SGU Episode 98

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SGU Episode 98
6th June 2007

Transcript Verified Transcript Verified

(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 97                      SGU 99

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

P: Perry DeAngelis

Quote of the Week

Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.

George Santayana

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Show Notes
SGU Forum


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, June 6, 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: Rebecca Watson...

R: Hello everyone.

S: Perry DeAngelis...

P: Right.

S: Jay Novella...

J: How's it going?

S: And Evan Bernstein.

E: Hi, everyone, as we commemorate D-Day today, June 6.

S: D-Day.

J: I can't bust your balls about that.

R: That isn't very amusing.

P: That's when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

B: No, the Japanese, come on.

R: Get it right.

P: Sorry.


E: In space news, today's the day that Messenger spacecraft[link needed] makes its second fly-by of Venus as it's en route to Mercury.

S: That's right.

E: Good luck to Messenger.

P: Did it find any women?


J: Rebecca, I'd like to welcome you back, though. It was a rough two weeks without you.

E: It wasn't that rough.

R: Thank you.

P: Was it two?

S: Oh, yeah, two weeks.

P: I thought it was one and a half.

R: It was one and a half.

S: Have your technical woes all been worked out?

R: Yeah, I think—I think so. I got—I have a brand new computer; it's beautiful.

P: You have a Mac.

R: Yes, I do.

P: It's not a real computer.

R: No, it's like a toy.

P: It's more like an Etch-a-Sketch.

R: There's a little mouse inside; he runs on a wheel.

News Items[edit]

Dr. Novella on Astronomy Cast (1:28)[edit]

S: For just a quick plug for our friends over at Astronomy Cast; they've put up episode number 39, which includes an interview with me. I talked to Fraser Cain about astrology and UFOs.

R: Very cool.

S: So we'll have a link to that podcast on the Notes Page, of course.

J: How'd it go?

B: Good interview. Good interview. I recommend it.

S: Yeah, it was fun.

Creation Museum in Alberta Canada (1:46)[edit]

CBC: Creationism museum to open in Alberta

S: We had a few e-mails alerting us to the fact, after our discussion about the Creation Museum in Kentucky, that in fact there is a creation museum opening up in Alberta, Canada.

P: It's spreading, like a virus.

S: Yeah, they're cropping up like mushrooms.

R: Like herpes.

E: Were they jealous?

S: Canada's first permanent museum dedicated to creationism opens its doors next Tuesday in rural Alberta. This is a little bit more of a low-budget operation. This one only cost $300,000, not the 25 million they were able to splurge for in Kentucky. But it's basically the same thing; you know, a series of displays about biblical things.

R: How much money do you need to put a big sign up that said "God did it"?

J: Yeah.

R: There you go.


S: Construction paper and a Magic Marker, you know, and you're done.

E: It says they have fossils—

R: Right.

E: —and model DNA strands meant to support a literal interpretation of the Bible.

S: Yeah, so you have the trappings of science with, you know, DNA molecules and stuff.

R: I'm sorry; I'm sorry; wait, wait, where is DNA mentioned in the Bible? I think I missed that.

E: It's in the back somewhere.

S: Did they come up with that, the Bible code, it's like—

R: I was about to say, yeah, they must have done the Bible code, where they also talk about, you know, all the other scientific facts that were conveniently left out.

B: Do you know how many times the letters D, N and A appear in the Bible? Come on, it's all over it.

P: Stick with science, Bob; we'll do the jokes.


S: They claim that dinosaurs are mentioned multiple times in the Bible. 'Course they're interpreting references to dragons and Leviathan, et cetera, as dinosaurs.

R: Right. Whatever helps you sleep at night, ya crazy creationists.

NASA On Global Warming (3:27)[edit]

NBC news: NASA head unsure global warming is a problem (31st May 2007)

NBC news: NASA chief regrets remarks on global warming (5th June 2007)

S: Another interesting news item from the past week: NASA chief Michael Griffin got into a bit of a pickle when he was interviewed about his thoughts on global warming. He was interviewed for National Public Radio. Griffin basically said that he agrees that global warming is happening, but he also said that he doesn't think that we necessarily need to do anything about it. That saying that we should take measures to prevent global warming implies that the current climate is the best possible climate that we can have. That there's something objectively preferred or optimal about our current climate. And of course, historically, the Earth has gone through many different climates, and climate changes over time, and therefore, it's not appropriate to assume that there's something special or perfect about the current climate.

B: He's totally missing the point, though.

S: Yeah, I agree, and we've mentioned this before—I think we were discussing the George Will article[link needed] that made the same basic point—that it's kind of a straw man, because no one is saying that we need to keep the climate where it is because this is the objectively perfect climate for the Earth. It just happens that we have built our civilization around the current climate. For example, placing our cities on existing coastlines, and we wouldn't want those coastlines to change, even though there's nothing objectively perfect about where the current coastlines are. Be nice if they didn't change any time soon. So I don't think that point is really valid. And in fact, in the past week since making these comments, he's been forced to backpedal; he's actually apologized for the comments that he made. He said he was injecting his personal opinion when he shouldn't be doing that and he said that the whole issue of climate change is more political than scientific and therefore should have been more cautious before expressing his personal opinions. You know certainly he should be a little more cautious about what he says, given his position as the head of NASA, and he was also criticized by meteorologists at NASA who felt that they were being undercut or back-stabbed by their boss.

R: Here's my theory. My theory is that it is in the NASA chief's best interest to increase global warming and destroy the planet so we're forced to give NASA more funding to establish colonies on the moon.

P: Which we'll just go and overheat.

E: So it's a conspiracy.

R: It's—well, okay; I mean, I guess you could apply that word to it if you want.

E: A conspiracy of one.

R: It makes perfect sense in my head.

J: What's scary to me is that someone in his position that has access to all the scientists and everything, can ask people first hand, I mean, the fact that he, he still isn't really sold on the whole global warming thing is alarming.

P: I'm not really sold on the whole global warming thing. Look—

R: Yeah, but Perry, you're an idiot.

P: I believe that the planet's warming up; I mean, all you need is a thermometer to determine that. Right? My contention—

R: No.

P: My contention is: how much human causation is involved in it, to what extent, and what this NASA chief said wasn't even that controversial.

B: Well, it was controversial in that he totally put out a straw man, a ridiculous straw man.

J: But Perry, don't you read about global warming; I mean, don't you hear the research, don't you... are you paying attention? Like, where are you coming up with your opinion?

S: Do you have a compelling reason to reject the consensus of thousands of climate scientists who said that it's 90% likely that human forcing of the climate is happening, that humans are contributing significantly to global warming. Why do you reject that consensus?

P: I—yes, I have contention with that.

S: Why?

P: Because I read Counterpoint, from people like Dr. Gray.[link needed]

R: No, not from people like Dr. Gray, from Dr. Gray. He's the only big name they've got.

P: Not the only one.

J: It's disturbing to me to have someone in his position take a stance like this, because, you know, just like we're asking Perry I'd like to ask him: why do you feel that way? What information are you drawing these conclusions from?

P: But he didn't even say the same thing I'm saying; he said something completely different.

S: Not a well-thought-out position, and probably was talking off the cuff.

B: And surprisingly, Perry's objection to human forcing of the climate, I think, is more respectable than this guy's. I mean, at least Perry's saying, "I don't think the evidence for, you know, human forcing is compelling," I mean, which is wrong, but at least it's better than this guy throwing out this straw man.

S: So there's a couple other bits of global warming news in the past week and I think that a lot of this is being sparked by the upcoming summit. President Bush, who has previously—really hasn't been acknowledging that global warming is a problem or acknowledging the consensus of scientific opinion—and recently for the first time said global warming is happening; it's, you know, it's human caused; we need to do something about it, and that he's going to take it very very seriously. This was characterized as a preemptive statement in preparation for the G-8[link needed] summit on global warming so that he doesn't get ambushed while he's there. As a follow-up to that, Tony Blair said that he could persuade President Bush to agree to, for the first time, to global targets for substantial cuts in greenhouse gases within a framework sanctioned by the United Nations. So just a lot of recent political talk about global warming, I think in the lead-up to the G-8 summit.

E: Yeah. The sum of 400 million people, and what happens with Russia and China, India, countries like that that represent billions of people, arguably half the world's population. Perhaps better efforts need to be made to go after the leaders of those countries, to get them to get on board with this as well.

