a big theory before. You know, the Earth was shaped by catastrophes. But specifically with the continents, we thought they were fixed, that they were fixed in place, that they weren't moving.

C: That's amazing.

IC: Wow.

E: Gee whiz. We're so human.

S: Virginia Norwood, 96. Female scientists especially live to be really old.

C: Well, women especially live to be older.

S: Yeah, that's true. Technology for mapping Earth and space. So she was involved in basically doing what we're doing now, mapping Earth from satellites. That was her thing. William Wolfe, 83. Computer scientist who basically developed the internet. This was the guy. He was involved with-

IC: It was Al Gore. How dare you.

S: I know. Who was involved in basically adapting, was it ARPANET? The first, like the-

E: Yeah, that's right.

S: To go from that to the internet. This is one of the guys who did that. This is a name, Cara, you may recognize this name, Paul Berg.

C: Berg, oh.

S: B-E-R-G, 96.

B: Did he discover icebergs?

S: Nope.

E: No. The Hinderberg.

S: He basically was the first person to do genetic engineering. First recombinant DNA.

C: No way.

B: Damn.

S: Yeah.

E: Really the first, like the first.

S: Yeah. Yeah. That was it. All right. This is somebody, the next person, somebody we talked about on the show not that long ago, John B. Goodenough.

E: Oh.

S: He died at 100. He invented the lithium ion battery.

B: Oh, nice.

S: He was still active, even very recently, which is why we talked to him, I think, last year or the year before. He's still working.

C: That's a great name.

S: Yeah. I know.

IC: Goodenough.

S: John B. Goodenough. Okay. You may recognize this name, Gordon E. Moore.

B: Yes. Absolutely know him.

E: Moore's Law?

S: Moore's Law. Yeah. Moore's Law. David Etnier, who discovered the snail dart, one of our listeners wanted to make sure that he got mentioned.

E: Yeah.

S: But he was a very, he was an influential biologist. He did a lot of big work, but that was like his big thing was discovering the snail darter, the snail darter. Okay. And then there were some non-scientists that just were somebody that I wanted to recognize. Two astronauts, Frank Borman.

E: Frank Borman. Apollo 8.

S: Apollo 8. And Walter Cunningham, first crew to Apollo mission 7. So Apollo 7 and Apollo 8. Frank Borman was 95. Walter Cunningham was 90. Because that's how old you have to be if you were in the Apollo mission. Mark Goddard. Anybody recognize that name?

E: Goddard Space Center?

S: No, you would think, but no. He was a movie star. He was a television star. He was the number two guy in Lost in Space.

C: Oh.

B: Oh, yes. Mark Goddard. Oh, yes.

E: With Dr. Smith?

S: Not Dr. Smith.

E: Not Dr. Smith, no. But he was the first officer or something?

B: Yeah. The second in command.

E: The Riker position. Okay.

S: Major Don West. Remember him? Major Don West. Okay.

B: Absolutely.

S: The Robinsons were the family. He was Don. And then there was Michael Gambon.

E: Yeah. Dumbledore.

S: Dumbledore. 82.

E: Among other, he was great.

S: I mean, a lot of things, but yeah, but he's Dumbledore.

E: He is awesome.

S: Bob Barker.

E: Yeah.

B: Oh, geez. How old was he?

S: 99.

B: Oh, man.

J: Incredible.

B: That's so frustrating. I hope I get to 99, but man, I'll be pushing for that final goddamn triple, that first triple digit.

E: Reminded America every day to get your pet spayed or neutered. I learned about that at a very young age.

S: Paul Rubens.

E: Yes.

J: Yeah, Pee-wee.

B: That sucked hard.

S: 71.

E: That's relevant, because one of Jay's favorite movies is {[w|Pee-wee's Big Adventure}}.

J: Yeah. I mean, back when it came out, that movie, like, oh my God, it was so stupid and funny.

E: It was stupid funny. That's right.

B: He was awesome.

S: He was one of those people who were basically put on a kid's show that was funny for adults to watch.

B: Totally.

S: Yeah, totally. Tony Bennett, 96.

B: Oh wow, he finally died.

S: I included him, because I saw him like 10 years ago, and he was awesome. So he was in his 80s, right? Still performing. His voice was incredible. He had not lost his voice at all.

B: Incredible.

E: That's great.

