SGU Episode 980

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SGU Episode 980
April 20th 2024
980 Zombie Cicadas.jpg

"The cicada continues to participate in normal activities, like it would if it was healthy. It tries to mate, it flies around, it walks on plants. Yet, a third of its body has been replaced by fungus." [1]

SGU 979                      SGU 981

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Actual science is the great accomplishment of mankind. The antidote to ignorance, superstition, religious zealotry, and nonsensical beliefs in general. An eclipse exemplifies, to even the lay-est of laypeople, just how advanced modern science is.

John Gruber, technology blogger

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, eclipse reflections[edit]

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

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, April 17th, 2024, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening everyone.

S: It's been a few weeks since we've had the usual full crew doing our regular Wednesday thing.

E: Back at the studio here.

S: What with the eclipse and all.

E: Yeah, just a minor distraction, right?

S: So yeah, I think it's fair to say we all had a great time in Texas. And there was a lot of suspense about the eclipse because the weather forecast for the entire 10 days leading up to that Monday was terrible. It was supposed to be overcast and we were sweating it out the whole time.

C: And stormy.

S: Even that morning.

B: Even that morning, we were like...

E: Yeah, rain.

B: I took pictures of me flipping off the cloudy sky at like 10 in the morning.

E: Old man yells at cloud.

B: It was completely, completely covered.

J: I was trying to stay positive, but I mean, the weather reports were bad.

E: I know.

C: It was hard. It was hard.

E: My emotion was definitely impacted by the forecast. No doubt about it.

C: We were eating at a restaurant when not totality started, obviously, but when the very first like slivers of the eclipse started. And I remember like it's like you would usually have a sense of urgency, but we're all like, I don't think we can see it.

S: We stepped out and saw it though, and like Bob and I were excited, like, oh, well, at least we got to see that between the gap in the clouds. And then a science-based miracle happened. (laughter) The clouds parted, I think partly from luck, partly from that temperature inversion from the shadow of the eclipse itself. And we had a full two hours of blue skies, of no clouds, all around the sun. We had a perfect view of the whole total eclipse, all of totality. It was gorgeous. It was stunning.

C: Yeah. And a solid, how many minutes would you say we had of the partial leading up to totality? Like at least 10, 15?

E: Oh, an hour, I think.

C: Oh, we had an hour?

S: I mean, for the whole thing, but we were watching it for a good 20 minutes.

C: No, no, leading up beforehand. Yeah. That's what I thought. Like, I was surprised that it got clear as early as it did.

S: Yeah.

B: Yeah. I'd say about 10, 12 minutes we were watching it and no more clouds went in front of it again. It was like 10, 10, maybe 15, 10 to 12 minutes just waiting for full totality where it wasn't obscured at all. And it was so funny because once you get close to totality, that's the danger zone, right? You got a tiny sliver of the sun, you take off your glasses, your pupils won't really dilate.

S: You mean constrict.

B: And you could really sear your retina.

E: Yeah, don't do that.

B: So I'm looking at it, I'm looking at this, I'm looking at the sun, almost 95, 98% disappeared and I didn't want to take off my glasses to see what the clouds were doing because for all I knew, there were clouds ready to just cut the sun right at that moment. And I'm just waiting, waiting and it never happened. I was so happy. Oh my God.

E: Didn't pull the rug out from you.

C: And it's so important to see that moment too because although a lot of people in Texas were thank goodness lucky enough to catch glimpses of totality between the clouds, there is something really special about the anticipation and the buildup and the, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. And it's time. You pull your glasses off.

E: Because your entire environment is changing around you as all of this happens. It's like washing over the entire planet, at least where you are.

S: You know what surprised me the most? How surprised I was.

E: Yeah. Yes.

C: Yeah, you can research it all you want.

S: I know. We've been talking about it. You guys have tried to impress upon us how beautiful it is. I've seen pictures of it. But when totality happened, I was just floored at the overall effect of it. Not just how beautiful it is, but it was so surreal and magical. You know what I mean? It was overwhelming. It was an emotional experience. I was really shocked by that.

B: Steve was one of his rare moments of being verklempt[v 1].

S: Totally verklempt.

C: I love it. I love it. There is something-

E: Appropriate.

B: Ineffable.

C: Spiritual or-

B: Totally ineffable.

C: Yeah, awe-inspiring, ineffable. That's a great way to put it. There's something to me, I think the word that I keep coming back to is it feels otherworldly.

E: Absolutely.

B: Yes.

E: You're on another planet for a few minutes.

C: Which is really, it messes with your brain to feel like you are on another planet. It sort of takes the ground out from underneath you in a really beautiful, but also I could see very scary way.

E: Oh, sure. Oh, my gosh.

B: Yeah. I thought of the Eye of Sauron at some point watching.

E: No, seriously. It's like a hole.

C: It's a hole in the sky.

E: Like a black hole appears in the sky. It's amazing.

J: Guys, listen. I was talking to a friend of mine and they were asking how the weekend was and everything. Yeah, it was great. I mean, what a wonderful time. But the eclipse just was the highlight by far, by an order of magnitude.

E: It had to be.

J: And I'm like describing it and everything and then I said, well, how much did you see? They go, well, yeah, I saw what you saw. I mean, but we had like 97%.

C: Nope.

J: So I saw it.

E: No, you didn't.

J: And I was like, that is like driving a hundred miles to get somewhere and you don't open the door.

C: Yeah.

J: Right? It's like you were there but you missed the show because when it goes total, when that happens-

S: Totally different experience.

J: It's as if like somebody flipped a switch. That's how dramatically different it is.

S: That's the other thing that surprised me was the sun is 95% covered. It was daylight out. You would not know. You would not know anything was happening.

E: Yeah. More like a sunset kind of feel.

S: It didn't really start to get darker until you were down to just that last few percent.

C: That's pretty dramatic. The last few percent.

S: And then it went very quick at the end there, but like 95, 6, 7% coverage was like you would not know if you didn't like put on your solar glasses and look at the sun.

C: Yeah. Like if you're walking around in sunglasses, I bet you wouldn't notice the difference in the-

E: Probably not.

C: Intensity of the light outside.

S: Or you would just think it's cloud covered.

C: Totally.

S: You wouldn't see anything on that.

E: Because I spoke to my family back here in Connecticut where there was 80 to 85% and they did not notice anything.

S: Yeah. You wouldn't. Unless you were looking for it.

C: But then like for us during totality, and we were in just outside of Dallas in the suburbs, so fair amount of light pollution, lots of development. So like couldn't really see stars, but definitely saw, did we see two-

S: We saw two planets. Venus and Jupiter.

C: I remember that.

J: That was awesome too.

C: They look like stars, but weren't stars.

S: And we saw a prominence on the sun. Naked eye. You could see. It was like a couple of people like, what's that pink dot on the sun there?

B: For me, it was red and I knew that because we're at solar max, I knew that stuff like that would have been visible. But I hadn't thought about it in a while and I'm looking and once I got over the awe of just seeing the totality, I was like, what's that red dot at the top of the sun? What is that? And it didn't even occur to me what it was. I went to the binoculars. We had a friend over who had a mounted binoculars with a filter. I looked at it. I'm like, oh my God, it's a prominence. And then there was lots of prominence along the way.

C: It wasn't the only one.

B: It was amazing. Gorgeous. And naked eye prominence is just thinking about that.

S: That was a nice little cherry on top.

B: Oh my God.

S: Almost.

J: You know, the other big thing that I liked, like Bob was alluding to, was that seeing our family members and friends' emotional reactions, like sharing that moment, leveled it up too because you have your initial reaction and then you kind of turn around and start looking at everyone and you hear what people are saying. And that was one of my favorite parts because I went up to everybody individually and just had that 15 to 20, 15 second, 30 second thing of like, what do you think? What's going on? Like it was really cool to see everybody be emotionally blown away at the same time.

B: Yeah. Yeah. And then once once you're watching totality for a little while, then you become aware of things in the environment. And one of the things I became aware of was like, wait, there's people driving during totality.

C: I didn't notice that.

E: I don't know. I don't know.

B: How do I share the world with people, probably the few people in Dallas itself that had good skies in our area not many, you go south even a little bit and it was horrible. How could you be driving? How could you be so uninterested and uncaring and just to be like driving during such an epic event in your life? I will never, ever understand. I'm sure if you got really important stuff that day, I guess you got to go to court.

S: I assume they didn't know what they were missing.

B: Come on, people.

C: I bet you they didn't know. Because can you imagine like Steve, if you were on call, you'd be like, I just got to take a glance first, right? Like you're in a hurry. Of course, you got to get to your patients, but I got to look at the sky for a minute.

B: If I was a doctor and somebody was coding, I would say, that guy's going to die and walk outside.

B: Oh my God. End of joke.

S: That's why you're not a doctor.

E: You would not have scheduled that surgery or whatever on that day.

S: Some medical emergency.

B: But you can't say maybe they didn't know.

C: Sometimes you can't avoid it.

B: It was all over Texas. Wherever you looked, there's references, signs.

S: But the thing is, what's clear to me is though that people who have not seen totality, including us before this happened, don't understand what it is.

E: Right.

S: Because everyone, again, I spoke to so many people when I came back home to Connecticut. They're like, yeah, I saw the eclipse and it was good. Yeah, we had like 85%, whatever. And I'm like, so, okay, hold on. That's great. But you did not ... Totality's not just like incrementally better than a 98% coverage.

B: It's a phase change. It's a phase change.

S: It's a completely different experience.

E: You're in or you're out.

S: Yeah. You did not see it. And to our audience, this is what you should take away from this. Plan to visit a total eclipse at some point in your life. Add it to your bucket list. You need to see it. And don't think you got any portion. You were not 80% of the way there with an 80% coverage. You were 0% of the way there.

E: Right.

S: At 99%, you were 0% of the way there. Seriously. Because you think about it, the sun is so damn bright that when the barest sliver of it is visible, it washes out everything. Only when you get that total coverage do you see the dark moon with the surrounding halo. And I know you've seen pictures of it, but pictures don't capture what it really looks like in real life.

B: The only thing that I could imagine that would come close would be a high res, full peripheral vision VR. That might do it.

C: Yeah. Yeah.

E: I was thinking about that.

C: It might be a way to experience it.

E: If there are total solar eclipse VRs thing that could be.

C: But I would say in some ways-

E: You could immerse yourself.