S: Well, clearly, if you're talking about the next 50 to a hundred years—I mean, right now the U.S. produces more CO2 per capita than anybody else, but if you're talking the next 50 to a hundred years, we've absolutely got to—and we want to have a significant impact on CO2 production, India and China have to be part of the equation. They are also talking about that and Bush did mention, you know, that initiatives will involve them, that—they're essentially saying that, you know, Kyoto[link needed] wasn't really fair, wasn't effective; we need to go beyond Kyoto to some actual real things that are going to be more inclusive and have an impact.

Bill to Force VA to Cover Chiropractic (9:53)[edit]

Library of Congress: Chiropractic Care Available to All Veterans Act

S: Another somewhat political news item in the past week—this was sent to me by a couple of listeners. There is currently a bill before the Senate—the United States Senate—that was passed, has already passed the House, essentially forcing the Veterans' Administration hospitals to pay for chiropractic care or to offer chiropractic care to veterans.

J: How does this happen?

S: Well, this is, you know, not surprising at all, and this is—you know, chiropractic as a profession has been very aggressive in doing exactly this, getting states to pass laws to force insurance companies to cover chiropractic care. So essentially, they're bypassing a more traditional scientific route of deciding what treatments are scientific, what treatments are supported by the evidence and should be covered and using their political clout and political maneuvers in order to force coverage for their services.

J: Do you think they have a good chance of getting through?

S: Yeah, I think they do. And they always do these things—you know, they never—like there's never a big public debate about it. I mean, unless you go looking for it, it happens in the dead of night; you know, they just quietly, slowly get these laws passed and before you know it, you know, they're on the books everywhere.

E: Well, Steve, don't the majority of people have a favorable opinion of chiropractors to begin with? I mean, there really wouldn't be any kind of grassroots effort to stop something like this.

R: I don't know if you could say that the majority of people are positive towards chiropractors, because there is—

E: The majority of people I know are.

R: Well, I don't know. I know a lot of people who do go to chiropractors, but I also know a lot of people who are very unsure about them because of what they're doing, you know. There's a lot of—I think there's a lot of skepticism, you know, especially when it comes to somebody who's yanking around your back. I don't know, I see some good amount of skeptical thinking when it comes to chiropractors these days.

S: Some recent statistics put out by the American Chiropractic Association claims that about six percent of Americans have seen a chiropractor in the last year and 23 percent, when asked, said that they would see a chiropractor for back pain. So it's not a majority.

R: The way it happens, that I see, is somebody will bring up going to the chiropractor and then another person will say "isn't it weird that you always have to keep going back" or—

J: Yeah, I hear that one a lot.

R: "Do you think it really helps?" Yeah, I feel like, you know, and that's not even with some dyed-in-the-wool skeptic. I think—I see that among, you know, the regular population.

J: But I think there's definitely a very large number of people that just don't really have an opinion on it. They just think it's something else. Another kind of doctor to go to.

E: You know, I guess my point is that, you know, with that—because people don't know about chiropractic and exactly what it is, they don't take an interest in it. They don't care that this passes; in fact, I'd say that people would say this is good because they see it as another option for them; another choice that they can make. So, I don't see that there's gonna be any effort to stop this on any kind of level. And, like you said Steve, this will probably roll through Congress.

P: Like with everything else, people are uninformed and they don't realize that chiropractors didn't graduate from medical school.

S: Yeah, a lot of people really don't know what it's about, and certainly I've never spoken to anyone, like, outside of small skeptical circles who, like, actually, like, could describe, in any kind of reasonable detail, what the chiropractic profession is like. Or like, knew that there were straights and mixers and knew basically what straight chiropractors were all about. I don't perceive a lot of general knowledge in the public about that. And that's why these kind of things do get through. They also—people don't realize that this is going to divert limited funds from better therapies, from therapies that are either more scientific or more effective. That's the real harm. It's not just providing choice; it's diverting resources, and that's the harm that this kind of thing does, as well as legitimizing pseudo-science. You know? They say, "oh, well, the VA covers it, so it's gotta be scientific." No. It was not a scientific decision; it was a political decision. But I guarantee you from this point forward chiropractors will present it as if it were a mark of scientific legitimacy.

E: And then, Steve, when this thing passes, and—does that kind of open the door for other people pushing their hokum to lobby Congress to do similar things for—

S: Yeah, absolutely. It'll be—

E: Homeopaths.

S: —Homeopathy and acupuncture; it all goes through the same way.

R: It's the wedge theory.

E: And they'll say, "Oh, look, they did it for chiropractic. Gotta do it for us." Oh, OK.

S: Well, any of our listeners out there who are living in the United State, write to your senator and voice your opinion this bill. We'll have a link to the actual bill so that you can read it. And maybe we'll get them to consider the other side.

Another Pseudoscience Death (14:44)[edit]

The Age: Friends felt dying sweat-lodge man was 'astral travelling'

S: The next news item is part of our recurring theme on people who die of pseudoscience.

R: That's the worst recurring theme ever.

S: I know.

E: Yeah, I know; it's the saddest one.

S: It's sad, but I think it's—these are occasional good lessons—

E: Lessons, yeah.

S: —on how pseudo-science kills.

B: It's not all harmless.

S: It's not all harmless. This is—this one took place in Australia. There—apparently there were some New Age individuals who were going on a hike, and—in Australia, and they were undergoing an 8-day ritual of fasting, meditation and purification. This was being led by so-called New Age healer David Jarvis. One of the members of this group was, I guess, they said he was lying in a dry lake bed when he fell unconscious. Now, rather than thinking that maybe he's unconscious from dehydration or exhaustion or exposure, they thought he was unconscious because he was astrally projecting.

J: (chuckles)

S: So they stood around him—

B: Reasonable.

S: —and they did a ritual to help lure his spirit, his astral projection, back to his body. And surprisingly—

P: Why didn't they just pull on the silver cord—

S: Surprisingly that didn't work, and he died.

J: Instead of them saying, well, let's see; you know, all this drum-beating and hand-rubbing and all this stuff that they were doing to him, instead of it waking him up and bringing him back, he's still unconscious. Well, he must be really intensely astral projecting.

S: Right.

J: You know, it said the guy's literally dying—what was he, in a coma at that point, Steve? He got to the hospital. He was alive when they brought him to the hospital. He died soon after they got him in.

P: Yeah, and he was probably unconscious and he was probably coming back to consciousness, saw these baboons around him, decided his life was worthless, closed his eyes and died.

E: Yeah, went back on his astral trip.

S: They attempted to revive him by banging drums, chanting, burying their feet in soil and massaging their hands.

E: And that didn't work?

S: That didn't work.

E: Well, what else were they supposed to do?

J: That guy, David Jarvis, told the police—he told the police that the guy was attempting to assume a higher level of consciousness by activating a peace pipe.

E: Who's David Jarvis?

J: That's—

S: He's the guru who led them.

J: That's the healer. He's the head guy.

R: So he smoking up.

J: I mean, yeah, isn't that called getting stoned?

R: Yeah, I think so.

P: Maybe he really was on a higher plane.

E: And... are there any charges being brought?

S: There's an inquest. There's an inquest.

E: Uh-huh.

S: So we'll see what comes of that, but... This reminds me of the case of Newmaker[link needed], the ten-year-old girl who was undergoing the birthing ritual, and they had her wrapped up.

B: Yeah, that was nasty.

S: She wasn't moving for thirty minutes before they thought they should take a look at her.

P: Different, though, because in that one they took an active roll in killing her.

S: Yeah, that's true.

B: Yeah, absolutely. Negligence.

P: This guy was an adult; it was his choice an he just died.

S: Yeah, the Newmaker case was much, much worse. This one was just stupidity, you know.

P: It's gonna be hard to get a charge on this one.

E: Would it be negligent homicide? Is that what that would be?

P: For who, who're you gonna—

B: For this one.

P: Because some guy told him not to eat?

S: If you—if somebody dies because of something you do out of absolute sheer stupidity and ignorance, what is your culpability? I don't know.

E: Well, depraved inaction. Isn't it called depraved inaction?

S: Or depraved indifference?

B: Depraved indifference.

S: That's the...

R: I think it probably varies state by state but none of us are lawyers, so...

S: And this is Australia.

