SGU Episode 968

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SGU Episode 968
January 27th 2024
968 Japan Lunar Probe.jpg

Image taken on the Moon by Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2 (LEV-2) of robotic moon rover Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM. Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency/Takara Tomy/Sony Group Corporation/Doshisha University [1]

SGU 967                      SGU 969

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.

Denis Diderot, French philosopher

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction; Japan's lunar probe; other lunar missions[edit]

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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Thursday, January 25th, 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: Good evening, everyone.

S: How is everyone? Doing good.

C: Doing all right. A little jet lagged, but I'm here.

S: Didn't land on your head like that Japanese probe back here.

C: No. I had a safe landing back in LA.

E: Thank goodness.

C: So what happened with that thing.

E: Yeah.

S: You know, it landed on its head.

E: And pictures don't lie.

S: Yeah, it was really interesting that they got a picture of it. Evan and I were just trying to figure out how that happened. But the probe itself apparently released the cameras to take pictures of the landing.

E: Yeah, as part of the greater mission, there were some other probes released, which I didn't know about. I hadn't read about those prior to this incident today in which this picture, which I think is now going to become a famous picture, I think, in space.

S: Oh, yeah.

E: History.

S: Iconic.

E: Yeah, in a way. You know, not in a good way. Does that make it infamous. But, yeah, there were these autonomous probes released by the package that was sent down. And they were down there to kind of capture the moment that the lander was supposed to land. Yeah. That's kind of interesting. It's like sending the press down in a way to, okay, here it comes. Let's go see it, which is a great idea.

S: It is a great idea. And in fact, it should be incorporated even more, I think, into missions. I mean, it's like if we talked about previously the fact like the first Apollo mission that landed on the moon, Apollo 11. Taking picture of it or videotaping everything was an afterthought and they didn't do a good job of it. It wasn't really built into the mission like we're going to do everything we can to get the best quality pictures and video of this historic event. They just weren't thinking about it.

E: Not prioritized.

B: They even wiped out some of the film to reuse it.

E: Yeah, they copied – oh, they erased the tapes. Oh my gosh.

S: Later missions, they got a clue and they started to figure it out. But this is a good idea. Just drop a camera, film the landing. And in this case with the Japanese spaceship, like it gives them really useful mission-critical information. It's upside down, you know.

E: Which is why they were having some issues.

S: Yeah.

S: Oh, I wonder what's going on here. Oh, here's your problem.

E: Oh, boy. I mean, that it survived and touched down in this way also is kind of remarkable.

S: It almost looks like a cartoon the way it's like on its head like that.

E: But it's quite the photo.

S: But again, it reminds us – again, we grew up in the Apollo era and it's like 50 years later. So to some extent, it seems like just landing on the moon isn't that big a deal. But it's hard. This is two missions now that have failed.

C: Did it completely fail? I mean –

S: Well, I don't know that you would call it a success landing on its head.

B: Well, it depends.

C: I mean, but it's on the moon.

B: If they can get the solar – the photovoltaics working, I think they can get something accomplished. But I think that seems like it's up in the air.

S: The mission is compromised.

E: Yeah, and there's apparently no way to write. the fact that this machine is now standing on its wrong side. It has no compensation. There's no way to move it.

S: It has no way to turtle, like to flip over.

E: Right, it can't extend an arm and kind of push itself or anything else, apparently, from what I read.

C: I mean, it's still a pretty big deal. Only five, I just looked it up, there have only been five nations that have sent. Amazing. Can you name them all?

B: Oh, wow. They couldn't get the solar cells to work, it says here. They decided to hibernate it for now. That doesn't look good.

E: Well, I don't know. Do they think that they'll be able to send something in the future to fix it.

S: But if you're going to send something, it's just make that thing the probe.

B: Probably be just as expensive.

E: But Cara, you're saying the five countries. Let me guess. United States, Soviet Union or Russia, China, India, and now Japan.

C: Yay. Good job.

E: Yay.

B: Too bad we just can't send Superman. Hey, Superman, go up there and just flip that thing over, please. Thank you.

C: Right.

S: That's cheating.

E: We'll send General Zod instead.

B: Yeah. He destroys stuff on the moon. He doesn't fix it.

S: So if there were superheroes of any kind like that, like people who could just fly to the moon, would that be a plus or a negative for our space program, right. Would that like make us lazy and overly reliant on them.

E: Yeah, would we need a space program.

S: Or would it help.

B: I doubt they would want to be monopolized in that way. But I think in certain scenarios, you just have to build something that could sit there. You wouldn't need to really consider anything else. Like, here, drop this right here on Pluto. That would be great. That would be awesome. But then, of course, crime would spike while he's away or she's away.

C: But is it instant. How quickly does he or she get there.

S: Well, I mean, assuming the speed of light is still relevant, it'd take a while.

C: Did Superman ever go to the moon.

J: Oh, yeah.

E: Yes.

C: How long did it take him?

E: Wait. Did Superman go to the moon or did just the bad guys go to the moon?

B: Well, in the movies, they fought, didn't they?

C: How long did it take him?

B: The stupid third movie. Oh, my God. That was bad.

J: I mean, in the comic book, it seems like-

C: It's instantaneous, right.

S: It's a thing. No. Speed of light. Although Superman in canon can go faster than the speed of light, but he doesn't do that often because it reverses time. You know how that works.

C: I love how the need to have scientific accuracy in something that is so ludicrous.

S: Cara, please.

E: Come on. I mean.

C: I mean, please.

S: Along similar lines, if we had people with mutants or with superpowers who could have really good healing, would that impede medicine or medical advances.

J: Of course it would.

S: We could really cure things if we actually have to.

B: Depends how ubiquitous it is.

S: Yeah, depends on how available they are.

E: It wouldn't strap them down and extract them.

C: Yeah, could we study their methods and mimic them or utilize could we learn from them.

S: Or if it's too advanced, it's indistinguishable from magic and we can't reverse engineer it.

B: Yeah, and superpowers, they could not – science could not figure out how the superheroes work and it's interesting. That was just – we don't know.

E: Yeah, and I think for story's sake, it's sometimes better to not know because when in stories, they try to tell – they do try to sometimes explain these things, midichlorians.

S: Midichlorians, yeah. Never.

E: And it becomes a disaster, right. I mean how bad is that.

S: It's very hard to do that well enough that it's better than just having it being a mystery.

B: And hard science superheroes just would not work. It's just like they would just be boring.

S: I don't know about that. It would be really challenging. I'd love to see somebody try.

B: I would find it interesting, but it would not be nearly as spectacular as the magical abilities that we see now. But I agree. I would like to see somebody do it.

S: Like actually have to deal with things like inertia.

B: I don't think it would have broad appeal.

S: I don't know. I don't know about that. I mean if it's good storytelling, it's good storytelling. But like hard science fiction, the physics becomes another character, something else that you have to contend with.

B: Right. How much of that are you seeing these days. Not a lot. Not a lot of good hard sci-fi.

S: Because it takes a lot of work. I think it's just –

E: Expanse.

S: A lot of – Expanse was pretty good. Yeah. And it was great.

B: Even they had their gimmies.

S: They needed a few gimmies.

E: Well, sure. Even the Martian had its gimmies.

B: Not too many though.

E: They never solved the space radiation thing. They never – I don't think they went into that.

C: Well, in the dust storm.

E: Unless they did in the book. I did not read the book.

C: Wasn't the whole thing about the Martian, the dust storm, like not reasonable.

E: No, the ship itself.

C: Oh. I just mean like there were still gimmies.

B: The biggest gimme with the Martian was the wind knocking down the damn ship.

C: That's what I'm trying to say. Yeah, it's the storm. Like that just didn't happen that way.

S: He admitted that. He's like, you just needed to wait for that to happen.

C: He's like, it's a device.

B: That's fine. That's fine. Yeah. If I remember, the RTGs were also like they had to be buried. It had to be buried and far away. It's like, no, they're not dangerous like that. You could be closer to one. You don't have to bury it to be safe. Speaking of, that's for the end of the show.

Swindler's List: Deepfake Robot Call (8:37)[edit]

S: All right, Jay, you're going to start us off with a swindler's list.

E: So on Sunday, the 21st of January, a robocall went out to an unknown number of voters in New Hampshire, right. This was last week. The recorded message was from Joe Biden, and he told them not to vote in the primary. The truth is what? That this was not a recording of Joe Biden. It was an AI deepfake. So take a listen. So somebody created this and sent this out to a bunch of voters. Deepfake Joe Biden: It's important that you save your vote for the November election. Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again.

B: Sounded legit.

J: Yeah, that wasn't it in its entirety. But basically people got these phone calls. I don't think that they know how many people responded in the way that the phone call wanted them to. But over a dozen people called in complaining about it. That's an interesting story. So there's an investigation by the New Hampshire attorney general's office and they're trying to find out who created the robocall. Attorney General John Formella said that the call falsely appeared to be coming from Kathy Sullivan, who is a former state Democratic Party chair that's involved in a super PAC supporting Biden. That's a pretty interesting little cranny to this thing because they had to get her phone number. They had to be able to spoof where the number was coming from. Now, of course, the real issue here is that generative AI technology, it's improving. It's accessible. And right now, I could very easily make that phone call myself. As far as all the phone manipulation that they did, I'm sure with some internet research I could figure out how to do that too. So basically anybody can do this. Make fake political messages and very soon believable fake video. That is literally coming in the near future. Everyone is going to be able to make video as well. So experts are warning us that there's going to be an unprecedented election disinformation here in the United States in 2024 due to the AI deepfake technology. This has been happening with elections worldwide. It's not something that's only happening in the United States, of course. The White House and Biden's campaign manager confirmed that the call was fake. So Joe Biden absolutely did not record that. The pathetic thing is despite the fact that both the Democrats and Republicans here in the United States, both parties are saying that they want to create regulations around AI. Nothing has happened yet, which is to be expected, especially with the deadlock that the US government is in right now.