S: Just an amazing, amazing entertainer. Raquel Welch at 82, at one time the sexiest woman alive. All right, who recognizes this name? This is definitely Cara, not you, but I bet you. One or more of the guys will recognize this name. Al Jaffe.

B: Yes. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. But that's Spy Versus Spy and more, right?

S: Yeah. Mad Magazine. Guess how old he was. He's the one, he invented the infolds. Remember when you would have a picture, and then you would fold it in, and it would be a different picture?

E: That's right. Crease halves are so weird.

S: That was him. He was 102.

E: Woo.

B: Good for him, man.

S: Good for him. That's it. That's my list. Not everybody. Obviously, there's a much, much longer list of stars, and sports stars, and a lot of people, but these are just the ones who... The scientists, skeptics, and people who caught my attention that I wanted to mention. All right, guys, you know what time it is?

E: What time is it?

S: It's time for Science or Fiction.

E: Ian's favorite game.


Science or Fiction (1:31:11)[edit]

Theme: News items from past episodes

Item #1: In 2008 we reported on a new theory that disease spread by insects might have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Since then a 2016 study found that malaria dates back to the time of the dinosaurs and infected reptiles.[1][2]
Item #2: In 2009 we reported that Honda had developed a brain-machine interface that allows a driver to steer a car with mind control alone. They are still developing the technology, without any commercial applications so far.[3][4]
Item #3: In 2008 we reported on new bionic eyes, involving artificial retinas that allow previously blind patients to see shapes and lights. The company, Second Sight, has since gone bankrupt, abandoning patients with the implants.[5][6]

Answer Item
Fiction Brain-machine interface
Science Disease killed dinosaurs
Bionic eyes, artificial retinae
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Brain-machine interface
Brain-machine interface
Disease killed dinosaurs
Brain-machine interface
Brain-machine interface

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

2023 SOF statistics[edit]

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake, and I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. As we always do, since this is the last Science or Fiction of the year, I'm going to give the stats for 2023. These are up to date, just not including, obviously, the one in this episode, but this is up to date. I'd like to thank Alan Turner who compiled these for us. Thanks a lot, Alan. This saves us a lot of work. We really appreciate it. I just had to add in one episode that hasn't aired as of our recording. It will have by the time you're listening to this. All right, so here we go. Let's give the individual stats. First in fourth place was Bob with 20 wins and 29 losses, 40.8%.

B: The hell, man.

S: You're in the 40s. That's right, 40.8%.

IC: Recount.

S: Next is Jay at 21 wins and 26 losses, 44.6%. Then there was Evan at 26 wins and 22 losses or 54.1%.

E: No way. That's better than I thought.

S: Yeah, you broke 50%, 54.1%. And then Cara at 30 wins and 13 losses, 69.7%.

C: What?

E: Once again.

S: You had a good year, Cara. You had to know that. Don't play coy.

C: I think it's because you don't make me go first that often.

S: I try to balance it, but partly that's true. But even when I do make you go first, you still, I think, win the same amount of times.

C: Sometimes.

S: You did participate in fewer, and you missed a lot of sweeps. So you got lucky.

C: Oh, interesting. So I just happened to not be on the show on sweep weeks.

S: But you still had more wins than anybody else. It wasn't just that you had fewer losses.

C: Right, but that is interesting. I managed to duck out of the hardest episode.

S: So here's an interesting stat. So there are 10 science or fiction games where we had a guest play 10 times. Guess what their collective record is out of those 10?

E: Seven and three.

J: I'm going to say-

C: Probably one if they were a row collectively.

S: No, I'm saying of those 10, how many did the guests win? How many did the guests lose?

E: I think they did well.

C: They probably did better than-

J: 75% of the time.

S: Zero out of 10.

E: There's my memory going down the toilet.

S: They lost all 10.

C: It's hard. Science or fiction is hard.

E: Ian goes first today, right?

IC: Oh, come on.

S: So Ian, if you win on this one, you will be the only guest to win in 2023.

J: No pressure.

E: You can save the whole community.

C: No way.

S: All right. How many times did the rogues sweep me?

E: Three times.

J: Seven times.

C: Five?

IC: Once.

S: Six. Six times. How many times did I sweep you guys?

E: Six times.

C: I wasn't there.

S: So I swept you eight times. You swept me six times.

C: Wow. That's impressive.

B: Yeah, but if you multiply our six sweeps times four-

S: Which you don't, so that's all right.

C: But I do think that this-

B: I do.