E: This is Australia, too, so, in the aboriginal... who knows?

S: If there are any Australian lawyers out there, let us know what you think about this kind of case. I'm interested. I'm not sure what the actual charge would be. But it's probably something like negligent manslaughter or depraved indifference, something like that.

B: Or depraved stupidity...

P: But you can't—you know what? You won't do it because the people will say at the time they were convinced that he was unconscious. You'll have to bring the reasonable man standard into the courtroom and say—and the jury will have to decide, I assume, if it works anything like American law, the reasonable man standard is it. You'll have to say "would a reasonable person have assumed the same thing these people did, or not?" That's what it's gonna have to be.

S: I do think that if you are leading this kind of ceremony, it's your responsibility to make sure that a basic level of safety is being observed, and I would hold somebody culpable for that. It may be that it's not criminal, but he may—he could get sued, you know, for wrongful death. Because he was responsible for the whole thing and he should have been taking more safety precautions.

P: In a just world he'd be convicted, but I don't think in the real world.

B: The context of the situation was that they were doing a ritual where being unconscious or appearing to be near death was part of the goal.

J: Yeah.

B: And that's part of the reason it went so bad, because being unconscious was kind of the goal of the situation, so that kind of let it get way out of hand.

P: That's right. Bob, that's a good point. Another thing that any defense attorney would bring in is: had they done this before with safe results? Where somebody actually was unconscious or pretending to be so, and nothing went wrong when they did their ritual.

S: Right. Although you could argue—the counter-argument would be: it's still your responsibility to monitor for safety. The fact that you, it hasn't, a bad outcome hasn't occurred before doesn't mean it still wasn't negligent. You just got lucky before.

P: Okay. It's a point.

S: But you're right, the details will matter. The details will matter.

J: I think the guy's gonna get off. That's what I think.

E: And somehow no one will question astral traveling in all of this.

S/P: (laughter)

E: Which will be remarkable, of course.

R: I kind of feel like astral traveling is so far over the edge that the people who are that into it are the true believers who are really not going to change their mind no matter what.

P: What if you had an astral travel expert come forward and say that, you know, something went wrong on the astral plane and that's why he died.

J: Yeah. You know, Perry, he could have been fighting a dragon over there.

P: Well that's what I'm saying. He was a poor astral travel practitioner. You know, and that's what killed him.

J: You know what, though; isn't it true that they say that if you sever your silver cord that you're lost forever? I mean, this guy obviously was swinging a sword around, and that—

P: That's why I said, couldn't they have just yanked him back in?

R: What on Earth are you talking about?

J: Oh, come on. Do the research, Rebecca. You know about the silver cord.

P: The silver cord! There's a silver cord that attaches from your lame-o body to your astral body. Thank you.

R: A silver cord.

P: Okay, it's a silver cord and if it gets severed, like Jay said, you're lost forever. It's not easy to break, though. If you pull on it, it'll stretch like taffy.

J: Yep.

R: And this is something they actually believe.

J: This is the real deal.

S: This is astral travel mythology, yes.

P: Yes. That's correct. That's right. That's exactly what it is.

UFO Drone Follow-Up (21:37)[edit]

Kris Avery animations (YouTube profile)

S: We have two more news items, both video related. The first one is a quick follow-up to last week where we mentioned the UFO drone that we were—we had an e-mail question about, and there were several pictures of these, what we thought were hoaxes, you know, small models, that were all static. And we mentioned that there was no moving video of the—of the so-called drones. Since then, we were sent links to video, of the—of the drone in action, although, they are both admitted computer graphic animations. What somebody did was they took the still image from those pictures and then used software to animate it, to make—to move it around and give it a little hum, and rotate it.

P: And it looked good because the—

E: Looked good, yeah.

P: —the original image was so clear.

S: Yeah. Yeah, it looked pretty good.

P: So they were able to get a really nice piece.

S: Yeah, the experts will look at it and say, yeah, this is CGI, but it still looked pretty good to the amateur eye, or the naïve eye.

P: It did.

J: Yeah, I mean, the fact that somebody did that at home; I'm very impressed.

S: So, if you do see video out there, don't be confused. That's admitted, you know, fakery. This is not video that's being posted by the original person as something that he videotaped with a camera. Also, it does—some people made the point in the comment section to these videos that—and I believe we've discussed this before—that in the age of CGI, of computer graphics and computer animation, photographic and video evidence is becoming virtually worthless. As the ability to distinguish between genuine video and crafted video is becoming more and more difficult.

E: Can't use it to make any kind of scientific analysis at all.

S: Right, and just as evidence, just as physical evidence of something. I mean, the fakes are getting so good that we're losing it almost as a source of evidence. At the very least, if you're going to offer either a picture or video as evidence, you need to see the negative if there is a negative; if it's purely digital, you know, then an unaltered version of the original file, you know, before any alterations were taken.

E: Right.

S: So...

J: Well, Steve, it's also—you know, keep this in mind: if it's from a security camera or a source that's trustworthy, then it is still very useful. It's when you see things like this on YouTube, on the internet... then you have to question it.

S: Yeah. But then you need the original tape; you need something to document what the original source is. Yeah, if it's something that's posted up on YouTube, I mean you know, who knows what kind of manipulations have happened.

P: I notice NASA didn't have anything to say about it.

S: No, they were silent. Conspicuously silent.

P: They could have used a little more sound effects in the video. You know, wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa (rising in pitch)


J: Yeah, anything would have been cooler.

P: Or something.

E: "We come in peace."

P: Yeah, it would have been.

J: Rebecca, let me ask you a question.

P: The Jetsons. Yeah.

J: Rebecca, did you believe in anything when you were young?

R: Whoa, where did that come from?

J: 'Cause I just realized that I don't know, I don't know if you believe in UFOs or... I know you're—

R: I believed in nothing.

J: You didn't have In Search of, because you're a lot younger than us, but—

R: I, yeah, I mean, I believed in everything. I mean, I was a kid with an active imagination.

E: I think we all did.

R: I don't know, I—Yeah, you hear some people claim that, "no no no"...

E: "I've been a skeptic since I was two."

R: You know, "I was debunking Santa Claus from the womb," but, I don't see any sense in priding oneself in that, you know. When you're a kid, you have to believe in everything—

E: That's right. You don't get presents if you don't believe in these things.

R: There's so much cool stuff out there that everything is possible.

J: (laughs) You got it all worked out, right, Evan?

E: You bet I did.

New Loch Ness Monster Video (25:13)[edit]

S: The last news item is about a video that's been circulating for the last week, alleged video of the Loch Ness monster. So Nessie is back in the news after, after a good time of being quiescent.

P: This is that picture of the floating turd?

R: Long time. We haven't heard anything from Nessie.

S: The news reports about it are so funny and I'd like watching these, you know, local news programs. They're just so ridiculous. The guy who took the photo, the video, is billed as an "amateur scientist", Yorkshire man Gordon Holmes. And, you know, listening to this guy talk on the news clip about him, he really is, you know, ridiculous. He says all the usual things that—"oh, you know, we don't know what it is, but it's interesting", "scientists need to take a look at this", "it deserves, you know, further investigation", "it may take years for us to figure out what it really is." All the basically mystery-mongering statements. The video is of a black smudge that appears to be moving through the water.

P: It is—I was serious, it is the most turd-esque picture of Nessie I've ever seen.

S: It's true.

J: It doesn't show any detail. It shows a dark wake being moved under the water. You have no perspective on size. You have no perspective on the speed that it's moving.

R: Yeah, as usual with these videos, it's ridiculously disappointing because—

J: Yeah.

R: —you hear all this buzz about "Oh, the biggest new video to show a monster."

S: Yeah.

R: And it's nothing, it's crap. I wanna see friggin' Nessie get out of the lake and stomp... Tokyo.

S: Have you guys seen that commercial?

R: I want—

S: Have you seen the commercial about—it's like an SUV, where the Loch Ness monster comes out of the lake and bites—grabs the SUV and drags it under the Loch, and then spits it back out.

E: Spits it out.

R: I have not seen that, but I support it.

S: Yeah, that's what I want to see, I wanna see—

P: That's better evidence than this video.

S: —an actual creature, not a black smudge.

R: We live in a world that is just dominated by devices that capture photos—

S: Right.

