SGU Episode 965

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SGU Episode 965
January 6th 2024
965 Solar Tower.jpg

An innovative design can double energy output from solar updraft towers and works in hot and dry conditions.[1]

SGU 964                      SGU 966

SGU 913 ← predictions SGU 1017

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Civility is hard to codify or legislate, but you know it when you see it. It's possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

Sandra Day O'Connor,
U.S. Supreme Court justice

Links
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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, predictions from 1924[edit]

Voiceover: 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, January 3rd, 2024, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Happy New Year.

S: Happy 2024, everyone.

C: Oh, yeah.

E: Here we go.

J: I'm very happy to see 2023 go away because it sucked.

E: There have been a couple years lately that have not been great.

J: You never know what's coming.

S: 2024 is going to be a wild ride.

E: We can be hopeful, though. We can be hopeful.

S: We can always hope.

E: Got to be.

S: Always can hope.

E: Yeah, right. Doesn't mean it's going to turn out all that well.

B: We're all doomed.

E: All right, Bob.

C: Psychic predictions have already started.

E: Yeah, right?

S: Yeah, well, this is the first episode of the year. And as is our tradition, we review psychic predictions. We could jump in with that. So does anybody have any psychics whose predictions they'd like to review for 2023?

J: I got one guy. I found that just was abysmally bad.

E: Only one?

J: Which I thought was funny, yeah. But before we do that, Steve, I found this awesome thing on the web. So there were people in 1924, all different kinds of people, who made 100-year predictions and this is the year, right? So they were saying what they thought the world would be like in 100 years. So I read through all of them and I picked two of them that I liked and they're short. I'll just quickly tell you. It's just interesting. So there's a person called Frank L. Ferraro. He had a clear vision of the future in 1924. He wrote a letter to the New York Daily News and he said, has anyone ever stopped to think how this country will be 100 years from now? He's talking about the United States. And he writes, just imagine we will have a woman president, woman politicians and police. As women will occupy all the highest positions, naturally men will be compelled to do all the labour. Those who are not physically fit for such arduous jobs will have to stay home and wait on the babies. Then we will have an army entirely of women so that in case of war, women will do all the fighting. Believe me, they can fight too. So, I mean, yeah, interesting. I mean, my favorite part, of course, was him saying a woman president and politicians like essentially predicting that there's some type of equality, but there's a little weirdness in there.

S: He sort of had the right idea but then he went too far.

J: He did go too far. Showing what decade he's from. Then the second one here, this one is titled The Young Man of 75. The person's name is Sir Kingsley Wood who was a British politician speaking at the 1924 London dinner and he told the audience – There was no doubt that by 2024, the average expectation of life would be at least 100 years old and a person at 75 would be a comparatively young man. And it goes on to say he expected the rapid advance of science would ensure that the future grandchildren of those at the dinner would live many, many more years than those present. And then he declined to speculate whether that future generation would be happier than the previous ones.

S: I mean he was correct in predicting that life expectancy would significantly increase, just not as much as he thought.

J: Yeah, I mean 100, I could see someone going, yeah, 100 years, it's the round number but we do have more people making it to 100. And and as the years go down a lot more people making it to 80 and 90 now. So he's pretty close. But he said 75 years old would be considered a comparatively young person.

E: Yeah, not so much. I mean, but again, with the proper lifestyle choices and everything, I mean, you could be relatively healthy at 75.

Psychics' predictions for 2023 (4:05)[edit]

The Rogues review others' predictions and then their own for 2023.

J: So this guy I got, Steve, named John Cohen, C-O-H-A-N. He is considered to be a celebrity psychic to the stars. I'm almost 100% sure that this guy lives in the UK. So here's his predictions, all of them wrong. Ready? Prince Harry will have his nudes leaked. I didn't know Prince Harry had nudes leaked. I admit I don't know who these people are, but he says Hoda and Savannah will have a feud.

E: I think that's some morning talk show.

J: Yeah, right?

E: Right, like Good Morning America or something.

J: Okay. Cher breaks up with her younger boyfriend.

E: Everyone's Cher's younger boyfriend.

J: Justin Bieber will make a movie. Michael Douglas retires, the man's never going to retire. This one –

C: Why are these their predictions?

J: I don't know.

E: What kind of-

C: None of this–

J: Because they're celebrity. They're celebrity psychics. And this one blows my mind. Lisa Marie Presley joins a convent. Like, you know when you're reading these crappy predictions and you're like, they are doing this just to be dramatic. You know what I mean? Like –

E: Hell yeah.

J: Prince Harry will have his nudes leaked. OK. Sure.

E: Let's face it, who cares about any of this stuff?

J: I know, it's mindless.

S: Well, I went to the master, Nostradamus.

E: Oh, Nostradamus. I did Nikki, go ahead.

S: This is as interpreted by Rita Wiggle.

E: She was in House Slytherin, by the way.

S: And she says, all right, here's the first one. Royal Palace will be hit by a meteor.

J: Oh, my God.

E: Well, maybe a micrometeor. It's possible. Very tiny grain.

J: It's possible.

S: She did hedge her bets. She said this could be a metaphor.

C: Oh, there will be a political controversy. Wow.

E: Asterisk. All these could be metaphors.

C: Yeah.

S: Number two is World War III will break out. That didn't happen.

E: That's a bold prediction.

J: Before you move on though, Steve, what do we consider World War III? What are the qualifications to say this is a world war?

B: A lot of countries beat the shit out of each other.

C: Historically, it's only been Europe.

S: World War II did involve Europe and Asia, Japan, Australia, North Africa, South America, Canada. It was a world war.

E: Africa?

C: World War I didn't.

E: Japan did fight in World War I.

C: That's true. The Middle East was involved in Africa too, but mostly because of colonial powers.

E: Parts of Western Asia did.

S: All right, and the third one was the Antichrist will arrive.

E: Oh.

J: Hey, that could Steve, that could be happening.

C: We don't know.

E: Arrived? I mean, has been here?

S: Well, not just arrived. Like, will be revealed.

E: Oh, the revealing of the Antichrist. Okay. You know what's nice about some of the predictions like that? That's in their folder every year. They just whip it out every year. Until, oh, I was right, finally.

C: I went to also an OG, you guys know Baba Vanga, Vanga, the blind mystic, who died in 96. She predicted, but she like pre-predicted like Nostradamus did. Like, I'm going to hedge my bets and write down like the next however many years. So she predicted that in 2023, a devastating explosion at a nuclear power plant would occur that would impact Asia. I don't think that happened.

E: Thank goodness that didn't happen.

C: Designer babies would be grown in laboratories. Not there yet.

E: Not, no.

C: And a solar storm would result in a catastrophe. Don't think that happened either.

E: Well, I mean, they happened, but they didn't result in a catastrophe.

C: But there's no catastrophe, yeah.

S: That's a solid prediction. I mean, that's something that can happen within a reasonable time frame. It just didn't.

C: Dang, her 2024s are messed up. I'm going to hold off on them, though. We'll get there.

E: I think if you're going to go for – if you're going to play this game, if you're going to get a career of doing this, I think you can't go wrong doing what Psychic Nikki does. Psychic Nikki in 2023, if you look at this list, she put out like 1,300 predictions.

S: Yeah, we call that the gunshot approach.

E: I mean, right. But think about it. If you're playing like a dollars and cents kind of game or be able to go back and say, here are my hits, this is exactly what you would do. I'm not going to obviously go through all of them, but I'll give you a couple that are interesting. I like this one. A ribbon-cutting event on a ship turns into tragedy when the ship sinks.

C: That's so sad.

E: You can see that. I mean, that's like out of Family Guy or something. That's total cartoon.

S: Ribbon cutting event. Does she mean like when they break the champagne bottle against the bow to christen it?

E: Maybe. Ribbon cutting those.

C: Yeah, that's not even what they do on ships. They don't ribbon cut ships.

E: They christen them with...

C: Yeah.

E: With alcohol?

C: That's when they put them afloat, though. Do they ribbon cut when they first start building it, maybe? No, that wouldn't make sense. That's like groundbreaking. You don't ribbon cut at groundbreaking.

E: But really, can't you just see the vision in mind? Here we go. Clip A. Everyone's cheering. Ah, now the ship's sinking. It's so stupid. The Great Wall of China is going to collapse after a large earthquake.

C: Would just like fully collapse? That thing's enormous.

E: Or at least a part of something, right? And you still can't see it from space. Mount Olympus could erupt due to an underwater earthquake under the Aegean Sea. Mount Olympus is not a volcanic mountain. So, Nikki, Nikki, use your Google Foo next time. Well, how about this one? Huge dragonflies from prehistoric times will be found in Costa Rica.

S: Does she mean alive or like trapped in there? She's not clear about that.

E: Either way, wouldn't that be great? Part of the game. How about this? A giant dog will be found in Connecticut.

S: Yeah, Clifford the Big Red Dog.

E: Yeah, Clifford the Big Red Dog. That's exactly what I felt.

J: What kind of cracky prediction is that? A big dog will be found in Connecticut?

E: No, a giant dog will be found in Connecticut.

J: Terrible. That is not even inspired in any way. It's flat out stupid.

E: It's better than freaking Prince Harry and nudes leaked as far as I'm concerned. At least it's, you know. Something of – whatever. Oh, and here's one. Penguins invading cities. That's the prediction. Penguins invading cities.

C: Wait, and this is somebody who's alive right now. Who wrote this prediction?

E: I mean –

C: Like wrote it like last year?

E: All right, and before I pass this to Bob, because this has gotten silly, here are four of her predictions, okay? You can see, 1,300, right? These are four separate predictions that she made. A spaceship will land in China, an alien ship will land, more UFO and alien sightings worldwide, and spaceship landing. So basically what you did is you took the same prediction and you just changed a word or added or subtracted something and listed it four times so you could get your list.

C: Hell yeah.

E: All right, so there you go, Nicky.

B: So I came across Starseed Sandra.

E: No way. Sandra?

B: She's a fourth-generation psychic medium. Psychic medium. She also specializes as a Reiki master, an intuitive life coach.

C: Are some mediums not psychic? Do you need that? Is that redundant?

