SGU Episode 97
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|SGU Episode 97|
|30th May 2007|
|SGU 96||SGU 98|
|S: Steven Novella|
|B: Bob Novella|
|J: Jay Novella|
|E: Evan Bernstein|
| P: Perry DeAngelis
|Quote of the Week|
|What is wrong with priests and popes is that instead of being apostles and saints, they are nothing but empirics who say 'I know' instead of 'I am learning,' and pray for credulity and inertia as wise men pray for skepticism and activity.|
|George Bernard Shaw|
- 1 Introduction
- 2 News Items
- 3 Questions and Emails
- 4 Science or Fiction (57:00)
- 5 Skeptical Puzzle (1:05:52)
- 6 Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:08:05)
- 7 Announcements (1:08:51)
- 8 References
You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.
S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, May 30th 2007, and this is your host Steven Novella, President of the New England Skeptical Society. Joining me this evening are Bob Novella...
B: Hey everybody.
S: Perry DeAngelis...
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey, whaddya read?
S: and Evan Bernstein.
E: And to all our listeners in Peru, a very happy National Potato Day.
S: (laughs) National Potato Day in Peru.
J: You figure they'd have potato day in Ireland, not in Peru.
E: They have it in Peru.
S: Rebecca Watson is not with us this evening, unfortunately; she's having technical difficulties. Actually—
P: (derisively) With her Mac.
S: With her—with her...computer.
E: She can't find the ON switch.
J: Steve, half our listeners just shut the podcast off, by the way.
S: Yeah, it's true. She has been having some technical difficulties the last couple of weeks. If you may have noticed, she has been unusually quiet. It was just because she was having troubles with the recordings.
P: She had some technical difficulties...with her Mac!
J: She had a bad Mac attack.
S: (affirming) She had a bad Mac attack.
P: So what she did was, she went out and bought another Mac!
S: She did. But apparently it's not up and running yet, so we plan on having her with us again next week.
P: But wait a minute. I see the commercials; they're effortless. You press a button and they're on.
E: Yeah, they make no effort to work.
J: Perry, why? Do you relate to the fat guy in those commercials?
P: The fat guy is me. That’s how I make a little side income.
P: I certainly don’t do it doing this.
Creation Museum Opens (1:42)
S: The first news item this week is about the creation museum opening in Kentucky.
P: This is a long time in coming.
S: Long time a coming. We’ve had a lot of emails about this. A lot of people wanted to make sure we knew about this. So this is the product of Ken Ham, who is a young-earth creationist. The museum cost, I think about $25 million, so these people do have money.
J: It’s too bad God didn’t just create the museum for ‘em, you know?
S: Yeah, could have just miracled the museum into existence.
E: In six days.S: Yup; no, that costs money. And it’s basically a complete abomination of science and education. Pretty much as bad as it gets. Actually, you can go through like a little walk-through of all the different displays they have, and it’s really more of a Genesis museum. You know; just basically goes over the story of Genesis and sort of the very Christian view of the arc of history. They make a couple of sideswipes at science and evolution. There’s one—they have a mock-up of a fossilized dinosaur, allegedly from the Grand Canyon called the Grand Canyon Wall, and on the web site the caption of this display is:
Gape at the towering face of Grand Canyon, along the front wall, while bones of dreadful dinosaurs hint of catastrophe.
That’s right, a catastrophe caused the Grand Canyon, not millions of years of erosion.
J: What kind of catastrophe?
E: Some sort of sudden event.
S: Some sort of flood or something.
B: Steve, it could have been a very slow catastrophe, couldn’t it?
S: (chuckles) Right, the kind you don’t even notice.
P: Does it have pictures of biblical guys walking around with dinosaurs? They claim that the Leviathan mentioned in the bible is dinosaurs. I’ve seen those pictures. (chuckles) Some guy in a biblical dress petting a Brontosaurus.
J: I wonder what kind of attendance they’re getting. I'd like to know.
E: Well, it just opened.
B: I think they’ll be pretty busy for a while, you know, until—
E: The novelty wears off?
B: I hope.
B: I hope it just totally goes under after, you know, a year or two.
S: That’d be nice. Here’s another one: they have a fossil display called "Them Dry Bones: One set of bones, Two interpretations. How can two paleontologists digging the same dinosaur fossil in the field reach opposite conclusions?"
B: Have any of you guys ever heard of a young-earth paleontologist?
E: I haven’t, no
B: I mean, what—
P: That’s an oxy-mo-ron.
B: —What two paleontologists is he talking about?
S: Right right, these are hypothetical paleontologists.
"The answer? starting points. Fossils don’t come with labels, we must begin with assumptions, but which is correct?And how could we possibly which interpretation is correct? As if there doesn’t exist anything called, oh I don’t know, science?
E: (singing) What a fool believes.
S: You see bones and you slap your interpretation on there, from whatever your starting point was. Well, I guess they are accurately describing their process. So that’s basically the quality of stuff that you’re going to get in the creation museum.
P: I wonder what the fine is for urinating on the exhibits in a museum.
S: I don’t know. Maybe we’ll find out.
J: I wonder how it feels to bask in my stupidity.
S: (chuckles) It’s basically one long apology for the nonsense of creation.
P: I’ve always liked your stupidity, Jay.
J: (sincerely) Thanks, Perry!
B: Speaking of stupidity, Steve, the web site that you have linked here, and I assume you’ll also have it on the notes page—
B: —has this nice little interactive—it’s a blueprint of the museum, and you click on various sections, and it shows you a little picture with a little description of what’s going on—
S: Yeah, that’s what I’m reading, actually.
B: —what it is, yeah. So—but one of these that I pulled out—one of these quotes said that "Everyone who rejects His—capital H— history, including six-day creation and Noah’s flood is willfully ignorant."
B: Hello?. Pot, kettle, black.
B: Willfully ignorant? Oh my God.
S: Ken Ham is the poster child for willful ignorance. That is true. The science blogger community is all over it already. I’ll have a link on the notes page to Pharyngula, which is a very popular science blog, which basically links to dozens and dozens of science blogs completely trashing the museum. So if you’d like to read scientific criticism of this, there’s plenty to go around, and there are some gems in there. One blogger points out how utterly childish the entire display is. I mean, it really is—it insults the intelligence of a 5-year old; that’s how lame the whole thing is. It’s really incredible.
P: Well there’s another little entry here on their site—has a picture of people exiting, and it says "Visitors report an average loss of 20 points of IQ per visit."
B: Wow, I thought it’d be more than that.
S: And that’s an underestimate, I’m sure; that’s self-reporting.
P: (laughing) Can you imagine?
B: That mega-blog, Steve, that you linked to here had a link from the LA Times, and they were talking about, you know, the state of Americans saying that 3 of the... 3 men seeking to lead the last superpower on Earth, referring to the last Republican Presidential debates, reject the scientific consensus on cosmology, thermonuclear dynamics, geology and biology, believing instead that Bam-bam and Dino played together.
S: (chuckles) Right.