R: —and videos and sound. They're on your phones; they're in your pocket, and yet, this is the best we get?

S: Right.

R: Come on.

P: I'm beginning to think that this is fake.

J: I think so, too, Perry. I think so, too.

P: I think the whole Loch Ness thing, I'm really—I'm losing faith.

R: That's a little... That's going a little far here.

S: The comments underneath the news item are funny, though. I just want to read you one. It starts out so reasonable. This guy says:

This certainly isn't Nessie. It's similar to something photographed on Lake Windemere earlier this year. It's a rubber tube being dragged along. Yes, it will be good for the tourists, but it is a publicity stunt and a cheap trick to make the photographer known. Anyone thinking that this is Nessie is sick.

But then he writes his last sentence:

Nessie is a spirit that shouldn't be exploited for the sake of money.

E: Oh, Nessie's a spirit; why didn't I think of that?

S: This was written by Kevin Carlyon, High Priest of British White Witches.

(pause, then laughter)

J: That's gotta be a—that's gotta be a joke, man.

P: That's it. Spirit.

R: Brilliant.

P: I think that's why Nessie's so seldom seen, because he's astrally projecting most of the time.

S: That's true.

E: I love when unknowns are explained with unknowns.

S: Nessie and Bigfoot are in the astral plane, having a big laugh.

E: Maybe that's where that guy went. He went to the astral plane, saw Nessie and Bigfoot—

P: Hangin' out with Elvis.

E: Elvis and...

J: It shows you the power of... or, you know, the genesis of a pseudo-science or a pseudo-belief like this. You know, the guy that faked the original one, the really cool-looking one that really captured my attention when I was a kid. I mean, people forever are going to be hearing about the Loch Ness monster. It's gonna exist in human culture, I think, forever. Right?

S: In...

P: Until they finally carry out my plan and drain the Loch. Thank you. Case closed.

E: Even then—

S: Not even then, Perry.

E: Even then, Perry—

P: What are you talking about?

E: (inaudible) a hundred excuses.

S: Nessie swims out to sea and then comes back when you refill the Loch.

Questions and Emails (29:17)[edit]


S: Well, let's move on to your e-mail. The first e-mail comes from Liam Kidney, and he writes:

Dear Skeptics: On episode number 97, Perry incorrectly attributed the quote of the week to "George Bernard Shaw, British playwright of some note." The quote instead would have been more correctly attributed to George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright of some note, and interestingly, the only person ever to be awarded both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. Thanking Perry in advance for his correction. Liam, an outraged Irish listener.

We actually had a few people point that out to us. So a minor error on Perry's part. George Bernard Shaw was, in fact, an Irish playwright.

P: First of all, Liam, I'd like to point out that I did not say he was a British playwright of some note. I said he was a British dramatist of some note.

R: Minor.

P: So get your little quotes right. Let's move on.

E: Maybe he was from—maybe he was from Northern Ireland.

Lunar Effect (30:09)[edit]

S: Thanks for the correction of the correction, Perry. The next e-mail comes from B. Baggott from the U.S.A., and he writes:

Fox news just reported that police presence will be increased in Brighton because of increase in violent crime during the full moon. This was reiterated in a report on BBC news, which cite a 1998 study and another German study in 2000. I am still a bit skeptical. A three-month study seems a little too short to come to any conclusions. I thought this lunacy theory was all bunk. What do you think? B. Babbitt [sic]

Well, I agree with Baggott. This is bunk and it's been proven to be bunk for decades. But again, like the unsinkable rubber duckies, these kinds of things never, ever, ever go away, as we were just saying about the Loch Ness monster. This is like just one of those bits of mythology that's likely to hang around. There are—I have the links to some interesting reviews. The Skeptic's Dictionary actually has a very good article[link needed] on this with lots of links. There have been numerous reviews of all the studies that have been done, basically showing no correlation between the phases of the moon to crimes, ER admissions, and any way you chose to measure it, there's no association, you know, between...

P: This whole full moon thing is so stupid. Everybody knows it's the new moon that brings out the vampires.

S: Well, actually—

P: When there's no light at all. That's, you know—

J: Steve, I remember talking to someone about—about this, this exact topic, and you know, they were like, "Well, you know, there's more of a gravitational pull during the full moon" and everything, and I had to literally explain to the person—

B: Wrong.

J: —that the gravitational pull of the moon doesn't change because of how much light—

S: Right. That's exactly correct.

J: —was reflecting on it from the sun.

S: That was one of sort of the hand-waving arguments that people make, "Well, it's the tidal effects of the moon on the water around your brain." Right? The moon affects water, and your brain floats in water. It's, you know—which is nonsense on multiple levels. Not to men—you know, first is that the tidal forces of the moon on your skull are negligible. Right? The tidal forces, as I think Bob was discussing a few episodes ago, is the difference in the gravitational pull from one side of an object to another. And the difference in the gravitational pull of the moon from one side of your skull to the other is negligible. Also, that force, that tidal force, does not change with the phase of the moon. What does change is whether or not the tidal forces of the moon and the tidal forces of the sun are lining up. Or if they're not lining up, right? And that's why—so the maximal and minimal tides occur when the moon is opposite the sun during full moon or, even more so, when the moon is on the same side as the sun during a new moon. So any effect that you're going to attribute to tidal forces should be equal or greater during the new moon, as during the full moon.

P: As I just said. Uh, but Steve, doesn't it pull on the iron in your blood?


S: That's not even worth a comment. I haven't heard that one... But here's the kernel of legitimate science in all this, because there's always—if you dig deep enough, there's always of kernel of legitimate science. There is a theoretical effect of the phases of the moon in that it does give off different amounts of light, and it is actually possible for hormonal rhythms to synchronize with certain external rhythms. Like, there's a diurnal rhythm, one that synchronizes with the day/night cycle, and there are animals that have proven lunar cycles that, you know, have different secretions of, you know, different levels of certain hormones during the different times of the month. In fact, it's possible that the human female menstrual cycle, which is about a lunar month long, evolved in synchrony with the lunar cycles, and there is some evidence that women's menstrual cycles are not random with respect to the phase of the moon. That there's a—there's a little peak, I believe, about 28 percent of women tend to menstruate around the new moon. And that is greater—that's a peak, so it's more than is distributed across the rest of the month.

P: So if I'm hearing you right, Steve—

E: That's helpful information.

P: —you're saying that Rebecca is crabbier during the new moon.

S: You could infer that from what I just said.

R: I think I'm just crabbier whenever you're around, Perry, so... you might be—

S: There's the Perry Effect that confounds that data.

E: The Perry Effect.

S: But, now, listen. None of this justifies any of the extrapolations to criminal activity, ER admissions or anything. When you look at any of that data, there simply is no correlation. The studies that were referenced in the news articles, one I was able to find on PubMed and it's not actually a study. There's no data presented in the article. It's just this guy's review of the lunar effect and, you know, speculating about possible mechanisms and maybe talking about some previous studies, but it isn't actually a study; there's no data presented in it. I couldn't find the German one from 2000 that was referenced, but more recent studies have been negative and more recent reviews, you know, published since then have been absolutely negative. So the bottom line is there's no scientific evidence to say that there's any connection.

J: Yeah, but Steve, the police spokeswoman said "Research carried out by us has shown a correlation." What's she talking about?

S: Well, she's talking about her—

J: Well, was it a new moon when she said that?

S: But she's talking about—yeah, she's probably referring to their own quote-unquote "research," which is not published anywhere.

J: Yeah, the police are running around doing their own investigation.

S: So it's—you know, we don't know what scientific protocols they're following, if any. What she basically says—

J: But, Steve, they're sitting around in an office chair going "Don't you notice that, Frank?" "Yeah, I do, Bill, of course."

S: That's basically what she says. It's like, hey, everyone know it, we all notice that there's more stuff going on during the full moon than at other times of the month. But that is just confirmation bias. The belief drives the observation. I have a little anecdote that supports that. I was working in an ER as a medical student, as an intern. I was working at the ER as an intern, and it was a particularly busy night. And one of the nurses said, "Wow, it's crazy tonight, is there a full moon out there?" And, there wasn't. It was some other phase of the moon. So, she said "Oh," and then just forgot it and went on with her—with the shift. Now, of course, if there were, by coincidence, you know, the two- or three-day period—

B: She'd remember.