C: There is an important point to make here, which is that science or fiction is hard for us, the rogues, when we're playing. It's hard. Which one's science? Which is, oh, I don't know. Blah, blah, blah. And lots of times we're throwing a dart at a dart board. It is way harder for Steve-

S: It's very hard for me.

C: To comb through. And to craft these statements in such a way that the answer isn't obvious, that there aren't any giveaways.

B: It's tough. It's not easy to pull that together.

E: And to research it for thoroughness.

C: Yeah.

E: There's always onion layers.

S: I spend more time researching science fiction than any other part of the show each week. And what I've definitely learned is I've gotten really good at fooling Bob.

B: As the results absolutely show.

S: No, I do think... And remember, I know the answer and I get to listen to your reasoning. And Bob goes right down the path that I played for you. Like he-

E: Oh, no.

S: And sometimes it's true. And sometimes the rest of you don't know enough to get it wrong. And it's so frustrating.

B: Yes.

S: And you blow past the answer that should be blaring red. And you're like, oh, that's probably true. I'm like, no, that's not probably true. What are you saying?

E: That is crazy talk. Don't you know it's crazy talk?

C: Like, I don't know.

S: All right.

B: It is frustrating. I could just hear Steve giggling almost every week. But I got to give kudos to Cara. She has an amazing wealth of background knowledge that she applies and an instinct that's amazing.

S: She's got a good nose.

E: Absolutely.

S: Usually, Cara, you do come up with a solid reason for why something is fiction.

B: Oh, yeah.

C: That's good. But sometimes I'm right for the wrong reason.

S: Sometimes you're right for the wrong reason. That's always frustrating. Sometimes you straight up guess.

C: Yeah. And sometimes I straight up guess. And sometimes I just listen to- I'm last, so I get to use everybody else's insights to my advantage. We all have that kind of privilege. But it's funny what you were just talking about. It reminds me of when you're playing poker with somebody who doesn't know how to play poker.

S: Yes.

C: And they suck out on you, like, on the ribs. Why are you in that hand?

E: What are you doing?

S: Yeah. Right. Right. Okay. So I have a theme this week. I think this is the first time I've done this. But this is similar to a theme that I do for the year-end show. But these are news items from SGU's past. It's not science or fiction from the past. It's news items from the past.

B: Oh.

E: How past?

B: Nice.

S: Well, you'll see.

E: Oh, gosh. 19 years of this.

S: Here we go. Item number one. In 2008-

C: No.

E: Cara goes first.

S: We reported on a new theory that disease spread by insects might have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Since then, a 2016 study found that malaria dates back to the time of the dinosaurs and infected reptiles. Both parts have to be true in order for the item to be true. So I'm giving you something you reported on and an update, basically, in each of these items.

B: Ah, okay.

S: Item number two. In 2009, we reported that Honda had developed a brain-machine interface that allows a driver to steer a car with mind control alone. They are still developing the technology without any commercial applications so far. And item number three. In 2008, we reported on new bionic eyes involving artificial retinas that allow previously blind patients to see shapes and lights. The company, Second Sight, has since gone bankrupt, abandoning patients with the implants.

J: Wow.

S: How much do you remember about our own show in the past? So we are going to take this in reverse order from most wins to lowest wins. So Cara, you go first.

C: Oh, no way. Ian's not going first?

IC: Ha!

E: He has zero wins.

S: His rank is zero at the current time.

C: This sucks. No. Okay. Okay. I was just like waiting.

IC: You wouldn't want my justification.

C: Also, I feel like we should take this in the order of people who were on the show when these things were reported.

B: Yeah, because we all remember this, Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: Fine. Okay. Gosh. The one that makes me the saddest is the Second Sight one. So that's the one that I hope is the fiction. I know that bionic eyes have been like an interesting thing and there was, I feel like, a lot of trend around this time, like a lot of hope and promise around bionic eyes, artificial retinas, but I'm not sure how many patients would have actually – like I don't think that would have been an FDA-approved thing. It would have only been experimental. So maybe that one's getting my spidey senses tingling and also just abandoning them. There's got to be somebody still, I don't know, offering medical support. I don't know. And then let's see. Disease spread by insects might have caused the extinction and then later we found that actually malaria might have been around for that long. I mean we know that in early humans, but we're talking hundreds of thousands of years, we see evidence of all sorts of diseases that we thought were old and I think there's even evidence of cancer going back to some of these fossils. I don't know. Viruses are old as shit. Like why wouldn't there be malaria back then? I don't know. And then the brain-machine interface. Honda developed it. Allows the driver to see your car with mind control and they're still developing it. The problem is we have that technology. Maybe not to drive a car well, but we have the technology now to play a video game with your brain, but usually it has to be more hardwired. So I don't know. That one's bugging me the most. I don't think it would have been Honda. I think it would have been, obviously these are things that are happening in research labs and universities and it just seems, I don't know. That one seems obvious but silly to me, so I'm going to call the Honda one the fiction. Who knows?