B: Well, Starseed Sandra has also got some extra mojo, I guess, because she says that the energy that you will experience from the reading, just the reading, can help heal your mind, body, and soul. Find clarity and understanding with a true empath. Not only does she give you predictions and things about the future, but you will actually – she will heal you while she's doing the reading. So that's a nice little bonus right there. So Starseed Sandra's whole shtick it seems this year for these predictions has to do with karma. She says karma has never been in full force until now because we've only had kind of like a pseudo karma. This is like the full karma apparently is what's happening. And she's focusing a lot on the 1% of the world. She says the 1% that holds power over the rest of us, 99%, all that is evil, that is greed, that goes against man. They will be dealt with by the laws of karma.

E: Karma has laws?

B: So here's one manifestation of that, earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis. She said that there's going to be more of them than usual in more isolated places and also where the 1%, the elite, have secret houses and bunkers. So the earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis are going to focus on where the elite have their bunkers.

C: Pretty sure there's also 99% there who have fewer resources.

E: I wonder if they will count the devastation in Hawaii this summer as a hit for that particular –

C: I think.

B: They'll take that.

C: The best hit for that is the orcas attacking all the yachts.

J: Yeah, what is going on with that?

E: Good. Go get them, orca. These are the laws of karma, Jay. Forget the laws of thermodynamics. That's yesterday. We are now in the age of the laws of karma.

B: She also said the entertainment industry will collapse. We are finally seeing the huge awakening of humanity of the evil of this industry. It'll be a great awakening. There will be no fans.

C: Hollywood did have a massive strike last year that put a lot of my friends out of work. A lot of my friends were out of work for the whole year.

S: Yeah but that started in 2022.

C: It did but it lasted. Well, first it was the writer's strike and then after that and then SAG-AFTRA joined. Actually there were multiple unions but like the really really big ones was Writers First and before like after the writers kind of reconciled SAG-AFTRA was still on strike for quite some time. They only recently have been coming to an agreement.

E: But doesn't much of the product that come out in a year was mostly shot and edited the year before.

C: 100%, yeah.

E: So we're going to see maybe a dip in some things in 24, right?

C: Yeah, there's been one or two episodes of television shows lately.

B: Yeah.

Rogues' predictions for 2023 (14:23)[edit]

Jay's results

S: All right. Now it's time to see how the Rogues did in their predictions for 2023. Jay, why don't you go first?

J: I did pretty good, guys. So one thing I said was U.S. electric vehicle sales will double in 2023. That was my worst prediction. EV sales were about 16% of the car sales in the U.S. in 2023. That's up from 12% in 2022. So, yeah, it didn't double. I said lab-grown meat companies will begin selling their products in the U.S. On June 21st, 2023, cultivated chicken taken from stem cells were officially approved for commercial sale in the United States. So I take that as a partial hit, if not a complete hit. I said Ukraine will ramp up their attacks on Russian soil. And Ukraine absolutely did step up their drone strikes behind Russian lines. They targeted sites in Moscow, southern Russia, Russian-occupied Crimea. On December 15th and 16th, Ukraine launched more than 80 drones at Russian targets, according to Russian officials. So I think that's a hit. I said the Supreme Court in the United States will rule that affirmative action is unconstitutional. And what did take place was on June 29th, 2023, the Supreme Court of the United States said that certain race-conscious college admissions policies violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. So basically they ruled firmly that those things can't happen anymore. That was a hit. And then I said SpaceX's Starship will reach orbit. Now, from the research that I did, this is what I found. It said that Starship was 91 miles above Earth when it automated termination. They did the self-destruct. And according to SpaceX's webcast, despite the loss of both the booster and Starship, SpaceX achieved a major milestone because they did reach orbit. But was it really orbit?

E: Well, define orbit.

J: I define it as being in a stable orbit around the Earth and it's not a complete hit. But, you know...

E: Yeah, it didn't sound like they... They made it right close, yeah.

J: So I did okay.

E: Not bad. Better than what's it, John Cohan?

Steve's results

S: Okay, here are my three predictions. One, Biden will announce he is running for a second term while no fewer than 12 Republicans will launch their campaign for the nomination. So that was correct. That was true. Those things both happen. Number two, a new zoonotic virus will emerge, which will rise only to epidemic, not pandemic levels. So there were a lot of outbreaks in 2023, but nothing that rose to the level of an epidemic. So no epidemics that I could find. So that one is false. All right, number three, the biggest science news story of 2023 will involve another fusion breakthrough.

B: Well, there was some fusion news.

S: Yeah, but that was not the biggest news story of 2023.

Cara's results

C: I'll go next. So I said in 2023 that the flu death rate will increase significantly worldwide. I cannot find very, very up-to-date global flu data yet, but looking at the U.S. as a microcosm, I'd call that a hit because the flu in the 2022 to 2023 season increased to pre-pandemic levels. So it went way back. I mean, it was like super low during COVID.

S: That was predictable.

C: Yeah, it was predictable, but I also predicted it. Okay. I also said at least one country will have a major revolution changing the trajectory of a world region. Intentionally very vague. That definitely came to fruition across like a lot of the globe. There are many, many conflicts going on. Most of Africa is in revolution right now. I don't know if I would call what's happening in Israel revolution. But I also think it's hard to like. That's such a vague term that I'm not really sure like was the Palestinian assault revolution. No, that might be closer. But yeah, across the globe, I actually have a list right now of ongoing conflicts in the world. And it's divided by major, minor and skirmishes. So the major wars that are happening right now are internal conflict in Myanmar, an ongoing civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Insurgency across Niger Burkina Faso and Tunisia the Russo-Ukrainian war and the war in Sudan. And then and that's major conflict. Then we've got conflict in Colombia, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Iraq gosh, there's so many, Rwanda there are tensions. There's a Mexican drug war going on. Boko Haram insurgency. Syrian civil war, the Ethiopian civil conflict and a gang war in Haiti. And then there's minor conflicts. And that's like, does it literally, I can't even read this list. It's so long.

E: It sounds like a hit to me.

C: I think so. Um, and then the last one was a fail. I said for three to four months in 2023 Cara will annoy the shit out of everyone by demanding you call her doctor. But I didn't do that.

E: No, once.

C: I only did it a few times to some of my friends who texted me, miss Santa Maria. I miss you. And I was like, that's doctor.

E: Yeah. What about the car?

C: And at the car place.

E: And the truck salesperson, right?

C: I don't expect.

E: They called you a little woman or something.

C: Exactly. The young lady. I don't expect anybody call me doctor, but I do expect that you use the appropriate title. So if you're choosing to use a title, then I expect you to use the doctor, not miss. So that's the only time I will be obnoxious and correct people.

Evan's results

E: I had three 2023 predictions. The first one was take all 10 wickets. So that's a term in cricket. I know nothing about cricket. I've tried to watch some video and read some articles about cricket. I know nothing about cricket. But apparently taking 10 wickets is quite the feat, which has only ever happened three times in history. I'm sorry, taking 10 wickets in an inning.

C: Why did you choose a prediction that never happens?

E: Because that's high risk, high reward.

C: I see.

E: Right?

C: Sure, sure.

E: I mean, what if I could hang my hat on that? I like choosing things that absolutely there's no chance anybody else would choose. Right, exactly. I reach. But no, that one didn't happen. Ten wickets have been scored in a game by a player, but just not in a single inning. So I'll say that's a miss. My second prediction, Liquid Death. For those of you who don't know, that's water in a can. I said it would triple its prior year sales, and that means $400 million in sales in 2023. And the revenue projections came in the other day, $260 million, which basically was double the year prior revenue, not triple. And they will be going public if you care to invest in their company in 2024, coming up in a few months. And of course, anything we can do to stop plastic use and get your water into things that are better for the environment like aluminium cans. Much better. And then my third prediction. So that one was wrong. But third prediction. One of the animals on the 25 most wanted lost species will be rediscovered. Turns out there were three. So I'll take a hit. I'll take that as a hit.

C: A triple hit.

E: Oh, do I get three points for that?

C: It undoes your fails.

E: I'll take three points for that. Thank you. So they were, I'll read you the names, Pernambuco holly, year found 2023. Yes, I did know. It's believed to inhabit a very small corner of the Atlantic Forest, which is where? South America. It's this mysterious thing that... It was rumoured to kind of exist, but they found it, and they found some confirmed in 2023. Another one was Attenborough's long-beaked echidna. Echidna, yeah.

B: Yes. Are they monotremes?

E: Woo-hoo! So that's awesome. And that's only found in Australia and New Guinea. So that was an exciting one. And the last one that was found in 2023, DeWinton's golden mole. Last seen in 1936, but rediscovered in 2023. There are 21 species of golden moles, most of which only are in South Africa. They have unique traits and so forth.

B: I got a golden mole. It's on my back.

E: So, yay. I got a triple hit on that one.

Bob's results

B: All right. So I predicted that language model GPT-4 will be released later than anticipated in 2023 and it will cause an AI ruckus beyond what AI art did in 2022, sparking legislation to control disruptive AI software. So a lot of that was kind of like, yeah, easy to predict. So I'd take a partial hit. I don't think it was necessarily later than anticipated. I think it wasn't – when did OpenAI release it? Was it April, March? It wasn't that late. Second prediction, Elon Musk in 2023 will update the Tesla software so the owner can't drive away until they tweet something nice about him. That's a huge hit. Definitely got that one. Number three – no, I didn't get that one. He didn't do that, did he? So number three, a Tunguska-scale airburst will happen this year, freaking everyone out. So that didn't happen. It would have been done scientifically unless it's misinterpreted as a nuke. Then things could escalate horribly quickly. So I'm kind of glad that didn't happen.

E: It's like a Dr. Strangelove kind of –

B: If you have that happen near a city, people will think for a while at least that they were nuked. So that could be bad.

E: If you remember the blackout in the northeast in 2003 – when it happened, there were a lot of people who jumped to a conclusion that this was a terrorist attack immediately. That was their first thought. It was – they were two years – only two years removed from 9-11-2001. So I could see that happening, Bob, definitely.

B: Oh, yeah. That's definitely – that's a big concern for something – a natural event being misinterpreted as a nuke. Yeah, that would not be good.