B: That was a funny quote from the LA Times. I was very disappointed with a quote from the New York Times, very wishy-washy—
B: —and very disappointing. I was surprised—I mean, Steve, were you surprised that a quote like that came from—
S: I was; you know, the mainstream media, except for a couple of exceptions, like the LA Times, the mainstream was very wishy-washy on reporting on the creation museum, as if they were trying to be politically correct or (sarcastic) balanced; you know, it was terrible. I mean, the journalists totally failed to put this in its proper perspective. That this is, you know, an affront to science; it is a very narrow-minded childish display that is completely rejected by the mainstream scientific community. They really completely failed to put this in the proper perspective. So this is, again, one of the most glaring recent failures of the mainstream media to deal with these types of issues.
J: How can they slip that up? I mean, how could they not report correctly on this?
B: Well the New York Times didn’t even send their science writer to write the story—
S: Yeah, that’s the problem.
B: I mean, come on.
S: It is the general decrease in the number of science writers, science journalists, and basically all-purpose journalists covering science issues, and they give us this misplaced sense of balance in journalism; the notion that you have to balance every issue, even when the issues themselves are inherently unbalanced, like creation nonsense vs. the consensus of scientific opinion. These are not balanced sides of the controversy.
E: (mock news report) "Two plus two, is it really four? Let’s ask the experts: 'I think it’s four.' 'I don’t think it’s four.'"
S: (sarcastic) Well, there we go; we got both sides.
P: How can two mathematicians come to a different conclusion? Well, one of them is a dick.
B: Steve, there was a—quickly, Steve, there was a link to the National Center for Science Education; they mentioned that have been a lot of petitions being signed against this— this museum. They mentioned over 800 scientists in three states surrounding the museum, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, have signed a statement sponsored by the NCSE. And I mean, that’s all well and good, but I’m thinking, "wait, 3 states and they only got 800 scientists to sign it?" That just seems like a low number to me.
S: What’s the statement? It’s just a condemnation; I mean, there’s nothing you can do about it; it’s a privately owned museum; what can you do?
B: Well, but I expected—I think that there should be five thousand names on this—
S: Ah, give ‘em time.
E: Maybe over time they can get more.
P: After this podcast there will be.
S: (chuckles) Right. Yeah, all we can do is ridicule it—
S: —I mean, there’s nothing legally that can be done—
B: Oh, yeah.
S: —that wouldn’t be basically censorship. This is definitely a free speech issue, and they have the right to do that and we have the right to ridicule them for doing it.
Licensing Psychics in Salem (9:43)
S: The next issue is very similar, actually—speaking about free speech—and this is a follow-up to our "Philadelphia banning psychics" piece that we’ve done in the last couple of weeks. This one comes from Salem, Massachusetts. And this one is—Salem is considering passing a law to test psychics for licensure, which is interesting because that’s the idea that Rebecca came up with when we were talking about the Philadelphia situation and I basically ridiculed her for that suggestion... (chuckles) and it’s too bad she’s not here to talk about it tonight. But basically—actually the article, in my opinion, reinforces what I was saying, which is that testing psychics as a prerequisite to licensure and licensing psychics in order for them to be able to set up shop, is really just a way for psychics to protect their monopoly, to protect their business and to squelch competition. It really isn’t a mechanism for protecting the public from fraud. In fact, I say that because the people who are really pushing for licensure and for testing of psychics are... the psychics who are already embedded in Salem, those are the ones who want it.
S: Right, obviously that wouldn’t be the—
P: It’s all dollars and cents.
S: —right, that wouldn’t be the case if this was going to protect the public from frauds, 'cause they’re all frauds, so they’re doing it to prevent competition from coming into the city because Salem is a Mecca—because of the history there, of the witch trials—is a Mecca for this kind of stuff. One of the quote-unquote "witches" or psychics who has been in Salem for a long time told of how she got her license. She was tested by a police officer, and she wrote: "he sat down with me, I did a psychic reading, he was pleased with the reading, and I got my license." And that was said by a woman by the name of Cabot. So—and that’s what we said, that if the testing is not adequate and scientific; if it’s in the hands of, you know, bureaucrats, it’s not going to serve the function that we would like it to serve which is protecting the public from fraud and false claims, whether it’s conscious or—
E: Should we offer our services to be the arbiters?
B: Well, that’s what you would need. Steve, it’s even worse—it’s even worse than you’re saying. When I read the title of this: "Psychics may have to pass test to practice in Salem" – at first blush I was like, oh that’s great, you get a good test going, and you’re all set. But you read the article and it’s really pathetic—
B: —what this testing consists of. A lot of the local—a lot of the city councilors, their recommendations were: we’ve got to do a criminal background check; require psychics to submit a five-year employment history and their educational background, and then even the psychics' ideas were even lamer. First off, nobody under twenty should be doing the readings; that was one stipulation that they’re considering. They also want to create a committee that would screen prospective psychics and some psychic at a Pyramid bookshop wants candidates to show their experience and training before becoming licensed. That’s it!? I mean those are the tests that they would go through?
S: It’s all about eliminating competition—
S: That’s it.
B: That’s all it is.
S: It’s about eliminating competition—
B: That’s all it is.
S: —it’s not about quality control. The whole concept of licensing fortunetellers is ridiculous. When you give a license to pseudoscience, you give it legitimacy it doesn’t deserve, and it doesn’t ever serve the purpose that is originally sold, which is quality control; it only serves the purpose of squelching competition.
J: The way that the article reads, it reads as if everybody believes that psychics exist, it would be like—
B: That’s a given.J: —you know, a taxicab driver driving without a license. The fact is, taxicab driving exists; this is the supposition this article takes, and I have to read one thing out of here that really got me. The person says:
"One woman paid more than $2000 for a reading at a Salem shop where she was told she had a black aura around her."
B: (spooky) Ooooo.J:
—according to Szafransky. "Then one day she came into my shop crying," Szafransky told city councilors. "I said, 'You don’t have a black aura. Sit down and I’ll show you your aura on my machine,' and it was blue and wonderful."
E: Blue and wonderful, Jay.
S: She has an aura machine, huh?P: Well, you know, if you're gonna do this, right? If you're gonna license fortunetelling, then you have to define it, in a legal way, and they do at the bottom of this piece. I want to read this, bear with me for a second. OK, this is how the city council is going to define fortunetelling:
The telling of fortunes, forecasting of futures, or reading the past, by means of any occult, psychic power, faculty, force, clairvoyance, cartomancy, psychometry, phrenology, spirits, tea leaves, tarot cards, scrying, coins, sticks, dice, sand, coffee grounds, crystal gazing or other such reading, or through mediumship, seership, prophecy, augury, astrology, palmistry, necromancy, mindreading, telepathy or other craft, art, science, talisman, charm, potion, magnetism, magnetized article or substance, or by any such similar thing or act.
E: But not voodoo.
J: No poop-smelling?
P: That's it.
S: Yeah, what about voodoo?