E: Yeah, tend to be reactive.

J: Yeah. So you guys, we all think, yes, we have a problem with disinformation today. But in a few years, it's going to be an absolute nightmare. This is going to be happening all the time. You're never going to be able to trust anything you hear, anything you see. I'm not even sure how we're going to vet whether something is true or not.

E: We need to run it through other filters that will detect whether it's AI or not, right? You have to –

J: Sure, but who's going to do that and on what level would that be done.

B: That's an arm race that just like. really it's just going to go back and forth, back and forth. There's no like, oh, yeah, we solved that. You'll never be able to always detect it.

J: Yeah, we're chasing a tail on that.

B: It's a back and forth arms race.

E: Well, but something has to happen. I mean if you just let it run wild without going in check at least, I think that would be worse.

S: That would be worse. I agree. I'd do something.

J: Yeah, you could penalize people heavily on it, but then, you know...

E: Yeah, we need more tighter laws on this stuff.

J: You'll have AI available. that's outside of the country.

S: So, Jay, you said that they're investigating that, but did they say in the article whether or not that was actually illegal? Did the people who put out that robocall break any law that they could use.

C: Well, that's election tampering, telling somebody not to write something onto a ballot.

E: I would think that would be election tampering. And unauthorized use of a-

J: I mean there's definitely some laws broken. I'm not exactly sure and it depends on the state as well.

C: Yeah, there might actually be federal things going on there too because they might have crossed state lines to do it.

B: Yeah, yeah.

E: I wouldn't be surprised.

S: But if a foreign country did that, what option do we have?

E: Not much.

C: That's like cyber warfare. Yeah.

J: The Trump campaign denied any involvement with the recording. And I believe it. I don't think that the Trump campaign had anything to do with it. But I can also see, though, how tempting this whole thing is going to be for future political campaigns. I mean, super easy to make, not expensive, super incredibly hard to enforce.

S: Also, even if it gets debunked, the damage is done.

C: Yeah, you can't put the genie back.

S: You move the needle by one, two percent in the U.S. and that could be an election.

J: We will be having conversations where we say this was fake and all these people believed it and they will never not believe it.

C: Well, and even if they don't believe it, there is that it's prejudicial. Like, so even it's like, it's like Trump right now during his hearings, every time he like speaks out and they're like having to, I don't know what the penalty is, but he's like constantly being reprimanded by the judge because if you just say stuff, then they have to tell the jurors, okay, that's stricken from the record. Pretend you didn't hear that. That's really hard to do. Like you can't just unhear something. And I think that we don't, our criminal justice system obviously is a good example of why that. It would be really actually really interesting to see if any sociologists have studied this phenomenon, like looking at court cases where things that were prejudicial were said and then stricken and then seeing how it affected the jurors decision making. So I can almost guarantee that you can't unhear things.

B: How do you even study that?

S: I'm sure you could come with a psychological paradigm to study that.

C: For sure. Yeah. You could either induce it where you're right, like experimentally, or you could probably study it. You could look at court cases after the fact and compare ones where that happened to ones where it didn't. But yeah, that'd be interesting. I don't know. Yep.

S: Brave new world.

C: It's rough.

News Items[edit]

Oxygen Bottleneck (14:42)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, tell us about the oxygen bottleneck. What is that.

B: Wait, what? Okay, sure. Yeah.

C: Who, me?

B: Yeah, researchers conclude recently that technological civilizations might need a high but narrow range of oxygen levels in their atmospheres in order to have their own industrial revolutions and develop technologies that we can detect. This was really interesting. The paper was recently published in the journal Nature Astronomy and is called The Oxygen Bottleneck for Technospheres. So yes, in the unending series of news items covering why intelligent life in the universe is either more likely than we thought or less likely than we thought, here's another one for the less likely side of the coin. And I love the name that they came up for it, Oxygen Bottleneck. It sounds like an episode of the Big Bang Theory, doesn't it? So their argument really boils down essentially to one thing, fire. Have you ever thought – here's a thought experiment. Have you ever thought of a completely water-based intelligent alien community completely underwater all the time.

S: Yes, I've thought about that.

E: Yes.

B: Yes, we have. We have specifically talked to you. How limiting would a lack of fire be to their technological development, right. So according to these scientists, this idea applies even to land-based extraterrestrials if they're on a planet without the right amount of atmospheric oxygen. Now, fire, of course, was critical in so many ways. We know this. To keep warm and inhospitable environments, for cooking and getting our bodies and brains more calories. It may have even led to larger brains, right. Cooking and all the extra calories it provided. We use it to control our environment and hunt. But the most critical application of fire was probably as an energy source, right?

S: Metallurgy.

B: Fire, as they say, evolved into more sophisticated uses such as metal smelting, melding, and tool fabrication. Finally, it provided both the energy source and the fuel, for example, charcoal, that initiated the Industrial Revolution and led the great acceleration and the Anthropocene, which of course is our current technological or geological age in which humans – I mean if you could describe the Anthropocene, that's basically the age where humans are the shit, right. We are like – we are it. We are affecting and impacting the world more than basically anything else. So that's why they call it the Anthropocene. So it's an interesting thought though, trying to imagine an industrial revolution without fire. It's – you got to get really creative to make – to really make that happen and actually be interesting in a story. For that fire to happen though, you need more than you might think in the atmosphere but not too much. So too little, like if it's below 18% and it starts getting very, very hard to burn wood or other plant material. But if it gets over 35% oxygen, then you'd never evolve forests or of trees or similar alien plants because they just burn down at the drop of the hat. The authors conclude that the sweet spot for oxygen in the atmosphere is just above 20 percent. And shocker, guess what the earth has. It's like 21 percent. And, of course, it's gone up and down. It actually was high. It was up to 35 percent for a while. It didn't last terribly long. But, I mean, for the life of the human evolution, of course, it's been right around where it is now. And it never got over 35. If it did, we could have been in trouble in terms of having like trees and stuff like that. So co-author Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester. He said, imagine a young and intelligent species on an alien world with an atmosphere that's just 1% oxygen. Those clever tool-using creatures would never get the chance to watch a tree burn after being hit by lightning and get the idea of using fire for their own purposes. They would never have the chance to learn how fire could be used to cook food or, most importantly, melt metals. The poverty of oxygen in their air would likely box these creatures in forever, limiting their development. It's sad. It's really – thinking about that, it's like, oh man, imagine never even realizing what you're missing out on. It reminds me of – we're talking about The Martian and you guys remember Hail Mary. That's such a good book. There were aliens in his book in Weir's book Hail Mary where – They were sound-based, so they never even knew about light in the universe. Everything was – all their knowledge and technology was based on sound. All right, not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea. And the authors looked at alternatives to fire, right. You can't – there's got to be alternatives, right. And yeah, they discuss in their paper focusing stellar light to create energy that way, heat using geothermal energy and even using naturally occurring nuclear reactions, all interesting ideas. But then they list the obvious advantages of combustion, of biomass, and there's just so many of them. It's globally available. It's self-sustainable. It's portable. It's relatively easy to master and reproduce. So it's kind of hard to disagree with their conclusion that, I'll quote, combustion is the most accessible and versatile means to kickstart the rapid progress of a young civilization. So yeah, it seems pretty... Pretty critical for any civilization if you really wanted, as they say, kickstart your progress. But then the last paragraph of their conclusion, they diverge a little bit. They start examining the implications of the oxygen bottleneck for the search for extra – for evidence of technology on exoplanets. There are some interesting ramifications. It probably would make sense to prioritize exoplanets that are above the combustion threshold. If we're trying to evaluate, say, these technosignatures, maybe we would have to assess the credibility of these possible technosignatures through this lens of an oxygen bottleneck. If they had oxygen in their atmosphere but it was 5% and you're finding technosignatures maybe you lower the odds a little bit that these technosignatures are really what they appear to be. Interestingly, this could also help us theoretically. You're familiar with the Drake equation, right. It tries to estimate how many of these detectable technospheres would arise in the universe. This could help inform that. If we determine that planetary evolution results in high oxygen levels, only in the rarest of rare cases, that could even give us insight into the Fermi paradox, right. The Fermi paradox asks, where are they, right. And the answer may be, well, there's not too many of them because not many planets actually produce enough oxygen to produce fire that you can then turn and leverage into a technology-based civilization. So of course, life always finds a way, right. I wouldn't be surprised if humanity has its own blind spots of possible technological development as well that we've never noticed. There could be unusual forms of life in worlds so alien out there that these technological avenues open up to them that a carbon-based oxygen-breathing life form would never consider because of our very nature. But then of course physics is physics even on – no matter what planet you're on. And I think – and we know a lot of physics obviously. So I think it would be hard for some of these avenues to be completely hidden from us forever, right. And it does seem likely that if you're not in that sweet spot of oxygen, it could be very tough and maybe it would take a very mature civilization much longer to develop – serious technology, like metal-based technology. It would take them quite a long time to get to that point. I mean imagine if we had no metal-based technology even for thousands of years from now until we really figured it out, figured out a way to use other sources of energy besides fire, ubiquitous fire.

S: Yeah, it's an interesting thought experiment. But I think you have to say it more as developing technology like our technology.

B: As we know it. Exactly. Exactly.

S: But yeah, the thing is – and I thought about this too. Like yeah, couldn't aquatic species like develop spacefaring technology let's say. But it all depends on are there other pathways to developing advanced technology that don't involve metallurgy.

B: Yeah, there's types of burning that don't need oxygen. But I mean –

S: Or maybe you could have just totally organic-based technology, right.

B: Yeah, absolutely. I thought about that and there are examples in the science fiction literature of that. The thing is though, that seems certainly possible to me, right. That certainly seems like an interesting possibility. But I think part of the point there, Steve, is that sure, that could happen. But it's much harder, much, much harder. It would take much more – time and development to get to that point potentially. Who knows.