S: —where there was a reasonably full moon, she would have remembered it. It would have confirmed the prior belief that there's a full moon effect. This—this negative evidence, or this bit of data that did not fit with the lunar hypothesis was quickly forgotten, and you could see, she just said "Oh" and just forgot about it and went on with her life. So that's confirmation bias in action.

J And you didn't say anything to her?

S: I did. I said, "See, if it were a full moon, you would have used that to support that belief and—

R: And she quickly converted to skepticism.

S: Absolutely.

E: No, it went in one ear and out the other.

P: She said, "Shut up you little intern." That's what she said, and moved on.


E: I'd like to make a quick comment, though, on the person who sent in this particular question.

S: Yes.

E: We don't know if that happens to be first name "Buffy" Baggott, do we? It's just B. Baggott.

S: B. Baggott. Why, who's Buffy Baggott?

E: Buffy Baggott is a fan of ours. She has a picture and a link up to her website at the SGU Fan site. And Buffy—if this is in fact Buffy—I can imagine there's only so many B. Baggotts e-mailing us—

S: Could be Brenda Baggott.

E: —is an accomplished opera singer.

S: Is that right?

E: Apparently, yeah.

S: Cool.

E: So go to the SGU Fans, check out Buffy's link, and—

S: So she's an opera singer "of some note" is what you’re saying?


E: Apparently. Critically acclaimed. I'm just reading through her website now and there are some very good reviews of her. So, for those interested.

J: Buffy, if you ever send us a question again, you have to record yourself singing the question and send it in.

S: Operatically singing the question, that's awesome.

E: That would be great. To the Carmen theme.

P: We're drifting too far from Rebecca's menstruation. We need to—

R: Yes, please, let's all focus on my bloody vagina.

P: Rebecca, what—


E: Bloody hell.

R: That'll really bring in the listeners.

J: Rebecca, you just went up three clicks in my book. I totally love you.

P: That's really disgusting.

R: Oh, it's disgusting, Perry? Because you seemed really intent on discussing it earlier and I thought maybe you'd wanna move forward with that. Oh, okay, interesting.

P: Let's move on.

R: Perry wants to move on.

P: I'm outraged.

Herxheimer Reaction (38:47)[edit]

S: The next e-mail comes from Eric Kemp, who gives his location as the Houston area. That's in Texas. And Eric writes:

Hello, I've just found the podcast and I love it. I haven't had time to hear all of them, so if this has already been covered, then please dismiss. I've been reading about several healing techniques and almost all of them come with a possible side-effect of what's called a healing crisis, or a Herxheimer reaction. The claim is that your body is flushing out so many toxins that you become ill because of it. I would love to hear what you think of this. Keep up the good work.

Well, the Herxheimer reaction is a real phenomenon. It happens if you have a raging bacterial infection, and you are given a high dose of antibiotics. The antibiotics can kill so many bacteria so quickly that those bacteria will dump their toxins, especially if they're the kind of bacteria that secrete toxins, into your bloodstream. So you'll get this incredible rush of breakdown products of the bacteria and of, possibly of toxins. And that can make you acutely ill. So that's a real thing. Now, that doesn't happen, however, with holistic healing. Because that doesn't do anything. So they're just borrowing the terminology from real medicine. It's kind of, you know, bragging to say that "Oh, our healing is so effective that you can have this acute reaction." But it's mainly used as a post-hoc rationalization. So what they're saying is, if you're sick and you go to a healer, and you get better, that's because the healing worked. And if you get worse, that's because the healing worked really well. So either way, the healing worked.

E: Be careful, don't wield this power incorrectly or you might damage yourself.

S: Right.

J: Have you guys listened to the latest episode of Quackcast[link needed]?

S: Not yet. What was it about?

E: No.

J: Mark Crislip's. Well, it's about probiotics.

S: Oh, yeah.

J: It says it's the opposite of antibiotics. I'm sure you know about it, Steve,

S: Yeah.

E: We touched on that a while ago.

J: If any of our listeners are interested, listen to his most recent episode. It was great, and it, you know, this e-mail reminded me of the episode.

S: Yeah. Very quickly, probiotics—again, it's a real thing; it's like, we all have good bacteria in our guts that help us digest stuff. And also, our mucus membranes are colonized with friendly bacteria that keep out other infections, like bad bacteria or fungus. So promoting a good, symbiotic bacteria is technically what we call probiotics. But then, of course, there are people who take this to pseudo-scientific extremes and use the same term to refer to a whole bunch of nonsense. But sounds like a good listen.

J: You know, I was e-mailing—Mark and I were e-mailing each other, and I asked him about eating yogurt, which I'm totally surprised to say this, but—

E: Yeah, it works.

J: Well, he said that the only time that yogurt actually could give you a benefit is if you're trying to get over diarrhea. Other than that, it doesn't do anything.

E: Right.

J: You don't need it.

E: Well, I had a sinus infection recently and I was put on two back-to-back ten-day prescriptions of antibiotics, and I could feel what it was doing to my insides. And I did a quick look-up on the internet and it said, go—you can either go eat yogurt or they sell the active culture in pill form.

R: Acidophilus.

E: I'm not sure what it's called. Thank you.

S: If you have depleted your own bacteria with a course of antibiotics, yes, then that's a time when it may be helpful. In fact, when people do take antibiotic, one of the possible complications, especially in women, is they may get fungal infections.

R: You know, I knew this was gonna come back to my vagina again.

S: It does.

E: Does it ever get away?

S: Or you could get what we call thrush. Right, you can get thrush in your mouth—

R: Yeah.

S: —which is also a fungal infection. That's a complication of antibiotics because you're killing off the friendly bacteria.

J: Steve, we are—we're coated in bacteria.

S: Yes, in fact, I think most of our—

E: Thank goodness.

S: —is bacteria.

B: Yeah, you're more bacteria than anything else.

Chemtrails (42:58)[edit]

S: The next e-mail comes from another Eric. This one is Eric Cattani from Las Vegas, and he writes:

Hey guys and gal. I found your podcast three months ago and I have been avidly listening since my first download. Congratulations on the outstanding content. You are all very entertaining, even Perry.

J: Woo hoo.


The reason for this e-mail is that I am hoping you can address the issue of chemtrails. Unfortunately, I am dating a woman who has two brothers in their twenties who spend most of their day combing the web for more information on how "The Government" is trying to take over the government.

S: "The government" in quotes. I guess that must be the secret government.

I guess chemtrials are one of the many things our corrupt government is trying to do to kill people and assume control over the world (and we vote for these guys!) I've never heard of chemtrails before and from what I gather, they are caused by "The Government's" attempts to control the weather and global warming. I can already hear new reasons for Katrina. While researching the subject on the web I found a Contrail vs Chemtrail argument. Unfortunately, the skeptic becomes confused and loses the judged argument, which is surprising because he did use a solid skeptical approach. I have attached a link and I was hoping I could share your thoughts. Anyway, thanks for the great hours of listening.

J: Well, chemtrails are one of the pseudo-sciences that I think are up there in ridiculousness.

S: Yeah, right up there with crop circles.

J: Here's the basics on chemtrails.

S: Yeah, give us the quickie background, Jay.

J: Chemtrails are a collection of conspiracy theories that claim "The Government" is introducing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. According to the theory proponents, chemtrails form when certain aircraft leave behind chemical-laden contrails, that are—that last longer than normal contrails. Normal contrails are basically made up of water vapor and exhaust from jet engines.

S: From jets.

J: The proponents of chemtrails actually believe that some vapor trails left by jets appear different and they behave differently than regular water-vapor-based contrails. Similar to the colored smoke, like the white exhaust coming out of a jet that you would see at an air show. And, of course, there's a long and strange list of reasons that the government is releasing these chemicals into the atmosphere.

E: So when I see a vapor trail in the sky, that's a chemtrail, supposedly?

J: Well, there's people out there that literally take pictures of like any kind of weird cloud anomaly that they come up with. And they call those "chemtrails."

E: Ah.

J: Chemtrails were actually... they came into life in the late 1990s. I think the guy that pretty much came up with the idea, his name is William Thomas. And... you know, they think it's a—they think it's an act of the world governments, you know—

P: Is it just an idea he pulled out of his ass?

J: Pretty much. I mean, somebody made it up. It didn't come—it didn't come from anywhere. It really didn't come from anywhere.