C: It's kind of like, have you ever seen an annular eclipse? They're cool. It's not the same.

E: It's not total. Nope.

C: It is just not the same. It's neat.

B: Yeah. I'd love to see one, but-

C: Not the same.

B: See that first. See that before the total.

C: Mm-hmm. Yep.

S: Whatever. Get your ass to a total eclipse.

Bob's curse broken (11:56)[edit]

S: So there's a lot of discussion about Bob's curse, which is now officially broken.

B: Oh my God. It was ubiquitous.

E: That's the end of that.

S: But I have to say, just to keep our skeptical bona fides, the whole thing with the curse is obviously a joke. But it is just referring to the fact that we have had an incredible string of bad luck in terms of viewing astronomical phenomena, starting, I think, with the worst viewing of Halley's Comet in 2,000 years, followed by a string of failed meteor shower reviews, and then culminated most recently with our failed dark sky event in New Zealand, where we had cloud coverage. It's really been a string of bad luck.

B: Thanks for reminding me. Yeah. That was painful.

S: But the thing is, it's a good skeptical lesson, because it is just randomness. But it's so easy to see patterns of randomness that we then consider it to be like, oh, it's Bob's bad luck. And then when we have a good viewing, like basically good astronomical luck, then it's the curse is broken. Or it never existed in the first place. Right? Or it's just regression to the mean. And this is how superstitions work, because something is lucky until it isn't. Or maybe it flips and becomes unlucky. We're seeing patterns in random noise. And so, again, there's a good skeptical lesson in it. But I'm glad that the odds have turned in our favour for this one, because that was... And if we had to put up with all of that astronomical bad luck in order to get this, it was worth it. This was awesome.

B: Absolutely. Absolutely.

E: And Bob, you brought us right to the edge of it, too. Right up to the minutes. You're quite the showman. You are quite the showman.

B: The only thing that I... An astronomical... Something in the sky that is epic and amazingly rare, far rarer than totality, would be a meteor storm that is so intense that like in the past, there was one, I think, was it the 1800s, that was literally hundreds of streaks every second.

C: Yeah. That's awesome.

B: It doesn't get much better than that. That's the kind of thing that if you went through a new cloud from a comet, like a new type of meteor shower that would become an annual thing, that's when it would be super dense, super fresh, and super intense.

S: Yeah, but Bob-

B: That would be the kind of thing-

S: But then everybody goes blind. It's not really worth it.

B: The triffids come out and all that stuff. But that'd be the kind of thing that I... Oh, man.

S: Bob, I got two that I might put higher on the list than that.

E: Oh, boy. Here we go.

B: Well, sure. There's other things.

S: One would be a meteor smacking into the near side of the moon, and we could see the impact and everything.

B: People have seen it.

S: I know.

C: What does it look like?

E: Was that like the 1100s there was a phase?

B: Oh, yeah. It was centuries ago.

S: And the other one would be-

C: How do they describe it? Wait, I got to know what this would look like.

B: Well, I mean, just a... You hear a loud whomp.

C: Okay.

B: No, you wouldn't hear anything.

C: So you'd hear nothing.

B: I mean, you would see a flash of light. You would see, perhaps, you would see ejecta being thrown out.

S: You would see ejecta.

B: On the maybe, if it was big enough.

S: You would see dust basically surround the moon.

C: Weird. Okay.

S: The other one would be a naked eye supernova.

B: Not only naked eye, but-

S: Not just like, oh, there's a new star, but like-

B: During noon.

S: Yeah, like daytime naked eye visible supernova.

C: I don't think that would be the same.

B: But it would be cool.

C: It'd be cool. But I think sometimes-

S: Like a second sun in the sky?

C: I remember when I took stellar astronomy, kicking myself that I didn't take planetary astronomy in college because part of it was observation, right? The lab was like the planetarium, the computer lab, and then the observatory. And when we're in the observatory, every time we looked at anything that was like, oh, look, it's a binary star. Oh, look, it's a whatever. It's like they all look the same through a telescope.

S: They're all points of light.

C: And so, yeah. And so, yes, during the day, it would be weird to see a star during the day, but it would still just be a tiny point of light in the sky. It wouldn't look like there's a hole in the universe.

B: At night, I mean, at night, it could potentially be brighter than the moon. Imagine that.

C: That would be nuts. But my assumption is it's just brighter than Jupiter, which is like, okay, it's a really bright star.

B: I mean a gaudy supernova, one that's like, damn.

C: Okay, all right. And it's really nearby. Okay.

S: But not too near.

C: Not too near. Not too near.

B: Not too close. Don't, you know.

E: And that whole gamma ray thing. Put it the other way.

B: That would be truly, that's something that, I mean, there's eclipses every year. Amazing ones every year. That kind of thing. That's like once in centuries or, God, for a supernova, there hasn't been anything like that in, oh my God, I mean, how many centuries?

C: But I think that's an interesting psychological question, right? Like is the reason it's so exciting to you because of its scarcity, its rarity, or is it because it's actually fantastic to observe? Because I would argue that a total solar eclipse is significantly more fantastic to observe, but it's not that rare.

B: Right. The combination, of course, would be the sweet spot. Super rare and super dramatic visually, of course, would be like the, oh my God, I'm having a heart attack. This is too awesome to imagine.

S: Massive meteors striking the moon, I think would do it.

B: I have seen, Steve, were you there? Were you and I looking at the sky when we camped out behind mom's house that time? Looking up, we saw a meteor split in two, right, Steve?

S: Yep, I was looking right at it.

B: And it left this bizarre trail behind it that was so dramatic, I was awestruck. I had never seen anything like it. That was special. That was special.

S: And when it split, or maybe it was before it split, it was spiraling. So it must have been a very asymmetrical meteor that was tumbling, and then it split in two. It was really awesome.

E: You caught it at the perfect time.

B: Oh, yeah.

C: I love that.

B: If you weren't looking right there at that moment, you would have missed it.

S: Yeah, you have to be looking up. By the time you say, look at that, it's too late.

C: And looking at that part of the sky, too.

B: That was the most dramatic meteor I have ever seen.

S: It was up there. All right.

E: Literally.

S: Let's move on to the rest of the show.

What's the Word? (18:21)[edit]

S: Cara, you're going to start off with a what's the word.

C: Sure. So I've been seeing a lot of patients lately, and one of the words that keeps coming up in therapy, I figured, hey, maybe we'll cover this for what's the word. And that is-

B: Do you really know, Bob? I'm sorry.

C: The word is anhedonia. I use it a lot, but I've realized that a lot of times when I share that word with clients, they've never heard of it before. It's like really uncommonly known word, but then once we start talking about what it means, it really resonates. So that's why I thought it might be interesting to discuss here. And what do you think? I mean, just based on the word itself, anhedonia, A-N-H-E-D-O-N-I-A. Not you, Steve, but anyone else, what do you think that refers to?

J: Well, Cara, of course I know what it is.

C: Oh, not you, Steve, or Jay.

B: Just detached and distant from some things.

C: Detached and distant from things? What do you think, Ev?

E: Spell that again, please, for me.

C: A-N-H-E-D-O-N-I-A, anhedonia. Or I might say anhedonic.

E: Anhedonic. Gee whiz. Okay. So it has something to do with distance or length, something, right? No? I'm guessing. It has to do with-

S: What does hedonistic mean?

C: Yeah. What's hedonism? Is that about being close to something, or is that about-

E: That's about-

B: Enjoyment.

C: Enjoyment. Yes. That's it right there. You hit the nail on the button, as you've said before.

S: That was a Bob-ism.

B: Have I said that?

C: That was a Bob-ism, yeah.

B: Wow.

C: I love it.

J: That's pretty weird, Bob.

C: It's my favorite. It's my absolute favorite.

B: I usually don't mix my metaphors.

C: So yeah, anhedonia is a symptom, really. And it is, like, when you look up the definition, sometimes it's referred to as a condition, which I don't like because it's not actually diagnosable. But it's just a symptom. Which is basically the inability to feel pleasure. In things that either used to give you pleasure or normally would give you pleasure.

B: Sound like depression.

C: SO it is a symptom of depression. Not always, and it is also symptom of other psychological diagnosies but not always. But many people with depression have experienced anhedonia. For sure. Some don't but many people have. So reduction or a total absence of your ability to feel pleasure. And it's different ways that it could be looked at. Anhedonia, like physically, like maybe I don't enjoy sex anymore or I don't enjoy eating or I don't feel anything when somebody hugs me anymore. And there's also social anhedonia when I'm out around people I don't feel anything. And there's anhedonia that comes from usual activities. I used to really love watching movies now when I watch a movie I don't feel anything. I don't feel any pleasure. or I used to really like this hobby now I don't really get much out of it. So it can be a sign of depression. It was first coined actually by psychologist, a French psychologist in 1896. His name was Théodule Ribot. Basically he saw as the opposite of, what do you think? What's the medical term, so if anhedonia is a lack of pleasure, what is a lack of pain?

J: Anhepenia?

C: Analgesia, right? An analgesic takes away the pain. So he saw this as sort of the counterpoint to analgesia. Anhedonia, analgesia. So it's not really the opposite of a hedonist, right? Or of how we often think of hedonism, which is like only finding pleasure. I feel like hedonism is a little bit of a loaded term, possibly because of religion. You guys agree or no?

S: No, I think it's a legitimate concept. I think there are some people who prioritize physical pleasures very highly in their life. I think it's reasonable to say that's hedonism.

C: Yeah, but I also think that like there's been a lot of like virtue conversation around hedonism, especially with organized religion, and sometimes it's seen as a vice.

S: Yeah, saying that it's a vice and shaming people about it, that's I think the judgement angle.

C: Totally.

S: But as a phenomenon, it's legitimate.

C: Totally. So that is sort of the aspect of the word that like I wouldn't want people to get hung up on, because it's not the opposite of that description, that vice description. But it is a lack of basically just finding pleasure in things. And for some people, it can be one of the early indications that they might be dealing with depression or another mental illness. And yeah, now you know, so because sometimes people try to describe it, and they'll talk around it because they don't have the language for it. But if you say to a physician or a psychologist, I'm experiencing anhedonia, like that's a very clean and clear way to communicate that you're struggling to find pleasure in things you used to find pleasure in. So yeah, good word.

S: All right. Thank you, Cara.

C: Yep.

News Items[edit]

New Scams (23:17)[edit]

S: Jay, tell us about some new scams.