S: But is it. Is it harder. We don't know because we have an N of 1.

B: But it seems – but man, it's definitely – it might not be much, much harder but I think you could agree that it's harder.

S: No, I don't agree. I actually don't agree.

B: Steve –

S: I think we don't know, Bob. We are so biased by our one pathway to technology. If we had a thousand civilizations that we could start doing statistics on, then we could make statements about that.

E: Supercomputers.

S: We have an N of one. I mean maybe it's easier to develop biological technology. Who knows.

B: I disagree. I mean so you're going to have – how long have we tamed fire. How many millennia have we tamed fire. So you're saying that they –

S: Probably two million years.

B: So they could have started on the pathway of biological technologies millennia ago instead of just taming fire. I mean I'm not saying –

S: Bob, we've been burning – we've been cooking food for two million years.

B: Oh, two million years. So you're saying they could have started on the pathway of biological technologies a million years ago. Do you see what I'm saying.

S: No, I don't. I don't see what you're saying.

C: Because, Bob, we don't know what their version of fire would be. Like, you're basically saying that fire became, like, the catalyst for all of these other things. But we don't know what their catalyst—

B: Well, on Earth it did. We've got one data point.

C: Exactly. So if it was an aquatic— world it was or an aquatic ecosystem and the intelligent organisms were building organic, I don't know structures, organic technology. We don't know what their fire is. Wat if they could harness, what if they could like- they may be harness gases and use the gases for something

B: Or they may be able to use their own biology to extrude these biological constructs to do weird things. I mean sure, right. When you consider that, they could potentially take advantage of some sort of biological technology depending on their actual – they're weird biology that we just can't even imagine right now.

C: Or just what's on their planet. Like we're at a stage now where a lot of our very advanced technology requires all of these like minerals and metals that we have to like excavate from the planet. Like they're not things we can make. We have to find them.

B: Imagine being on a planet that's so metal poor that you're just like, oh boy, no natural resources. That's another discussion right there.

C: Yeah, that would be a huge bottleneck.

B: That would be horrible. Can you imagine.?

S: Again, from our perspective, you're correct. This is the thing that we will never see, like statistics. What if you grew up in a planet that has a surface gravity of two. Do they never go into space? Because chemical rockets can't get you there. If they're metal poor, do they never develop technology because they have no pathway through metallurgy. Is there an oxygen bottleneck? Or are there so many different pathways that they always find a way.

C: But Steve, I do kind of agree with bob on that like when you said yeah again you know we don't know. He said metals but then immediately after that he did say imagine living on a planet that was poor in how did you word it Bob?

E: Mineral.

C: No you said just natural resources. And if you think about it that way, that's a pretty broad statement. Whatever natural resources are necessary for their development, I don't see how you could have advanced technology on a planet where –

S: Well, you got to have something.

C: Exactly.

S: Saying lax resources is a really broad statement.

C: True. But that's probably the broadest bottleneck out there.

S: Yeah, sure. Resource bottleneck. Sure. I think I buy that in principle. But again, getting back to the oxygen bottleneck, that seems to me to be highly specific for one pathway to technology. And we just don't know if that is the easiest path or if it's just the one that we took because for us, that was the pathway of least resistance. If you have a planet on which you can easily combust stuff, sure, that's probably going to be your preferred pathway to technology, especially if you have a lot of – if it's metal-rich.

C: Yeah, and things combusted naturally. Like you said, Bob, like that was something we harnessed.

B: Right. You never saw lightning hit a tree and like, holy crap, look at that. What is that.

C: How do we use that.

B: Oh, my god. Could you imagine that day for humanity when that first time that happened.

J: Bob – Maybe they invented waterproof matches. You just don't know.

S: So I think I could believe that that's the case. I just don't think we can assume that it is because I could also believe, for example, that another species might – looking at people on Earth goes like, oh my god, they never developed this resin-based technology. How did that happen.

B: Right, right.

S: Oh, it's because they had this weird sweet spot where they could burn metals. That is so rare.

B: Yeah, absolutely.

S: So they never took this other obvious pathway to technology that most other civilizations do or whatever.

B: I think we won't know. We won't know any of that until –

S: That's what I mean.

B: Until we can simulate evolution. Just here's the laws of physics. Evolve and to see what life forms evolve in silico and see what happens.

E: We need more powerful computers.

C: What do you think will come first though? Do you think discovery or simulation.

B: Absolutely simulation.

S: Unless the encyclopedia Galactica is beaming down to us right now.

E: We just don't know how to read it.

S: You just have to find it and everything. That would be nice. Here's the history of the universe. Here's what the last 10,000 civilizations were like.

E: It's embedded in every neutrino.

B: That would be nice, but I think we're going to have to wait for simulation.

S: Probably. All right. Thanks, Bob.

NASA Opens Osiris Rex Canister (29:10)[edit]

S: Jay, tell us about NASA finally opening the OSIRIS-REx canister.

J: Yeah, so a quick refresher, guys. NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, we sent a rover to asteroid Bennu back in September 8, 2016. That's a long time ago at this point. So it arrived near the asteroid December 2018, and the samples were finally collected after a brief touchdown on October 20, 2020. So it was there for a couple of years. You know, sussing out the asteroid picking a place to land and everything. Now, this is important because this was the first U.S. return mission from an asteroid. The capsule containing the asteroid sample came back to Earth on September 24, 2023. You know, not that long ago. And we were all excited. And they said that they had 70.3 grams of rock and dust. And then they couldn't open it. So the problem was that two of the 35 fasteners that were on the probe that was sent back that had the samples in it, they were not releasing. And NASA tried using all these different pieces of equipment that they had to try to get it open. The confounding issue, though, was that they wanted to keep the sample inside the canister free from contamination. Of course, because you don't want earth microbes to get in there and then you don't know what you're looking at. So the team at NASA's Johnson Space Center had to design and build some new tools to specifically help the effort to get the canister open. So the challenge was not just opening the fasteners, but doing so in a way that wouldn't compromise the scientific integrity of the samples. And that was their number one priority. And it took a long time. And they did it. So the new tools needed to be made from materials that were approved for curation and could function within this confined space that they had. They call it like a specialized glove box that they had it in. So this glove box was treated with a constant flow of nitrogen, which prevented Earth's atmosphere from contaminating the sample. And just as an example, you take a sample of air, especially close to the ground. I mean there is an incredible amount of debris in the air everywhere. There are molds and pollen and all sorts of stuff. So they don't want any of this stuff in there.

E: Dander.

J: Yeah, everything. We're in a constant sea of just junk floating in the air that we're breathing in.

E: We live in a soup basically.

B: Bacteria clouds.

J: So what they did was they created two tools that they needed new bits made from surgical non-magnetic stainless steel. And these tools were designed to fit into this glove box, remove the fasteners, and allow for the safe disassembly of the canister head. And they finally got it open on January 10th, 2024. So NASA intends to catalogue all the Bennu samples later this year, and this catalogue is going to be available globally, which is really cool. So they're going to allow scientists and other institutions – they can request samples for research, for display. These samples will probably be over the globe this year just from them sending stuff out, which is really cool. You might be able to see some of this in a museum. So Bennu itself is a carbon-rich asteroid and it's remained largely unchanged over the 4.5 billion years that it's been around. And studying the samples that we took from it could definitely provide us some cool insights into the formation and the evolution of all the celestial bodies that we have in the universe, you know. It enhances our understanding of the universe basically, which is great. As much as this type of thing, it's not going to really answer any big questions like where do we come from and all that, but it is going to answer some questions for us to help us have a clearer picture of what the universe is that we live in.

B: And the early solar system as well.

J: Exactly right, Bob. I forgot to mention that. The early solar system is a part of what we want to understand. So now there's another cool part to this whole thing and I had no idea about any of this. So did you guys know that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is still out there and it's heading to another asteroid. Did you guys know that?

E: I think I recall that.

J: The ship didn't land in the traditional sense. Like if you think of like a moon lander and it's coming down and they're slowly descending and then they finally rest on the planet and it's just sitting there. It did something called a touch and go. So the asteroid has low gravity. So the ship located a good landing spot, which took a long time. It lightly touches down on the surface, like barely touches the surface of the asteroid. And then it blasts the surface of the asteroid with nitrogen gas. This kicks up all this dust and small rocks. And then as that all settles back down, they had their collection pan there waiting for stuff to fall into it. So then that seals up. The ship left the asteroid and then it shot back the canister back to Earth. Now, they renamed the ship because it's heading to an asteroid called Apophis[link needed].

S: Apophis, yeah.

E: Apophis.

B: Oh, yeah. Infamous.

E: To have a close encounter with Earth in 2029.

J: I pronounced it correctly. Thank you. Thank you, Cara. I appreciate that. I have a one in five chance of pronouncing this word correctly. So this asteroid has some close approaches to Earth and we've been wanting to study it and we want to know what it's made out of. And the more the more we know, the better. It does have a potential impact on the planet in the distant future. And the spacecraft now is renamed Osiris Apex, which is just so cool.

E: New mission, new name. That's right.

J: And it's got solar panels and it has just plenty of energy to continue going on. And I just think it's pretty cool. I would love one day, guys, if we were at a museum to be seeing a piece of that asteroid.

S: Yeah.

B: Yeah. I think we will someday.

E: Yeah. We got to smell the early universe.

J: Yes.

C: Yeah. Yeah.

J: It smelled kind of like a barbecue.

Learning and Longevity (35:23)[edit]

S: All right, Cara, tell us about learning and longevity.