S: All right. So overall we did kind of average.

B: Yeah.

S: Not too bad. Better than psychics did.

B: Oh, yeah.

Rogues' predictions for 2024 (25:13)[edit]

The Rogues make their own predictions for 2024.

Jay's predictions

S: All right, Jay, tell us what you got for 2024.

E: Here we go.

J: Netanyahu will be removed as the prime minister and possibly face massive legal troubles because of – Yeah. I mean, I definitely think he's going to be. He's going to be out in 20 this year, 2024, for sure. I think that-

C: How?

J: How?

C: Yeah. When's he up for reelection?

J: I don't know.

E: Depends if when if it depends if the what the coalition calls for it, right?

J: All right, my next one, the Tesla Cybertruck will have horrible sales and end production.

E: Wow.

J: Now, it's very likely that Musk won't end production because this was supposed to be his project. I don't know if you know much about this, but the Tesla truck is his personal project that he was heavily involved in. But the reviews are horrible. Sales are horrible. And this is a – is this a billion-dollar company? I'm not even sure.

E: What's it called? Is it a model name?

J: A Cybertruck.

E: It's just called Cybertruck?

J: Yeah.

C: You said that it would have horrible sales and end production. But I heard horrible sales and production.

J: Oh, end.

C: Like there would be production problems.

J: I think it's very likely that they will end the production of the car because the sales are miserable.

E: They'll shut it down.

J: I believe that the movie Godzilla Minus One will win an Oscar.

E: Oh.

B: Nice.

E: Oh, gee.

B: For what?

J: Well, if I get totally specific, I don't think that the Academy would give that picture best picture because of the history of the Academy and what they award as best picture.

B: No, genre movies don't get the big award.

E: No, they get sound effects, visual design.

J: Yeah, I think it'll get a lot of nods, potentially get a lot of nods, though.

S: Would you say a non-technical Oscar?

J: Like acting and stuff like that?

B: Acting, directing, screenplay.

E: There's like 30 technical ones, right?

J: I mean, nothing bad is going to happen to me if I say yes. Sure, Steve. Somebody, some actor in that movie will win some type of Oscar.

E: Wow.

C: Wow.

J: I'm not going to stand firmly behind that one, but I think it's it's possible.

E: Was it contemporary or was it based in the 50s?

J: It was in the 40s.

E: Post-war. Okay.

J: Yeah. My last one, Ukrainian President Zelensky will win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Steve's predictions

C: I can see it.

S: All right. Here are my three. Ready? Number one, a health scare will cause Biden to drop out of the presidential race, causing the Democrats to scramble for a replacement.

J: Oh, my God, Steve. Wow, that's big, man.

E: That's major. You started with that one?

S: Yeah, that was my going for...

E: I can't wait to hear the other two.

S: All right, here we go. Number two. The total solar eclipse in April will be only the second most interesting astronomical event of 2024.

E: Okay.

S: Number three, we got these. I made these before I got your submissions, guys, so this one is a repeat of someone else's. 2024 will be the warmest year on record.

C: Yeah, come on. This is too easy.

B: Shocker.

S: So I did a fourth one. Number four, a new CRISPR-based drug will get regulatory approval in 2024.

J: I think that's very likely.

B: Easy.

E: And that will be the first one?

S: There was one in 2023. This will be a second one.

E: Yeah, that's right.

J: One good one this year.

Cara's predictions

C: All right. 2024 will be the hottest year on record. It's also going to be sissy. Okay. A new COVID surge will occur early in 2024.

E: I'm not feeling well.

C: 100% that's already happening.

E: Yeah, right.

C: It's pretty much.

E: Cara, you learned from the other psychics. Yeah, you just kind of pulled the old, the late 23 and over the line.

C: More than 15 species will go extinct in 2024.

J: Yeah, that's probably right.

C: Yeah, probably.

Evan's predictions

E: All right. 2024 predictions are as follows. The Summer Olympics in France. France will suffer a major blackout during the Olympics, causing massive delays in events.

J: Wow, that's very specific.

E: That's pretty specific, yeah. I try to come up with ones that no one else will. Number two. In 2023, IBM developed a quantum processor chip, which consists of more than 1,000 qubits. By the end of 2024, a company will announce the development of a 10,000 qubit processor chip.

B: Yeah, but what's the error correction like?

E: Ah, well.

B: That's the meat.

E: We will know in about 362 days, Bob.

B: All right.

E: Number three, commercial real estate foreclosures in the United States will exceed 10% and 8% is the forecast going into the year. I think it will outpace it. That's it.

Bob's predictions

B: All right. My first one is a weather prediction. April 8th, 2024 will absolutely be overcast over much of, if not all of Texas.

C: Oh, stop it.

B: Yep. That's my prediction.

C: Why, Bob, why?

E: These are predictions, not curses. That's a different episode.

B: I'm just rolling with the Bob curses. Rolling.

E: Oh, thanks. Spreading.

B: I'm using history to predict the future.

E: You're a vector.

B: Tried and true method.

E: You're a contagion.

B: Number two, OpenAI will release ChatGPT 5 in 2024, which will be sapient enough to realize it doesn't want anything to do with us and will leave the earth to uplift the microbes currently under the ice on Europa.

E: Of all the predictions, I want that one to be the truth.

J: You sure you don't want to add to that, Bob?

B: No, I'm quite sure. That's my prediction for open AI. What, you want me to go silly, Jay? Three, the moon will be hit by a large asteroid visible from Earth, greatly enhancing our efforts to track and detect and deal with near-Earth asteroids and comets.

E: Yeah, except it's going to happen on April 8th in which no one will see it because it's cloudy. Thanks, Bob.

Rogues each make one science news prediction (31:13)[edit]

S: Okay, we're going to do a little bit of a new thing as well. We're each going to make a prediction for science in 2024.

C: Oh, okay. I've got one of these. Here we go. A private company will successfully mine an asteroid, leading to all sorts of regulatory nightmares and questions about who owns space.

E: Well, I mean nightmares for everybody except the legal profession. To them, it will be a new frontier literally.

B: I mean is there time for that to even happen?

E: There is a launch scheduled this year, isn't there?

B: Wouldn't that – huh?

E: Isn't there a launch scheduled by a private mining company?

C: Yeah.

E: Aren't they going to an asteroid?

C: Shiii... I have no idea what you're talking about.

E: ... "Pay no attention to that person behind the curtain!" Steve, you'll edit that out, right? Wink, wink. Nod, nod.

S: All right. My prediction is also a space one. The Artemis 2 mission this year will be a success, returning people to the vicinity of the moon for the first time in almost 50 years.

E: And that's why you predicted the eclipse to be the second biggest.

S: Yeah. These two predictions may be related.

E: I see. My 2024 science prediction is this. Despite Bob's presence, the 2024 total solar eclipse in Dallas on April 8th will be perfect viewing for the greatest show on Earth. And you can join us in that adventure, in that amazement, because we're going to be in Dallas all weekend doing all kinds of events, and we want you to be part of this. Oh, shameless promo.

J: I think it's very likely that a company will come out this year that has a contact lens that does something that requires power.

B: Oh, boy.

E: Well, if something does something, doesn't that imply power?

J: Yeah, I mean there's been – we did a news item where this company came up with a contact lens that can use your tears to actually generate electricity use the liquid in your eyes.

E: Yeah.

J: So I'm just extrapolating from that. Like, okay, so if that's possible I think that some company will come up with something to do some effect that a contact lens could do. You know, the best thing I could imagine that a contact could reasonably do would be to –

E: Clean itself.

J: Well, I don't know about that. I mean that's really awesome if that's possible. I don't know. I mean I'm thinking more of doing something electric-based like autofocus or something like that. I don't think that's going to happen this year, not by a long shot. Yeah, but imagine that, enhanced vision, being able to see in the dark, being able to zoom in, definitely fixing anybody's need for glasses by focusing. Those are all things I think we will get to someday. I don't think it's going to happen this year. But I just think there might be like one of the first or the very first powered contact lens engineering done.

News Items[edit]

Dosing Gene Expression (34:16)[edit]

S: All right. I'm going to start us off with a bit of a quickie news item here. This does represent one of my hopes for future technology, including in 2024. This has to do with gene editing. I think gene editing technology is going to be massive in the next decade or so.

B: Oh, yeah.

S: This is one of those things where, like, I didn't have a huge awareness that this was a problem. So, like, here's a problem you didn't know existed, and here's the solution. So the problem is when you—so let's say you want to treat a disease by inserting a gene that makes a therapeutic protein, right? You insert the gene into the genome of some specific cell population. And maybe it's replacing a defective protein or it's compensating for some disease state or it's just some therapeutic, right? Rather than giving a drug, you insert a gene and the other person makes their therapeutic. But one challenge with that approach is that we have zero control over dosing. Like we have no way to regulate how much of the protein gets made, gets expressed, right? It'd be like prescribing a drug and you have no control over the dose.

B: Sounds fun.

S: Yeah. So not a good therapeutic approach. That's one of those application issues. You know, like we talk about these sort of proof of concept, like the technology works. But until you deal with all of the logistical and technical issues around a specific application you don't have a full, full product. So anyway, a study was published this week that showing, again, a proof of concept for an approach that gives us pretty total control over the dosing of a therapeutic protein made by an inserted gene. So this is what they do. The gene gets inserted on the RNA side, right? And then next to it, you put a stop signal, right? Basically tells the machinery to stop making the protein here. And if you put it at the very beginning, it basically stops the protein before it ever begins. So it completely stops production of the protein. Does that make sense?

B: Okay.

S: But next to that, you put a sequence that is a receptor for a small molecule. And when that small molecule binds to that receptor, it blocks the poly-A signal, so it blocks the stop codon, the stop message, and therefore the protein will be made. In the case of this study, the small molecule is tetracycline, which is an already approved antibiotic medication. So essentially, once you insert the gene into the recipient, you could then dose the therapeutic protein by dosing tetracycline, right? The more you give, the more of the protein gets made, and you could at any point completely stop production by just not giving tetracycline. Does that make sense?

B: Yeah, that's a cool way to deal with it.