R: Would you say that it came out of thin air?

B: Who-o-o-o-a

J: But listen, so here are the things, check this out.

R: Sorry.

J: Here are all the things that these people believe. This is a collection of things that people believe chemtrails do: Atmospheric and weather modification; biological warfare; mind control; OK... occult purposes. They are also theorized to be part of a system to counter the effects of global warming, and that came about—there was actually, like, some type of bill that was passed, temporarily, that mentioned chemtrails and that gave it a little bit more—

R: It mentioned chemtrails or contrails?

S: Kucinich[link needed] put that—

J: Chemtrails.

S: Well, basically—it was basically outlawing, like bad weaponry, and they listed all the things that should be outlawed as, like unethical weaponry, and he listed chemtrails. Or, you know, whatever. But basically depositing toxins through jet exhaust. And, yeah, that fueled the conspiracy theorists. In the later version of the bill they stripped out all the specifically listed items.

J: Yeah. Some people think that it's a way to create cheap wireless communications net—a cheap wireless communications network for the military because they're seeding the atmosphere with some particles that make the air more able to transmit, you know, receive and transmit electrical signals. Then they also bring up the radar systems and it's enhancing the ability of our radar systems. I mean, there's also like the New World Order thing thrown in with this.

S: Yeah.

J: And people think that the governments are dumping this stuff to make us sick to basically beat the common man down, to, you know, kind of turn it into an Orwellian type of New-World-Order situation.

S: How's that working out?

R: So far, so good.

J: So I was reading this website not too long ago, this one—and if you want to go visit any website about chemtrails, just to get a laugh, because this is really, like, you know, the guy's head comes open. You can peek in and really see what's going wrong there.

R: Ew.

J: Go to This guy believes—he took pictures—he had pictures that he found on the web of the twin towers burning and he's like "You see that little cloud right there? That's a chemtrail." And then he has this theory about the planes that they use, and all the—he—this guy is totally cracked beyond belief.

S: Yeah, but this one—this is based largely in paranoia, and, you know, definitely attracts the mental illnesses.

R; Yeah, it's the black helicopter guys.

E: Absolutely.

S: Yeah. It does attract the crackpots. I found one article on, which is a big promoter of this notion. This one's by Marjorie Tijan and this is classic. The title says it all: "Blatant ABC Chemtrail Subliminals". How can you have blatant subliminals?

B: Oh, wow.


B: It's blatant once you look into it.

S: Right, once you see that it's there, and it's classic. You have to read the whole thing, but I'm just gonna give you a couple of highlights. She writes about how she met an Air Force pilot, somewhere. You know, in public. And—so she tried to strike up a conversation with him. She asked him about the possibility of chemtrails being used as some sort of sun screen, and he replied, according to her, "Well, you know that we are having problems with too much of the sun's radiation entering our atmosphere. And then the conversation went in another direction and somebody else interrupted and she never really had a chance to follow up with him. And she reads all of this into the whole interaction, like "I knew that he wanted to say more and he knew exactly what was going on and he knew what I was talking about." She's just projecting all of this stuff onto this completely innocuous, innocent interaction with this guy. It's really funny. As Jay said, you could see sort of the wires crossing there. And then she talks about how, you know, the ABC weather service is using subliminal messages of chemtrails to try to, like, make people take them for granted and not notice them by having them in their graphics, and she complained to the manager of her local affiliate, and she says, you know, "She seems sincerely ignorant of the whole ruse and I also think that she thought I might be a little bit off balance."

R: Um.

P: (chuckles)

S: You don't say.

E: I got a message from a chemtrail once, it said "Eat at Joe's" and I did.

R: You sheeple.

S: Sheeple? One of the claims made for it is that often the chemtrails exist in criss-crossing, like a grid-like pattern.

J: Yeah, like a crossed-hatch pattern.

S: Yeah, and the Air Force is like, "Well, you know, those are the flight paths of commercial airlines."

R: Oh, how convenient.

S: "We space them out"... you know, "We space them out in like east-west and north-south directions. So, that's the commercial air traffic."

J: Steve, they actually think that the chemtrails—first off, they claim they last longer than contrails. And then what happens is, as they dissipate, they think that the chemtrails are creating a haze over, you know, areas.

S: Yeah.

J: That they're trying to sicken people.

S: Yeah, but, and it's—and seriously, it's all contrails that just behave differently depending upon the heat, the humidity, the winds, you know.

E: The wind.

S: The local—the weather conditions.

J: But Steve, it's not just that, man, I'm telling you, go to bariumblues. This guy is literally taking pictures of really pretty clouds and he's like, "you see that? You see, look at this, and—" I mean, he's taking pictures of clouds, like, dissipating.

S: Yeah, well, he's on the fringe of the fringe. Yeah.

J: Oh, he's, he's a kook.

Name That Logical Fallacy (51:21)[edit]

S: We have a "Name That Logical Fallacy" for this week. This one—actually the person who sent this didn't sign it, but they say:

Dear Dr. Novella, Could you and your collegues help me name all of the logical fallacies in the following:

S: And this comes from Today, the television show Today from June 1, 2007, which said:

A woman after thirteen failed in-vitro fertilizations finally gets a surrogate who gives birth to a pair of twins. She gets interviewed and thanks God for the twins and says "God told me that this was the right time. So I prayed and my wish came true." Then added, "and I might have more kids if God wants me to." I suspect there are two clear logical fallacies, but there might be some other more subtle ones hidden there. Can you help?

S: What do you guys think about this one?

B: Well, "I prayed and my wish came true." That's obviously confusing association with causation.

S: Yup. And there's also another effect in here. I don't know what the—it is just a subset of the assuming causation from correlation, but it happens when there's a series of events and when the one hits, you credit the—whatever it is that you were praying to. So this is like a—we'll call it the rainmaker fallacy, right? It's like you dance and dance and dance and then eventually, it's gonna rain. And when it rains, you credit the dancing. Right? So she was praying and praying and praying, thirteen failed in vitro fertilizations, finally the surrogate came through. God gets the credit for the one success. Not the thirteen failures. Right?

P: Well, the other thirteen were Satan.


E: Satan had a hand in it?

P: That's all. Absolutely.

S: Interfering with things?

J: Satan blocking defense.

P: Lucifer, Beelzebub. That's all.

S: There's also some—there's a post-hoc fallacy in there. She said, "God—and I might have more kids if God wants me to." So if she has more kids, that's because God wanted her to. And if she doesn't have more kids, well, God didn't want her to. So no matter what happens, it's consistent with God's will. So there's nothing that could happen that would basically—could possibly be evidence that God's not mucking around with her fertility. You know, that—

R: Yeah, she didn't give up after thirteen failed in-vitro fertilizations and say, "well, guess God hates me."

S: That's often—some people say, "Well, God always answers prayers, but sometimes the answer is no."


R: Sometimes the answer is cancer. Who knows.


J: Yeah, yeah. Cancer.

S: All right. Well, let's move on to Science or Fiction.

Science or Fiction (53:53)[edit]

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. And then I try to challenge my panel of skeptics and the listeners at home to tell me which one is the fake. Three items, one fake. Is everybody ready?

R: No.

B: Yup.

R: I mean, yes.

J: Yes, sir.

S: Okay. Item number one: Researchers have successfully turned a mature skin cell into a stem cell that is identical to an embryonic stem cell. Item number two: Once thought impossible, researchers have captured the motion of a single electron on a home video camera. And item number three: In order to address faculty shortages, a nursing institute has recently employed a robotic instructor to teach some classes. Jay, why don't you go first.

J: All right, so... very interesting science or fiction, Steve. Researchers have successfully turned a mature skin cell into a stem cell that is identical to an embryonic stem cell. Very interesting, very interesting, indeed. Once thought impossible, researchers have captured the motion of a single electron, OK. On a home video. And, the robotic nurse helper. And you're saying that the robot is actually teaching classes?

S: Yes.

J: I believe... that that's the fake.

S: Which one?

J: The nursing one.

S: Okay.

J: The robot.

S: The robot nurse.

E: The one you said.

S: The robot nurse is the fake. OK. Perry, go next.

P: Ummmmmm, pass. Can I pass?

S: What are you, George Bush? Come on.