C: Yeah, this is a really interesting study that was just published in The Lancet Public Health called Effects of Education on Adult Mortality, a Global Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. And this was published by a collaboration between... the IHME, which is the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and CHAIN, which stands for the Center for Global Health Inequalities Research, and that is at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. So there's like a ton of authors on this study. And I just want to qualify at the beginning that this is one of those news items where, like, I'm going to tell you something we already knew. We just know it way better now. And that's really what's going on here. We always knew that education was associated with lowered all-cause mortality, meaning that of any reason, people stay alive longer. They don't die younger. If they are more educated, that there's a really obvious and it's been measured hundreds, actually thousands based on this study, thousands of times in the literature.

S: So Cara, what you're saying is that if people listen to the SGU, they will live longer.

C: Never studied that. We're talking–

S: But we can extrapolate.

C: We can extrapolate that from the data.

E: That's not unfair. That's not unreasonable.

C: Not unreasonable at all.

S: I'm going to go with that.

C: Yeah, we'll go with that. We'll go with that. News story over. Moving on. So yes. So basically we've known for a long time that education is correlated with reduction of the risk of death. What this study wanted to say is like, how much so. Like, let's look at a big analysis across, they started with like thousands of studies. They brought it down quite a bit by excluding a lot of just like poorly designed studies and repetition. But they still were looking at thousands of data points by the end of this. And they found some really interesting outcomes. So let's talk about them. Regardless of age, sex, race or ethnicity, marital status, income, occupation, employment status, we found that there's a large correlation between lowered mortality or reduction in the risk of death and education. On average, each additional year of education decreases the risk of death by 2%. But there are big kind of breaks in that. There are these sort of points in the education where we see a more significant change. So I want to go over that part first. Okay, and I have it highlighted.

B: I assume they factored for like the more education you have, the more disposable income you probably have, which also can –

S: Yeah, you said income, right.

C: Yeah, income is a big part. Yeah, they controlled for income. They controlled – and the way that they described their controls is really interesting because this is a global study. So socioeconomic status or these kind of social variables, they're going to differ across different nations. So whereas in – there were two African nations that they looked at. They were actually controlling for things like wealth. In other nations, they were controlling for things like poverty or they were controlling for things like – whether or not somebody was actively employed. So it's not standardized across, but they did look at income across all individuals. And then they tried to make those comparisons clearly within the culture or the society where those people lived. Now, I do want to do another caveat here, because you brought that up, which is that this was heavily focused, and this is a bias. It's an intrinsic bias. But it's not because the researchers chose not to look at the studies that weren't out of this region. It's because those studies don't exist. But it's heavily biased on what they call the GBD. That's the global burden of disease quantification of wealthy nations. So most of these studies that have been published took place in like European, Americas, Australia, New Zealand. There are studies in other parts of the world that were included, but their numbers are significantly smaller. So the researchers do say in their discussion, we would love to see more data in significantly poorer countries. But that's not to say that the data don't point to the fact that this would be the same or even more of a significant change in those regions. So even in very, very rich nations where a lot of the people are educated, we see significant differences based on how educated they are after controlling for all those things I mentioned before. So compared with no education, this is pulled straight from the results section of the paper compared with no education, completing six years of education. So what they're saying is across the world, that's roughly a primary school education. that's associated with a 13.1% reduction in mortality risk after controlling for age, sex and marital status. The reduction in mortality risk was 24.5% after 12 years of education. So that's approximately secondary school. And then we saw another significant break after 18 years of education. Now that's a lot of education. That would be like for our listeners here in the US, that would be elementary, middle, high school, college and then at least two years of graduate school or more specialized training. I know that those things are called different things across the world. So that's quite a bit of education, 18 years. But that was associated with a 34.3% reduction in mortality risk. So on average, it was about 2% per year of education, but we did see these kind of breaks in the data. Here's something really interesting. The health benefits of education are comparable to massive lifestyle factors. So the researchers actually compared lifestyle factors, and I want to kind of just tell you a couple of them because they are pretty mind-boggling.

B: So Steve could like smoke and drink his face off and he'd be fine.

C: Well, no.

B: It would balance out.

C: It might balance out. Steve's even better because he doesn't do those things. So they found that, for example, 18 years of education. So remember, that's significant. That's the one that I mentioned is we're into graduate school by that point can be compared to that of eating a healthy and recommended like dose of vegetables every day as opposed to not eating vegetables at all.

S: Wow, that's big.

C: Yeah. So if somebody with no education is more like somebody who doesn't eat any vegetables, somebody with 18 years is more like somebody who eats vegetables every day. Here's another one. Not going to school at all, so no education, is as bad for you as drinking five or more alcoholic drinks a day or smoking a half a pack a day for 10 years. That's the comparable effect or I should say protective effect that education has. Here's something else that's kind of interesting. We do see a more significant protective effect in young people as expected. But even in older people, we see a big change. Over 50 and even over 70, we see a big change. So it's still protective for mortality at that level. And so, of course, the authors of this study the big takeaway that they say is this needs to be a massive area of economic development across the globe. You know, we often talk about preventive strategies and policy decisions for lowering mortality, right, for keeping people healthy and for increasing their longevity. But we don't often think about the fact that education in and of itself does that. And if we talk about why it does that, like do you guys have some ideas why people who are more educated live longer.

S: I mean is this a reverse Darwin effect that we're seeing. I mean more educated people are less likely to do stupid, risky things. I mean one idea – I mean to me obviously there could be confounding factors galore. But it sounds like they controlled for most of the obvious ones like access to healthcare, access to, better socioeconomic status.

C: And of course, they saw that those factors are deeply implicated, right. But you're right, that the effect still exists on top of that, but they are attenuated deeply. So if you think about it, you're right. People with a lower education are probably going to make poorer decisions with regards to a lot of things. And maybe poorer, like risk-seeking decisions, but really what they mentioned here is more education you're going to have more employment, right? The longer you're employed, the more you're employed, the more money you're going to make, as we said before. But also you're going to have better access to healthcare. You're going to be able to make more informed decisions about your healthcare. They also mentioned that people who are highly educated, usually they just have more coping mechanisms. They have more psychological resources. They have more social circles. And we know that those things are also implicated in longevity.

B: A lot less pseudoscience.

C: A lot less pseudoscience, probably more educated people, especially I would argue educated women are going to be more informed about their reproductive health. And they're going to be able to make decisions, hopefully, that prevent a lot of in 50% of the population we know that a lot of reasons that that women die young have to do with reproduction. And so I think across the board, more education, it just affects people's lives in the positive on almost every factor that you could measure.

S: Yeah, and I could tell you, and I know there's data on this, but also anecdotally as a physician, that better educated patients just interact a lot better with the healthcare system.

C: Completely.

S: Yeah, and in all sorts of subtle ways. It's almost like it's hard to quantify, but it's like they're just more compliant. Again, they make better decisions. They do so many things that is better for them in terms of their healthcare system.

C: Just understanding, really understanding what's going on because it's very hard. We've all done things in our lives where we make decisions and we have behaviors based on reason and logic. And then we've all been in situations where we've made decisions and we've changed our behaviors based on – sort of like just following the rules, right. I was told that this is how I have to do it. I have to do it. We've all been in situations like that. In an airplane, for example, you have to do things a certain way. You're like, this is stupid and antiquated. And if it were up to me, I would do it this other way. But I have to just follow the rules. And I think that's a good example of what you're talking about, Steve. For people who are less educated and don't understand why if why do X, is Y going to be the result. They're just going to do it because they were told to do it. But that means that if there's a slight shift, they're not going to be able to modulate around that shift. It's going to be more black and white thinking, more concrete thinking. And obviously, education leads to more flexible thinking. It leads to better cognitive flexibility. Yeah. But I think it also leads to more self-advocacy. It leads to a sense of agency. All of these things are going to be associated with living longer. And so that's really the big outcome here is very often we argue from a geopolitical perspective, for education, for a number of social and civil reasons, but we should also be talking about it from a pure global health burden perspective. Education saves lives. And I don't think we make that connection as often as we probably should.

S: I mean, it's better for people individually and for society in so many ways.

E: Oh, absolutely.

S: Education is just a boon to any society.

C: Yep.

S: It is probably the best single investment that any society can make in its own people.

C: Agree. Agree.

DNA Directed Assembly (48:00)[edit]

S: All right, what do you guys know about DNA-directed assembly.

C: Assembly of what?

J: Like nanomachines.

S: So, Cara, this is in your favorite discipline of material science.

B: Material science.

C: Oh, that kind of assembly. Okay.

S: Yeah.

C: I was like, all assembly in your body is DNA-directed.

S: This is using DNA for the assembly of inorganic materials. Which has actually been going on for about 10 years. This is something that we were actively using in industry. But there's a recent paper looking at ways to make this DNA-directed assembly programmable and more powerful. So... This is something I had very little awareness of the details of this, so I thought it was very interesting. So what the researchers did is they essentially used the DNA-directed assembly. This is basically a form of self-assembly, and the idea here is that we're trying to build things at the nanoscale. We've talked about the fact before that this is the new age of material science is manipulating the structure of materials at the nanoscale.

J: That's awesome.

S: Yeah, this is how you get to metamaterials, which have interesting properties. Properties, again, they go beyond the properties of the stuff itself, but properties that derive from the nanoscale structure but also just the ability to create combinations of materials at the nanoscale that could have programmable properties. Like if we say, oh, we need this to be more conducting or more insulating or respond to a magnetic field or not or whatever, stronger, harder, more ductile. The basic process is that you build a scaffold or some kind of structure. They make an analogy like this is like the frame of the house, right. And then, of course, you install things in the frame for whatever specific properties you want. And that is where the DNA-directed self-assembly comes in. And they could work with all kinds of materials for this, both metals, metal oxides, and other specific alloys or metal oxides. I say like platinum, aluminium, doped zinc oxide, like that kind of stuff. They can get really, really specific. Then they do one of two things. They either did a gas infusion or a liquid infusion. And they're exactly what they sound like. With the gas infusion, you basically use whatever element you want to infuse into that framework in a gas phase. And that can penetrate deeply into the structure. Like, oh, I want to put aluminium atoms deep within the structure. You could basically make a gas phase of whatever and it assembles inside the nanostructure. Then the liquid phase is another way to do this, but that tends to deposit things more on the outside. So by using a combination of those two, you could then get to this three-dimensional programmable structure embedded with whatever other elements you need in order to create the properties that are desirable. The goal here is also – so again, these kinds of things are being used but they're trying to like put it all together in this study to show that how much control you actually can have, right. You can create these 3D nanostructured inter-organic materials that have programmable properties. But also they're trying to refine the procedure so that it can scale, right. Because if you can't do this on an industrial scale, then it may be great for making specific one-off things for NASA that they're going to send into space. But it's not going to be sitting on your desktop, right. It's not going to be the kind of thing that's going to be like a computer chip in every device or every computer but if you can get to the point where this is a scalable industrial process, and it also means it has to be cheap, right. It's got to be inexpensive and scalable. Then this is-

B: Change the world!