S: Okay, Evan?

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Well, I think I'm going to agree with Cara. I mean I'm not really recalling this, so I'm sorry. No advantage there. I just think that 2009 and the brain-machine interface, I mean my gosh, that was a long time ago technologically speaking and that they're still developing the technology without any commercial application so far. Really? Why would they really go this long? Would a company allow that to happen to this extent and see no light at the end of the tunnel, no profit motive, no really? Kind of just this lingering thing for all this time that doesn't seem likely I think that a company like Honda would do that. So that's why I think that one's fiction.

S: Okay, Jay?

Jay's Response[edit]

J: All right, the last one about the bionic eyes and the former patients being left in a lurch, I think that one is absolutely science. And then the Honda brain-interface machine, the brain-machine interface, I mean shit, I think that happened too. I kind of remember that. And let me see. This one in 2008 that basically disease spread by insects could have killed the dinosaurs. I think that one's a fiction.

S: And Bob?

Bob's Response[edit]

B: I'm just going by just the gut memory which is probably almost 100% unreliable. So some of these can spark the tiniest bit of memory. The one that doesn't though, and the one that doesn't make a lot of sense is the Honda brain-machine interface driving a car. So I'm going to say that one's fiction.

S: And Ian?

Ian's Response[edit]

IC: Thank God I listened to all your ranting how you were parsing through it. Okay, I have questions. The insect spread, does that mean that it had to be, the extinction was caused by the insect spread or just the idea of the insect spread was potentially?

S: That disease spread by insects caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

IC: So that had to be true? Or just that you reported it?

S: No, just that we reported on that. That claim doesn't have to be true, just that we reported on it has to be true.

IC: Right, okay. The Honda is...

C: That's obviously not true.

IC: Yeah, I mean it's like the Honda is a car but how much of the car are they controlling? Like just moving forward and back? I feel like that's pretty easy. Or is that... I can't ask that question, okay. Okay, so previously blind implant. I mean that seems very capitalism to me to leave people on the hook with an implant in your head. Although they probably got it removed somewhere, maybe not by the company that went under, but like somebody probably removed it. I feel like I remember the Honda brain-machine thing, but I don't remember it being a car. I remember people sitting in this like four-wheeler little chair thing and they were moving it around with their thoughts, but that might be more recent. But what I do remember is like that robot that Honda made back in the day, that cute robot.


IC: ASIMO, yes. And did they control that with the brain interface thing? I mean but also moving a car just like a little bit with your brain, I feel like it's not that hard.

C: Things we say in 2023.

IC: I know, right. Yeah, exactly. That's a fair point. I think the insect thing is science because it seems like that could be reported on and a potential finding. I mean the implant thing seems just like so corporate America, so we're going to say that's science, so I'm going to say the brain-machine interface is the fiction.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Okay, so you all agree on the third one, so we'll start there. In 2008, we reported on new bionic eyes involving artificial retinas that allow previously blind patients to see shapes and lights. The company's second site has since gone bankrupt, abandoning patients with the implants. You're all very happy that this one is science. And this one is science. Yes, this is what happened. So yeah, they reported on their "bionic eyes" where they have a little implant on the retina that does communicate to the brain through the optic nerve, and then there's a camera in the glasses. And they were not able to read or anything, but they could see lights and shapes, and that could help them navigate and help them interact with their world a little bit. But then they had all kinds of projections about how fantastic this was going to be as they refined the technology, and they basically went bankrupt. And they did completely abandon patients with the implants. They were no longer giving them service. They weren't giving them firm updates. They weren't maintaining them.

B: Firmware?

S: Yeah, they had to do firmware updates. So they weren't supporting anymore. They were orphaned, which happens a lot in technology, but it sucks when the technology is implanted in your body. That is a serious problem.

IC: Did they get it removed? I mean, like are they blinder now?