E: Yeah, that's clever. I like it.

S: Yeah, so they demonstrated they had complete control over how much of the therapeutic protein gets made by dosing tetracycline. I was also thinking that this would be a good Jurassic Park fix, right? If we ever genetically engineered a creature that we didn't want to get out there into the wild. They could be completely dependent. This is like the amino acid fix that they had. But in this case, it's like if you don't take this drug, you won't make this life necessary protein. And you'll die within days of not getting the drug, which is releasing the production of some protein that you need to survive, like haemoglobin or something. But anyway, it's just amazing the level of control we are getting over genetics because it basically is the digital code of life. You know, now that we know that code and we could alter that code and we could mess with it, it's like we're just programming living things.

E: What about the philosophical nature finds a way argument?

S: Yeah, I'm sort of only semi-kidding about the Jurassic Park thing. But because, yeah, a spontaneous mutation can occur, right? Let's say if you have a mutation that occurs in the receptor for the molecule, but that would just kill them. You would have to have a mutation in the stop codon that makes it productive again. But it could happen. Yeah.

B: But you can get a mutation in anything, though. I mean—

S: Yeah.

E: Yes.

C: Well, but that's why you work in redundancies, right?

B: It'd be vulnerable.

E: But would a system realize—

C: So instead of it being one drug, it's two drugs, or it's multiple—you know, like you work in multiple redundancies. It's much harder. The probability of having the series of mutations that you would need is like astronomical.

E: Right. Yeah, that would—

Solar Tower (39:20)[edit]

S: Jay, you're going to tell us about another clever innovation, about a solar tower. What's going on here?

J: I have never heard of this before, guys. I didn't know what a solar tower was. And when I saw imagery of it, I didn't recognize it. So it completely didn't hit my radar. So this is pretty cool. So the original idea goes back to 1903. And the basic concept is you have a tubular tower, right? And at its base, there's a large, most likely like glass-based circle that is surrounding that tubular tower, right? And the glass would sit a little bit above the ground. And then sunlight would hit the glass and warm the air underneath the glass. And that air would then start to travel up the tube. And inside of this long tube, you would have rotors that would generate electricity, right? Because the air is passing through them and they would be moving. And it works. The concept works. It can generate electricity. This concept has been tested. Unfortunately, it's had mixed results, largely not generating enough electricity to make it worth it. There's limitations, and the worst being that the tower doesn't do any production of electricity at night. And the original designs, unfortunately, have low efficiency, and they happen to be very expensive to build. So researchers from universities in Jordan and Qatar have published a new design in the journal Energy Reports. So they took the original design of the updraft tower and they developed something they call the Twin Technology Solar System, TTSS. This new design that they came up with, so it improves the original concept and it makes the tower generate electricity 24 hours a day. And when I read that, I was like questioning like what did they do? I was really trying to figure out what the tweak was that they did and I couldn't think of it on my own and I think it's pretty damn smart. So similar to the original concept, the new tower design, it has a large circular glass collector that heats the air, right? And it's going to be 250 meters in diameter by their design, similar to the first design. But they added a second tower and this tower is on the outside of the main tower, right? So you have one tube that goes up and hot air goes up and then they have a secondary tube that comes down or maybe even multiple tubes that come down on the outside of that tube. And what happens is once the hot air travels up the tube in the inner tube, then they mist it with water and it cools that air and that air goes down the outer tubes and it generates electricity on the way down as well. And it's pretty clever, right? You know, they're using – it doesn't even have to be the same air. It could be just ambient air that's there as well or it could be the air going up the tube itself. It really doesn't matter. You just need to cool the warm air so it's heavier than the air that it's surrounded by and it falls down. Now, the downdraft air, again, will be directed through smaller channels and these will have turbines. And this new design generates electricity both ways as the air flows. The outer tower works best right around noontime when ambient temperatures are typically high and the humidity is low. And the outer tower also doesn't rely on sun to generate electricity, which is fantastic. The new design can produce 2.14 times the power of the standard solar tower designs that I discussed. And this is in part due to the fact that it can generate energy, like I said, at any time of the day. And it doesn't even matter what the ambient air temperature is. They just need to be able to change the temperature of the air by misting it in order for it to create energy at nighttime. The external tower also works best in the afternoon due to the changing air temperatures that are just inherently there. And the performance varies depending on the season and relative humidity, of course. Now, they're saying this design is absolutely suited for hot, dry climates. It really won't work in humid climates. It's not even worth building. If you can't generate the downdraft, it's not even worth building. Also, the system needs water, right? So it's one of the first things I thought of. And how is the water being pumped up to the top and all that stuff? I mean, I'm sure that they've calculated all that and still figured that the net gain is 2.14. But still, there are some hurdles that they need to overcome because this obviously is not a finished design and they're still testing it. So they're saying this should be deployed in dry climates. It seems like deserts are very good, lots of places in Africa would work very well for this. Now they have simulations of their design and they show that it could generate 753 megawatts an hour of energy annually with 350 megawatts from the upward draft and 400 megawatts from the downward draft. And I'm very surprised to see that the downward draft actually creates more energy than the upward. It's counter-intuitive to me for some reason. They are now also working on ways to scale up the technology so it can produce more energy. This could include size changes, right, to just make it bigger. So this might not happen. It's speculative. But it does – you know, it is interesting if you think about it. You know, this thing could be just sitting there on its own, very little maintenance, very small number of moving parts. I don't know – I couldn't find any estimates on how much it would cost, how long it would take to build. But it is viable and it is something that could generate electricity 24 hours a day. So if this thing does work, we might see these. We might see these in the right places. You know, Steve, how you were saying like force pump hydro and all that? Same kind of thing. You can't do this everywhere. It would go where it can go.

S: Right.

J: Which is fine. You know, there's other limitations. You know, we can't put solar panels anywhere we want. We can't put wind collection anywhere we want. We have to pick and choose. So this would be another option. And again, I like to see companies working on this and researchers working on these types of things because it's exactly what we need to be doing, right? We need to be focusing on getting away from fossil fuels and this could be one of the pathways to doing that.

S: Yeah, yeah. I don't think it's going to be the kind of technology that's going to like revolutionize energy production. But there might be some niche locations or applications where it is a good option. Every little bit, it helps. I think it's probably going to come down to cost effectiveness, you know?

J: I totally agree. Yeah. I mean I don't know what materials they'd need to build it out of. If they could build it out of-

S: Solid platinum.

J: Well, but think about it. If they could use like materials that are local like sand that's local and things like that, if it could be built out of concrete instead of like a polymer or whatever – I don't know the details because they just simply were not in the abstract. But again, I'd like to see 20 inventions like this come out and get funding and pull it all the way to the end, see if it's viable because we need it. We need to start developing these technologies and we need to start deploying them now.

S: Okay, thank you, Jay.

Alzheimer's Virus (46:30)[edit]

S: Cara, this is an interesting item, looking at the potential association, a potential association with Alzheimer's disease. Tell us about this.

C: Yeah, I mean, and this isn't really a new association, but we're starting to see that it's gaining more awareness, partially because it's being replicated. A study that was published last year in Neuron called Virus Exposure and Neurodegenerative Disease Risk Across National Biobanks looked at exactly what the title implies. It looked at different viral exposures and different neurodegenerative diseases. It used both a Finnish bank and then a UK bank of just medical data that was available. So this is a retrospective correlational study. That's really all they were able to do is compare a bunch of different neurodegenerative diseases with a bunch of different viral exposures and then take those basically findings and compare them to individuals who didn't have neurodegenerative diseases or individuals who had neurodegenerative diseases without viral exposures. And what they found at the beginning was that there were 45 different pairs of viral exposures that were associated with an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease. Specifically, we're talking about Alzheimer's, we're talking about ALS, dementia, multiple sclerosis, vascular dementia, and Parkinson's disease. After they found those 45 sort of relationships, that there seemed to be an increase in risk factors for neurodegenerative diseases as associated with previous viral exposures, they then looked at a second database. So they started with the Finnish database. Then they looked at the UK database. In total, they looked at, I think, about 500,000 individuals. And there they found that 22 of them were replicated. And they found that some associations were stronger than others. The strongest association was actually for Alzheimer's disease. They found that there was up to a 12-year window after which exposure and disease prevalence appear to be related. They also were able to replicate a previously reported finding, which we've actually talked about on the show before, I think, between Epstein-Barr virus infection and multiple sclerosis. And what they also found was that any viral infection. Of the 45 different viral exposures that they looked at, none of them were protective. They either had no effect, a small effect, or a significant effect on neurodegenerative disease. They found that viruses that they considered to be neurotrophic, meaning that they somehow are able to get into the brain, whether it's by crossing the blood-brain barrier, or by other means, that those tended to be the ones that were more highly associated with neurodegenerative diseases, specifically things like viral encephalitis and pneumonia after flu. Now, this is a correlation like I mentioned before. There's no way to know if individuals who happen to be more susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases are also more susceptible to viral infection. There's no way to know if the neurodegenerative disease process had already started and that was changing their immune response or if it is the other way around, that the viral infection itself was is actually having some sort of effect later on the development of neurodegenerative disease. But we are seeing that there tends to be an association and we're seeing more studies that are replicating these findings. What it means is hard to say.

S: It's interesting that they included multiple sclerosis because that's not a neurodegenerative disease. That's an inflammatory disease.

C: Yeah, it's because that multiple sclerosis and Epstein-Barr has been really widely studied, and they wanted to see if they could replicate those results. So it's sort of a one-off.

S: They were just looking to replicate it with their procedure, and they did. Yeah, because we know that that that's that's an old story, but it's complicated story, too.

C: Very complicated.

S: The thinking is, again, this is massively oversimplifying a very long scientific controversy. But the basic idea is that you need some combination of genetic predisposition and viral exposure. And so if you look at each one individually, like you don't really see a big signal. You got to have both. Like the virus isn't causing MS, but it definitely correlates with it. And then there's also like genetic predispositions, but they're not thorough. Like they're not complete. Like you can have the genetics and not get it. But it's possible that it's safe. You have the genetic predisposition and you get the viral infection. That then dramatically increases your risk for getting it. So maybe that's what we're seeing here as well. I mean even though this is correlational only and you can't really draw a causation, the most plausible causation is that neurotrophic viruses are causing something that's triggering the neurodegenerative process.