S: Yeah. Then that will change the world, right. Then, then we could mass produce these things. So this is really what we need to do in order to be able to take a lot of our technologies to the next level, right. Because it there's only so many alloys. I mean, there's a lot of alloys. But and we are still discovering new alloys. But the thing is, like, there's only so many elements. Like, you can't – like, discovering a new element is not going to get us in it because we've discovered them all. The only ones that at the high end of the periodic table are just very large and unstable. We're not going to be building stuff out of them.

B: Well, probably not.

S: Yeah, Bob, probably not.

B: Islands of stability I'm not ruling that out.

S: They're just relative stability. You're not going to build stuff out of it. It's like, ooh, it survived for 20 nanoseconds instead of only one nanosecond.

B: We don't know. It could be more dramatic than that. But, yeah, I mean, it's not likely.

S: Yeah, milliseconds.

B: I'm holding out. Yeah.

S: Yeah, I'm not holding out any hope. You know, yeah, sure, alloys, sure. We do have these super alloys that like have extreme heat resistance. So there's still, I think, some advances to be made there. But mostly, I think, going to the next level of super materials is going to involve the nanostructure, right. That is where those super properties are going to come from. And really, we're just getting started with that whole line of technology there. And this kind of thing – so self-assembly is like one of those key concepts because at the nanoscale, like there's only so much you can do to place individual atoms where you need them to go. You know what I mean? Like that's not how we're going to be doing things. You need to create – the manufacturing method has to have some kind of self-assembly in there. Things have to put themselves together. And we just need to figure out how to direct that self-assembly. And that's where the DNA comes in. You're using DNA because DNA is programmable when you think about it, right. We can build DNA with pretty much any structure that we need. And then – so that becomes like the template that directs the self-assembly of the materials that we need. So the whole concept is very, very cool. And this may not be the precise methods that will ultimately be used in mass production, but I think we're getting pretty close. And again, some of these technologies are already in use, like they're already being used. But this is just taking it to the next level. So I think this is we're going to be seeing a lot more of this in the future. And this could be like the next real revolution in material science. That's going to be like one day be like, oh my God, everything is made of this stuff. You know what I mean. It's like plastic was whatever, 50 years, 60 years ago, just in the good way. There's always a bad way too. But I mean like in the good way that plastic was a revolution, you know what I mean. Like the ability, it still is.

E: Right.

J: I mean it's an incredible material.

S: Yeah.

J: We just –

E: World-changing.

J: Yeah. We're just – we're not handling the production of it well. We're not handling like –

C: So revolutionary that we took it for granted.

S: Yeah. It was too successful.

C: We deeply took it for granted.

S: It was too successful so that we don't know what to do with all the stuff that we're making. It's so cheap to make. It has so many desirable properties. It's going to be the same thing. We also talk about carbon nanofibers, carbon nanotubes, et cetera. Same thing, although we're still trying to figure out how to mass produce those with the right properties, et cetera. But I think the future technology is going to largely be made of metamaterials that are self-assembled at the nanoscale using these kinds of techniques.

B: Yeah, we could see some real dramatic stuff with metamaterials. We're just scratching the surface with that as well.

E: Cloak of invisibility.

S: Yeah, whenever you read anything like that, like about tiny, tiny lenses or invisibility cloaks, whatever, even though that's hype, the way that's sold. That's all metamaterials. Yeah, absolutely.

Bleach Peddler Going to Prison (55:57)[edit]

S: All right, Evan, tell us about this bleach peddler.

E: The bleach peddler.

S: The bleach peddler.

C: Still?

E: Well, I'll start with a saying, because there's an old saying in the world of board games. Go to jail, go directly to jail. Perhaps you're familiar with that one. Sometimes life can be like a board game.

S: Do not pass go.

E: That's right. And do not collect $200. And sometimes life can be like a board game, especially when you choose in the real world to sell fake and dangerous COVID cures to people. Go to jail. And that's what happened just this past week in New Zealand. Yep, we're talking about the worldwide scam that, I don't know, seems to know no boundaries. Miracle Mineral Solution, MMS.

S: That's crazy.

C: Which is literally just bleach, right.

S: It's industrial bleach.

E: It's bleach. But the people at MMS want you to buy their bleach and drink it so you can do away with your COVID. And before, COVID was kind of the thing it is now. They wanted you to drink it to get rid of malaria or cure your HIV, right. Common colds, autism, and of course, cancer, among many other things that they said it would help you with. Right. So, MMS, Miracle Mineral Solution, it's sodium chloride, and the end user combines it with hydrochloric acid or citric acid, and that creates chlorine dioxide. Now, chlorine dioxide, that's not just your run-of-the-mill, over-the-counter, regular Clorox bleach. Nope, it's used for industrial-grade purposes, sterilizing machinery and industrial surfaces, among other things. Now, this latest news concerning this poison is that a fellow in New Zealand has been found guilty. He was brought up on 29 charges, 29 charges, most of which were counts of what they're calling breach of the Medicines Act in New Zealand. And a few other counts, obstruction of ministry officials and making false statements. But 29 charges in all, this person has been found guilty. And the other day, the sentence was handed down. Now he's going to jail. Actually, he's been in custody for about four weeks, but his sentence is now official.

S: Evan, I have to be pedantic because you left the door open for me to be so. He's going to prison. I'm assuming he already was in jail.

E: He's being held.

S: Jail is where you are held before you are sentenced. But once you're sentenced, you go to prison.

E: I use them interchangeably.

S: A lot of people use those two words interchangeably, but they're different.

J: Yeah, they mean different things. You get the idea.

S: As I said, I'm being pedantic just to be pedantic.

C: Can you not have a jail. Is there ever a jail sentence?

E: Held in jail, sentenced to prison.

C: I mean, I know what you mean, and that does happen all the time, but I think people can get jail time.

S: I just think people are using that term loosely. Yeah, if you are convicted, you are sent to prison.

E: Well, thanks for heading off the 100 emails we were about to get on that, Steve.

S: That's part of the reason.

E: I totally get what you're doing there. Absolutely. All right. So who is this person. His name is Roger Blake. And he is to New Zealand what Mark Grennan is to the United States. Now, you recall back in 2022, Mark Grennan, along with his two sons, were found guilty of crimes and imprisoned for selling MMS bleach to their victims. Mark Grennan was sentenced to 13 years. In prison for his actions. The sons each got five-year sentences. But you know how Mark Grennan tried to defend himself in court as I was reading up on this. He defended himself, First Amendment, freedom of religion. That was his defense. So, no, not even here in the United States where freedom to practice religion exists. That is not a legal shield against fraud and injuring others. So, yes, we have freedom of religion, but not to that extent, thank goodness. Roger Blake, so he's got his own thing going on. He's been in the bleach-selling racket for quite a while, and he's been previously warned from New Zealand Ministry of Health officials about promoting this product as far back as 2009. And at that time, he was claiming it was a cure for cancer. And since then, he had suffered warnings again no less than five more times over the next 10 years. Now, if that's a lot of good, all those warnings did because it really didn't deter him. But he was very sneaky and sort of cunning about selling his products. The website that he used to peddle this stuff is not based in New Zealand. So there was limited jurisdiction as to what could really be done to him. Plus, he was combining the sale of the MMS bleach with the selling of other products having to do with actual water purification, legitimate products. So he used that kind of as a means to cloak his quackery under an umbrella of legitimacy. And that kind of obfuscated things. It was not the easiest thing to directly uncover. But who owned the website overseas? Yep, Mark Grennan himself. And he was hosting that site out of the Dominican Republic. So kind of these jurisdictional issues at play here. Roger Blake has said there's thousands of New Zealanders who have used this product as an alternative health treatment on the theory that if the chemicals purify drinking water, they can also detoxify humans who are 70% water. That's a direct quote.

C: Do you know what that reminds me of.

B: Wow.

C: That reminds me of when Trump was like, can't you just like shine a UV light inside of your body?

E: Oh, my gosh.

B: He mentioned bleach.

S: He did mention bleach. He did.

C: He mentioned bleach, you're right.

E: He did. Oh, boy. I mean, thank goodness he didn't really go much further.

S: And you could see like the medical expert behind him was like doing a face palm.

E: Oh, my gosh. He also said, I don't always hear what people want it for. And then when people place an order, I don't know what they are using it for. But I would say 5% of them use it for autism curing. But most of it's cancer. I personally know people who have gotten rid of their cancer within a few weeks, all without those horrible side effects that you get from the mainstream options. We've had people who have cured their cancer for under $20. Isn't that great?

B: Wow.

E: Yeah, there's no evidence whatsoever, by the way. I think we officially have to say this, that MMS or chlorine dioxide works against pathogens or toxins in the body when consumed. In fact, they say ingesting these products can cause dangerous and potentially life-threatening side effects, such as acute liver failure, among other things.

B: I mean, do they have a body count. I mean, you're telling people to drink bleach and they're doing it. I mean, there's got to be some body count, right.