P: (chuckles) Uh, yeah. The, uhhhh, the first two sound, you know, unlikely. But the third one sounds more unlikely. I understand that robot actually became self-aware and asked for a raise, and you didn't report that, Steve. Yeah, the third one sounds most fakish.

S: The nurse. The robot nurse.

P: The nurse, the nurse. Most fakish.

S: OK, Evan.

P: Self aware.

S: Evan.

E: Uhhhhhhhhhh. It's between... for me it's between the single electron on a home video camera. A home video camera. I mean, they are getting better in quality, and resolution, and features, but the motion of a single electron, that's tough. On the other hand, a robotic instructor to teach some classes. Boy, you know, in Japan, aren't they like leading the way in robotics and stuff? Anything you hear about robots doing things come out of Japan. I wouldn't be surprised if that's legitimate. Something's telling me to say the video camera one, but I'm gonna go with the sheep and say that the robotic instructor is fiction.

R: B-a-a-a-a—a

P: I'm so disappointed in you.

E: And I, I, I'm not happy with my choice, but I'm choosing it.

S: You're gonna say the robot nurse, too.

E: Um hmm.

S: Okay, Rebecca.

R: I'm gonna have to go with the robot nurse as well. I think the electron thing seems totally impossible, but I think you're doing something sneaky there. So, yeah, I'm gonna go with the robot.

S: Okay Bob.

B: I suspect some subtle tweaking of some of these stories, but I'm gonna go with the robot instructor that teaches classes. It's fiction; I just don't think you can have, as advanced as robots are, the interactivity is just not there, which is what you really need for a robotic instructor. So I'm gonna go with robot instructor.

S: Yeah, but they're having a faculty shortage.

B: Well. I still think that—

R: (laughs) Don't try to save it now, Steve.

B: That is fiction.

P: (In a robot voice) You insert the end of the enema bulb in the anal cavity.


R: (in a robot voice) I need one volunteer.


S: All right, Bob, so you're saying the robot nurse, too.

P: (in a robot voice) Bend over and grab your meat ankles. (In his regular voice) Sorry.

J: Meat ankles.

E: (in a robot voice) Turn your head and cough.

(laughter continues)

P: Come on.

S: OK, so you all agree that researchers have turned an adult skin cell into an embryonic stem cell.

J: Indeed.

S: Or a stem cell that is identical to an embryonic stem cell.

P: That'd be pretty amazing.

E: Identical in every way. I'll go a step further than even the scientists.

S: And that is science.

B: That is incredible.

P: That's amazing.

E: That's wonderful.

B: Oh, my god.

S: They reprogrammed the fibroblast of a mouse... so it is with a mouse, not a human.

E: Oh, it's mice.

S: But if they can do it with a mouse there's no reason why they can't do it with a human.

R: Great. Now we can cure mouse cancer.

E: Yay. All those mice that we inject cancer into, we can now cure them.

P: The stem cell debate is over?

S: It is. Technology has ended the embryonic stem cell debate, basically.

E: That's so cool! And George Bush loses.

P: That's awesome.

J: Rebecca, we're creating a race of super-handsome mice that are gonna live forever.

R: Great.

B: Well that's how it seems anyway, Steve. I'm still—

S: That's how it seems so far. These things always have to be put through the meat grinder of peer review and people picking it over.

J: The mice in a meat grinder!

S: But it looks—it looks good, and there's nothing implausible about it.

E: I thought that hot dog tasted—

S: They reprogrammed the cells and every way they've looked at 'em so far they seem to be . They seem to be able to turn into any kind of cell. The big test—the big test is whether or not they can turn it into a germ line cell. A cell like a sperm or an egg, and they said that they can.

E: They said they can?

S: Yeah. So—and, they said that's it. If you could do that, that's it. If you have pluripotency, you can turn it into anything.

B: Game over.

S: So it—you know, now we have to do it in a human. But the other thing about this—the thing to keep in mind, not only does this mean that we have a source of stem cells that are as powerful as embryonic stem cells, but that could be harvested from adult tissue we don't have to—

P: An endless supply.

S: —we avoid the entire ethical conundrum of using embryos—is that they could do this from your skin cell and they can make a stem cell that's you. That's huge.

E: So you'll bank your cells.

P: That's amazing.

S: You don't have to bank anything. They take a piece of skin; you know, they can do it from you now. So the whole banking of cord blood, all that stuff, become obsolete.

B: That's incredible.

S: If that's true.

P: How's my investment in that cord blood factory?

E: They bank your—so they don't know what to turn it into until you need it later.

S: Yeah, they could grow you—they could grow you a new liver, you know.

E: Yeah, but how do I—what if I don't need a new liver, I need a new kidney?

R: Sell it!

S: They'd grow you a new kidney. The point—Evan, they don't have to bank it; they can harvest it from you as needed. 'Cause it's from an adult

P: That's awesome.

S: —skin cell, an adult fibroblast.

B: Well, it depends how long—it depends how long it takes for them to, you know, create the stem cells. That would be a factor.

S: Yeah, so, I guess, you could envision—I mean, I've seen this in science fiction movies, you know, where you have—

R: Are you presenting that as evidence?


S: No, I'm just saying the concept that you'll harvest the cells and you'll grow the organs to sort of keep them on hand.

R: That's like I saw an episode of Star Trek[link needed] once where they stuck this thing in a guy's ear, and controlled his mind.


B: Khaaaaan!

P: (in a robot voice) Please place this in your ear.

J: Rebecca, that think is called a tongue, OK?

S: I'm just saying—So the one option is they harvest as needed, but if you want a pre—

P: I'm not a robot, I'm a doctor!

S: —pre-grow all the organs so they're sitting there, I doubt that that's gonna be... what's gonna happen. All right. "Once thought impossible, researchers have captured the motion of a single electron on a home video camera." And I can't believe I didn't get any of you guys with this one.

E: Steve, you almost go me, I almost—

R: We're onto your shenanigans, Steve.

S: Also science. And I got two good ones. I had two—

P: You did. You did.

S: Last week they were all lame. Last week—you guys swept me last week, but they were all lame. There was not one good news item last week. This week I had two good ones and I still didn't sucker you guys in. This was—I mean, come on, on a home video camera.

R: It's too zany; you couldn't make that up, Steve.

S: I could make something like that up, come on.

R: No, you can't.

J: Steve, as soon as I heard that, as soon as you said "home video camera" I said, well I know that one's true.


J: That's the first thing I said to myself.

S: This was just published in The Journal of Low Temperature Physics—who thought there was such a journal?

E: The Journal of what?

S: From Brown University. A couple of physicists figured out a way to—now, the trick is they didn't videotape the electron. It was the motion of the electron. So that was the little trick there. What they do is they looked at the motion of an electron through liquid helium, super cold liquid helium, and I guess that's why it's low-temperature physics. And the reason why they use that is 'cause normally, you know, an electron will repel any other atoms around it. But the surface tension of whatever it's in is greater than the repelling force, so it just collapses around it. But super-cooled liquid helium doesn't have much surface tension, so a little bubble forms around the electron. And they were able to make the bubble bigger by using sound waves, basically. And then they were able to videotape the bubble as the electron moved through the liquid helium and they were able to videotape the motion of the electron. Sometimes it moved in a relatively straight line. Other times it would take kind of a helical path through the helium, which is interesting. The bubbles are still very small; they are about 40 angstroms across. Very tiny, but they were able to see it.

B: Wait, wait, wait.

E: What was that unit of measurement, Steve?

B: How the hell is a video camera able to see something—

S: Angstroms.

E: Thank you.

B: —40 angstroms across?

S: Because of the scattered photons, from the bubble.

R: Get with it, jees.

P: Because of scattered photons.

B: But do you know how big an angstrom is, Perry?

S: It's very small.

P: God, you are scientifically ill-iterate

B: Well, tell me how big an angstrom is.

P: An angstrom is about the size of your phallus.

R: (laughs)

P: Could we please move on to... to number three?

S: All right.

P: Thank you.

S: Which means...

P: Thank you.

S: That number three, "In order to address faculty shortages, a nursing institute has recently employed a robotic instructor to teach some classes," is, indeed, fiction. But you know, it's only barely fiction. And I almost made this a real one. But, I think it would have been unfair. In fact, as usual, the fake one is based upon a real news story. A nursing—

J: I hate when you do that.