E: I'm insulted. All the voodoo people in Salem are up in arms.
J: They left out so much on that list. Those guys are crackpots.
S: What about thaumaturgy? How could you leave out thaumaturgy?
E: Yeah, duh.
S: I mean, come on. All the thaumaturges are going to be up in arms now.
J: Somebody sat down and made that list.
P: They did.
S: That's a lawyer. It's a legal entity. The purpose of the list was to be all-inclusive. That's what—
P: I know! I know; I understand that, but we've already come up with some things not on the list.
S: Jay—well, yeah but the list says "and any such similar thing", right? So it means everything.
P: (chuckles) Right.
S: Jay, you're right; the article totally takes for granted that it's legitimate; that's it's a real thing.
P: So does the definition.
P: I think it does.
J: Perry, you did a good job reading that because that sums it all up right there. There it is.
P: It's outrageous. I mean, it's just so stupid. We really should test—it says they're going to revisit the topic. We should—
E: We should send a letter.
Homeopath's Lame Response (15:46), I reported about the UK scientists, led by a Dr. Born, who is urging the National Health Service to drop its covering of homeopathy, and we were heartily applauding Dr. Born and his colleagues for doing that. Well, Peter Fisher, who is the Director of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, has written an open letter of his own responding to Dr. Born and his colleagues, basically defending the homeopathic hospital that he runs... and it is an incredibly lame piece of alternative medicine apology. So, he writes, for example:
We offer real patient choice, safe, effective drug-free and self-empowering treatments for many common medical problems provided by well-qualified doctors and nurses.
So that's just pure propaganda. First of all, he appeals to choice, which is a very common ploy among the CAM artists, or scam artists. And he appeals to—he says that his treatments are "drug-free", which is implying what? That drugs are not effective? That they can't be used safely or appropriately? What is that implying? It's really just appealing to irrational fears of drugs, not anything that's based upon science or good medicine. Also appeals to self-empowerment, and that is one of the biggest ploys of the entire CAM movement. Essentially, the scientific criticism of so-called complementary and alternative modalities is that they are not based on science, evidence, logic and plausibility.
E: Other than that, they're great.
P: (sarcastic) Who needs that stuff?
S: Yeah, and the response to the criticism is "it provides people choice". All right, that's a non sequitur; it does not answer the claim. Or "people want to be empowered to cure themselves". Again, it's not responsive; it's a non sequitur. It doesn't address the only thing that really matters: does it work? Everything else is just a diversion.
J: Yeah, but Steve he does cite some evidence in this article.
S: Then he does go on to make claims that there is evidence for efficacy, although he refers mainly to acupuncture, saying that "we also provide things like acupuncture". Then he does cite evidence to say—to argue that homeopathy is effective. But, the evidence he cites does not at all make the case. He refers to meta-analyses and reviews of homeopathy, for example. However, completely ignores the mainstream scientific interpretation of that same exact body of evidence, that if you look at the best studies of homeopathy, they're all negative. In fact, there's pretty much an inverse relationship between the quality of the study and the size of any effect, and the best studies are all negative. Once you eliminate the centers that have been shown to be having fraud, or to have fraudulent results. So there isn't any credible evidence that homeopathy works. That's the consensus opinion of the scientific community. So he's just cherry-picking data and interpreting data his own way in order to make, really, an unsubstantiated and very unscholarly, unscientific claim that the evidence shows that any of these modalities work.J: Towards the bottom of the article, he says:
Homeopathy is enigmatic, remarkably popular, widespread and persistent despite the skepticism of retired professors of biomedical background. It is simply not true to say that it is unsupported by evidence.
Now, doesn't enigmatic mean... mysterious?
E: Hard to define.
J: Hard to define.
S: Yeah, it's hard to know what he's referring to there. I think he's trying to dismiss Dr. Born and his colleagues by saying that they're behind the times, they're retired, they don't what they're talking about, and that homeopathy is the wave of the future. That's the impression that he's trying to create there. Then he makes the referral to the review of the studies, but his interpretation is completely out-of-step with mainstream scientific—
S: Reality. I don't know if with "enigmatic" he means that we don't know how homeopathy works. His statement is unclear. The bottom line is that it's not just that we don't know how homeopathy works, it's that homeopathy cannot possibly work. It's water. There's no possibility within physics—forget about biology and medicine, within physics—that there could be any therapeutic effect, physiologically, to homeopathic remedies.
P: Well then how do you explain that hospital?
S: (chuckles) Right. Exactly.
E: I'm surprised he didn't try out some anecdotal evidence and testimonials. That seems to be the only little piece missing to his quote-unquote argument.
J: Do they ever just come out and say, "it's magic. This is magic, people."?
S: They do, they say—but they use slightly different terminology. They say that the water retains the vibrations of what's been dissolved in it—
E: It retains memory.
S: Water memory. But that is functionally the equivalent of saying "it's magic", because there is no mechanism for what they're saying, right? So just propping up one unknown to explain another unknown is again, the intellectual equivalent of saying "it's magic". It's like explaining a miracle by saying "Well God did it". "Oh, OK, well that explains—"
E: Or fairies exist because leprechauns created them.
S: (chuckles) Right, whatever.
J: At least put vodka in the bottle or something, give it a little punch.
S: Sometimes they're alcohol-based, but usually they're water-based.
J: No I'm talking vodka, like—
S: (chuckles) Yeah, you're talking real... yeah.
P: Clearly you don't understand the law of infinitesimals. Who made that law anyway?
E: Someone very small.
S: Hahnemann, the guy who invented homeopathy. And they're not—"law" is a misnomer; these are not laws of nature; these are not laws of science.
P: I know.
S: These are rituals. These are magical voodoo rituals.
J: But Perry, it's not even that you get a small amount. You get a negative amount of the active ingredient.
E: Right, right, the likelihood of there being—
S: It's non-existent.
E: —the likelihood of there being a trace of any sort of active ingredient goes into almost impossible probability.
S: Yeah. Now I blogged about this this week, and interestingly, a homeopath submitted a comment to my entry, and I wanted to just read a couple of things she said. She's a London-based homeopath.
E: (British accent) Jolly good.
S: And she writes—she calls herself Sue—actually, her name is Sue Young—
P: (British accent) She's as common as dirt.S:
Why are you so vehement against homeopathy? You control the research and you can make it say anything you want it to. You are just sticking to the money. I would like to see you argue prejudices with India and China directly. Are they fools too? If orthodoxy was so wonderful, then why did we get thalidomide, and too much salt and sugar in our diets and antibiotics in our animal feed. Surely your science could have told you this was bad for health, but you lot didn't say a word against it, did you? No, you just follow the money. Science is just a new religion, and like all religions, it is a control freak and it wants to label everything else a heresy
J: She's waving that thing around like it's a stinky fish smacking us in the face. "Here's your science!" (slap noises)
S: So there we go. That was the most cogent defense of homeopathy that surfaced on my blog -
J: What did she actually say, Steve?
S: Oh yeah?