C: Yeah, there must be people who died from that.

E: So in the article, they're saying that there are not – they cannot trace back a death or a significant injury that anybody has put in or claimed was a result of having consumed his product.

C: You mean in New Zealand.

E: In New Zealand, right. But that's not what the charges were brought up for. He was warned many times to stop this, and he basically ignored all the warnings. Plus, and it all came to a head with COVID, because he had sold roughly $149,000 US between December of 2019 and March of 2020, which was like peak COVID hysteria. And the authorities basically said, that's enough. We're going after you now. And we're going to take you to the mat. It took a while. They did it. He had his trial. They found him guilty. 29 counts against him. However, 10.5 months in jail. That is the sentence.

C: Oh, then you know what.

S: Paltry.

C: We also don't know how like obviously New Zealand's justice system works, but I just looked it up to be even more pedantic, Steve.

S: Yeah.

C: It's jail if the sentence is less than a year.

S: Oh, yeah. Is that right?

C: Yeah. So you go to jail to await, obviously, your trials or your bail hearings. But if you're convicted, if your sentence is less than a year, you spend it in jail. Anything over a year, you spend in prison here in th. U.S.

S: That makes sense. Because jail is short term.

C: It's short term. And it's minimum security. It's a completely different thing.

E: It's like a sheriff holding you.

C: It's run by the local jurisdiction as opposed to the state or the federal. But who knows. In New Zealand it might be completely different.

E: So some comeuppance, I suppose. I don't who knows. He'll be back down the street next year doing this again, I'm afraid.

C: That's the hard thing when like charlatans are operating rogue outside of a regulated position. Like we hear these horror stories about actual licensed physicians doing terrible things, but at least we can revoke their licenses.

S: Yeah.

E: That has teeth.

C: Yeah. But like when somebody is doing something that they don't need a license to do it, you're right. They can always just keep doing it a different way, which is so scary.

S: And I think that the powers that be underestimate how sociopathic these people are, you know.

C: Yeah.

E: I mean, do they really have to wait until somebody actually dies that they can pin that crime onto this person.

S: Unfortunately, that often makes it easier.

C: But the good news is, I mean, there is precedent. People have died from this very solution in other countries.

E: Yes, they have.

S: All right. Thanks, Evan.

E: Yep.

Who's That Noisy? (1:05:45)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Balloon ribbon "saying" "Happy New Year!"

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

J: All right, guys. Last week I played This Noisy.

[Zipper-like zings, and a clack]

Any idea, guys?

E: That sounded like C-3PO when he got shot on Cloud City in Bespin, when Chewbacca was putting him back together in his head.

S: Yeah, sort of.

J: Oh, yeah, a little bit of that.

E: A little bit. I know that's not what it is, but that's what it reminded me of.

C: They were saying actual words, whatever it was, right.

J: Maybe, maybe. Let's see what the listeners think. So a listener named Frederick Neah. He gave me the pronunciation of his name and I can't pronounce it. N-A-Y dash A-W-H.

C: A-W-H.

E: Neah.

J: All right, Frederick Neah. He said, hello. Oh, my birds, I have not heard that noise in ages. This is a slowed down, degraded, pull-to-speak doll from the late 80s and early 90s. And then he goes on, I will even wager that this is specifically from the 1990 blue Bart Simpson pull-to-speak doll. So I remember these weird dolls where you pull on a string and then the string goes back up into the doll. And as it does it, something is spinning in there. that's making some talking noise. And this is a very good guess. I've heard it. I know exactly what you're talking about. But this is not correct.

E: Remember the Barbie doll. Like math is hard or something. I don't know if that's exactly what it was, but oh my gosh.

C: Horrible. Absolutely horrible.

J: Jim Kelly wrote in and said, Hi, Jay. My guess on this week's Who's That Noisy is that this is a cockatiel. It's possible that this is the cockatiel that was affectionately known as Rosedale who lived in the Haight-Ashbury region of San Francisco during the 1960s. I'm not surprised that some people guessed birds. This is most definitely not a bird. But if you guessed bird every time, you'd be right a lot of the times because so many cool noisies come from birds. Another listener named Micah Swindles said, Hey, Jay, I think this week's noisy is someone tightening cable ties. Now, I consider this guess to be a close one, guys. Right. He's saying somebody's tightening cable ties like a zip tie.

S: Mm-hmm.

B: Yeah. Damn, nice.

J: And I'm submitting this answer from Wainuiomata in New Zealand. Wainuiomata. Okay, I pronounced it right.

B: Sounds good.

J: Everybody's giving me pronunciations now. Yes, it's my weakness.

B: Don't mangle my name.

J: I have a winner. I will tell you before I give you the answer, I'll tell you that I have never heard of or seen this thing before. It's one of the reasons why I picked it. A listener named Shane Hillier wrote in and said, Jay bones, it's a balloon ribbon that's been given ridges as to produce the sound, happy new year. When one places the ribbon between their forefinger and thumbnail with some pressure and pulls lengthwise down the ribbon, right. So it's like, imagine a zip tie and you're holding it in one hand and then you run your fingernail down the length of it as you pull it away, right. Apparently you're supposed to do this next to a balloon because the balloon will actually reverberate the sound and make it a lot louder. But they're able to in the bumps and ridges on that piece of plastic when your fingernail rubs up against them it actually makes the sound. It makes a sound of like words. So here it is. It's saying happy new year and the person is using this the way I described. He's running his fingernail down along the length of this piece of plastic.

B: Oh, wow.

S: And now you can hear it, right. That's like the audio pareidolia. Now that you know what it's supposed to say, your brain totally hears it.

C: Mm-hmm.

J: Yeah, so I mean I've never – I don't know if any of you guys ever saw these. I never saw these. I never heard about these things. But it's pretty cool. I definitely would like to try one. I don't even know if you can get these anymore but it would be pretty cool to try it out. Anyway, so this noisy was sent in by a listener named Yer Eshel last week. That's cool. Thank you so much for sending that in. You showed me something brand new. I never even heard of those before.

New Noisy (1:09:50)[edit]

J: I have a new noisy for you guys this week, and this noisy is sent in by a listener named Victor Weinvelmayer.

["rat-a-tat" with a brief animal clucking sound]

All right.


J: If you guys think GTA 5, if you guys think you know what this week's Noisy is or you have heard something cool and you want me to consider playing it on the show, you got to email me at

Announcements (1:10:20)[edit]

J: Steve, tickets have been flying off the shelves for our two shows. Yeah, this is really cool. So I think that we are far enough away from the pandemic where people are actually starting to go to shows again.

S: Mm-hmm.

B: Yay!

J: Taylor Swift doesn't seem to have a ticket sale problem but-

E: Is she coming to the show in Dallas?

J: So if you are interested in seeing the SGU when we're in Dallas guys there are still tech tickets for the extravaganza which is our stage show. That's like a improv comedy/science-based show at last. But about – it's over an hour and a half, hour and a half, a little more. And we will basically show you how you cannot trust your perception, right. Your brain is flawed and it fools you all the time and we will show you many ways how your brain can fool you.

B: If you're a geek, you'll love it.

J: Yeah, it's fun. It's just a – we're laughing the whole time. It's a great night. So you could go check that out. Unfortunately, the private show tickets are sold out big time. Those tickets like flew. I couldn't believe it. It was awesome because so many people there haven't seen us. We've never been. So I guess a lot of people have been waiting for us to come to Texas and that's what happens.

S: Plus the eclipse was very cooperative.

J: Yeah. Well, yeah. There's going to be more people in time.

S: It was like perfectly timed on a Monday, you know.

J: Yeah. So if you'd like to see us at the extravaganza, George Hrab is the host of that show. All five of the rogues will be there. And you can go to and there's a button on there that you can press for the extravaganza and you can find out more and you can buy tickets. Evan, why don't you tell us about who will be appearing at the private show with us.

E: At the private show on Sunday, April 7th, we're going to have a very special guest. His name is Dustin Bates, and he's the lead singer of the group called Star Set. So for you Star Set fans out there, this is going to be your chance to say hello and meet Dustin Bates, lead singer. He's going to join us. He's going to be our special guest joining us for the recording of the episode. And he's an admirer of the SGU. He loves science. He loves technology. He loves future discussions and future talks, which I know is something we all love as well. And it's going to be a tremendous amount of fun to have Dustin Bates on the show.

J: Yeah, definitely looking forward to it. And again, unfortunately, that show is sold out. But if you have tickets, you will definitely get to meet and see Dustin. So a few things, guys. It's the new year. We have a crazy year ahead of us, especially here in the United States. No matter what you believe, it's going to be a crazy year. But the one thing that stands firm during all these times is that critical thinking is incredibly important. It's something that everyone that listens to this show, I'm sure you have an understanding of what it is.

S: And it makes you live longer.

J: And apparently it gets a bit longer.

E: Science says so.

J: We take the work that we do here very seriously. We know that it's meaningful and that's why we've been doing this for 19 years. If you would like to show your support, which we could absolutely use, please consider becoming a patron of this show. You can go to We have different levels. You will gain access to our discord, which we have an unbelievable community of people there. A lot of the, a lot of people from our discord our Patreon group came to the NOTACON conference and lots of first time meetings and everything. And it was incredible. I am bragging when I say this, the SGU patrons are a wonderful group of people.

S: Yeah, it's a really good community.

J: It is. We just got – I feel so lucky that we have so many good people in our community from all around the world. It's just a really, really cool group of people. And you could become a part of that group. Go to If you want to show us some support, you could also join our mailing list every week on Monday or Tuesday. We send out a weekly email that tells you everything that we've done in the SGU universe the week before, right. So it's last week's show, any YouTube videos, any TikTok videos, any blogs, all the content that we've created. We outline it all there for you. So it's the previous week worth of content that. And all you got to do is go to and sign up for this weekly newsletter. It's a lot of fun. We've been doing it now for, what, like six weeks now, Steve.