J: So we've kind of covered these on the show before. I mentioned them in passing a couple of times. But I'm seeing very strong indications that these are becoming more mainstream. So I wanted to warn everybody, again anything that you hear, hear what I'm about to say, like definitely talk to any older people in your life that you know, like your parents or your grandparents. And also this is just a good warning for everyone. So you might even want to share this with younger people teenagers or even younger anyone that has access to the internet, I think is a good start. So we pretty much predicted this, that deep fakes and generative AI technology was going to make scams more robust and more easy to fool people, and it is happening. So what scammers have been doing is they're using AI technology to create a bunch of different things. One of them concerns me quite a bit. This is like one that's based on audio recordings. So you heard on the show, where I was able to use AI to fake everybody fake their voices and have Steve say some crazy stuff. You know, during NOTACON, we had a running gag where Steve actually missed the first few hours because he had to go to work.

E: That's right.

J: And I was playing these fake clips of Steve saying things that you'd never hear him say. So that's, of course, okay. You know, you can do that. That's for fun. But what people are doing is they can get a recording of pretty much anybody. It doesn't take really that long anymore. You know, when I was doing it, I put in like 20, 30 minutes of each person speaking, because I have those raw recordings. But there's software out there today where it could do it in much less time. And then what they'll do is they will use that to socially engineer someone into thinking that someone in their family, for example, is in distress and needs money right away. So here's a perfect example. Then you end up using that, manipulating it to say something that you want or prepare a bunch of different things that you want that person to say. And then you call that person's grandparents. You know, you call a 70-year-old, an 80-year-old. And they hear their grandchild's voice saying, hey, I'm in a lot of trouble. I don't have time to talk. I just need you to wire me some money right away. I'll explain everything later when I get home today. What's going on? I can't tell you right now. Just please do it. And I need it right away. This is a really big emergency. Please do it. Now, if you got a recording of somebody saying that and it really sounded like their voice over the telephone, you wouldn't know it was a recording. And unless you had your a red flag go up, unless you your critical thinking skills and your baloney detector kit was there to help you, you could be fooled by this. And depending on how well the scam artists pull it off is another thing. I would imagine elderly people might be more susceptible to this just because they haven't grown up with the internet like most of us did. They're not as well acquainted with what can be done over the internet or using new technologies in particular. And I think also if my child or my grandchild called me up, I would be very much hardwired to want to help them. And I think a scam would be harder to detect if I felt that there was immediacy to a situation. You know, and just think as time goes by, these scams are going to be even more robust because the scam artist will be able to insert emotion into what the people are saying. Like the versions that I've seen today, you can get a variety of different ways that the thing, the computer will simulate somebody saying something. It's very difficult to add in like an extreme emotion into it. But that's coming. You know, this could be, we could be months away from that as far as any of us know. I would imagine that in the very near future, that's going to be, you just type in descriptor words. I want this person to be scared and angry at the same time. And the artificial intelligence will be able to mimic that.

B: That's inevitable.

J: So one way to protect yourself, and in most cases with the other examples I'm going to give you, there is a really easy way to harden yourself against this. You want to have a pre-selected safe word or an identifier. It's kind of like a password, right? You can just think of it as a password that you have among family members or people that you care about. So if that person grandparent gets a call, the grandchild is calling up saying I need help, you send me $5,000 right away, I'll explain later. All the grandparent has to do is say, that's no problem, just tell me the password. The scammer won't be able to do that unless they really got in on the inside, which is much, much, much, much less likely to have happen.

S: Or Jay, they'll say, we need to change the password, now it's this, and somebody may fall for that.

J: Yeah, and you could also just have a rule, we only change the password when we're in person.

S: Yeah, you're right, exactly.

J: You know, also with today's technology, if you ask them a question and get them off track, like if you say, just say what I say right now you have to say this sentence, blah, blah, blah, anything, just come up with something kind of offbeat.

B: Yeah.

J: And ask them to repeat it. Can you say, I went to Disney World in my underwear? If you can't say that, then the person doesn't have that queued up to play to you, and it might take them longer than it than a normal response would be. But even that is not that safe or soon to be not that safe. So I do think that the password is a very good thing to have, only change it in person. That was the best idea I can come up with. But you could just come up with some type of system where they have to call you back or you never do anything on the first phone call, you have to text the person. You know, that's another one that Steve and I were talking about recently. You know, you could avoid a lot of scams by saying, okay, I'll call you right back. I'll just call you right back on your phone number. You know, that's another idea. So there's a lot of other ones in here, and then I found some taxes one that I wanted to talk to you guys about and hear what Evan thinks about this. So the next one I want to go through is phishing content. So a phishing email is when somebody sends you an email pretending to be from something like it could be Apple or Google or a company that most people do business with. You know, I get a lot of emails from Norton Antivirus, like basically saying that your bill is due or you just made a purchase of $300. And then at the bottom-

E: Best Buy, Geek Squad, I've seen those too.

J: Yeah. And they basically, right, they're just trying to get you to call them back. Because if you call the phone number-

C: Or to click on something.

J: Or click on the email and then put I want to cancel it. Okay, enter your credit card number and to cancel it some people would actually do things like that. You know, these types of phishing emails are getting more robust, they're getting more convincing. You know, you have to really buckle this down tight. You have to be super careful of ever getting an email and responding to something in that email is very, very likely that you're getting these brand new phishing emails and you might not even know it. You might not even oh, did I do that? You know, Amazon, I order on Amazon, my wife orders on Amazon, I have no idea. You know, if you ask me what did you buy on Amazon two weeks ago, I couldn't even remember. You know, we just buy stuff. So if you get an email from Amazon saying, hey, the order you just placed didn't go through or whatever and they want you to make a phone call or click on a link or whatever, that might be so easy for people to click. You just got to slow down, take a hard look at it, look at the web addresses that you're going to. Just be really careful because the worst thing that could happen is they get your credit card information and then they fleece you over the course of three or four days and make crazy charges that you might not notice that actually get passed through and they get the money or if they hack you and get onto your computer, you're done. You're done at that point. If they get on your computer, they own you. So you got to just be cautious in a way that you've never been cautious before. That's my advice. You know, the idea of also impersonating people, right? So we had a scam happen with Joe Biden where somebody faked Joe Biden, they called up a whole bunch of people. I think it was in New Hampshire, right guys? And Joe Biden, the fake Joe Biden told people, don't bother coming out to vote in the primary save your vote until the election. That doesn't even make any sense. You know, we might be getting hit up with that or celebrity impersonations asking us to donate money or whatever, right? All of those things now are suspect. We have to be very, very careful. Here's one that blew my mind. It's an employment scam. So what they do is they use AI to create fake job postings. And then what they do is they solicit people to, hey we found you on LinkedIn. We'd like you to apply for this job. We think you're a great fit and it looks great and it's local to you and it's in an industry that you want you could just take this information off of LinkedIn and see what people you could easily figure out for the most part what kind of job a person would like. You know, it's just what they're doing, but better, more money, blah, whatever. And then what they'll do is they will ask you to pay application fee or a training expense. You know, hey, we're going to hire you. Hey, you're hired. Now we want to send you to training. We just need you to pay $300 for this or whatever. And then a lot of people might do it, especially people who are desperate or would really, or are really interested in whenever they're selling. I would be very cautious try to deal with people that you've dealt with before. You know, you might want to use a professional recruiter to help you to put another layer there between you and whatever the scam is, but this is happening and people are falling for it and a lot of money is being transferred to scam artists. Real quick, the tax one was troubling because taxes suck. People are frustrated. People especially people that are doing their own taxes and you're trying to save money and you don't really know what you're doing and you're trying to follow this crazy list of rules that nobody possibly could do unless it's your profession. You know, it's just too complicated. So what's happening is people are, are actually, scammers are sending, sending in fraudulent returns. They will file a tax return in your name and claim your refund and they can do it. And by the time you find out, like, let's say they, they file these taxes what's the earliest you could file taxes?

E: Usually in the United States, usually a first week of February is when they open the system.

J: So they have, the scammer might get to it weeks or a month before you even begin to do your taxes. They filed your return and they, they have that money routed to them. Boom. And you know what? I'll tell you what, the IRS is not going to be that I don't think you're going to get your money that year.

E: It takes a while to remedy that situation.

S: Well, so that happened to me, but the IRS was actually all over it. They said, this is fraudulent. And then they, and then from that point forward, that was like five years ago, they send us a pin.

E: A letter every, that you receive every January?

S: Every year. Every year I got a new pin.

E: And that is the safest way to go about it. That does pretty much eliminate the problem. I've not heard of anyone who has a pin associated with their tax return being, having a fraudulent tax return filed in their name. I've never heard it happen.

B: Yeah. That's good to know because what I heard about that a bunch of years ago when we had a, people's social security numbers were compromised, that they would get the pin, but then the person who's trying to file your tax return just calls or whatever and says, oh, I need to reset my pin. And they realized that that was a huge they didn't account for that. I mean, I'm not sure how they could not account for that because it seems kind of obvious, but they actually, they put the pin on hold for a while because they needed to figure out how they're going to handle that. And I guess they were-

C: Well you don't get to choose your pin, it's assigned to you.

E: It's assigned and it changes each year.

C: Yeah.

B: Yeah. But if you call back, if you call them and contact them and say, I lost my pin, I need a new one, they were issuing that to, to, to people who were trying to rip other people off.

C: I mean, if, if I know the IRS, they would say, okay, it'll show up in the mail in 10 days.

E: They do. They reissue a letter to the name and the address on file. Now, if your mail is getting rifled, that's a whole different level of fraud and scam and theft, which is also something you have to warn people about. We do warn our clients every year that to, to be mindful of the documents that are arriving in your mail because they absolutely will take, they know what to, the scammers know what to look for and they will try to target letters and grab them.

J: You know, another thing that they're doing now is they're, they're pretending to be tax preparers and like people that do Evan's job, they'll pretend to do that. They'll put up a fake webpage, they'll lure a bunch of people in, they'll get paid to do the tax return, right? They'll take your money to do the tax return and then they will file a fraudulent return in your name using your credentials and everything that you've given them. They, they'll know everything. You know, it's just, it's like, think about that. If you could get someone to this hand, this person, all of their tax information, they've totally got you at that point. Scary. There's phishing scams that involve tax transcripts, people pretending to be from the Bureau of Tax Enforcement. This doesn't even exist.