J: Oh yeah?
S: That was the equivalent of saying, "Oh yeah?". I mean, her response is almost incoherent—
P: Oh God...
S: —I'm supposed to argue with India and China? What is she talking about?
S: So, she accuses what, me of following the money? I love those self-serving assumptions and paranoia that people use.
B: Steve, could I borrow ten grand? Please?
S: She says—she impugns all of science, but yet at the same time, homeopaths are quick to cite scientific evidence when they think it supports their point of view. But when I use science to say it doesn't work, "oh, science is just a religion; you can make it say whatever you want it to say". Well, OK, make up your mind.
E: Let's have one homeopath take the JREF challenge for the million dollars, please. Step up, take the money!
S: Randi has tried to make that happen.
P: Been there, done that.
S: It's also like homeopaths don't make money; they don't charge for their services; are they doing this for free? She also mentions things like the diet and antibiotics and thalidomide. Did homeopaths reveal the problems with those things? No, medical scientists did! The fact that science is—that science takes time to work itself through the evidence and the process doesn't mean that it's not working, it means that it is working.
P: All I know is as an obese man, doctors have shoved salt and sugar down my throat ALL MY LIFE!
P: I wanna lay it right at their doorsteps.
E: (digust) Damn doctors.
P: Damn doctors.
J: Yet again I'll generalize and say: there's people out there that sit around hating science.They just hate it.
P: They hate science when it questions their sacred cows.
S: That's right.
P: That's when they hate it, Jay. When it supports them, they like it.
B: When it's convenient, they love it.
S: CAM proponents are famous for that. They cherry-pick evidence that supports what they want, and then when the evidence shows that their therapies don't work, they literally say, "Well science can't study this modality".
E: Then they reach for their antibiotics so they don't get sick.
Questions and Emails
China Follow-up (25:05)
S: Well, let's move on to your emails. I have two emails in response to the interview we did last week with Gareth Hayes regarding pseudoscience in China.
P: Quite a bit a of feedback on the old Gareth interview.
B: Yeah.S: A bit of feedback; I'm going to read one on each side to represent both sides. The first one comes from Alan Alanson, who gives his location as China, and he writes:
Dear Skeptics, What a great pleasure it was to hear your guest Gareth's analysis of China. So often your show is bogged down with science, experts and facts. It's great to hear someone who ignores all that. My wife, who is Chinese, said she thought Gareth was just repeating uninteresting stereotypes and generalizations. I told her that's because she hasn't learned how to think analytically or creatively. It's great that none of you questioned anything that Gareth said and you took it all at face value. It really ruins the show when you ask your guests for evidence or for their sources. Good thing you didn't bother to do that with Gareth. Having lived in China for 3 years, he is clearly an authority.He goes on to basically reiterate those same basic points. The second email we got is from Mark, who writes:
Please do not use my last name, I am a Foreign Service Officer and critical comments about China might come back to haunt me. First things first, I love the show; I came across it back in January and have listened to all the previous podcasts. The interview of Gareth Hayes brought back lots of memories of my five plus years in China. I speak Chinese and am married to a Chinese woman. Having dealt with hundreds of Chinese officials and thousands of eager American business people, I second Gareth's comments about China not being nearly the market it is cracked up to be. Many companies flock to China because everyone else is doing it. Some of the executives they send realize that they will never make a profit, but they rarely tell headquarters because their careers depend on being China hands. The US government helps with the cheerleading. Companies then hang on until they have a face-saving reason to close up shop. The hype then picks up and draws in fresh foreigners eager to exploit the Chinese; I could go on.
One other comment on Chinese medicine. My wife's uncle supplies safflower, canola and other edible oils to Chinese medicine manufacturers. I once asked him why he didn't sell them for use in food. He said he would need to bribe at least 8 different government agencies in order to get the proper licenses to sell them as food. Selling them for use in Chinese medicine only requires one approval/bribe. Keep up the excellent podcast.
S: Just kidding about the last name. That's not his real name.
E: Officer Johnson, your name is safe with us.
S: Your last name is safe with us.
S: So, we basically had emails in those two veins. Very, very critical of our interview and then some supporting it. First some background, the interview with Gareth was our first of what we were planning on doing: a series of interviews with our readers who live in other parts of the world, other countries, to get a different perspective on what is the predominant beliefs and pseudosciences and superstitions of that part of the world, that country, that culture. All of us who do the podcast all live in the north-eastern part of the United States, so we wanted to get a little bit of a broader perspective. And that's basically what was said at the beginning of the interview, that this was the impression of Gareth who was living in China; he a is not historian, a cultural expert. So it was offered as his experience, his interpretation, not as a definitive expert view. And I think a lot of people got that, and even though some who were critical acknowledged that that's how it was presented.
I also want to point out—I think the one legitimacy in the many criticisms that we heard was that Gareth was a little bit absolute in his statements, a little bit overgeneralizing, and I think in retrospect that that's true. That went really more towards the tone of his comments, but not really the underlying points he was making or the specific facts he cited to support his claims. I'm going to go over them a little bit in more detail in just a moment. I also want to say that the other observation that has a kernel of legitimacy is the fact that we didn't challenge Gareth much on what he was saying. Actually, that is primarily an artifact of the post-production. What—in the post-production—because the interview basically went far beyond in scope what I initially had intended—I wanted to focus on superstitions and pseudosciences and we ended up talking about the education system and the research and the economy and academia. So what we did in post-production was basically fact-check all the stuff that Gareth said and... it all checks out, to be honest with you, all the stuff that I left in. There were some things that Gareth said that we actually did challenge him on, and then I couldn't really validate to my satisfaction and I edited it out in post-production. But in doing that, I also edited out all of the times when we were actually more questioning about what he was saying. So the listener was left with the impression that there was no filter there, but there actually was a very very significant filter there.
B: Thanks, Steve.
S: I did want to go over, since we didn't really have the references last week, just some of the core claims that Gareth made and what I found out about it in doing the post-production and since then in preparing for this week's follow-up.One of the claims that Gareth made essentially is that academic fraud is rampant in China. And in fact, this is absolutely substantiated by many other independent observations and editorials about China. In fact, Gareth reported that a study by the Chinese government admitted to 60% of academics self-reported that they engaged in bribery or plagiarism in order to advance academically or get their degree. 60%. That checks out; that was reported in the mainstream media in the West. I think it was actually first reported in the Christian Science Monitor, but then it was picked up by many news outlets. I could not find anyone questioning that figure. So that, as far as I could tell, that seems perfectly legitimate and that's well-referenced. Gareth then said, if anything, that's under-reported, and that was his opinion; it was presented as such, and I do think Gareth has a bit of a cynical point of view, but that's fine. But the 60% figure is absolutely reference-able. There were also many others who made the same observation that fraud in research and in academia is absolutely endemic. The China Academy of Sciences has admitted this and recently has put forth regulations to fight the rampant fraud within China. This is the conventional wisdom, if you will; this is the universal observation. I did not find anything in looking actively for any editorials or anything written on this issue to contradict that basic premise. Another basic premise is that the Chinese government is very protective of its reputation and it actually uses its power and influence, access to China and its economic might in order to silence criticism of China, even of Western researchers and scholars, and I have found several studies, which again, I'll have the references to, that echo that very observation. For example, this is an article by a Carsten Holz, who writes:
What happens when we don't play along is all too obvious. We can't attack[sic] Chinese collaborators. When we poke around in China to do some research we run into trouble.