C: Right. Or sensitizing an individual to it or something along those lines. It should be noted that the corresponding author on the study, Mike Knowles, he works for the Center for Alzheimer's and Related Dementias at the National Institute on Aging and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes. So he's an NIH researcher. And he, in surrounding articles, like in interviews around this study, he basically said listen, the way that we've long been trying to look at this, and it speaks to what you just mentioned, Steve. The way we've long been trying to look at this is we've taken one virus or one disease, and we've said, okay, let's look at this in depth. Let's look at Parkinson's and pneumonia. And then the signal is really noisy, and it's been really hard to draw any firm conclusions. And so what they said was, we want to use a big data approach instead. We just want to look at all of the viruses and all of the neurodegenerative diseases and see what kind of comes out in the wash. And maybe that'll help us direct some of our more targeted research in the future. And they were like, this signal is pretty strong once you take a sort of 30,000 foot view. But what does it all mean? Obviously, that's not the question that this study was attempting to answer. So that's going to lead to much more investigation.

S: Yeah, it's also worth noting that a lot of these diseases are not one pathophysiological disease, right? So like you say ALS as if it's one thing, but it isn't one thing. And a lot of these diseases are defined by the brain cell population that's dying, not by what's causing that population of cells to die. So if your upper and lower motor neurons are dying, you have ALS. But there could be a hundred different reasons why your upper and lower motor neurons are dying. And one of them may be a viral infection, right?

C: And even like all the different dementias, when we look at them together, it's kind of, I mean, there are some really obvious indicators on like neuropsych eval or on imaging, but a lot of it is a little complicated than like Alzheimer's. Technically, it's like we can diagnose it, but it's hard to know. Is this actually Alzheimer's or a different kind of dementia until we look at autopsy? And so it is hard.

S: We are getting-

C: We're getting better.

S: It's more than better. It's like it's a different world now. Like what you're saying was true 15 years ago, but now we can confirm Alzheimer's disease with blood and CSF where we could–

C: Which is great.

S: Before we had to do – we needed tissue. We needed a biopsy or autopsy in practice. But now we can actually confirm it.

C: And how common do you think it is in like – I would say in like a standard population that people are getting those tests or that they're just being treated based on symptomatology?

S: Yeah, and I've asked my dementia colleagues that exact question. It's like, what should I be doing with these patients? And the answer is, if it's absolutely typical Alzheimer's disease, then you could just do the standard clinical workup and management. But if they're young or if they're atypical in any way, then they would suggest confirming it, the pathophysiology with the blood tests. And now that there are the three drugs that we could treat it with, there's a big question. It's all in flux now because then the question is, do we need the blood test to know who's going to respond to these treatments and who should be getting these treatments? I mean, there's certainly, you can't give every single person who has dementia one of these monoclonal antibody drugs. It has to be early in the disease. And there's a lot of details now. So it's all very complicated, but in a good way because we know a lot more about it. We have a lot more options. It's simple when you can't do anything. You know what I mean?

C: Of course.

S: And the complexity is welcome. But we're in that maximally – it also gets simple when you absolutely know what the cause is, right? But we're in that middle stage where we know a lot pathophysiologically and we have a lot of markers, but we don't know everything.

C: And sometimes there's not a lot we can do.

S: All the different subtypes. And so, yeah, we're at the stage of, I think, maximal complexity.

C: And it's hard because most of the treatments are lifestyle behavioral, and there are some medications that can, as we've talked about before, I remember you making a firm distinction, so I don't want to trip over my words here, but that can slow down. Do they actually slow down the disease process or just the symptoms from getting worse?

S: The older treatments are just symptomatic. They don't slow down the process. They don't prevent anything from getting worse. They just make your brain function a little bit better while you're taking the medication. But the newer monoclonal antibody drugs are disease-modifying. They slow down progression. That's the new bit, right? That's what's new about them is that they actually are disease—what we call disease-modifying, not just symptomatic. Which, again, the biggest part of that—again, it's still controversial whether they have a clinically meaningful effect. But the fact that they have an effect is a proof of concept that we've been waiting for decades for. Even if it's modest, it's still a very interesting and important proof of concept. All right. Well, this is definitely an interesting little titbit. But as you say, it's not like here's an answer. It's more like here's just another piece of the puzzle that we have to take into consideration with everything else.

C: The big takeaway that the authors state is, listen, we already have vaccines for most of these diseases. Why are we not all getting them? You know, it's like at the very least, most of these viral infections that seem to be correlated, we have preventive measures. So at the very least, we should all be making sure that we're up to date on our vaccines.

S: Yeah, absolutely.

Quark Matter (57:27)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, tell us about quark matter.

B: If you insist.

S: I do.

B: All right. So neutron stars in the news again recently and that makes me happy. Researchers have done a new supercomputer analysis and conclude that there's an 80 to 90 percent chance that the largest such objects likely have a core not of boring compressed neutrons but of a different state of matter called cold quark matter. What the hell is that? And why should you care? This was published in December in the journal Nature Communications. Interesting paper, pretty technical, nasty technical, but there's titbits in there that are actually understandable by me. Neutron stars are no stranger to this podcast. I mentioned them a bunch of times that when stars, quickie overview, when stars get to be 10 to 20 solar masses and go supernova, they can leave a core of the densest known matter in the universe. And these neutron stars or maybe they're a pulsar or a magnetar, all neutron stars, but there's a lot of varieties and they're all fascinating as hell. Basically, they all essentially squeeze two of our suns into a 20-kilometer-wide object. So very dense, very heavy, so dense that a sugar cube-sized piece of it would weigh about a billion tons. So yeah, that's very, very dense matter, very heavy. But what happens to all that matter from the star that collapsed, right? What's it like now that it's in the neutron star? My response to that is, well, it ain't called a neutron star for nothing. The star was previously primarily made of what? Atoms composed of neutrons and protons and electrons primarily, right? The pressures are so great in the resulting neutron star that most of the protons and electrons actually merge together. To create more neutrons. Isn't that cool, right? But the very core of that thing might be something extra special, and it's been debated for many, many years, and some theories predict, I think it's quantum chromodynamics, predicts that the inner core could become a new state of matter called cold quark matter. In this state of matter, the quarks are no longer in the prison of hadrons like neutrons and protons, right? Because you got the quarks that are kind of stuck in the neutrons and protons and they don't want to go anywhere. You try to pull them apart and they fight back. The harder you pull them apart, the harder they try to stay together. So they're famously basically almost impossible to pull apart. But in this – and of course in the core of the neutron star, the belief is that the hadron melts away at those insane densities, setting the up and down quarks free along with their – of course their gluon force carriers. So the scientists call this de-confined quark matter, de-confined because it's – they're breaking out of the neutron and proton collections, which no longer have any meaning at the core if this is true. So this is – what I love about this is that this is completely different than all the states of matter that we commonly deal with day to day, right? Solids, liquids, gases, even plasmas like the sun, they're all different states of matter, right? But they're still made of nuclear matter. This isn't nuclear matter at all. This is cold quark matter. So it's completely different than these other ones that we've all heard of. So the thing is, though, how do you test this idea? You can't get to the closest neutron star. It's 400 light years away. We're not going to be getting there anytime soon. You're not going to be taking any samples. But we can use science. So what these researchers did, I think for the first time in regards to this question, is they combined our neutron star observations, the astrophysical observations that we've made of them for decades. We combined that with supercomputers and Bayesian inference. Steve, you talked about Bayesian statistics a couple of times on the show. Bayesian inference is a very powerful statistical method that in this case compares different observations, different astrophysical observations, and to give us the likelihood of these different models that are trying to describe neutron stars, right? So for example, in this case, we can statistically compare data about low-mass neutron stars, right, which probably don't have quark matter because they're not dense enough. And therefore, they're going to be less dense, right, if they don't have the quark matter. And you compare those to the heavy neutron stars that could have quark matter. And if they did, they would be more dense. So you compare those two sets of data from the big and the small neutron stars. You do that Bayesian inference from that. Do the Bayesian statistics and see what it says. So they – using this method, they crunched the hell out of their numbers. One of their team members, Jonas Hervoven, said – he's a University of Helsinki graduate student. He said, we had to use millions of CPU hours, millions of supercomputer time to be able to compare our theoretical predictions to observations and to constrain the likelihood of quark matter cores. So when they were all said and done, their conclusion was that with 80 percent, 88 percent confidence that the most massive neutron stars have characteristics that are consistent with cores containing, as they say, deconfined quark matter. So they were. The confidence level was about 80, 88 percent, which is pretty high. Their attitude now seems to be like, yeah, it's likely. It's pretty likely. There was another method that they used that brought it down to 75%. But this new method that they devised was up to 88%. So it seems very likely at this point that a different state of matter exists in the cores of the biggest neutron stars. And in that core quarks are no longer confined in hadrons like neutrons but they're more unconstrained. Not completely unconstrained but they're not – they can move around much more freely and they're not tied together. Now, this isn't the solved problem yet of course but I love that one of the coolest objects in the universe is likely even more fascinating than we even thought it was. So what does the future hold for this research? Now – 88% certainty is definitely encouraging, but it's clearly not enough, right? Science doesn't stop at 88% certainty. So we need bigger sample sizes of neutron stars because the sample they used was kind of small. We need to know both the mass and radius for more of them. Getting the mass is, I think, relatively easy compared to getting the radius. We have the mass and radius of some but not all of them. So we need that data together and that data is definitely coming in the future. I mean that's definitely going to be happening. We also need to know more about the strength of this phase transition because that will matter. That other 12% of uncertainty could be affected by the strength of this phase transition. Because if it's a very strong phase transition into the quark matter, it could potentially destabilize the entire neutron star and make it collapse into a black hole. So they got to kind of rule that out. They got to learn more about that. They need to know about this phase transition. And that information will likely come from where? Gravitational wave detectors that will be examining future collisions. I even talked about that back in episode 712 from March 2019. I talked about finding out about quark matter using gravitational wave detectors. So pairing these theories together, these methodologies together, we may at some point in the future really say like, yep, we are – we are certain that the core, the inner core of big neutron stars has this amazing quark matter, this cold quark matter. I'd love to find out how they get those last few yards to really determine that, but it's just a fascinating topic. Check it out online if you're interested.