E: It doesn't exist.

J: Sounds tough though, right? Ooh, Bureau of Tax Enforcement. You know, they'll call you, they'll ask for money, they'll demand immediate payments. People impersonating IRS agents asking you to pay via gift cards. I know that might sound silly to some of you, but some people totally fall for that. Calls that are claiming to be from the FDIC. Just the list goes on and on and on.

S: I got a call from Homeland Security that somebody was trying to ship something in my name across the Mexican-United States border. And so I just said, all right, I'll call you back and I hung up. And then I sent an email to the, the organization, they said, yeah, that's fraudulent.

E: Yes. Yes. These agencies, generally speaking, will not call you, not, not, not cold, not after something's already been initiated. So you can, you should ignore all of those as they come in.

J: Yeah. And the IRS, from what I understand, like they won't call you, right? They will probably send you-

E: Correct. Not initially.

J: Yeah. They won't initiate it.

E: Never initially.

J: Exactly. If you're already working with them or something's going on.

E: But then you have, there's a case number and there are codes and things that you say over the phone to to reestablish your communication on, over the phone that you've been having with them. Never ever will they initiate it.

S: All right. Let's move on.

Reconductoring (38:04)[edit]

A typical utility pole in North America, showing the hardware for a residential 120/240V split phase service drop. Click for a list of the labeled parts

A,B,C - The high voltage primary distribution wires; power is transmitted using the three phase system with 3 wires carrying 60 Hz alternating current with phases 120° apart. The wires are supported by standoff insulators on the crossarm, to which they are tied with tie wires.
D - The neutral wire, which is grounded. This is a "Y" connected distribution line, with the distribution transformers connected between a phase wire and this neutral wire.
E - Fuse cutout which disconnects the transformer from the line in the event of an electrical fault. It can also be opened manually.
F - Lightning arrestor conducts voltage spikes due to lightning strikes and other transient events to ground.
G - Single phase distribution transformer. Its primary winding is connected between one of the phase wires and the neutral wire. Its secondary winding is 240V center tapped. The secondary voltage is brought out to the 3 bushings on the side, consists of two 120V phases and one neutral.
H - Ground wire from transformer case to neutral wire carries the return current from the primary winding.
J - "Triplex" service drop cable carries the secondary current to the residence. It consists of the two opposite 120V phase wires and the neutral, which supports the cable.
K - Communications cables, consisting of a telephone and two cable television lines.

S: I went down this kind of fun rabbit hole writing, doing research for a recent blog post. Do you guys know what reconductoring is?

C: No.

S: This is my own, what's the word here. What's reconductoring?

E: Reconductoring.

B: Is it conductors that have retired, but they come out of retirement?

E: We talking about train conductors or orchestral conductors?

C: Yeah.

S: Either.

B: Is it something you do to a battery?

E: It has to do with water. Something about conduction. No?

S: No.

E: Induction.

C: Conductoring as a-

S: It has to do with power lines.

C: Conductoring.

S: It's kind of a, it's a technical term for something very simple. It's just replacing power lines with different material.

B: Wait, different or just new?

S: Different.

E: Hopefully better.

S: Different. Yeah. Better is the idea. But I'm going to ask you guys a different question, because I love it when there's something that's part of your everyday life, you see it a million times, and yet you know nothing about it.

E: Oh, yeah. Plenty of that going on.

S: So think about what a telephone pole in the United States looks like. These are different-

E: If you're able to envision pictures in your-

S: If you don't have afantasia. So this is like we do for the extravaganza, we do draw a penny from memory, like draw the head of a penny from memory, nobody can tell, everybody crashes and burns. What does a telephone pole look like? Cara, let me start with you. Just tell me what the elements of a telephone pole are.

C: So telephone pole specifically.

S: Yeah, power with the-

C: In my neighbourhood-

S: We would call it telephone pole.

C: A lot of them are wooden. So it's a big wooden thing that looks like a tree trunk. Sadly, some of them are like tilted, which is probably not safe. There are like metal pin things sticking out of the side at a certain height, but not like from the ground. I think you have to have a ladder to get there, and then the metal pins start. But those aren't to connect things, I think those are to climb it. I could be wrong.

S: Yeah, those are just to climb it.

C: At the very top, there are like wires that are connecting to thingies.

S: How many wires?

C: Oh, I think it totally depends, because some of them are on corners. So sometimes it's going like tethering, like pole to pole to pole, but sometimes it's turning a corner. So then you've got like a perpendicular situation. And then I want to say at the bottom there are tethers too, but I don't know if those just take you into concrete, and I don't remember if there's like a box or something that's accessible, like a panel. I don't think so, though.

S: Okay, so you've got some elements there. Is it just a pole, or is there anything horizontal?

E: The cross poles. Yeah, at least one, if not two.

C: What is a cross pole?

S: At the top, like a T, it's not called a cross pole, it's called...

C: Oh, is that like the thing that I said, like the metal things that the wires connect to?

E: Oh, another piece of wood attached to the upright wood.

C: Oh, I know what you mean. Yeah, it's like to make a scarecrow.

E: Right. Or to crucify someone.

C: He's got arms, yeah. Yeah, it's a cross.

S: Yeah, so it looks like a T.

B: Or a supernatural saviour.

C: But not just a T, because then there's like little diagonal ones that support it a lot of times.

S: Sometimes. Sometimes.

C: Sometimes, okay.

J: They also have a couple of things. There's usually steel wires that are supporting the telephone pole, at least one.

C: Yeah, at the bottom.

E: Sure.

J: And then there's also these kind of like Christmas tree looking things that are sticking up out of the cross bars that the wires actually connect to. That's how they're connected to the pole.

E: Like these ceramic nodes, almost.

S: Do you guys know which wires are which?

E: I think so.

C: All that stuff's over my head.

E: Because there's power, there's internet.

B: Yeah, the power's on top and telephone's on the bottom?

S: Power's on top and telecommunications are on the bottom, yeah.

B: That's a transformer, right?

E: Yes.

B: That metal box.

E: Not all of them.

S: Not every one, but some of them will have a cylindrical transformer. That's correct. Okay, so this is the basics of it. So basically what you guys said is mostly correct. There's the tree trunk telephone pole. There's a cross bar at the top. The cross arm, it's actually called the cross arm. There's a horizontal beam. In the United States, typically, there's some variation depending on how much is needed. But there's typically three wires that go along the cross arm. These are the power lines, right? This is where power's going through. Those three at the very top. Do you think that these wires are insulated or uninsulated?

J: Electrical wires?

C: Insulated.

S: Yeah.

J: I would think insulated.

S: They are uninsulated.

B: Wow.

E: For a reason.

S: For a reason. What do you think that reason is?

E: Grounding?

S: Nope. So usually there's a separate ground wire beneath the three power lines.

B: To fry animals that touch it?

S: No, because they are air cooled. They are air insulated and air cooled. So it's actually counterproductive to insulate them because then they would get overheated and they would be able to carry less power through them. So there's three uninsulated thin power lines at the top. And they're resting on those little knobs. Those are insulated little holders that are on the cross arm holding up the uninsulated wires, right?

C: Okay. So the whole thing doesn't become electrified?

S: Yeah. So below that there's usually the ground. There may be a transformer. There's then a pretty big gap, right? And then there's some number, usually say two or three of the telecommunication wires. These are insulated. These are on just the vertical part of the pole. And they're pretty far below the power lines because there's space for people to work on those wires without getting near the power lines.

C: I'm looking at pictures of telephone poles in LA and there's like eight of those wires at the bottom.

S: Yeah. Right. The telecommunications wires.

C: Right. Probably because I'm in LA.

E: There's old-fashioned internet. There's fiber. It could be fiber.

S: It could be fiber optic, coaxial cable, copper wire. There could be a lot.

E: That's right.

C: There's a lot. Yeah.

S: So let's say we wanted to increase the capacity of that setup to carry electricity. What options do we have?

E: More wires.

C: Bigger wires.

E: Parallel to the existing wires.

S: More wires, bigger wires, right? Both of those are not really good options.

E: Okay.

S: I'll tell you why. This is interesting. So first of all, let me ask you another question. What are the electrical wires made of? The ones that carry power?

C: Metal.

E: And alloy.

S: Yeah. What?

B: Copper?

C/E: I don't think they're copper.

C: Because they're silver.

E: What transmits electricity well?

S: Copper does really well.

B: Copper does.

C: Yeah, but they don't look like copper. I thought they were like aluminium.

E: But I don't think they're copper, though.

S: They are aluminium. And the reason why they're aluminium... Copper has a greater capacity than aluminium.

B: Weight.

S: But they're heavier.

E: And expensive.

S: And way more expensive. 10 times more expensive.

C: And people would always be stealing them.

S: And people would always be stealing.

E: Sure.

S: That's correct. They would need security.

E: Yeah. And just hurting themselves in the process, too.

S: There's multiple reasons why we use aluminium instead of copper for long distance. In the home, we use copper, because it's better and has a higher capacity. But aluminium is lighter, cheaper. And that means it sags less. And also, the less weight means it's more resilient. It won't break as easily in the wind. Or if there's ice on it or something. And there's a steel core for strength. So it's steel core wrapped by aluminium. So if we wanted to add capacity to that section of the grid, we couldn't just add more wires. Because that would add more total weight to the telephone pole. And it may not be rated for it, right? It may not be able to carry more wires. For the same reason we couldn't make them just heavier or bigger. For the same reason we couldn't switch to copper. Copper would have twice the capacity, but much more weight. And so it's not a good option. Also, there's an interesting physics reason. The electricity travels more efficiently around the edge, around the outside of the wire. And so if you make it too big, it starts to conduct horizontally too much, and it reduces the efficiency.

E: Oh, so there's a sweet spot.

S: There's a sweet spot, yeah, of size. So we're pretty much in that sweet spot, right? So then what do we do if we want to add more capacity? Well, you add more lines, like entirely new conduits of telephone poles and wires.

E: Better aluminium?