For example, and he goes on elaborating about the many ways in which the Chinese government will basically crack down on any of its critics, and he agrees with Gareth in that it is effective in intimidating any would-be critics of China. Another piece of information I found, that was very interesting, is that there is a Chinese scientist, a Fang Tsuze, who is now living in San Diego, who is really a skeptic. The guy has set up a web site, in Chinese—unfortunately I could not find an English version of it—he has set but up a web site; he's basically a self-proclaimed science police, and he's basically a being a watchdog on the scientific research going on within China. And he claims that it is, again—pseudoscience and fraud is absolutely endemic and rampant within the research community, and that, of course, the media within China is completely uncritical of it and there's essentially no watchdog on it, so he's now trying to fill that role of being a watchdog on the research that's going on within China. Of course, a lot of these things you could say about this country as well. We have the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. There's obviously fraudulent and pseudoscientific research going on everywhere, and we obviously have been very critical of that in the West in the past. That's what we do, is try to find and criticize pseudoscience where it crops up. But I think from reading articles about Fang and what he has said and written, the one difference in China is that it's mainstream and official within China, it's not fringe and criticized by the mainstream scientific community.
Gareth also mentioned that education in China, specifically, does not teach critical thinking and analytical skills, and I think that was the one observation that people took the most offense at. First of all, one person on the boards interpreted that as saying that the Chinese people lack the ability for analytical thought, and that is not what Gareth was saying. He was saying that the education system is designed by the government not to teach analytical or independent or creative thinking. In fact, that observation—that echoes, universally, every editorial and observation that I've been able to find and read about the Chinese education, even reports that were generally positive, citing all the positive things about China's education. And just to mention them, some editorials have observed that the Chinese government is putting a lot of money into the education system; they do seem to value it to some degree. The Chinese education system excels in math, and that the average Chinese student works extremely hard, many more hours per week and per year than, say, a corresponding student in the United States. It's very competitive. And one positive thing is that people equate success in school with hard work much more in China than in the United States. In the US—and I've observed this myself before—there is a little bit too much of a cultural belief that success is based upon talent, not necessarily hard work. Of course, both are true to some degree, but emphasizing talent is also an excuse not to work hard or an excuse that "I didn't succeed because I'm doing the best I can. It's not my fault". Whereas in China, you do as well as you do based upon how hard you work, and I think that's probably a more adaptive mindset to have. However, even the positive reviews mention that China's education system is criticized for its lack of individual thinking, creativity and enjoying learning for its own sake, and I did not hear, or did not find or read any editorials or observations that contradicted that basic premise that Gareth made. So, the bottom line is, although the tone of the interview may have come off as a little bit overgeneralizing and even stereotyping, the core points that Gareth made are all individually verifiable and are in accordance with a lot of other observations and editorials that have been made about the Chinese system as it is.
This piece certainly has sparked a lot of very interesting discussion and opinions, and I've certainly learned a lot from it. If you're interested in taking this further, there is a very lively debate going on on our message boards and Gareth is answering a lot of very specific questions. We're getting a lot of opinions from other people who either live or have visited China, including some Chinese natives. So you should check it out. There's a lot of good information there.
Kevin Trudeau Scam (37:45)The next email comes from Chet Scerra, who writes:
Recently I discovered Kevin Trudeau's newest text on weight loss on my local bookstore shelves. After asking around a bit in the store I learned that sales of Trudeau's book are robust. After leafing this ridiculous pile of nonsense, I had a hard time containing my anger and disbelief... for two reasons. First, how could anyone be so stupid as to pay good money for such drivel. Secondly, it angered me because I know that Trudeau is now a mega-millionaire, solely due to his duping of the public with his previous books. Steve, is anything being done to somehow show Trudeau's true colors? Can anything be done? The straw that broke the camel's back for me was when I saw Trudeau's earlier natural cures book on my sister's bookshelf. Mind you, my sister is an emergency room nurse. Is this a lost cause? Is the public free game for such predators?
Well, we've had other emails about Kevin Trudeau as well, and a lot of requests to discuss this issue. We do not have an interview this week, so we have time to get around to this; this is kind of a meaty topic. Kevin Trudeau is an unabashed, absolute con-artist fraud huckster. There's really no other way to put it. He has actually been convicted of fraud; he spent two years in a federal penitentiary.
P: The cellmate of Dennis Lee.
S: In fact, a few years ago, the Federal Trade Commission virtually banned Kevin Trudeau from making infomercials. They said he could not make any infomercials selling any products or making any kind of health claims, and this was because he was essentially a menace to the public. This guy was making money by making demonstrably false and fraudulent claims. A lot of it was surrounding his selling of the coral calcium; he made a lot of false health claims for that. So what Trudeau did—because he couldn't basically sell products or make claims about products anymore, he basically came up with a strategy to put the claims, instead, in a book and just market the book, not market any products. Now booksare protected under the First Amendment; they're protected under the freedom of speech. And this strategy essentially worked for him. He was able to bypass the Federal Trade Commission's regulations, or injunction against his defrauding the public.
B: He sold 5 million copies, Steve.
S: Something like that by now. Basically, this guy has not just millions—by some reports, a billion-dollar empire built upon defrauding the public. And, he's spreading out into other books now. His schtick is basically to sell books to the public with the theme that he is a consumer activist, a consumer advocate, that he is the victim of a government against them. He is selling fear of big business, of big medicine, of the government, and he's combining that with the public's—
S: —the public love affair with all things natural. So his book, Natural Cures "They" Don’t Want You to Know About, basically combines those two concepts: fear of the Big Brother conspiracy and love—
P: Has he been on Oprah?
S: Actually, I don't know if he's been on Oprah. He basically—his schtick is to use infomercials to then build the market for himself and he has a lot of money to invest in marketing his nonsense. I've seen his infomercials; I've heard him—he's pretty slick but he just tells lies. I mean, here's an example of the kind of stuff that he says: He says that the FDA says—that's the Food and Drug Administration—says that only drugs can cure disease. It's to try to say that there's this big conspiracy against any natural cures, or against anything other than drugs, and the FDA is claiming that only drugs can cure disease. That is an absolute lie and distortion.
P: That's horseshit.