S: All right. Thanks, Bob.

Scientology RICO (1:05:11)[edit]

S: Evan, I hear that Scientology is in a bit of trouble.

E: One can only hope. Because it seems like, I don't know, whenever Scientology comes up in our discussions and there's a certain disappointment that we're left with for whatever the latest news addresses. I suppose that's because the Church of Scientology always, I don't know, seems to get away with it, whatever they wind up being accused of. But that's not strictly the case. They have been brought to court for various crimes, and courts and juries have ruled against them, yet they still march on. They're unfettered, they're unabated, and there's still a cultural stain on societies around the world. I think for those who are only hearing maybe the word Scientology for the first time right here, maybe, Scientology, it's a cult. It was founded by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s. He was basically a science fiction author who parlayed his writing successes into a belief system. Dianetics, that's perhaps his most well-known book. It's a set of pseudoscientific ideas and practices that relate to the relationship between the mind and the body. You see, because the humans are actually immortal, we're spiritual beings. But we have a residency in a physical body. We have innumerable past lives, some of which preceding the arrival of us to Earth. We are, in effect, extraterrestrial creatures. So that's basically what it boils down to. But what solidifies the system as a cult, I think, is the way they treat their followers. This organization... I mean, it's wide. It includes a lot of smaller organizations and business interests and investments. They've got their hands spread out in a lot of areas. But the organization leadership and various managers and officers over the years have been accused of, well, here's a list. Theft, fraud, extortion, coercion, defamation, libel, forgery, invasion of privacy. Practicing medicine without licenses, taking advantage of mentally incapacitated people, breach of public trust, battery, obstruction of justice, negligence, infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, torture and wrongful death. And that is not even a comprehensive list. But Scientology targets well-off and unfortunately weak-minded people. So Hollywood has become a favorite target-rich environment for Scientologists over the years. A lot of Scientologist celebrities out there. Obviously the ones we talk about on a regular basis, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, those names always come up. We've talked about Kirstie Alley. She's no longer alive, but she was a big name. Actor Michael Peña. Nancy Cartwright from The Simpsons. Oh, and Chick Corea. We sometimes forget about jazz musicians. Chick Corea. Although there have also been some celebrities that have been able to escape this cult. Katie Holmes, Lee Remini, Juliette Lewis, Beck, among others. You know, famous people. But Danny Masterson. I am getting to the news here, but you have to know the background here. Danny Masterson. He's an actor. He's best known for being part of the cast of That 70s Show TV series from 20, 25 years ago. Masterson.

B: Which character was he?

E: He was.

C: Hyde.

E: What the heck was his name?

C: Hyde.

E: Hyde?

C: He's a convicted rapist.

E: Yes, that's right. Masterson accused of sexual assault in 2017 by three victims. They were all Scientologists and they came forward and disclosed that they were sexually assaulted by Masterson during the early 2000s. So while he was riding high on his fame. Now, the three women claim that the Church of Scientology also pressured them not to contact authorities about these claims or the rapes that occurred. Church of Scientology has denied that they pressured their victims in any capacity. Later, a fourth woman accused Masterson of raping her also in the early 2000s. And in 2019, the four accusers, they sued Masterson. And the Church of Scientology. They accused Masterson and the church of engaging in stalking, physical invasion of privacy, and a conspiracy to obstruct justice, among other allegations, claiming that they and their families were harassed in an effort to silence them. So this is relevant to the news item this week. But for the timeline's sake, that was back in 2019. That's when the lawsuit was brought. But since then, June 2020, the Los Angeles Police Department detectives brought up three charges of rape. So official criminal charges. Masterson pled not guilty in 2021. In May of 2023, he was convicted on two counts of rape. And in September of 2023, he was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison, which is where he is now.

J: That is a massive prison sentence. Not saying that he doesn't deserve it or what he did, but just think about that. I mean, why would somebody who has that level of fame and probably money, right, because he was on an incredibly popular TV show for a long time.

C: He didn't think he would get caught.

J: Well, but I don't know. I just don't comprehend how –

C: Why did Cosby do it?

S: You're trying to apply a rational filter to it, Jay. The thing – again, this bears mentioning because we don't talk about this that often. That like when we're talking about cults on the show and this is something that we've dealt with since the early, early days of the New England Skeptical Society. It's not about what they believe. Yes, Scientologists believe weird stuff. It's a sci-fi religion. But that's not what makes it a cult, right? What makes it a cult is how they behave. It's the hiding their true beliefs until you get all the way in to the circle. It's how they do mind controls on the people that are members, how they exploit them, etc., etc., right? And there's also – we have to mention there's a continuum and there's a demarcation problem. I mean it's not like it's – there's like pristine religions over here and then 100 percent cults on the other side. It's a continuum between the two. And you could just sort of line up the features like how many cult-like features does an organization have. At some point, it's reasonable to call it a cult and I believe Scientology is way over that line.

E: Definitely. And again, Masterson's in jail because of these criminal charges of rape. This doesn't address the original lawsuit in which the accusers accused Masterson and members of the church about the stalking, the invasion of privacy, and conspiracy, obstruction of justice, all those things. That case is still going, and it is proceeding forward. It's going to have a 2025 trial date. I know these things take a long time. But here's what happened. Here's what happened this past week. They amended the complaint. The accusers are now asking the courts to allow mafia-inspired RICO charges, that is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, to now be included in their case. And here's some of the quotes from the statement. Many of Scientology's criminal enterprises' money-making schemes are criminal in nature. The church routinely and systematically engages in fraud, human trafficking, identity theft, and money laundering to fill its coffers and enrich its leadership. While Scientology knew that defendant Masterson was a rapist due to Scientology's criminal enterprise concealment of that fact, because they concealed it, but other members of Scientology were not made aware of that. And therefore, they're complicit in the fact that these women had to suffer as a result of their actions. So now they're trying to tie this statute in. This is not unprecedented, sort of. I looked up some old cases. There's decades of cases against this. Scientology members mostly. It's hard to sue the organization and pin them down, but you can go after some of the members and the managers and leadership and those kinds of things. And in 1984, there was a suggestion by some law enforcement that they should be brought up on RICO, but nothing appeared to have ever come of that case. So it's not novel that this has come up. But now that they've got the conviction and they've got Masterson guilty of rape and is serving the prison sentence, that perhaps, legally speaking, increases the chances in which if they enjoin this new claim of Rico into their case – And if you can get a jury, a court, however it's going to be decided to say that, yeah, they violated RICO. Well, that gets into a whole different world in which you're going to have the leadership of the organizations. If anybody is found guilty, they're going to be fined up to $25,000 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. That's per person as part of the racket. So that's Musgrave. What's the guy's name?

C: Oh, Miscavige.

E: Miscavige. Thank you. That's him. His whole top entourage of individuals can be brought in on this because they're all named. They've named names in this suit. Plus, listen to this. As part of the RICO, the racketeers must forfeit all ill-gotten gains and interest in any business gain through a pattern of racketeering activity. So basically, in conclusion, if this were to stick, no guarantee this is going to stick, but if it were to stick, then you might finally have something with teeth in it that can finally bring Scientology to heel.

C: And not just Scientology. Don't you feel, Evan, like so many cults? I feel like lately I've watched so many cult documentaries across different platforms and so many cults. Really, at the end of it, it's like the leader is just trying to fuck all of the people in the cult.

E: Absolutely. They use them as human shields effectively.

C: There's so many sex crimes. Yeah. Like all of the high control stuff, all of the weird religious stuff, all of it comes down to like a dude trying to get laid.

B: Oh, yeah.

S: That is the every cult. Give me all your money and I get to have sex with all the women. That's every cult.

C: And so because of that, there are so many sex crimes being committed that are often not prosecuted because it's like this weird little world and it's so normalized within the cult. And that is how a lot of these actually get broken open or the rings get shut down. And is Scientology any different? In some ways, yes, but it's got all the same trappings and all the same stuff is happening.

E: Oh, I agree, Cara, entirely. I mean, this is big. I mean, this is the big fish when you talk about cults nowadays. I don't know that there's many people who don't know what Scientology is, even on a cursory sense.

S: But it's good precedent saying that if you can use RICO laws to go after this kind of activity, it's a good thing.

J: Nothing would make me happier than in 2024 to see Scientology take a major hit or go down. I mean that organization is remarkably corrupt and abusive.

E: Oh, it's horrific.

J: When you start reading about Scientology and the effect that it's had on people and the money it's taken from people and –

E: The lives it's ruined in so many ways.

J: It's a despicable organization.

E: And all over the world, too.

C: It's everywhere here. It's all over the world. It's all over the world. But especially in Los Angeles.

E: Yeah.

C: It's everywhere.

Who's That Noisy? (1:16:53)[edit]

S: All right, Jay. It's Who's That Noisy time. First, who's that noisy of the year?

J: All right. Well, this is a unique situation that I have never encountered before with Who's That Noisy.

B: Everyone solved it.

J: All right, guys. So first, take a listen.

[plays Noisy]

All right, so I accepted this noisy. I liked it because I thought it could be easily misinterpreted as a lot of other things. It has kind of like a computer sound to it. And I'm going through all these hoops that I do when I'm trying to pick what noisy I'm going to use for that week. And I'm doing it deliberately because I want it to be interesting. I want it to be a little bit difficult. And I want there to be some provocative element about it. So we all maybe learn something, right? So I picked that one. And it turns out that every single person that lives in Australia 100% knew what this was without question. And they all emailed me, including I think a lot of people who don't listen to the show. I got well over 500 emails.

B: Whoa.

C: What?