S: Yeah, I think in some people it's still working, and I think in others they have to have it removed or it just doesn't work. They were blind to begin with.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right, let's go back to number two. In 2009, we reported that Honda had developed a brain-machine interface that allows a driver to steer a car with mind control alone. They are still developing the technology without any commercial applications so far. Jay, you think this one is science. Everyone else thinks this one is fiction. Ian, you definitely remembered the most about this news item.

IC: Incorrectly the most.

S: They were the ones who made ASIMO, the robot, and they are developing robot technology and brain-machine interface technology. But the question is, was this to steer a car? And the answer is no, because this one is fiction.

IC: Oh, yes.

S: The news item was that Honda developed a brain-machine interface that could control ASIMO.

IC: Oh, it was ASIMO.

S: So you were exactly correct, Ian. I wrote about it at the time. We talked about it on the show, and I wrote about it, and it was how chumpy their technology was. First of all, even for then, it was like years obsolete. And it was like the control was, they could make it do four things. You could raise your left arm, raise your right arm, and I don't know, two other things. But they were, it was terrible. It was terrible. And they basically never went anywhere with it. I tried to find if they were doing anything else. I couldn't find any reports of Honda doing any brain-machine interface research, or at least achieving anything, since 2009. All the reporting dates back to 2009. The recent reports, Ian, I also found what you were looking at. They do have now a chair, a wheelchair, but it's not controlled with your mind. It operates like the Segway.

IC: Oh, so it's a little shift.

S: It still functions with shifting your weight.

IC: I thought they were wearing something.

S: It appears that they abandoned the mind-control technology, and they're now working on other technology. The reason why I did the steer-the-car thing is because at the time, the reporting said, one day, this could help you steer your car with your mind. And I wrote about how stupid that was, and how far away we were from that level of control. Why would you do that anyway when you have two arms, and you're sitting right there? It's like we don't do things in a harder way just because we can.

E: So you can crochet while you drive with your mind.

IC: Maybe some nice billionaire can start implementing that into his cars.

S: Right. So that one was fiction.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Which means that in 2008, we reported a new theory that disease spread by insects might have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Since then, a 2016 study found that malaria dates back to the time of the dinosaurs and infected reptiles. That is science. Yeah, that was kind of a fringe theory at the time. I don't think we thought much of it. And it's really gone nowhere. The only thing I found that relates to it was the malaria thing, which doesn't mean they went extinct because of malaria. It's just, yeah, they may have been...

IC: Oh, malaria was back.

C: I was really questioning myself on that one. I almost said it. Malaria is that old?

S: Yeah.

IC: That's wild.

C: And I was like, does malaria actually infect...

IC: Reptiles?

C: You know, you think of it as a human disease, but animals must also be vectors for it.

S: Yeah, and there were no mosquitoes at the time, so they had to be spread by other insects. I think they mentioned the midge or something as a potential spreader.

C: Midges are horrible.

S: And of course, it wouldn't be the same species that's around today, but it would be like the same, you know...

C: Well, it's not even the same species that infects humans as infects like any other animal.

S: Right, right. Maybe the same family or genus or something, but it would still be considered, "malaria". But yeah, that one was science. That was interesting. Yeah, it was fun going through really old news items and seeing how they panned out, you know? We do have that segment we do every now and then, like the five- to ten-year updates. This was a little bit more than five to ten years, but yeah. Because the whole, like, how technology develops over time and predicting what's going to work out and what isn't going to work out is often tricky. I think we correctly sort of poo-pooed the Honda news item at the time. But the Bionic Eyes one, I think we were pretty positive about that, and it was very disappointing when that company went bust. Now, that technology is not dead. It's still actively being researched, just not by that company. But it is still very modest in terms of the amount of resolution that these eye implants can produce. We're not at Geordie LaForge level yet.

J: You know, we need companies to invest in these things and develop technologies. I mean, that's where a lot of technology comes from.

S: Yeah, totally. So, Ian, you broke the spell.

IC: Oh, my gosh.

S: And you're at 100%.

E: Yes.

C: Ian wins.

IC: For this year, I guess. Two out of three.

S: And I think this is the first year, at least in a long time, where I didn't play any science or fiction. I did every one.

C: Oh, wow.

IC: Oh, you did all of them.

S: I didn't play once this year.

C: That means you didn't miss an episode.

S: Well, I never miss an episode.

E: That's true.