S: In fact, it was Congress—Congress who gives—who writes the laws that essentially say what the FDA can and cannot do. And what the Congress—the congressional law governing the FDA—is that anything which makes a claim to treat a disease is regulated as a drug, meaning it has to provide evidence for safety and efficacy before it could be marketed. That's very different than saying that only drugs can cure disease. It has nothing to do with that; it only has to do with how things are regulated. Of course, that same law also says that things which are marketed as either supplements or herbs can make pseudo-health claims as long as they don't mention diseases. So actually, the law that's he's referring to is very favorable to so-called natural products or supplements. So that's the kind of distortion that he does, to try to make it seem like there's this big government conspiracy against him. He also would have us believe... that here's a guy who's been convicted of fraud, who's spent time in jail—and fraud for things like writing bad checks, and stealing money from...or embezzling money from banks, and etc... just out-and-out thievery—and that this guy, who says "Oh you know, I made mistakes when I was young", but now by amazing coincidence he's discovered all of this hidden, arcane health knowledge that the big government conspiracy is trying to hide from the public, and we need this guy to tell us what the real information is about natural cures, who just happens to have this long, endless criminal record. The guy's basically a sociopath, who will say anything as long as it makes him millions and billions of dollars. And the other thing is, this information is out there. If you look up Kevin Trudeau—just type in "Kevin Trudeau" and "fraud"—you'll come up with all kinds of articles detailing, outlining the timeline of his fraud.
B: Yeah, Wikipedia has a very good treatment on—
S: Yeah, amazon.com; if you just read people who bought the book—here's the other thing, the book is a scam within a scam, because if you buy the book, Natural Cures, it actually doesn't have the cures in the book. All it is a long paranoid rant about Big Pharma and Big Government and about how wonderful things that are natural are. But if you want to actually know the quote-unquote "cures" that he's offering—all it has is, "go to my web site," and then you have to buy an online subscription to his web site in order to get the information.
S: So a lot of the complaining on amazon.com was about the fact that the book isn't even the scam that it says it is; it's actually a deeper-level scam. But the book does contain real howlers like "The sun does not cause cancer; sunblock causes cancer". Or-
S: Or, here's another one, "All over-the-counter non-prescription drugs and prescription drugs cause illness and disease". There you go. All drugs just cause disease.
B: (sarcastic) How did we not notice that?
S: And... "The chemicals that are in foods are all poisons". They're all poisons; if you took enough of them they would kill you, therefore they are poisons.
E: Actually, that's probably true.
S: Yeah! If you took enough of anything, they would kill you.
P: Eat enough of the food, it would kill you.
E: Drank enough water, it would kill you.
S: You know... the guy's heartless.
P: The sad commentary here is that this putz could sell so many books.
S: Millions of books. It is.
P: I mean, that's the sad commentary.
J: Well, the dogs are lapping up behind him, Perry. It takes all these people to buy his books and to buy into his crap in order for a guy like this to get rich.
S: Right. What he's saying is obvious nonsense, and the information is available for anybody who would take just a few minutes to look for it. His history speaks for itself, and yet people are so desperate for this, and so uncritical of it, that they buy it. And it really is just incredible. Now, part of the question was, "what can be done?", and this gets again back to First Amendment, freedom-of-speech laws, and the balance between freedom and regulation and protection... Is there basically we can do except try to get the word out, which obviously doesn't work in a situation like this, at least not enough to keep him from making a billion dollars selling this. In fact, however, the First Amendment is not completely unlimited, and here's a quote in this one article I'll reference from Richard Fallon, who is a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School—presumably he knows something about constitutional law—and he says, "Nobody has a right to engage in fraud, even when the fraud takes the form of speech. What, if any, laws does someone break when engaging in false or misleading speech? Generally none, because the First Amendment wouldn't allow punishment for that. But one of the exceptions is that false and misleading speech can be prohibited or prevented when that speech is closely tied to commercial activity."
B: Ah, there you go!
S: That's kinda the same thing I was saying about the psychics, that because this is commercial activity, then what they say and what they claim can be regulated, because if its false then that constitutes fraud, and that trumps freedom of speech. And so it's nice to hear that a Harvard law professor of constitiuon law agrees with that. But despite that, it doesn't seem that anything is being done. The FTC says "we're keeping a close eye on him." They fined him; they fined him like five hundred thousand dollars. OK, wow. A slap on the wrist—
E: A drop in his bucket.
S: —you're making millions and millions of dollars, the occasional half-million or million-dollar fine is just the cost of doing business; it's not a deterrent, obviously. Seriously, I think that if you could build enough of a case against somebody like Kevin Trudeau, the law should be in place that you could take every dime the guy owns. You could basically figure out how much money has he made from this and take all of it, every single penny from him. This guy—
E: You're saying sue him—
S: Or, whatever, well...that's another point.
E: Keep him tied up in litigations and those sorts of things?
S: I'm saying, the government, if they could fine him—you should be able to fine somebody for every penny they made from fraud. It shouldn't be possible to make a hundred million dollars committing fraud, and the fine is five hundred thousand dollars. What's the use of that? You know, there needs to be more teeth in these regulations. The second point, which you allude to Evan, is "can he be held accountable for the consequences of the claims that he's making?" And I think he should be. I think if somebody, even if its free speech, another sort of limit on free speech is that if the free speech incites somebody to violence, for example, or incites somebody to commit some kind of harm, demonstrably, and the speech was demonstrably fraudulent and it showed a depraved indifference to the health and welfare of other people—there could be a very high standard, but I think it's reasonable to have some standard where then you could be held, if not criminally, then civilly responsible for it. So if Kevin Trudeau says "Throw away your medications—you're a diabetic, you're taking diabetes medication, you're taking insulin or whatever... throw it away, and then go to my web site and find out what natural cure you can take" and people do that, and they suffer health consequences, they should be able to sue him for that. He should be liable for what he says. Especially if it could be convincingly showed that he was consciously committing fraud—depraved fraud—knowing that it would sacrifice the health of other people just so he could make money for himself. And it's really a scandal that we can't figure out a way to keep people like Kevin Trudeau from operating and still have reasonable protections of free speech. There's got to be a way we could figure how to do it.
P: Hear hear.
S: Until then, all we can really do is just get the word out, and just try to inoculate people much as possible about how terrible what he's doing is and how ridiculous his claims are and his criminal and fraudulent past.
B: I don't think that method works, to be honest with you, Steve.
S: Well, it hasn't worked.
B: I mean, look at Popoff; you could just be busted with your pants down and the girl looking up into the camera and you're just gonna come right back.
P: Not right back, but...
B: Well, I just think that the best way to do it long term is just to educate the children. Teach kids science.
P: Sure, yeah.
B: That would be better than anything.
P: You gotta just say—put it out there, and say "Kevin Trudeau, you are a scumbag".
S: He is a scumbag.
P: That's it.
S: One of our listeners who previously asked us to deal with him said "He's worse than Sylvia Browne. Why are we spending so much time on Sylvia Browne when there are Kevin Trudeaus out there?" I think that we need to deal with all of it, sometimes it's just representative—'cause there are a hundred Kevin Trudeaus out there, not making the of money he is, but there's a lot people out there doing it, and we attack the big representatives of these categories of pseudo-scientists. But I agree, in that I think Kevin Trudeau does much more harm, he's much much more of a scumbag, and I do despise him much much more than the likes of Sylvia Browne.