S: Yeah, something like that.

J: Yeah, it's going good. And you could also, one last thing, if you enjoy the show, you can give our show a rating on any podcast player app out there. You could look and see if you can give us a rating on how you feel or a comment. That would be wonderful. It'll help other people find the show. Thanks, guys.

S: Thank you, Jay.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:15:04)[edit]

Follow-up #1: Nuclear Batteries[edit]

S: One quick email. We had a few people follow up on my news item last week about the 50-year battery. You guys remember the beta voltaic using beta radioactive decay to directly generate electricity. And there's Chinese companies saying, yeah, we can make a battery using beta decay of nickel-63 into copper, and it'll last for 50 years. Which is their way of saying it as a half-life of 100 years, which is not unreasonable. But yeah, we basically said the numbers don't add up, right. It just wouldn't create a lot of power. And don't expect this to be powering your phone anytime ever.

B: Hey, wasn't that my news item.

S: Was that yours. Oh, that was your news item, yeah.

B: You blogged about it.

S: I blogged about it, and then you talked about it on the show. Yeah, you're right about it. Yeah, so it was our news item.

B: Honk.

S: But, Bob, this is one thing you didn't talk about, and that is how much do the isotopes cost. And a few people—

B: Yeah, I mean, I just said quite expensive, but yeah, based on the email and the details—

E: But they're so small.

B: They're even more expensive than I thought.

S: More expensive than—yeah, and I had read that too, but I thought, well, but if we just like deliberately mass-produce them, could that bring the cost down? So right now—

B:Or just use the waste products from the existing reactors.

S: Apparently, though, even that's not going to work. So for example, if you're using nickel-63, that isotope for your beta decay source, apparently that would cost about $20,000 a gram. The battery for your phone is going to cost $100,000, an incredible amount of money, like tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

E: Last 50 years.

S: And so, yeah, so one listener in particular, yeah, this was Dr. Garrett Bruhog gave us the most detailed information. And because this is apparently his area of expertise. So, yeah it's just crazy expensive. It would absolutely not work. And the thing is – so according to him – and I did back this up with my own research – is that there's two reasons why this – like you just can't use material from existing nuclear power plants to do this. One is that some of the isotopes you can't make in a commercial nuclear power plant. You would need a special one, which, of course, that would be pointless. Again, it would be so expensive. But here's the other thing, which I didn't know about, which he informed me of. The irradiation part aside, like just getting – purifying the isotope you need to irradiate in the nuclear power plant is massively expensive. And even if you used graphite, which is some nuclear power plants use graphite like the rods as a way of controlling the reaction, and that creates a lot of carbon-14, which can be used as a beta source. But the problem is it's a little bit of carbon-14 mixed in with other isotopes. So you'd have to enrich it. And the enriching process is massively expensive. So basically there is no pathway to not ridiculously expensive beta sources, right. So like this is never going to be a consumer product.

B: With fission.

S: With fission, yeah. He did say maybe in the future if we get fusion reactors. But I think even then it's the enriching that's going to be a limiting factor. So we would need to have some kind of breakthrough that will allow us to cheaply enrich these isotopes and then also cheaply irradiate them. It's like those two steps are both involved. Or you take irradiated stuff and you enrich the isotope. That's going to be the beta. Either way, you need to both irradiate it and enrich it. And both of those things, either by itself but certainly both together, makes this stuff in the tens of thousands of dollars per gram range, which means no. This is not going to be a battery source. I'm not going to be running your iPhone. Okay. You know what that means.

B: Disappointing.

S: That means it's time to go on with science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:19:15)[edit]

Theme: The Ice Age

Item #1: During the last glacial maximum greater than 50% of the Earth's surface was covered in ice.[8]
Item #2: Most of Canada has no native earthworms, because they were wiped out during the last glacial period.[9]
Item #3: At the end of the last glacial period, about 10,000 years ago, the Earth's tilt (obliquity) was 24.5 degrees, and since then has decreased to its current 23.4 degrees.[10]

Answer Item
Fiction 50% covered in ice
Science No native earthworms
Earth's tilt has decreased
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
50% covered in ice
50% covered in ice
50% covered in ice
Earth's tilt has decreased

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

S: It's time for science or fiction. Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real, one fake. And I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. And we have a very cool theme this week. The theme is the Ice Age.

E: Which one?

S: Evan, that pun was just for you. So when you say the Ice Age, that traditionally refers to the most recent Ice Age, which we are still in. There have been five Ice Ages on the Earth. But the ice age is the current one.

J: And we're in an ice age right now?

E: If you say so.

S: Yes, we are in an interglacial period of an ice age. That's right. Okay, you guys ready.

J: Yep.

S: Here we go. Item number one. During the last glacial maximum, greater than 50% of the Earth's surface was covered in ice. Item number two, most of Canada has no native earthworms because they were wiped out during the last glacial period. And item number three, at the end of the last glacial period, about 10,000 years ago, the Earth's tilt, obliquity is the technical term, was 24.5 degrees and since has decreased to its current 23.4 degrees. Cara, go first.

Cara's Response

C: No.

S: Yes.

C: No, I know. The end of the last glacial period. So all three of these reference the last glacial period. Is that right. They're all three referencing the same time frame. I just want to make that clear.

S: Pretty much, yeah.

C: Okay. So basically you're asking, did the Earth's tilt decrease by, what would that be, 0.9 degrees. No, 1.1 degrees. Did Canada lose its earthworms or was the earth covered. Okay, can you clarify something for me. You said greater than 50% of the earth's surface. Do you mean land?

S: Nope. I mean the earth's surface, just as stated.

C: I think that's the fiction. That seems like a lot. I could be wrong, but that seems like a lot.

Jay's Response

S: Okay. Jay.

J: Yeah, the earthworm one seems really strange to me. And this was because of a glacial period. I don't know. I don't know how deep they go and I don't know how far down the cold penetrates. I mean, I suppose that can happen. The third one here, at the end of the last glacial period, 10,000 years ago, the Earth's tilt was 24.5 degrees and since then has decreased. That sounds familiar to me. I don't know. I mean I definitely agree with the Cara not liking the first one about 50% or greater than 50% of the Earth's surface was covered in ice. I don't think that when there has been past ice ages or at least the last one – I don't think it covered half the planet. I don't think so. I think it was just – because you know all the rocks, the huge boulders and rocks that can be found like for example in New England in the area where I grew up.

B: Yeah.

J: That they have marks on them from being pushed from the Arctic ice, right.

E: That's right.

J: Like Long Island came from debris that got pushed by glaciers if I'm remembering my history correctly. But I think that's about as far as it went. I don't think it went down to like the equator or something. Yeah.

S: Down to the equator would be 100%, Jay.

E: Right. Because you're going from-

J: It's going from both ways. Yeah. Right. Understood. Yeah. I don't think it's 50%. I think it's much less than that.

S: Okay, Evan?

Evan's Response

E: Yeah, I think I'm on board with this particular one. I am familiar with the earth tilt changing over years. I can't remember the exact change, but this seems reasonable that 24.5, I think, is close to where it maximally tilts and it goes back down to like 22 or something. So it fluctuates back and forth. And that has a name to it. I think somebody who discovered it. I can't remember what it's called. But the earthworm one I've never heard of before, and certainly to say it was wiped out during the last glacial period, that's new news to me. But it's the 50% of the Earth's surface. I mean, yes, Jay, I also recall that the glaciers pushed down debris and everything and formed Long Island. I was taught the same thing on the retreat, all the boulders and things. were revealed in the wake of its sort of destruction, if you can call it that. But the 50%, that'd be the oceans. No, I don't think it got over the oceans like that. No way. I think 50% of the Earth's surface is fiction.

S: Okay, and Bob?

Bob's Response

B: I think I'm prepared to be surprised by the 50% earth. Yeah, I think that one's going to be science. The earthworms. Yeah, I could see glaciers wreaking havoc. And since you guys are talking about your interesting facts with glaciers, my favorite is the fact that the ice from the glaciers over, like, say, North America was so heavy.

S: How heavy was it?

B: It was so heavy.

E: It was so heavy.

B: It compressed the land and the land is still springing up as we speak. It's still popping back up after that compression.

E: Boing.

B: For some reason, I know you guys are – some of you are confident about the tilt. I don't remember seeing the tilt changing that much in just the past 10,000 years. That's rubbing me the wrong way. I'm just totally going on my gut with that one because it seems reasonable that it could mess up the tilt that way with all that ice. But I'm going to stick with the number one with the 50% and say that that's science. But I'll say that the obliquity – I'm going to say that one is fiction.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Okay, so you guys all agree on number two. So we'll start there. Most of Canada has no native earthworms because they were wiped out during the last glacial period. You guys all think that one is science and that one is science. That one is science. Yeah, the glaciers killed all the earthworms.

C: Oh, my goodness.

J: Why wouldn't they just put them back bring them in from other places. Because earthworms are really important, aren't they?

S: Well, as I said, there are no native earthworms. Europeans imported earthworms. This was like not just Canada but also northern United States.

B: Really?

S: Yeah, yeah. And I had to say most because there were some areas that didn't get a lot of glacier and the earthworms survived. But basically most of Canada has no native earthworms. And earthworms can only spread so fast. And so they haven't had enough time.

B: They are slow.

S: Yeah, they haven't had enough time to spread back into that area. And so basically the ecosystem evolved without earthworms. And then Europeans came in and imported earthworms for their farming and gardens and whatnot. And it's actually wreaking havoc with the local ecosystem because they evolved without earthworms.

B: Damn, man.

S: So the species that are there are not native. They're all introduced.

B: Pesky humans.

S: Interesting. Okay. Which one should we go to next.

B: Say it. Say it.

S: The question is, how much of the Earth do you think was covered by the glacier during the last glacial maximum.

J: Probably. 10%.

E: 25%.

S: What do you think, Cara.