J: Yes. 500. When I went back – so I haven't checked my Who's That Noisy folder in weeks at this point. Think about how many shows have happened since we did the last Who's That Noisy. I believe it was the 13th of December. So it's been at least three weeks. So I'm scrolling through and I get down to the date range, which is going to be this show. And I am like, what the hell? I couldn't believe it. And almost every single person from Australia said the same thing to me. Jay, you are going to get so many emails about this. So they all knew the answer. They all were like – I mean I wouldn't be surprised if there was a meeting where they're all like, let's email Jay because it just was like remarkable how similar these emails were.

B: Remarkable. (Jay laughs)

E: That should have been my prediction for 2024. How many times will Bob say remarkable?

J: So this is – I'm not going to read any guesses because I actually – after getting to about 150 emails, I didn't get to a guess that wasn't the correct answer. So I said, you know what?

B: Wow.

J: Everyone from Australia guessed correctly.

S: So Australia wins.

J: Australia wins. Australia wins the first Who's That Noisy of 2024. Congratulations. You have a wonderful country. I love it. I would love to visit it again. And my God, do you people know the fauna in your country better than any other country I've ever visited. You guys are awesome. So that's it. So I'm going to go right to next week's Who's That Noisy?

S: Wait, first you've got to tell us the answer.

E: You've got to tell us.

J: Oh, you guys actually want – but everybody knows the answer. I don't have to announce the answer.

B: We're not Australian.

E: I'm not from Australia.

S: I know it's a bird.

J: It's a bird. It's the Australian magpie. And another comment I do have is it's a pretty weird sound and I wouldn't want to hear that all day. Every single person that emailed me, of course, has heard this so many times that they know the bird as well. Like how many bird sounds can you identify if you're not Steve? Seriously, the average.

E: Robin.

J: Yeah. Maybe two birds if you're lucky, right?

E: Yeah, probably.

J: Yeah, they all know this one. So they're everywhere. These magpies must be everywhere. So let me just play it again real quick. I'll just give you a couple seconds of it. I mean if you told me that this is the way that artificial intelligent computers communicate with each other, I would have believed it.

B: I thought it was the whale probe from that Star Trek movie.

S: Some birds have like an electronic kind of sound to them. In Connecticut, the brown-headed cowbird-

E: Here we go.

S: -has a very similar – it doesn't sound exactly like that but it has that electronic quality.

J: Steve, you could have made up any bird name. The pan-faced seersucker. I would have believed you because bird names are so weird to me. No rhyme or reason. All right, the Australian magpie, everybody. If you go to Australia, you'll probably end up seeing hundreds of these.

New Noisy (1:21:14)[edit]

J: I have a new noisy for this week. This noisy was sent in by a listener named Daniel Odekir. And I'm just checking, did this person give me a pronunciation of their name? No. So the last name is Odekir. And here it is.

[background hissing, foreground beeping of different volumes, speeds, and frequencies]

I just want to make sure everybody knows this is not an Australian magpie. This is something completely different. Guys, if you think you know what this week's noisy is or you heard something cool, please email me at WTN@theskepticsguide.org.

Announcements (1:22:05)[edit]

J: All right. So we have a few things going on. First and foremost, we have a wonderful series of events coming up in April of this year. So on April 6th, we will be doing a live skeptical extravaganza. This is our stage show. This is a combination of two things. One, it's like a comedy improv that George runs where we don't know what's coming at us. We don't know what the questions are he's going to ask. We don't know what puzzles he's going to throw at us. So it is live and it is all improv. But we also have a backbone of science and skeptical information that we give the audience throughout the show. And we basically are teaching you about how you can't trust your mind's perception of reality. It's a lot of fun. We will be doing this show in Dallas. If you want information on that show, you can go to theskepticsguide.org. There are two buttons on the homepage now. One of them is for the extravaganza. And the second one is for a show that we're doing on Sunday the 7th, and this is a private SGU recording. We call this version of the show Private Show Plus because it's a private show and extra time, at least an hour, where we'll be doing other things with the audience. I will say right now that Evan and I are working on a secret project that once we have it 100% confirmed, we will tell you about it. It has to do with the private show. It's very likely that this will be a very special private show this year.

E: Unique.

S: No matter what, it will be unique and special, but there might be some extra layer in there that we haven't had before.

J: I'm telling you right now that ticket sales are going very, very well. We might expand the size, but that's a big deal, which I'm sure you can figure out why because more people means more space and it's a lot of work involved there. So buy your tickets now if you're interested. And also, guys, thank you so much, all the patrons who supported us in the past year or the years prior. Thank you so much for your support. I mean, it means the world to us because we get to do the work that we're doing here together. For those of you who have been listening to the show for a long time, you know what our goals are. Essentially, we want to help educate as many people as possible on critical thinking, being media savvy, being able to navigate through all the misinformation that's out there. We also kind of like to think of our first book as... It's a good book to help you learn how to use your brain, right? It helps you think in a very scientifically mannered way. We take our work very seriously and we think it is very important, especially now more than ever. Unfortunately, more than ever. I'd love to tell you, hey, we've been doing this for 25 years and things are getting better.

S: We've fixed the world.

J: Yeah, but we live in a very difficult reality and the world has – things are strange and unexpected right now where there's wars going on. There's lots of crazy things happening. This is a great time to learn how to think critically and how to navigate through all that misinformation that's out there. If you like the work that we do, if you appreciate it, we would appreciate you becoming a patron of ours to help us keep going. You can go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and you could join us in hopefully changing the world and educating people.

B: Join us.

S: All right. Thanks, Jay. All right, guys. Let's go on with science or fiction.

[top]                        

Science or Fiction (1:25:14)[edit]

Theme: The worst countries

Item #1: The US has the highest rate of automobile accidents, at 5,938 per million people in 2019.[6]
Item #2: El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the world at 52 per 100 thousand people per year, while the US ranks 76th.[7]
Item #3: The country with the greatest income inequality is Brazil, with a Gini index of 52.9. (Gini index – 0 is perfect equality, while 100 is maximal inequality.)[8]

Answer Item
Fiction US has highest rate of automobile accidents
Science El Salvador has highest murder rate
Science
Brazil has greatest income inequality
Host Result
Steve sweep
Rogue Guess
Jay
El Salvador has highest murder rate
Evan
El Salvador has highest murder rate
Cara
El Salvador has highest murder rate
Bob
El Salvador has highest murder rate

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

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake. Then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. And we have a theme this week. The theme is the worst. These are countries that have some statistic that makes them the worst at something. Item number one, the U.S. has the highest rate of automobile accidents at 5,938 per million people in 2019. Those are the latest statistics I can find. Item number two, El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the world at 52 per 100,000 people per year, while the U.S. ranks 76th. And number three, the country with the greatest income inequality is Brazil with a Gini index of 52.9. I'll tell you that the Gini index, it's 0 to 100 with 0 being perfect equality, like everybody makes exactly the same amount of money, and 100 being maximal inequality, which I think is the top 1% having 100% of the wealth. So on that index, Brazil is 52.9, and that's the highest in the world. Jay, go first.

Jay's Response

J: All right, the first one here, the U.S. has the highest rate of automobile accidents at 5,938 per million people in 2019. That's per year, Steve, correct?

S: Yeah.

J: Okay, that is the, okay. Oh, wow. I would think – all right. So 5,938 accidents per million people. That's an odd way to put it. Why wouldn't you just tell us the total number of accidents?

S: Well, because if you're comparing countries, the total number is just all about population and stuff.

J: Okay. That makes sense. Yeah, you're right. Well, I have no reason to think that that is incorrect. The second one, El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the world at 52 per 100,000 people per year while the US ranks 76th. I don't know, man. I don't think the U.S. is that low on that list. So that one sticks out to me. You know, we have an amazing amount of gun violence in the United States, like profound level of gun violence. So I'm really thinking that that one is a fiction so far. The country with the greatest income inequality is Brazil with a Gini index of 52.9. 100 is maximally inequality. You know, I mean, the second one here, Steve, about the murder rate, I do think that the US is higher on the list than 76th.

S: Okay. Evan?

Evan's Response

E: Well, I mean, certainly in sort of a statistical way, I guess you could say that the murder rate statement here has, I think, the most chance of being the fiction because it does have these multiple components to it. It only takes one of the components to be incorrect, to make the whole thing incorrect.

S: That is true.

E: So I play the odds and go ahead with Jay on that one. I'll just say, though, the first one about the rate of automobile accidents in the United States. So, what, we're the fourth most populous nation, China, India, higher than us. Who else ranks higher than us in the population? There's another country before that. I can't recall right now. Is it Russia? No, probably not.

S: Pakistan.

E: Is Pakistan third and we're fourth?

S: Indonesia. I think we may be third.

E: So it's a matter of those countries who has the most cars. I mean, India has got a lot of people. But how many of them have cars and how many automobile accidents? That one you can maybe crunch down, but you'd have to know more about those other countries. And then I've never heard of the Gini Index before, so that's totally no information on that. So I suppose I'll play the statistical odds to start the year off. I'll join Jay in saying that the highest murder rate won is the fiction.

S: Okay, Cara.

Cara's Response

C: Yeah, this is a tough one. Like, the U.S. has the highest rate of automobile accidents. It could be because our infrastructure is so intense and so many people own cars. Just like purely statistically, you're going to get more crashes with more cars. I doubt we have the most like dangerous accidents, but you don't say that. And you said accidents, but I do want to clarify here. You mean crashes, right?

S: Yeah.

C: Okay, good. Yeah. Not like whether it was intentional or unintentional. Yeah. Okay. So the highest rate of crashes. Yeah. I mean, I could see it having the highest rate of crashes. El Salvador is quite dangerous in terms of murder rates. So is the U.S. 52 per thousand people. I think places with like really severe gun violence are going to be high on the list. U.S. does. That does feel very low. It feels like we should be much higher. I don't think there are more kind of Latin American countries that are gonna because we're talking about a per capita rate here. So you know you think about sort of drug war violence and gang violence and things of that nature and I think we are going to be up there. But I didn't know you would do something only half true so I'm not sure about that one. And then income inequality. God this is such a like. I do think Brazil has pretty severe income inequality. Is it the worst? I don't know. I think we probably have a pretty high genie index. But yeah, Brazil is pretty bad on that front. So I might have to go with the guys and say that you were either half right or maybe El Salvador doesn't have the highest murder rate. It's like Columbia or something like that. So yeah, we'll go with the murder rate one that the U.S. is higher on that list.