S: Well, with the same. It's cheap. It works. They're light. So we just keep putting up more telephone poles with more lines. But we've been talking about the fact that there's a backlog of connections to the grid. And if we want to, say, connect a wind farm to the grid, or we're building a new residence or a new development, or just people are using more electricity. Now suddenly everybody has an electric car. We need to send more electricity to residents. How do we do that? The problem with adding more wires or adding more lines is it also requires revising the right of way. So when you have a grid going through, it could be going through many, many towns and counties and states, right? You have to get permission from everybody that it goes through. And it's like a hundred NIMBY problems, right? Nobody wants to have bigger or more telephone poles or more wires on the poles. If it wasn't specifically allowed for in the right of way, you would have to either get a new right of way or revise it. And that's the backlog. That is the huge backlog.

E: It's a bureaucracy, isn't it?

S: Yeah. Well, yes, it's basically because of the bureaucracy. And there's no federal agency that could come in there and say, eminent domain, we're doing this, shut up. Right? They just can't do it. That doesn't exist. You have to negotiate with everybody along the way. And it's also different utility companies. And then they start fighting over who's paying for what, et cetera. So there's really no great option. That's why we were backed up by years with expanding the grid and making new connections to the grid. This is where reconductoring comes in. So there are new materials that are superior to the aluminium wrapped steel, right? The newer power lines have a carbon composite core surrounded by annealed aluminium. So the carbon composite cores are stronger, which means they sag less and they are more resilient to weather. And the annealed aluminium and the whole thing conducts up to twice as much electricity as the existing hundred-year-old technology, aluminium wrapped steel. So that means you can replace the older lines with these new advanced material lines and double the capacity without any change to the right of way. So this could be the quickest way that we can increase the capacity of the existing grid.

J: Oh, cool.

E: Is it much more expensive, this material?

S: It's more expensive, but it's, yeah, it is.

E: Future-proof in a way?

S: But it's less maintenance they will go down less. But it's cheaper than any other option. It's the cheapest way to double your capacity.

E: Okay. That makes sense.

S: Yeah, it's cheaper than putting down new lines or doing anything else. The other thing is, keep in mind, if you want to add weight there are all kinds of regulations about how much the lines can sag and how much clearance you need to have and you have to cut the trees out of the way and all that sort of stuff. So less sagging is huge. But also, think about this, with too much weight, you would have to put the poles closer together. Imagine doing that, right?

E: Oh, yeah.

S: Oh, yeah, all these poles have to go 20% closer together than they are now. I mean, that would be massively expensive.

E: Very disruptive in lots of ways.

S: And new right of way and everything. You can't just do that with the existing right of way. So reconductoring is really the only way that you can significantly increase capacity in this way just by changing out the wires without any change to the right of way. There's a couple other things that we can do to increase capacity that also would not require any changes to the right of way, which is, again, the critical limiting factor. The more electricity you send through the wires the hotter that they get, right? The more they sag. And so there's a safety limit. Then that, because they're air cooled, that depends on the season and the weather and the wind speed. So what the utility companies generally do, this is the old school way of doing it. They say, OK, what's the worst case scenario? A hot summer day with no wind. What's the most amount of juice we could send through the wires in that situation? OK, that's the limit. But of course, that's a lot less than its actual limit on under other conditions. So the other thing you could do is make the smart grid, right, where you have you dynamically measure the temperature of the wires and you send as much juice as they can carry given the current conditions. And so you could significantly increase the capacity just by you're using existing capacity just you're finding a way to do it more safely. Now some places do seasonal adjustments. So they'll have like a summer maximum, a fall maximum, a winter maximum. But this way is even better than that because it's dynamic. It's to the actual current conditions, not just an average of a season or an average of the year. So we can squeeze out some extra capacity that way. But the reconductoring is still by far the best way to do it. So it's kind of nice in a way that we've done it the low tech way so far, adding more telephone poles. Now we have all of that capacity and we could by through reconductoring, we can almost double our capacity of existing grid pathways. This is already happening in some places. It's not like it's not it hasn't happened anywhere. And as is often the case, Europe's way ahead of us. They've reconducted a lot of their lines with the newer material. But there's no it's good to know that we have this potential now that there's still going to be need to add more grid lines, because like if you're adding a new wind farm, you've got to connect that wind farm to the grid, right? So reconductoring won't cut it. You have to add new transmission. But this will free up the resources to do the ones that are necessary. We're not doing it just to increase capacity on existing lines. We could do that with reconductoring. I also looked into and I've been interested in this for a long time, but it's just took another look at what about burying the lines, right? Which we typically do in cities and in some residential areas, like if you want to spend the money I know like our fathers in construction since the 80s, they were burying the power lines in all new developments that he was doing. But it's not standard in a lot of places like where I live right now, there's wires on poles. So there's a big advantage to burying the power lines. That is they're not susceptible to weather.

B: Weather, yeah.

C: Yeah. Ours are buried in my development because it was built in 2019. So even though there's power lines on the poles on the main street in front of us, there's nothing connecting to any of our houses.

S: Yeah. That's nice.

C: Yeah. It's really nice.

B: There's also a downside.

S: Well, yeah. So they're resilient to weather, lower maintenance. So if a problem does occur, they're more expensive to fix. You've got to dig them up. And they're susceptible to flooding. So some locations are not good. The big downside is expense. It's 10 times as expensive than burying it along poles.

C: Which is probably why it's like, yeah, in a new build, that makes sense.

S: Yeah. Right.

C: But not retrofitting.

S: Generally, people think it's worth it for the resilience, especially in Connecticut. There were times when we would lose power every year. And the second is just it's more beautiful. It beautifies the neighbourhood. The other thing is you have to insulate them, because there's no air cooling. And so you have to find some other way to cool the lines.

B: What about ground cooling?

S: So yeah. So if it's not a lot, like if it's just residential delivering power, then you could just separate them enough so that they're still insulated, but you can get away with it. But that might decrease their capacity to some extent, because you can't fry them, make them too hot. But in some cities, they actually water cool them. They actually have a system that pumps fluid through the cable or surrounding the wires, like through the pipeline, and they cool them that way. But that's also expensive and prone to repairs, needing repairs. So there's no real perfect solution. And you kind of have to do what's best for the situation. I do think residential lines should probably be buried. In cities, you can have telephone poles in cities. If you're like the big, long-distance transmission lines, I'm obviously not going to bury those. That would be way too expensive. So yeah, a lot of details that I didn't know about something I see every day. Before I did this research, I couldn't tell you which lines had the power in them versus the telecommunications.

J: Steve, did you read anything about not licking those power lines?

S: Yeah. You can lick the lines as much as you want if you want to die.

J: Right. Okay. That's the answer.

E: Oh.

C: Don't you remember all the old PSAs with the dancing light bulbs?

J: Oh, yeah.

S: My daughter showed me this wonderful UK PSA. I mean, it was just horrible but wonderful. You know what I mean? This was like a serious PSA, and it showed like this 10-year-old kid flying a kite near a power line, and then it getting stuck on the power line, and the kid like gets fried and catches fire. And then like his electrified corpse is like sitting on the... I mean, it was like really graphic. Like they were doubling, tripling down on the scared straight thing.

B: Could you send me a link?

S: Don't be like Timmy and fly your kite near... You know, that typical PSA kind of tone and everything. But the kid gets fried. They kill a kid on the PSA. Anyway. Yeah. So don't do that.

E: It must work.

S: Scared straight typically doesn't work as a strategy.

C: No, it doesn't. Yeah. That's actually been debunked and can cause more harm.

B: Your peers can't do it to you.

S: Yeah. You're better off doing social norming. None of your friends are licking their telephone poles or whatever.

C: Yeah. How many people [inaudible] telephone poles.

E: If your friend drop off the bridge? Would you do it?

ISS Space Junk Crashed Through Home (57:26)[edit]

S: All right. Cara, tell us about space junk crashing through people's homes.

C: Yeah. Bob, you and I are switching gears today a little bit.

B: Yeah, right>

C: I was like, what's happening? I came across some articles last month and then now I think there's more information. So there's a little bit more to talk about this month. But in March of 2021, NASA used the ISS's robotic arm to remove a cargo pallet that had a bunch of old batteries on it. They were nickel hydride batteries and they wanted to, or they had already gotten a new delivery of lithium ion batteries for these like power upgrades. And so they released this pallet that weighed about 5,800 pounds. They expected it to sort of orbit a little bit and then eventually fully burn up in the atmosphere in March of 2024. So three years later. And that mostly happened. It did orbit for a bit and then burn up through the atmosphere. The problem is one piece didn't burn up. And that piece ended up through the roof and the floor and the ceiling of a guy's house in Naples, Florida.

B: Naples. Wow.

E: Oh boy.

C: Yeah. So I've been digging a lot on this because it's like really interesting. Why did that happen? How did that happen? What exactly did happen? So the dude actually posted on like social media, can somebody get me through to NASA? I've been calling and they're not answering it. I'm pretty sure that this came from space. And finally they did come out and analyze the material. And they realized that it was, do you guys know this word, a stanchion? Stanchion?

E: I've heard of stanchions.

C: Is that how you say it? Stanchion? S-T-A-N-C-H-I-O-N?

B: Yeah.

C: Because that's what they're calling it. A recovered stanchion from the flight support equipment that was used to mount the batteries on the pallet. And that chunk of metal, they show, like when you go online, you can see what a new one looks like. It looks like a big metal cylinder. The one that went through his house looks like a rock, right? Because it's all warped and like burnt up from coming through the atmosphere. It's the metal alloy that it's made of is called Inconel. It's a capital I, so I think that's like a brand name, I-N-C-O-N-E-L, we'll say Inconel. And weighs 1.6 pounds, is four inches tall and 1.6 inches in diameter. Now NASA needs to perform a big analysis. And they do this apparently every time something doesn't burn up that they calculated should have. They do a detailed investigation and an engineering analysis that involves updating their modeling so that when more things are released, they can determine that it's the right size and shape for release. So they're not putting anybody at risk. Now when we look back at the history of like stuff being deorbiting, there's a lot of interesting takeaways here. Also, by the way, just to interject, you can actually go to NASA's website and you can see an image of the external pallet that was packed with the batteries being released from the robotic arm. And of course it's like, this will eventually burn up in the atmosphere. It's like, well, mostly it did. And you know, there's a lot of information that's given about how calculations are made as to where these things will fall, how much of it's going to make it through the atmosphere, and you know, how these things are determined. But what I didn't realize is that the vast majority of space debris that re-enters is actually uncontrolled re-entry. A lot of things harmlessly re-enter, but very few of the things that re-enter are controlled re-entries. It's like a pretty small percentage compared to the total amount of just stuff that re-enters the atmosphere. So I have some kind of interesting, here's a fun one. The European Space Agency says that the annual risk of an individual human being being injured by space debris is less than one in 100 billion. So that's actually-

E: I like those odds.