P: We'll scrape 'em all off our shoes.
Possible UFO Hoax (51:13)S: The last email comes from Matthew Rutherford who writes:
I believe these photographs are genuine, do you have any knowledge of what this "drone" could be and its propulsion system?
S: and then he gives links to photographs.
Personally I believe it to be a secret, but terrestrial project. Regards, Matt Rutherford.
S: We'll have the links; they're basically photographs of an object—so some quote-unquote UFO photographs are smudges, are blobs of light or points of light, are indistinct objects or maybe just some metallic blur or something where you can't really identify its size and configuration. These are clear, close-up, well-lit photographs of an object, an identifiable—not that we know exactly what it is, but you can see it in detail. So this is not just a bad photograph or some astronomical artifact or misidentification of a common object. This is a clear object. The question is "what is it?". I disagree with Matthew, in that I don't think this is some government, unmanned probe or drone. I think that this is a hoax. Yeah, I think—
J: It's Photoshopped. Yeah, definitely Photoshopped.
S: —either we're looking at a well-crafted model. It's small enough to have been created as a model; the thing's maybe only a few feet across.
P: You could make this in shop class.
S: Yeah, you could make it; this is a model.
J: It's pretty cool, though.
S: Yeah, it's not bad.
J: It's definitely cool-looking.
B: It's an interesting design, very unique.
J: Has a unique look to it.
B: Not your saucer shape.
P: Looks like a big meat tenderizer, sort of; you could kind of whack meat with it. Whack whack...
S: It's like a donut with antennae coming off of it.
E: You know what it reminds me of? It reminds of the crown that the Statue of Liberty wears, kind of, with those prongs coming off.
P: Maybe they're patriotic aliens.
J: Everyone out there, take a look at the pictures; they're definitely interesting to look at.
S: Yeah, well in terms of taking this seriously, there are all the red flags of UFO hoaxes on here. First of all, these photographs were submitted to web sites—I think flikr.com and also to Coast to Coast, which is a pro-paranormal radio show, by a person who identifies themselves only as "Chad". Does not give his full name—
S: —will not give his location. So whenever the photographer or filmer does not want to identify themselves or give any—
P: (mocking) Yes, I'm "Chad".
S —identifiable information, that's almost a guarantee that it's a fraud. And they often cite some really lame thing; "I'm worried about being discovered or repercussions". I mean, that's nonsense. If this guy—if this were real and he had—and it were something that was genuinely alien and he had these quality photographs, he would be selling it for millions of dollars to Time magazine. I mean, come on. He would not be remaining anonymous. Red flag. The other thing is that he claims that he's had multiple encounters, so he can go out—
B: Eight different times, he says here.
S: Eight different times.
B: Very easy to find, he says.
E: Apparently it's following him.
S: And yet, there's no video.
E: I wonder why.
S: You've got to wonder why. Probably because this thing is not actually flying. It could be suspended. In a lot of the photographs, either we do not see the whole object, or one piece of it seems to be butting up against a tree or some other object that could theoretically be supporting it. There are a couple of pictures where it appears to be free-floating.
B: Yeah, there's a few.
S: And you know, he could've simply thrown it. It's a photograph. You can't make any statements about the movement of the object.
J: Steve, I actually don't think from looking at it, the light doesn't seem just right. I think it's definitely Photoshopped.
S: That's another possibility is that the object is not where it seems to be; that it was Photoshopped in. That certainly is a possibility. I don't know. I think it's possible that the object is where it is in the photo. It'd be real easy just to toss it. These are all very low to the ground; nothing is high up in the air; again, it's relatively small; the thing could be quite light depending on what it's constructed of. This would be a pretty easy hoax to pull off these photographs.
S: Video is a lot different. Video you need to get something to move in a realistic way and not sway from a swing, a string or whatever, and the fact that there's no video evidence I think is very damning, especially given that the guy has claimed to have eight separate encounters with it. I would be carrying a video camera with me at all times if I were having multiple encounters with something like this.
J: Yeah, the video would have happened after the first encounter. A real person would have been like, "Oh my god, I saw a UFO. I'm going to make sure I have a great video camera".
P: It does have several long and very interesting looking probes. Just something I thought I'd point out.
S: What is it with aliens and probes?
P: (chucklng) I don't know, this one... looks like you could have a party of probing going on.
S: One of the photographs is close enough where you could see that there's some writing on the underside of it, and the writing does not—
B: It's clearly an alien language.
S: —it does not correspond to any terrestrial language that I know of.
J: I zoomed in with Photoshop and it says "Listen to the SGU".
S: It does.
J: Just have to tilt your head a little.
B: Oh cool.
P: Really? Now that's cool.
B: Clearly intelligent aliens.
P: Even the aliens are listening to us.
S: Of course. Well, let's move on to Science or Fiction.
Science or Fiction (57:00)
Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction
S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts; two are genuine and one is fictitious. I then challenge my panel of skeptics and the listeners at home to tell me which one is the fake. Are you guys all ready?
S: There is a loose theme this week; the theme is sound. All of these have something to do with sound. Item number 1: NASA scientists report that the chromosphere of the sun is powered and shaped by sound waves. The chromosphere, by the way, is the layer immediately outside the surface of the sun that's bright and coloured but not that hot.
P: I don't believe we asked for any hints.
P: How about that.
S: Evan, please go first.
E: NASA scientists report that the chromosphere of the sun is powered and shaped by sound waves. Is there sound occurring in and around the sun? I would imagine so; I think that's plausible. Number 2, new research shows that accents have a partial genetic basis...I don't know. Number 3, a new study finds that moths use sound mimicry to avoid being eaten by bats. Sure, Darwinism at work; survival traits and so forth. I'll say that accents do not have a genetic basis and that one is fiction.
S: OK. Jay.
J: I will agree with my esteemed colleague and I won't give my reasoning.
S: (chuckling) OK. Bob.
B: Let's see, chromosphere powered by sound. The word "sound" seems a little bizarre when you apply it to the sun but it's just a pressure wave; that sounds plausible. Moths use sound mimicry... I don't have any problem with that. I do have a problem with number 2, though; accents have a genetic basis. That doesn't make much sense; from my understanding of accents, it's based on basically your brain homing in on the phonemes of your mother tongue and once your brain locks into those phonemes, it's kind of hard to wrap your brain, so to speak, around other phonemes from other languages and it's really hard to break out of that accent. I don't think that has anything to do with genetics, so I'm going to go with 2.
S: OK. Perry.
P: (Exaggerated Irish accent) Well let me take a look at these here. I think that I'd have to say, based on my own personal research and knowledge which is quite vast, you know, that number 2 is absolute poppy dorkedness. That's fake.
S: Perry, aren't you Italian?
P: (continuing with accent) Yes, quiet now, moving along. Idiot.
J: What is he saying?
E: Must be the very northern reaches of Italy, when Rome invaded England way back when.