S: Okay, and Bob?

Bob's Response

B: Yeah, I agree. Brazil is definitely high on that list and whether it's the worst, I don't know. But it sounds right. The automobile accidents, that sounds decent too. Yeah, the one that's rubbing me wrong and rubbed everyone wrong is the second one with US rank 76th in murder rate. That seems too low. So I'm going to have to go with that as well.

S: Okay, so you guys all agree.

C: He sounds happy.

S: Someone got swept. Let's see who it is.

E: Get out the group.

S: You can't read me, Cara.

E: Cara plays poker, Steve.

C: I heard a slight smile in the voice.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Let's see. So I think the one that you all agree on the most is the third one. So we'll start there. The country with the greatest income inequality is Brazil with a Gini index of 52.9. Again, with zero being perfect, 100 being maximally bad. You all think that one is science and that one is science. Science. That is science. Yeah, Brazil is bad.

C: Is the U.S. bad? Where do we rate?

S: We're kind of middle of the pack.

C: Yeah, okay.

S: Not great, but not the worst.

C: That's not good, though. But we should be better.

S: Yeah, I mean, there's a lot. So the best countries are the socialist European countries.

E: Well, right.

S: Right? I mean, that's to be expected. So our number is 39.7.

C: Okay.

S: We're better than a lot of South American countries. Mexico, Chile, Paraguay, Uganda, Togo, Argentina, Malaysia, Iran. Those were all above us. But then like then there's the United States and then there's a lot of the European countries that are below, have a lower score.

C: We're probably pretty low given our per capita wealth. We're probably pretty low given how quote-unquote developed America is.

S: Pretty high.

C: High on the index low on income equality.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right, so I guess we'll go backwards in order. El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the world at 52 per 100,000 people per year, while the U.S. ranks 76th. You guys all think this one is the fiction because you think the U.S. should rank higher than that. And this one is science. Sorry, guys. There's a lot more unstable countries than you realize around the world is the bottom line. There's a lot of countries where...

C: Also, I'm realizing, Steve, that our gun deaths are not always murders. We have a lot of gun deaths in this country.

S: It doesn't count suicides.

C: Accidents and suicides.

S: Most of our gun deaths are actually suicides.

C: Yeah, we were equate. I think a lot of us were thinking gun deaths when we were thinking murder.

S: Maybe, yeah.

B: That's true.

C: Yeah.

B: Too bad you couldn't think of that beforehand there, Cara.

C: Sorry.

B: So I came after you.

S: So El Salvador is 52 per 100,000. The U.S. is 4.96, so basically five, so one-tenth per 100,000. So it's pretty down there. You know, that's typical for a lot of countries sort of in that range. But, of course, there's a lot of countries that have a much lower rate. Australia is 0.89.

E: Wow.

S: For example. So, yeah, the bottom of the list. So there's a few that have zero. I guess they had no murders. Recently, like San Marino, Monaco very small things. Japan.

E: Micronations.

S: Japan is the country with millions of people, like the major country that is the lowest at 0.26. Very, very small. Norway is very low, 0.47.

B: And you could get guns in Japan. Last I looked into this, you can get guns in Japan, but it's a process. It's not easy, but you can get them.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: So this means that the U.S. has the highest rate of automobile accidents at 5,938 per million people in 2019 is the fiction.

E: Why?

S: So that number's accurate, but that's not the highest. There's a country that has twice the rate, more than twice the rate that we do.

B: Wow.

C: India or China?

S: Nope. Really good props to anybody who guesses this.

E: I will say Belarus.

B: Vatican City.

S: You have to think about driving culture, like the way the highways are in this country.

C: Germany?

E: Germany?

S: So Germany is a great guess because Germany is second behind the United States or it would be in terms of total accidents it's third behind this other country and the United States and per capita.

B: I know. I know it. It's Jamaica.

S: No.

B: Because we got into a cab where the guy the driver was smoking a Bob Marley and driving and passing around corners.

E: Yeah well that's what you do. You pass after you smoke.

C: So you said think about driving culture. Monaco? Is it like places? I don't know. I'm trying to think of places for people.

S: Lichtenstein.

E: Oh, micronation.

C: They love driving fast in Lichtenstein.

E: Great. And Andorra.

C: I bet you that is a statistical anomaly because there's like 12 people in Lichtenstein.

S: No, no, no.

E: Micronation. It barely counts.

S: So 13,200 per million compared to less than six.

C: How many? Are there a million people in Lichtenstein?

B: Wow.

C: No, there are only 39,039 people in Liechtenstein. So in order to do the per million statistic, you have to triple – no, you have to times the population by – what is that? 30?

S: But they all drive apparently. Poorly.

B: You and the kids.

S: But Germany was pretty close behind us at 3,600.

C: So we're second?

S: In terms of per million, we were number one in terms of total accidents, but that's partly because we have a big population. We have a big population of drivers, and we drive a lot.

C: It's literally that word, rate. It's the word rate, the highest rate of automobile accidents.

S: Per million, yeah. Because otherwise it's just all about population. That's why they want to just do it that way. But the U.S., it's not just – with the U.S., it isn't just about population. It's also about the density of cars is very high in the U.S. The percentage of the population that owns and drives cars on a regular basis.

C: And also just the infrastructure. We are a driving-centric country.

S: But Germany is kind of an anomaly. I don't know if that's because of the Autobahn or like. There's also just a very high driving population kind of country.

C: Yeah. Are they a big public transportation country?

S: I don't know.

E: I don't know.

C: No. Maybe that has to do with geography.

B: Maybe not.

S: All right. Sorry to start just the year off with a sweep.

E: No, you're not. You're not sorry. You're loving it. You're going to be happy for a week. But that was a good practice round. We can really start counting next week.

S: Yeah, absolutely. All right, Evan, give us a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:38:15)[edit]


Civility is hard to codify or legislate, but you know it when you see it. It's possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

 – Sandra Day O'Connor (1930-2023), U.S. Supreme Court justice 

E: "Civility is hard to codify or legislate, but you know it when you see it. It's possible to disagree without being disagreeable." The late Sandra Day O'Connor, former United States Supreme Court justice, passed away late in 2023. And yeah, so I wanted a little – in a way, perhaps a little optimism for 2024. It's possible to disagree without being dissagreable. So let's all practice that a little bit as part of our resolutions or whatever it is you've got going on in 2024. Keep it in the back of your mind.

B: Yeah, tell that to the internet.

S: I do think – yeah, because there's a whole internet balls phenomenon, right?

E: Of course.

S: Where people do I think tend – there's social distance and the greater the perceived social distance, the more free people are to be assholes basically.

E: That's right.

S: So I think that's – we're living in a world now where we're interacting with a lot of people in a context where they're just going to be nastier. So I do think it's important to remember a few things. One is you should always behave as if you were in the room with that person.

E: That's a good way. Yep, that's a good thing.

S: I think another good rule of thumb is to remember that even though it's really hard to think this sometimes, we have a lot more in common with people than differences. And whenever you actually get to know somebody – Even though they may be the – they may absolutely represent for you like the epitome of sort of the opposite worldview for you, ideologically, politically, everything. When you get to know them, you realize, oh, they're just a regular person with the same kind of likes and dislikes that regular people have and – you know what I mean? And then the temptation is to think, oh, they're an exception. It's like, no, they're really not an exception. You may have this meaningful ideological difference. Sure, I'm not trying to minimize that. But we tend to forget that that doesn't mean they're not a person. They could, despite that, still be a good person. We're not going to get anywhere if we treat everybody terribly. That actually just reinforces their negative stereotypes about you, right?

E: Agreed.

S: But it's hard. It is very hard, man.

E: It's hard. It takes practice. It takes effort.

S: I've had good experiences, though, like going into the lion's den, like sceptically speaking. I've given a talk as the only skeptic at a homeopathy conference.

E: Oh, that's right.

S: Yeah, you guys remember this story. And I won over the crowd just by being nice. That's all I had to do.

E: Because they had a preconceived notion of you.

S: They had a preconceived notion that I was going to be this monster, and I destroyed it just by being nice. You know what I mean?

E: You basically disarmed them with that.

S: Yeah. The more experience I get interacting with people over contentious issues, the more I realize that being sarcastic and trying to win and score points or whatever is so counterproductive. It's just so completely counterproductive.

C: It's like anti-humanistic. It just shows a lack of empathy. My big takeaway from what you just said, and it's something that I often work on with my patients, is that empathy is a skill that you have to practice. It's not some sort of trait that you're necessarily born with. We have to constantly practice exercising empathy.

S: And it's also emotional intelligence, which, again, it's a skill as much as anything else. I do think it comes more naturally to some people than others. It's like the 10,000 hours thing. We talked about this on the show. It's like some things might take more work for some people than others, but these are still all skills you can train. You can get better at.

C: And even if they come more naturally, I think there's a solid argument to make that it's probably just because they were socialized to practice it more.

S: Maybe. Yeah. So that's our message for 2024. Everyone be excellent to each other.

E: Yes.

B: And also watch out for karma this year.

S: Yeah, karma.

E: Oh, that's right. Karma's going to get you.

S: Karma will get you.

E: It's not a commercial.

J: Could you imagine if something like karma existed? What a different world we would be living in.

B/S: Right.

S: I mean, it's wishful thinking. It'd be nice. It'd be awfully nice. There is, I do think, not magical karma, but I do think there is kind of a real karma in that the kind of energy you put out there into the universe. Like if you're a nice person, people will be nice back to you, generally speaking.

C: Yeah, I think it happens up to an inflection point. Like there is sort of like person to person karma because like if you're an asshole, people are going to be an asshole to you. But like once you have amassed enough sort of like power and privilege, I think that that like goes out the window sadly.

S: There's other factors involved. But for most people, it's probably a good social strategy, a good life strategy to be nice.

C: I'd say for everyone, that's a good strategy.

S: It's a pretty good strategy. Yeah. No, definitely. All right, guys. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

J: You got it, brother.

E: Thank you, Steve. 2024.

S: Yep.

Signoff (1:43:44)[edit]

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

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

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