S: But sometimes I have other people, like if we're doing like two episodes over a weekend, I'll have somebody else do it.

C: True, or like in a live show sometimes.

S: I don't think we did any double headers this year, though. I think that may be why.

IC: Does this mean I'm your favorite guest?

S: You're the most winningest guest this year.

IC: Thank you so much.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:51:43)[edit]

For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.

 – T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), British poet, essayist, publisher, playwright, literary critic and editor

S: All right, Evan, take us home with a quote.

E: "For last year's words belong to last year's language, and next year's words await another voice, and to make an end is to make a beginning." T.S. Eliot.

S: Very poetic.

E: Rightfully so. T.S. Eliot, considered to be one of the 20th century's greatest poets.

S: Yeah, I like that.

E: Perfect for the end of the year.

S: Well, guys, it's been another great year. Thank you for working with me again on another year.

B: Sure, man.

J: Of course Steve.

B: Are we done now? We're good, right?

S: 2023, yeah.

Worst Pseudoscience/Announcements (1:52:08)[edit]

IC: I was told we were supposed to pick the worst pseudoscience of the year, and I did not say it. But anyway, that's okay.

S: What is it?

IC: I'm going to be a little Marshall McLuhan-esque and say TikTok is the worst pseudoscience.

B: Nice.

C: It surely houses the worst pseudoscience.

IC: Yes, but the medium is the message kind of mythology, you know. The UI is addictive. The tracking is like Orwellian or whatever, and the algorithm is evil or Mephistophelian, if you will.

S: My biggest concern about TikTok is that China is influencing the algorithm to promote their propaganda.

E: Sure.

S: And think about how subtle and how effective that can be.

E: Especially in young minds, average age, what, 14?

S: They choose the narratives that they want to tell.

IC: I don't know what they're telling me with North Sea TikTok. Have you guys seen any of this?

E: No.

IC: Where it's like the frightening like 100-foot waves, and it's like it plays that yo-ho-ho.

J: I saw one of those, yeah.

IC: And it's so frightening. I don't know why my feed did just that.

J: It's creepy as shit.

IC: It's so creepy.

C: Because if you get scared, then you make poorer decisions on TikTok, I think.

IC: Oh, my God. Then I move to China?

C: That's all priming.

IC: Okay. All right.

E: Oh, boy.

J: Hey, guys. It was a great year. Pleasure working with all of you.

E: It was an excellent year.

C: Me too, Jay.

E: Yeah, working with everybody. Looking forward to – oh, my gosh. There's so much stuff coming up in 2024. It's going to be, it's going to be fun.

IC: Like a celestial event is happening, right?

S: That's right.

E: Oh, yes.

S: The eclipse in April.

C: The sun's going to be blocked out.

B: It's going to be the cloudiest day in Texas history.

E: Bob, stop it.

C: Bob, what are you doing?

E: Bob, you are forbidden to talk about until after the eclipse.

IC: That's true.

C: We're going to not let you come if you keep saying things like that.

B: I'm just preparing everybody. This is my cosmological curse.

IC: This is a witch.

B: This is the shape of reality. So I'm just getting you guys ready to cry in Texas.

C: Come to Texas and see us live. The SGU without Bob.

J: I don't want to forget to mention we have two shows coming up. We've got the extravaganza on April 6th, and we've got the SGU private show on April 7th. These are in Dallas, Texas. We have a secret special guest on the private show that we're not going to announce just now.

E: No, we're not going to announce that.

J: This is someone we've never worked with before or is it more than one person, Evan?

E: To be determined. To be determined. We will see how this transpires.

S: One or more people. Now 2024 is going to be a fun year in terms of our SGU activity.

IC: And our 1,000th.

S: I will not vouch for anything else that's going to happen in 2021.

E: 1,000th episode.

S: Our 1,000th episode is coming up in the September-ish. We have to calculate the actual date.

B: Holy crap.

E: August, early September.

B: That's nuts.

S: 1,000th.

IC: Congrats to you guys for that.

E: Joe Rogan, eat your heart out.

Signoff (1:55:12)[edit]

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

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

J: You're welcome.

E: Thanks, Steve.

S: Ian, thanks for all your hard work.

J: Thanks, Ian.

S: Behind the scenes.

IC: My pleasure.

B: Ian, you rock, dude.

E: Great job, Ian.

IC: My pleasure. And links to the shows are on the website, by the way.

S: Thank you.

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[7]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description


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