C: Yeah. It's a lower risk than winning the Powerball. There are also some examples of historic damage that has occurred. So in 2003, a bracket from the Columbia shuttle smashed through a dentist's office in Texas, but luckily it happened on a Saturday, so nobody was working. In 1997, an Oklahoma woman named Lottie Williams was hit in the shoulder by a piece of material that was part of the upper stage of a Delta II rocket. And it was tiny and lightweight, but it still hurt. And so she wasn't-

E: Lucky.

C: Yeah. It hurt, but she wasn't injured. In 1969, a fragment from a Soviet spacecraft hit a Japanese ship near the coast of Siberia and five people were hurt. And then there's actually been multiple examples of debris from the Chinese Long March 5B rocket. It fell out of orbit in 2020. And there's been a lot of examples of wreckage. The most notable was wreckage that actually damaged a village in Côte d'Ivoire. So there are examples, written examples, documented examples of damage. Oh, here's a more famous one. In 1978, when Cosmos 954, which was a military satellite, re-entered in Northern Canada, it didn't hurt anybody, but the cleanup effort cost a lot of money. And actually it looks like Canada either sued or the Soviet Union decided to pay millions in Canadian dollars for the cleanup effort because there was radioactive debris and they were worried about environmental impacts. Obviously, portions of rocket stages, we've got payload and we've got just different objects that are related to missions that often fall back to earth. Sometimes that debris stays up there. Sometimes it falls back down. Usually when we're talking about low earth orbit, like research satellites, that stuff is much closer to earth as we know, as opposed to medium and high earth, which is where navigation and weather and communication satellites are. At any given time, as of right now, there are just under 10,000 objects circling earth that we know of.

B: 10,000?

S: Well, you have to say of a certain size or a big size.

B: What size? Those are fairly big things.

C: Yeah. Those are all going to be above. I think those are measurable things, things that have actually been observed. That's according to Orbiting Now, which is a satellite tracking website. There's obviously, I think there's modeling of how many small things there are out there, but I don't think we can see those small things. This is an interesting one, which I didn't realize. The US accounts for like half of the objects that have ever been launched into space, more than half. According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, there have been 17,263 things launched into space and the US launched 9,632 of them. Coming in a distant second was Russia with 3,723. Then China, UK, Japan, France, India, Germany, and the ESA combined, it looks like is only about 3,000.

S: Yeah. I think I found it most interesting that NASA, every time they release something, they calculate like if we release it this way, it should burn up in this amount of time and they're constantly tweaking it.

C: And then when it doesn't quite work, yeah, they remodel. Yeah.

Zombie Cicadas (1:05:40)[edit]

S: Bob, let me ask you a question. Do you have like a Google alert on the words zombie in news items?

B: Yes, that Google alert is named Jay.

S: Tell me about zombie cicadas.

B: Yes, and this news item is dedicated to Jay. Thank you, Jay, for giving this to me.

J: I got this from a listener.

B: Oh, cool.

J: Yeah, the words zombies and cicadas are being used in the same sentence in the news and I just had to talk about it. I also have to say the best title I came across, it was from the New York Post, and that title was Hypersexual Zombie Cicadas Infected with Bizarre STD Fungus Will Emerge in US.

C: Jeez. Talk about clickbait.

E: Yeah. Right?

B: That is-

E: It shows up on a lot of different people's feeds for a lot of different reasons.

B: One of my favorite titles I've seen that I can remember. In what world does that title even remotely reflect reality? It's this world, apparently.

E: Yeah, this year.

B: This is very interesting. It starts with cicadas, of course. We've talked about them before. I think, Evan, you did a good take on them a while back. This is a huge, huge year for them. These periodical cicadas, these are insects that spend most of their lives underground. They emerge after many years, and they wreak havoc, both sonically and sexually, apparently. This year, two noisy broods are emerging at the same time. There's a 13-year brood and a 19-year brood. These cycles haven't coincided since like 1803, and they won't again until 2245. There's going to be a lot of these buggers coming out of the ground this year. When they're underground, they're in this nymph form, and they feed on these nutritious fluids that are in the tree roots called xylem. Now when billions or even trillions potentially of them show up between April and June 2024, there's going to be a lot of noise, a lot of sex happening, and to prepare for the next generation. But a small percentage of these cicadas will pick up a passenger in the ground. It's not a cute ladybug. It's a fungal pathogen called Mesospora cicadina. This pathogen infects cicadas in two stages, and stage one is a doozy. Early in stage one, soon after emerging from the ground, the infection is inside the bugs. It's there, but you can't see it. And then when there's plenty of time left before this infection actually kills the insect, the bottom part of the abdomen falls away, including the genitals. Jay, did you hear that?

J: Yes.

B: Including the genitals fall off, and what's replaced at the bottom of their abdomen is this weird, visible, chalky, white mass, or a plug it's referred to. It's a plug of the fungus, and that creates the spores. And at this stage, they're not really called zombies, which isn't actually the most appropriate word. The more common term is they're referred to as flying salt shakers of death, which is pretty damn funny. Now Matthew Kisan, who's an associate professor of mycology and forest pathology at West Virginia University, he said, the cicada continues to participate in normal activities like if it was healthy. It tries to mate, it flies around, it walks on plants, yet a third of its body has been replaced by fungus. That's really kind of bizarre. So yeah, absolutely. Imagine a third of your body's gone. You're still just like doom scrolling and watching Survivor on TV and all sorts of stuff. It's like they don't even notice it. It gets even more bizarre. The fungus becomes like a puppet master, in a sense, changing the behavior of the cicadas to more efficiently spread the spores. So if you know about what fungi can do to insects, this probably won't be hugely surprising, but it's still fascinating. This change in behavior manifests itself as hypersexualization to spread the fungus, like an STD or maybe a CSTD, cicada STD. Now the infected males not only try to have sex with females to infect them, but they also pretend to be females. They flick their wings they flap their wings in a very special way, like a come hither kind of way that normally only receptive females do. The male cicadas do not generally do this unless they're infected with this fungus. So at the behest of this puppeteer fungus, the males lure other males in and infect them as well. This change of behavior, it's fascinating how a fungus can change behavior in this way, but it's still a mystery. You know, we know why it does it, because it actually helps to more efficiently spread the fungus, but we're not sure exactly how it happens. They did find a stimulant in the fungus that's very similar to amphetamines, and it seems like it's a no-brainer, right? You've got this psychoactive chemical in the fungus. That's probably what's changing the behavior. But the problem with that theory though is that the insects have a different type of nervous system than vertebrates, than we do. And so we don't know if it actually has any effect at all on the insects. It actually may have no effect, and the amphetamines are in there to dissuade, like, birds from eating them and things like that. It may have no effect at all on the cicadas. The fungus may have some other unknown means of manipulating the cicada's nervous system or endocrine system perhaps, and to turn its victims into essentially these eunuch horndogs and ignore the fact that the third of their bodies is just essentially gone. So we're not sure, and that would be interesting if they could tease out exactly how this change of behavior is happening. Now, as far as I can tell, the second stage of the infection occurs when relatively newly infected cicadas have sex, right? So you've got this stage one infection. It grows inside, and then your lower half of the body falls off, and then they try to have sex with whatever they can to infect them. And then my take is kind of difficult to tease this out, but my take is that for the stage two, when these newly infected cicadas are having sex, then you're entering the realm of stage two. This of course is a critical, the next critical stage of their life cycle. Dr. John Cooley, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut Hartford said, periodical cicadas have interlocking genitalia. I did not know that. So when they pull apart, guess what happens? Rip. And then there's a cicada walking around, right? Then there's a cicada walking around with someone else's genitals stuck to them. I hate when that happens. And now the cicada that's infected is busted open. So after having this rip sex, as you will, after having that, they fly around and this is when they become the flying salt shakers of death, right? Because they're flying around, their abdomens are ripped open, and they rain down a different type of spore. It's not the type of spore from stage one where they infect each other. It's a type of spore that is stable, if you would. It can land on the ground and wait for years to infect the next generation of periodical cicadas.

C: Smart.

B: Whether that's right, whether that's 13, 19 years or more later. So interesting life cycle, and it's amazing how this fungus has actually evolved itself in lockstep with these cicadas in order to adapt to the cicadas' bizarre life cycle. And just an amazing process. They think it's probably safe, because to eat these, if your dog eats these dead cicadas that may have been mutated by this fungus, I don't think there's that much need for worry because it's such a small amount of, say, that amphetamine-like psychoactive chemical that's in there. But, I mean, don't eat them, obviously. Pretty bizarre and very interesting to research this story. I thought we were done with cicadas, but not yet.

E: Not this year.

S: All right. Thanks, Bob.

Death by Wellness (1:13:56)[edit]

S: Evan, I'd like to call your segment Death by Wellness.

E: Which normally wouldn't make sense, unless you're aware of the wellness industry and some of the harmful effects it can have on people. Mm-hmm. Yeah. So we're going to go to Australia for this news item. The town of Clunes, C-L-U-N-E-S, and that is located about 140 kilometers northwest of Melbourne. There is a self-described alternative and holistic health services facility called Soul Barn. And that is their description. It's right there on their Facebook page. I did not make that up myself. The facility offers a variety of services and practices, including things like ritual skin care and Reiki to soothe the body and spirit. Also transmediumship. This allows a spirit being to take control of a body, mind, and energy of a medium, someone who's trained in this, for the purpose of communication, either spoken or written. And also tarot readings are on the menu. In fact, they recently partnered with a tarot reader who has 25 years of experience of tarot reading and who has a deep understanding of the cards and guidance that they can provide. A welcome addition to their list of offerings. But sound healing, that appears to be this place's specialty. Sound healing is an ancient practice that harnesses the power of sound vibrations to promote healing and relaxation.

C: According to them.