S: A nursing institute is using a robotic instructor to make up for faculty shortages. But the robot isn't really teaching the courses. It's really—it's a tele-presence robot.

J: It's delivering the—

S: It's delivering it. So there is a nursing instructor somewhere else. And they have a—

P: Ignore that man behind the curtain.

S: They have a presence in the classroom—a robotic tele-presence in the classroom. But the robot is just a dummy, if you will, just—

R: An avatar.

S: Yeah.

P: But why, why do that? Why not just have a screen?

S: I guess it gives them the ability to... to look around the room, to be more interactive than if it were just a screen.

P: OK.

S: It is a full tele-presence robot, you know, not just a screen. It's the RP-7. Robot... RP is, I think, Remote Presence Robotic System.

R: Could you fight with it?


R: I mean, could you crush something in your iron grip? Just wondering.

S: Patricia Martin, Ph.D., who is—who is, I guess, at the nursing institute, said of the technology: "I am very excited about the unlimited potential and futuristic possibilities of the RP-7. It provides us with a glimpse of how technically savvy faculty can continue to be engaged in nursing education." Yeah, so basically it gives the ability for people from, remotely, to serve as instructors.

J: So one day that'll turn into like that robot that helped Luke get his hand back in...

R: That's exactly how it'll turn out.

S: That's it, Jay.

E: Yes. Perfect analogy.

S: Yes. This is being used in the Nursing Institute of West Central Ohio. Good job, everyone. I really thought I was gonna get you this week. We had a couple of—those were tricky ones.

J: They were.

E: Yeah.

Skeptical Puzzle (1:06:17)[edit]

S: Evan, can you please read for us last week's puzzle.

E: Sure.

S: And give us the answer.

E: Sure. Last week's puzzle was as follows: Finish the last five characters in this sequence: F 2 2 F 3 E 7 2 E 6 G 2 2 G 4. And the listener had to come up with the last five characters in the sequence. And someone did, in fact.

B: Awesome.

E: So the answer, the answer, of course, as you know, is D 8 2 H 4. And JDay was the first one to correctly guess that, so congratulations to him. Now, JDay was the first to recognize that this is, in fact, a chess move sequence. And also known as the "Fool's Mate" or the two-move checkmate in chess. And the "F," the numbers "F 2", the first two characters, represent the first square on the board, the number 2 that follows it signifies—this is a little tricky here—the word "to" as in where you're gonna move that piece to, T-O. And then the next two letters are "F 3." So you take piece on F2, which is a pawn, and you move it to F3. The next move is E7 to E6, and so on. And the end result, the last five characters, gives you the two, the rare two-move checkmate in chess. Also known as the Fool's Mate. So it took a chess player to recognize the sequence, and I knew some, at least a couple, of our listeners have to be proficient in chess to recognize it. And congratulations again to JDay.

R: Well, so do we have a new one? Let's hear the next.

E: Here's this week's puzzle. It's more trivia than puzzle, but we'll see who gets it first. Name the former world leader that used to laugh at UFO believers, but later became a believer himself when he himself witnessed one. Think about that, and be the first one to answer correctly. Good luck, everyone.

S: Thank you, Evan.

E: Thank you.

Quote of the Week (1:08:23)[edit]

S: Entertaining, as always. Perry, do you have a quote for us this week?

B: A well-researched quote, I hope.

S: Yes, a properly referenced quote.

P: As always. "Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily." That was George Santayana, Spanish-born American philosopher, poet and humanist of some note. 1863-1952.

R: Before we sign off, I have a small announcement to make.

S: Yes, we have a couple of announcements, starting with Rebecca. Go.

R: Thank you. Excuse me, I will introduce myself, thank you. I—a few weeks ago I let you guys all know on the podcast that I was competing in a contest put on by Public Radio Exchange, to find the next host of a Public Radio show. Well, apparently a lot of you signed onto the website and voted for me, and got me into the second round. So out of about 1,500 entrants, I was chosen as one of ten people to move on to the second round.

B: Awesome.

R: And so I now stand a very good chance of winning my own skeptical radio show. So, thank you very much.

S: Congratulations, that is awesome.

J: That's awesome, Rebecca.

R: And thanks!

E: Top ten out of 1,500; that is (inaudible)

P: Impressive.

R: Yeah, and I believe that I won the popular vote. Nine of the people were chosen by judges and one person was chosen by the public, and I was the person chosen by the public. So.

P: Are you attributing this to the power of our podcast, Rebecca?

R: I am indeed. The power of skeptics. So, yeah, I'm going to need that same support going forward in the second round. The second round's gonna start in the next couple of days, probably, and I'll let you all know where to go to vote when that happens.

P: Well we should put the link on our notes page.

R: Yeah, I'll have a link to the site and any specifics that come up in the next week or so.

S: Excellent.

J: Well, Rebecca, you know why, because we broke the 20,000-listener mark.

S: We did.

R: That probably had some thing to do with it. How many regular listeners are we up to now?

S: We actually just broke 21,000.

R: 21,000 listeners.

S: If you recall, we had set the conservative goal for ourselves at the beginning of the year to get—we were at 10,000 at the beginning of 2007, and we wanted to break 20,000 by the end of 2007, and we broke it just about exactly halfway through the year, at the six-month mark.

R: So, yeah, a new goal for the year. I say, like, 8 million. (chuckles) You guys with me?

S: Oh, yeah.

P: As soon as you start advertising for us on your radio program.

J: Rebecca, if you're buying, I'm with ya.

R: It could happen.

J: One more quick thing I'd like to—just to remind our listeners, that the Skeptics' Guide Premium Content Uncut No. 2 is up and ready for downloading.

R: Cool.

J: We've had some, quite a few people download it this time, and I'm getting a lot of feedback; very, very positive feedback. And this is definitely my favorite of the two.

R: What interviews are on there?

J: It's just fantastic. Christopher Hitchens—

R: Oh, yeah. That's a good one.

J: —is the primary one.

R: Not for the children.

E: I'm sure there's the appropriate disclaimer.

R: 18 and up.

B: He was awesome.

J: And your favorite, Eugenie Scott, is the other interview.

R: Genie. Ah, yeah, I love Genie.

S: Yeah.

B: She's good people.

R: Those were some fun interviews.

P: Yeah.

S: It's a full hour of uncut skepticism.

R: Cool.

S: This summer we are gonna have—we usually have a NESS summer event, and we are going to make this not only a NESS event, but also a Skeptics' Guide event. We're gonna celebrate two years. We're gonna celebrate our hundredth episode, which is coming up soon. And the date for that is August 11th.

B: Hey, that's Jay's birthday!

S: The location and other details—it is also Jay's birthday; right.

J: It's my birthday.

P: Heeeyy.

R: But more importantly...

S: More importantly, you know, let's get our priorities right here.

J: Thank you, Rebecca.

S: So save the date, and as soon as we have more details, like, you know, minor details like a location, we will have that on our website. We'll announce it on upcoming episodes, but just to let everyone know, that that is going to be the date of the Skeptics Guide-New England Skeptical Society-Skepchick Summer Blowout.

P: Be there or be square.

J: To give them a clue, it's gonna be either in New York City, in Boston, or in Connecticut someplace.

S: Yeah, it'll be somewhere between New York City and—

R: Somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard.

P: Yeah.

S: Yes, that is true.

R: Prepare yourself.

S: Somewhere between those two.

E: Somewhere in the northern hemisphere.

P: There was talk of Oregon, but we shot that right down.

R: Planet Earth.

S: Book your plane tickets now.

B: Hopefully there'll be, for once, a nice meteor shower that night, 'cause that's part of the annual—

E: Is that the Perseids?

B: —The annual Perseids. In August.

R: Cool.

J: Bob, every year—Bob, how many years has it been now? Every single year, you remember it, we look, and there's overcast skies.

R: Awwwww.

E: Summertime in New England is tough at night, with clouds and stuff.

B: Literally for the past decade, every year, it's like—

S: Bob, I promise you there will be an excellent meteor shower that night.

B: (laughing) Yeah.

S: Now, I can't promise you you'll be able to see it.

B: (laughing) Right. That's the key.

S: But it will be there.

B: Okay.

S: Well, thanks again, everyone.

R: Thank you, Steve.

B: Good episode.

E: Thank you.

R: Good to be back.

S: Welcome back, Rebecca. 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 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'. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.

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