B: I'll go with 50.

C: I split the difference between the two of them. We'll say 17.5%.

S: And then on the flip side, so what is the relationship with the tilt of the Earth's axis and the glacial period. So would a greater tilt, which means more extreme seasons, be associated with the glacial period or the interglacial period. You know what I mean? With that, what do you think about that. That's interesting. The axis does change over historical time.

C: So isn't that why we have glacial periods?

S: That's the question. Is that why we have glacial periods. And if so, what's the relationship. Is there more tilt or less tilt.

B: I'd say less.

C: I'd say more.

E: I'd say...

J: I have no idea.

B: More extreme weather is also hotter summers.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: That's right. So, number three, at the end of the last glacial period, about 10,000 years ago, the Earth's tilt obliquity was 24.5 degrees, and since then has decreased to its current 23.4 degrees. Bob, you think this one is fiction. The rest of you think this one is science. And this one is science. So, Bob, you're right. But that's why the glacial period started to melt when we hit the maximal tilt because of the summer heat. The summers are more extreme, even though the fact that the winters are more extreme didn't really have much of an impact. But the fact that the summers are hot enough to start to melt the glaciers. And so, of course, it's taken a long time for that to happen. Right. But yeah. So now we're getting – the tilt is getting smaller and smaller and it will – the minimum is 22.1 degrees. Right. So it goes between 24.5 and 22.1. We're kind of in the middle right now at 23.4.

B: And that's consistent? I mean, we think that's consistent?

S: Yeah, that's it.

B: Back, forth, back, forth.

S: It's a 41,000-year cycle. It's a wobble. It's a 41,000-year cycle. And you know what drives that cycle?

B: Dynamo.

S: It's not the sun. It's not anything intrinsic to the Earth, and it's not the sun.

B: Oh.

C: Oh.

B: Our position in the galaxy.

S: Nope. Good guess. That's a really good guess. Happens to be wrong. The current theory is that it's Jupiter and Saturn. It's the gravitational tugging of Jupiter and Saturn.

J: Wow.

E: Wow. Can account for a two and a half degree change in the –

S: There are two other cycles.

S: These are collectively called the Milankovitch cycle.

E: That's it.

S: That's what you're thinking of.

E: That's the name.

S: So there's the eccentricity of the sun. And some people thought, oh, maybe when we're farther from the sun, that correlates with it. But no, it doesn't. It's really – the eccentricity also changes, again, because of the planet, the big planets. And that changes from – it's almost circular to just slightly eccentric. But that is too little to really have any significant effect on climate. And then the third one is precession. And for a while, we thought that precession was causing the glacial periods. But that's a 26,000-year cycle and it doesn't correlate. It doesn't line up with the glacial periods.

B: That's the wobbling like a top.

S: Yeah, that's the one where it's – yeah, like a spinning top will rotate around its axis. But it's the wobble of the obliquity that is probably – that correlates well best with the glacial periods. Interesting.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All of this means that during the last glacial maximum, greater than 50% of the Earth's surface was covered in ice. That one is the fiction because the real answer is – you guys were all wrong. It's a third, 33%.

C: Oh, wow. Yeah.

S: It's still more than you think, but I had to exaggerate it enough. I guess I overshadowed a bit. But it's a lot though. You think about a third of the Earth's surface and not the land surface. The Earth's surface was covered in ice during the last glacial maximum, which was about 20,000 years ago.

B: We have had 100% of the snowball earth.

S: Yes. There's been at least two times. Although, Bob, I don't know if you've heard, but some scientists call it slush ball earth because they think it was maybe not totally frozen over. But it was either snowball earth or slush ball earth. One of those cycles lasted 300 million years. Another one lasted 200 million years. Yeah. Before we eventually came out of them.

B: I wonder what life was like under all that snow.

E: It takes a long time to get – oh, my gosh.

S: Well, this is like – well, the first one was 2.4 to 2.1 billion years ago. So there was life on Earth but there was probably pre-multi-cellular life. All right. So good job, guys.

J: Thank you, Steve.

E: Yeah.

S: Evan, give us a quote. I'm still good at fooling Bob apparently.

B: Goddamn expert at it.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:31:45)[edit]

We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.

 – Denis Diderot (1713-1784), French philosopher and art critic

E: This quote was suggested by a listener, Christos from Ottawa. Thanks for suggesting this one, Christos. "We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter." And that was by the French philosopher Denis Diderot from the Enlightenment period in the 1700s.

S: Yeah. Very enlightening.

E: Prominent figure during the Age of Enlightenment. Also studied philosophy at a Jesuit college. Now, Steve and Bob, what, you guys went to a Jesuit high school, right.

S: We did.

B: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Rogues' past religious schooling[edit]

S: It was an interesting experience because it was – the Jesuits – it's Catholic but it's at the non-magical end of the spectrum of Catholic beliefs. You know what I mean? Like there are the subset of Catholics who believe like all of the magic, right. Like in possession and demons and that kind of stuff. The Jesuits are the philosophers. They're the scholars and philosophers within the Catholic tradition. I took four years of theology in high school, but it was very much like you could almost not even believe in God and still study what we were studying. You know what I mean? It was kind of incidental. The fact that God exists was kind of incidental to what we were studying. It was more like the history of the Jewish people, like the Bible as literature, as work.

B: You read the whole damn thing.

S: Yeah. I thought it was a good experience, especially as a skeptic, having a really good working knowledge of the Bible comes in handy a lot for a lot of the stuff that we deal with. Cara, your background is the same thing, right.

C: Yeah, we had to go to – well, I stayed in Mormonism until I was 15 is when I left. But because I was born into it, obviously we did your standard Bible and Book of Mormon study. Like on Sundays, but we also had Wednesday night youth group. And then some people know this, some people don't. Mormon children, once they get to high school, they go to seminary before school every day. So I had like at 6am, I had an hour of like Bible and Book of Mormon study every day before school. And obviously I hated it. It was horrible but looking back I'm really glad. I mean I was half asleep most of the time. But I am really glad that there was so much of that scholarship, now don't get me wrong, my study was not kind of like a secular approach to those texts. It was deeply biased and I had to undo all of that. But it was really cool to have been able to have read all of those books and annotate them and you know.

S: Yeah, I think it gives you more insight into belief systems, whether religious or otherwise. I have colleagues within the skeptical community who are atheists and critical thinkers and skeptics, and they were always atheists. They were brought up in an atheist household. And I do think they have a harder time wrapping their head around the mind of a believer. I mean never having spent part of their life inside of that. It's like for me it's easy to understand how people rationalize their beliefs and how they square that circle and resolve their cognitive dissonance and all that stuff because I was there when I was younger.

C: Oh, yeah, 100%. And like, I tried to believe it, sort of. I bought into it when I was really young. Maybe not. I don't know. It's hard to say. But I actually, when I was in Scotland these past couple weeks, I actually rewatched Under the Banner of Heaven. And if you guys still haven't seen that, I highly recommend it. It is a brilliant series. Okay, good. But I think it can help some people because especially like with the Mormons, a lot of people are like, how do they believe that. I think that Andrew Garfield – well, the writer, just the entire production does help you sort of put your head in the mind of somebody who's struggling with their faith and see it from that perspective.

S: So my recollection and I think the hardest thing for me, like what Catholics are really good at is guilt and shame.

J: Oh, yeah.

S: And we were raised to think that faith was a virtue. And that was so deeply embedded in us. That was the last thing to go. Like, just to realize I could be a good person without faith, that was the last thing that I got rid of. And we weren't even that religious. We didn't go to church every Sunday, but it was just sort of baked into our worldview to such a degree that I didn't even realize how much we internalized that until we're like, gee, you're right. It's not a virtue. I could be a good person without having faith. And that didn't happen until college for me, where I got rid of the last vestiges of that programming. You know, because that was so deeply built in to our childhood.

E: Gosh.

S: And it's not... And we weren't even that religious. You know what I mean? We didn't go to church every Sunday.

B: Not at all.

S: And that sort of baked into our worldview to such a degree that I didn't even realize how much we internalized that until we're like, gee, you're right. It's not a virtue. I could be a good person without having faith, you know? And that didn't happen until college for me where I got rid of the last vestiges of that programming.

C: Oof.

S: You know?

C: Yeah, that's rough.

E: We've all emerged to some degree at some point. Yeah, we were all there.

C: That was actually kind of the topic of, I remember an organization, I think it was a freedom from religion organization gave me an award once. And that was sort of the topic of my talk was this idea of like morality among secular individuals and how it's sort of our duty as citizens to be moral individuals and to set good examples because the perception among so many religious people is that somebody who's atheist is fundamentally lacking those virtues.

S: Is immoral.

B: By definition.

C: Yeah.

S: And the opposite is the truth.

C: Oh, 100%. Because the reason we're like that is not because somebody told us to be like that. We got there on our own. I want to be good to my fellow human.

B: I love when they imply that they would, without God and the Bible, they would be raping and pillaging. Really?

J: Yeah, really.

S: I mean, I've had people say that to me, like religious people. So you're telling me if it weren't for the threat of going to hell, your instinct would be to go out raping and pillaging and murdering.

C: Right.

S: Like that's what you would be doing. If you didn't have a supernatural being telling you not to, I think – but again, that's good. It's just built into their worldview. They don't even really think about it rationally.

J: It's such a convenient position.

C: Because you hear the same argument with the anti-LGBTQ kind of stuff. Like when you talk to somebody who's deeply religious and also very anti-gay, they always use the same argument about like protecting the family structure, whatever it is. But it's always like, well, we can't let them marry because then what. You'd just be gay tomorrow. Like, is that your reasoning. Like, that's insane. But yeah, you'd hear those arguments all the time.

Signoff (1:38:29)[edit]

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

B: Sure, man.

E: Thanks, Steve.

J: You got it Steve.

C: Thanks Steve.

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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

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