E: According to them. This practice goes by many names. Not only sound healing, sound medicine, sound meditation, sound journeys, sound baths, sound bath meditation and sound therapy. And it sounds great. Sounds too good to be true as well. On Instagram, Soul Barn describes itself as a center that holds workshops, events and private clinic sessions designed to support you on your journey and expand your consciousness. OK, so it's a kind of home base in this small town of Australia. For many ideas and practices that range from mostly harmless things, meditation cloaked in that New Age fluff all the way to chicanery and nonsense that takes advantage of what I like to call reality challenged people, which is about as kind, I think, as I can phrase it. But we've been speaking about these kinds of topics for, well, 19 years on the show and an additional 10 years prior to that, reminding people that these types of things always come with a price. And sometimes that price is your money or your property. Those things can be at risk. But too often, people pay a price with their lives. And unfortunately, that's what happened a few days ago at Soul Barn. Her name was Rachel Dixon. It's being reported that she fell ill and died after consuming a beverage at an event at Soul Barn. This particular session was a skin sculpting and lymphatic drainage service. That's a goop-esque term that it's like massage that can help you do things like body sculpt, boost your immune system. And it's also tiptoed along the lines of making health claims like cancer prevention. But not only did she die, but there were two other people who consumed the same drink. They also fell ill. For them, it was not fatal. They were rushed to the closest hospital. They recovered and they were released. But for Rachel Dixon, no, she was pronounced dead at the Soul Barn. They've closed the facility indefinitely while the authorities are investigating what exactly happened here. Now, it's being reported by some news outlets that the drink contained mushrooms, perhaps a mushroom tea. But exactly what kind of mushrooms were used is not yet being reported. Just don't know yet. It's suspected, and some places are reporting this, that the tea contained magic mushrooms, psilocybin mushrooms, right? Psilocybin? Am I pronouncing that correctly?

S: Yep. Psilocybin.

E: Psilocybin. But there's also some skepticism, a good healthy dose of skepticism about that claim, those claims as well, because the instances of death related to the consumption of psilocybin, they're very rare. And there do not even seem to be definitive statistics on the mortality of this type of mushroom consumption. But just reports of when there is overdosing, when using this, that the worst outcomes are trauma, because a person might put themselves in a risky situation, they'll fall off a building or be involved in a car accident, something indirectly related to the toxicity, say, of the mushroom.

C: So can I just ask real quick, the woman who died and the two people who went to the hospital, what were their... Were they ill? Was it a GI thing?

E: Yeah, they didn't give the exact conditions of what happened, but...

C: But it was pretty... It was obviously pretty fast acting, considering that she died on the scene.

E: Fast acting, right. So could a person of... Can a person have a allergic reaction to a mushroom that can cause death? I tried to find that and was not able to really come to anything conclusive that I didn't feel I could include in this particular news item.

S: The other possibility is that they screwed up and it was a lookalike mushroom.

C: Yeah, and it was toxic.

E: That's the point.

S: It was toxic. There's so many poisonous mushrooms out there. If you don't know what you're doing, you can kill yourself or other people with the wrong mushroom. You really gotta... If you're gonna eat or feed people mushrooms that you picked and identified yourself, you better make damn sure you know what you're doing.

E: Yeah, and that is the takeaway here. And there's really only one way to tell whether a wild mushroom is safe to eat. You have to have it identified by a mushroom expert, a mycologist, in other words, they're called. Someone who's very well trained.

B: Or just give it to your brother and see what happens.

E: Yeah, you could do that too, sure. But no, absolutely, Steve. There are mushrooms that look like the magic mushrooms, but they are not the magic mushrooms. And do you know what the most poisonous mushroom is? Perhaps you've heard of this.

S: Death cap?

C: Oh, I think we...

E: The death cap, yeah.

C: Yeah, the death cap.

E: Amanita phalloides is the technical name. 9 out of 10 mushroom-related deaths attributable to the death cap mushroom.

B: Wow.

C: Oh, wow.

E: However, death rarely occurs suddenly. It could be as long as 24 hours after eating. And the symptoms leading up to that, Cara, since you mentioned it before, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea. But while the toxin fatally harms the liver and kidneys, and in some cases, some people have gone on several days until they've died, have suffered mightily as a result of having eaten those. But it's rare that somebody drops dead quickly as a result of having consumed it. So there could be something... That's why they're taking their time with this investigation to really see what happened here.

C: Yeah, and I mean, somebody with a pre-existing liver condition, a pre-existing congenital heart condition. You never know. Yo ucombine these things that usually act in one way with somebody who has a sensitivity. And yeah, it's just super sad because something tells me that was not anybody's intention according to this event that night, especially that...

E: Correct. Right. Obviously, yeah, they weren't.

C: Something that's supposed to make them feel good, or at least that's been sold to them as something that makes them feel good.

E: Yeah. Now, the owners of the Soul Barn claim that they, none of their people, their employees, their representatives were on site. They used the facility so that other people traveling and otherwise can come in and hold their practices, their sessions or whatever. Apparently, that is what happened in this particular case. So they're kind of distancing themselves in a certain sense from it. But at the same time, people are definitely taking a second look at Soul Barn and its practices and all the things that it's offering. And yeah, it's getting some attention now.

S: Now, obviously, this incident does not say anything about the practices that they do. I mean, I think most wellness practices are bullshit, but this could happen irrespective of that. But I do think that there is something to be said for not putting your trust generally in somebody who is overwhelmed by pseudoscience, right? This is not the kind of person that I would trust to identify a mushroom that could kill me. You know what I mean?

E: Yes. Agreed.

C: Yeah. There's also something to be said in putting your trust in practices that are not... I don't know what the Australian system is, but we talk about this a lot here. When you take supplements, you're taking something that the FDA has not looked at. And I think when it comes to something like mushroom tea, whether these were foraged mushrooms or whether these were like ordered online from some distributor that claimed certain health benefits, you don't know what you're getting because it's probably not...

S: Properly regulated.

C: Yeah. These wellness approaches aren't properly regulated, and that's really scary.

E: Yes. Absolutely. Yeah. We've seen this with other things that people consume, not just mushrooms, obviously, in the guise of wellness and that slipped through the cracks of the authorities needing to regulate these items. And this is where the injuries and deaths can often occur, and they do. So yeah, it's something to be afraid of. And all the other things that this place promotes as well, you kind of have to use your better judgement as to what... It's one thing to go in there for a massage, okay? But they're going to start putting things into your body. You're going to start eating and drinking things. You really have to be careful.

S: All right. Thanks, Evan.

E: Yep.

Who's That Noisy? (1:23:57)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
An indri (one of the largest living lemurs)

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

J: All right, guys. Last week, I played this noisy.

[Animal? honking/squeaking noises]

Any guesses, guys?

E: Yeah. That is the balloon concerto in C minor.

C: I swear, if that is another marine mammal, I'm going to scream. Although to be fair, we haven't had one on the show in a while.

J: Yeah. I've got to put some distance there, you know?

E: It's true.

J: All right. Well, before I launch into it, apparently I mispronounced a word and many people called me out on it. I mean, seriously.

C: I should have been there, Jay.

J: Who is surprised? Anybody? No. Not one hand went up. So I said the salsaphone because it's spelled S-O-U-S-A and that's basically –

B: Sousophone?

C: It's Sousaphone.

J: It's Sousaphone.

C: Also, apparently when you got... I wasn't in the episode, but you guys were talking about theremins or something, or synthesizers, and you called one... You didn't say Moog. I saw in an email that somebody was like, you said Moog, but M-O-O-G is Moog.

J: Oh yeah, I know. Yeah, I got a bunch of emails on that.

E: Oh, is that right? Oops.

J: Yeah, sorry, guys. So the Sousaphone was named after John Philip Sousa. You could also say his last name, Sousa. I don't know. Whatever.

C: Jay can.

E: Yeah, John Philip Sousa. He did Stars and Stripes Forever. Which one did he do? Stars and Stripes Forever. That's his most famous composition.

J: All right, so a listener named Gregory Bryant said, Hi Jay, long time listener, first time noise guesser. This one immediately made me think of walking around in a zoo. At first I thought it was some kind of monkey, but now I think it's more likely birds, specifically peacocks.

C: Bird-like.

J: So Gregory, on a cursory search, I couldn't find peacock noises.

C: Oh really? They're annoying.

J: Yeah. Okay. Well, this sound is moderately annoying. So I got another email from a listener named Jason Bailey and Jason said, Hey y'all, I love this one. If only for the nostalgia that comes with it, I think this week's noisy is a simulation of dinosaur vocalizations. And they said that it sounds like a display at their local children's museum. I love dinosaur vocal simulations. I've played them before. They're always interesting. This is not correct though, however, but sure, that could have been a dinosaur noise. Why not? Another listener named Sia Wilkinson said, Good morning. This week's noisy is a howler monkey. I'm almost positive. Either way, I get to see you all tonight. So apparently this listener was talking about one of the two shows that we, or three shows that we were doing in Dallas. Another quick guess here from Shane Hillier. He says, Geophysis the Great. Geophysis the Great. Thank you. That's very close to my childhood nickname, by the way. He says, It's got to be a beluga whale asking for food.

C: It is, isn't it?

J: It is not.

C: Okay.

J: I'm going to give you a close guess now, and then we'll get right to it. This comes from a listener named Chris in Canberra. Long-time listener, second-time guesser. This definitely sounds like a bird of some description, but I think that that's a red herring. Instead, I'm going to go with a monkey, specifically a gibbon, which is not a monkey, but an ape.

C: It's a lesser ape.

J: Lots of people wrote in gibbon. This is not a gibbon, but you're close. Here is the correct answer. This was sent in by a listener named Ron Dickinson. Ron says, Hi, guys. Long-time listener, first-time e-mailer. Love the show and all the work you do. I recognize this noisy straightaway. It is the call of a Madagascan indri, a species of lemur. He recognized it because they have a colony of indri at the local zoo. He said you could hear their calls from all around the park. Real quick, I looked them up. It's not hard to find information on these animals. They're also called babakoto. Babakoto, okay, is one of the largest living lemurs with a head body length of about 64 to 72 centimetres and a weight of between six and nine kilograms. It has a black and white coat and maintains an upright posture when climbing or clinging. I like this part. It is monogamous. I'll say that again. It is monogamous. I'm so tired. It is monogamous. Monogamous. It mates for life and lives in small family groups.

C: I doubt it mates for life. I would look into that. There's almost no documented animals.

J: It says that they're monogamous.

C: Yeah, they might be seasonally monogamous.

J: All right, let's leave that alone. They stay in small families. They move through the canopy. They're herbivores, and they feed mainly on leaves, but seeds, fruits, and flowers as well. That was cool. I'll play that again for you real quick. [plays Noisy] Evan, it does sound like balloons.