P: Number 2 is fiction.
S: All right. So you all agree that number 2, "new research shows that accents have a partial genetic basis," is fiction, so let's go to number 1 first. NASA scientists report that the chromosphere of the sun is shaped and powered by sound waves, and that is...science.
E: Thank goodness! I mean...of course it is.
S: As I said, the chromosphere is the layer—during a total solar eclipse, that's the glowing layer that you see around the moon. The name of it is the chromosphere because of its color. It is a significant source of ultraviolet light radiation and that varies quite a bit. The chromosphere has a shape to it and an intensity to it and what NASA researchers have found is that it is partly generated by magnetic fields but those magnetic fields function significantly through sound waves, basically through waves of sound emanating from inside the sun itself.
E: Very cool.
S: Interestingly, one of the mysteries they're hoping to solve with this is—with this new models, which are accounting for the sound waves, is why this layer is so much cooler than the—
S: —the outer layer, the corona. So the surface of the sun is about six thousand degrees Celsius. This layer, the chromosphere, is about ten thousand degrees Celsius, and then the corona is a million degrees Celsius. So, why is it that when you get farther away from the sun, you actually get much much hotter? In fact, that's what? Two orders of magnitude hotter.
B: I thought that's been resolved, though, Steve. I thought they figured that out. This plays into that?
S: This plays into that, yeah. The partial answer, I think, was the magnetic fields, but now this adds to the models, showing how the sound waves play a role.
S: Number 3—so did I make a clean sweep this week or did you guys all get it right?
B: We got it, we got it.
S: New study finds that moths use sound mimicry to avoid getting eaten by bats, and this one...is also science.
B: Very cool adaption; I love it.
P: (Exaggerated Irish accent) Of course we did you idiot!
E: I got it right first.
S: Now this is an example, which there are many of in nature, of mimicry of one kind or another in order to avoid predation, where animals which are tasty mimic, either visually or in some other way, animals which are either poisonous or are not so tasty, so that their predators will avoid them. That's a known strategy and it has recently been shown that certain species of moths will mimic the sounds of bad-tasting moths. So, tasty moths will try to mimic or disguise themselves by using—by the sounds that they make—of the bad-tasting moths so that bats will not eat them. Very interesting. Of course, this strategy always has a certain limit because if too many tasty moths start mimicking the bad-tasting moths then the bats will learn that they're okay to eat. So there's a certain—
S: —sort of mathematical relationship that it settles into. The mimickers have to remain in the minority.
J: They should just mimic the sound my ex-girlfriend makes.
P: Now, the third one.
S: Number 2: "new research shows that accents have a partial genetic basis," that is fiction. It is based, however, on a real study, although very loosely based. There was a study recently showing that the ability to perceive and interpret tonality, or inflection in speech, does vary with certain gene variants that are involved in brain development.
S: And that those genes, those variants, which correlate with an improved, or a better ability to appreciate different tonal inflections are found in populations, in cultures that have tonal languages, like in Chinese or other Southeast Asian languages and some sub-Saharan African languages, where the inflection actually carries meaning; those are called tonal languages. And people from parts of the world that have tonal languages have the variants that are associated with a better appreciation for tones. And also within a culture—so within a non-tonal group of people, there are some people who are better at interpreting tones than others and those people have the variant that is associated with that. So there is variation both between groups and also within groups that correlate. Very interesting research. It's also the first that I'm aware of, that showed that any of that component of language has a genetic basis.
B: Yeah, I wasn't aware of that.
S: Previously, it was thought, as you said Bob, that it's really all learned; that the language area of the brain is designed to absorb the language from the environment and then it really just patterns itself after that.
S: But this shows that there is at least the ability—this tonal ability, is again, is genetically determined. Which is interesting, and just to point out that the evidence of the power that our genes have over the development and the abilities of our brain is really just growing and growing as research is being done. So well done, everybody. You guys made a clean sweep.
E: Yeah, thanks.
S: Good job.
J: Of course.
P: Moving on to the puzzle.
Skeptical Puzzle (1:05:52)
S: Evan, so last week we had the audio rap puzzle by Kom'n Cents.
E: Yes, we did.
S: Evan, can you tell us what the answer to that puzzle is?
E: Sure. Sure. The answer to last week's rap puzzle was one Dolores Krieger of therapeutic touch fame.
E: I'm sure we all have read about her at some point about her in our skeptical lives but—
E: —in any case, that was the answer to last week's puzzle; you can go back and listen to the rap again and plug in Dolores Krieger and—sure seems to make a lot of sense. For a lot of reasons the people actually posted on the message boards, so go ahead and read that.
S: Did anyone get it right?
E: Yes, dnorberg, from Tacoma, Washington. Congratulations, dnorberg.
P: Go D!
J: That was a hard one, too.
S: It was a hard one. It was.
E: Yeah, it was interesting. Kom'n called me up and wanted to know how things were going with that and I gave him an update. Told him that dnorberg guessed it correctly and he was impressed.
S: And what is this week's puzzle?
E: This week we have a logic puzzle. I'm going to read a sequence of characters and your goal this week, gentle listeners, is to fill in the last five characters in the sequence. Here's the sequence. Ready?
F 2 2 F 3 E 7 2 E 6 G 2 2 G 4
P: Hike! Sorry...
E: And there are five more that follow that, and it's up to you to put the correct characters in there.
S: Well done, Mr. Bernstein—
E: Good luck everyone.
S —our puzzle master.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:08:05)
P: I think we should finish this week out with a quote.
S: You do? That's a good idea. Did you have a quote in mind?P: I happen to have one; it is as follows:
What is wrong with priests and popes is that instead of being apostles and saints, they are nothing but empirics who say 'I know' instead of 'I am learning,' and pray for credulity and inertia as wise men pray for skepticism and activity.
That was one George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), a British dramatist of some note.
S: Bernard Shaw, nicely done.
E: George Bernard Shaw, very good.
J: Wow, that was amazing, Perry.
P: It goes without saying. Everything I do is amazing.
S: Just one quick announcement before we end. We do have our second Skeptics' Guide Uncut now available for download from our web site. And this one includes the full version of our interview with Christopher Hitchens, a very entertaining interview.
J: This is the goods.
S: Very colorful, yeah.
P: I love Hitchens.
S: I do have to warn you that there is some adult content in the interview.
P: Swears like a sailor.
S: (laughing) Basically.
E: So put the kids to bed before you download it.
S: Or keep it on the headphones.
P: You'll note I didn't say a drunken sailor.
S: Well, guys, thanks again. Always a pleasure.
J: Hey Steve, you, me, us... it doesn't get much better than this.
P: And don't worry, everyone; hippie-chick will be back next week.
S: Hippie-chick is returning next week, assuming her new Mac is up and running by then. So until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society in association with the James Randi Educational Foundation. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Please send us your questions, suggestions, and other feedback; you can use the 'contact us' page on our website, or you can send us an email to 'info @ theskepticsguide.org'. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.
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