E: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

J: Absolutely.

E: It doesn't it, right?

J: Yeah, it does. All right, so thank you for sending that in.

New Noisy (1:29:14)[edit]

J: I have a new noisy this week.

["Set" beep sound, loud fluttering, beep]

All right, guys, if you think you know what this Noisy is, or if you heard something cool, please email us at

Announcements (1:29:37)[edit]

J: Okay, so Dallas is over. We had a wonderful time. We actually saw the eclipse. Everybody was emotionally blown away. We ate a lot of Tex-Mex, and we ate a lot of the barbecue, everything. Oddly, the best meal that was reported by the people that were on this trip with us came from Ian, and Ian said that it came from a little kitchen connected to a tire shop.

C: Yep, sounds about right.

J: Yeah, it does sound about right. When I was in Arizona, one of my best friends, Michael, took me to a local Tex-Mex joint, and it literally was built on an extension on somebody's home. And you're kind of in their big living room, and it was the absolute best I ever had. It was unbelievably good, totally authentic. There was no plates. It was just given to you in tinfoil. That's it.

C: I love that. I love it when there's just some rando smoker on the side of the road, and you're like, that looks good, and then you stop, and it's the best food you've ever had.

J: Yeah, for sure. I know. I've had lots of crazy experiences like that. So anyway, but we have some cool stuff coming up, so don't get disappointed. I have a few things to let you know. First of all, we're going to Chicago. It's happening in August. We will be doing an extravaganza. Now, the first extravaganza has already been sold out. We talked to our touring company, and we have decided that we will be doing a noon extravaganza. Same location, same everything. The link is on the STU homepage.

C: Matinee.

J: Isn't that crazy? We're doing a second one. We've never done two in one day.

C: It's going to be tough.

E: We can do it.

J: So that'll be on August 17th. There'll be two of those. Now, pay close attention, because I don't want to get the emails. If you purchased tickets for the nighttime show, I believe that show starts at 8 p.m., we have added 25 more VIP tickets. So if you didn't get a VIP and you want to, you will have a very quick opportunity here to grab one. They're going to probably go quick, but check it out on our homepage. You have to buy it as an extension onto your existing ticket. Now, the next day on August 18th, we will be recording a five-hour SGU live program that will include various moments where we're recording an SGU episode that will probably not all be happening contiguously. We will be interviewing remotely. We'll be calling in people from all around the world that have been guests on the show to discuss everything from them just saying hi and congratulations because of the thousandth episode, but also reminiscing about certain moments and funny things that have happened. It's going to be a really fun time. We also have a ton of plans. Of course, George will be traveling with us because of the extravaganza, and we have a ton of ideas and fun things percolating right now with George. A lot of it will be talking about, of course, things that happened in the past. I'm also asking people, if you are interested, feel free to fill out a form. There's a link to this form on the SGU homepage. You could submit your favorite moment or moments or whatever you want to say about the show. You can submit that for consideration for possible content in this five-hour show that we'll be doing. Again, that'll be happening on August 18th. You can buy tickets for this on the SGU homepage. That's We really hope to see you there, guys. 1,000 shows coming up quicker than you can imagine. My God, Steve, how did this happen to all of us?

S: I know, right? Every time I give the date at the beginning of the show, I'm like, it's 2024. We're in the future.

E: Living the dream.

J: According to what you said during one of the private shows in Dallas, we could be in the beginning of a singularity. My mind is still blown from that.

E: That's because you're in the singularity, Jay.

J: I know, but it's so weirdly true. In a lot of ways, I can detect it.

E: Embrace it.

J: Listen, guys, we've been doing this for 20 years. We are coming up on our 1,000th show. If you appreciate the work that we do, please consider becoming a patron. You can give any donation that you want. You will be entering into a world where there are other people who are patrons of the SGU. We have a wonderful community on Discord. We really could use your support, and we really think that you'll enjoy the community that we've built. Go to

S: Thank you, Jay.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:34:05)[edit]

Correction #1: AI Drug Development[edit]

S: One or two emails. We have 45. One quick email. Just a correction from, I think it was the show that aired last week. I was talking about using AI for drug development, and I said that the software that was used was a GPT type of software. It turns out that it isn't. The abstract of the article that I was looking at just described it as a generative AI. I assumed generative AI was a generative pre-trained transformer, GPT, but it's not. It's a different kind of generative AI. If you want the details, you can get into the bowels of that article. Somebody sent me a nice email with all kinds of technical description. That was way over my head, but the bottom line is it's a different type of AI. The actual name of the application is Synthomol, like synthomolecule, synthomol, synthomol. Again, yeah, it's just a generative AI, but not a GPT. All right, guys, let's go on with science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:35:13)[edit]

Item #1: A new economic study finds that by 2050 the economic loss of climate change will be about 19% of the global economy, or 38 trillion dollars ($38T) annually, even without further emissions.[6]
Item #2: Scientists have bioengineered a cultivar of corn that has orange stalks and leaves, to make weeding easier for robots.[7]
Item #3: Paleontologists have formally described the largest marine reptile, an ichthyosaur estimated at 25 meters, about the size of a blue whale.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction Weeding orange corn
Science Economic loss of climate change
Largest marine reptile
Host Result
Steve swept
Rogue Guess
Weeding orange corn
Weeding orange corn
Weeding orange corn
Weeding orange corn

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

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake, and then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Just three regular news items this week. You guys ready? All right, here we go. Item number one, a new economic study finds that by 2050, the economic loss of climate change will be about 19% of the global economy, or $38 trillion annually, even without further emissions. Number two, scientists have bioengineered a cultivar of corn that has orange stalks and leaves to make weeding easier for robots. Item number three, paleontologists have formally described the largest marine reptile, an ichthyosaur, estimated at 25 meters, about the size of a blue whale. Evan, go first.

Evan's Response

E: Okay, new economic study, by 2050, the economic loss of climate change will be about 19% of the global economy, $38 trillion annually. This is awful. Oh my gosh. And that's without further emission. Oh my gosh. So this is all bad.

S: It's baked in. I mean, that will happen even if we stopped emitting CO2 today.

E: Oh my gosh. So this is happening, and you can't stop it. This is a fait accompli. It is happening. $38 trillion annually. Oh my, that's a tough number to wrap your head around. Knowing the economies, kind of the United States, translated out to the world, $38 trillion. That's a lot of money. That might be too high. That might be too high. 19%. I don't know. This one's so bad, it's probably true. The second one, the scientists have bioengineered a cultivar of corn that has orange stalks and leaves to make weeding easier for robots. Is that why? I don't know. So I think the reason that one might be fiction. For robots who have to pick the corn, is that what we're talking about? Make weeding easier for robots. I'm sorry, Steve, were we talking about removing weeds from the site of the corn?

S: Yes.

E: Standing out.

S: Weeding means removing weeds. I know you're not an avid farmer or gardener.

E: I get that. I'm just clarifying the terminology here, making sure I understand what you wrote here. Has orange stalks and leaves. I don't know. Maybe? Maybe? I don't know. That one's weird. Then the last one about the paleontologists having formally described the largest marine reptile. Oh boy, 25 meters, the size of a blue whale. How does a reptile get that big? What would be the largest reptile? I mean, how much larger is this than the largest known reptile? That would be a very helpful thing to know right now. Oh gosh. I don't know about that one. It's either the corn or the reptile. I will hold my answer until I hear from the rest of the panel. There you go. Have we tried that yet?

C: Did that work?

E: Does that work? Did I trick Steve? Hello? No, I didn't. Okay. Well, I guess, I don't know. I have a feeling the one about the reptile, I guess. No, I'm changing. Corn. I'm going with corn. I don't think the reason the orange stalks and leaves is probably to stop the insects from eating the stuff rather than weeding. So corn fiction.

S: Okay, Cara.

Cara's Response

C: I thought when I first read corn, I was like, oh, that one's really easy and doesn't have a lot of detail. Sure. But then I was thinking about it, and I'm pretty sure that orange corn is diseased corn. So I was like, why would they choose that color? Because when you see corn that's not healthy in a cornfield, it's turning orange usually or brown. So instead of like that nice green color. And also, aren't most weeds also green? Oh, but that would make sense then if the weeds are green. But I don't know. It seems like you wouldn't want to train a robot to weed green things around any crops. That seems like a bad idea because it's just going to weed the crops. So like the more Evan talked about, the more that one bothered me. The other two, I mean, the first one about the economic study in 2050, the loss will be 19% of the economy or 38 trillion annually, even if we don't change anything, like even with no changes. That one bothers me in my heart. But sadly, it's probably science. And I bet you it's like significantly cheaper to actually invest in mitigation. But of course, why would we do that? And then yeah, the large marine reptile doesn't bother me. I think some marine reptiles were pretty big. I mean, and if you think about like modern animals, the largest ones are in the water, like you said about the size of a blue whale. And that's like not weird to me that the biggest extinct marine reptile is as big as the biggest extant marine mammal. So that one doesn't bug me at all. So I think I got to go with the orange corn being the fiction.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response

B: The global warming baloney sure, any dire prediction about that, I believe. And that just doesn't seem out of the realm of reasonableness. Yeah, we're screwed. The third one, the ichthyosaur bothers me. I'm surprised Cara wasn't bothered at all. I mean, the blue whale is bigger than anything that has ever walked this earth or swam in any ocean. It's bigger, far bigger. The biggest land dinosaur got nothing on a blue whale. So this is surprising if it were that big, because it's just like the blue whale has always been far, by a large margin, the biggest living creature that swam or walked.

E: You said large margin, right Jay?

B: So, and I was going to pick that until I started thinking about the corn.

E: You can still just pick through the corn.

B: I've worked many hours in corn, in a cornfield running my haunted house over the years. And thinking back, weeds were not a problem. For whatever reason, I don't know what pesticides this guy was throwing around. I'm not sure how that works, but weeds were just not a problem. Maybe it's too shaded so that any smaller weeds just don't have a chance to really grow. But man, there's really not, in my experience, there's not a lot of weeds amongst the corn stalks. So I'm going to say that one's fiction.

E: Bob is children of the corn.

S: And Jay?

Jay's Response

J: Yeah, I'll cut to it. I mean, after hearing everyone talk and thinking this over, I really think that the corn one is the fiction.

E: There's a kernel of truth in there.

C: No, stop. No.

B: You stalker.

J: Reporting that they found a big dinosaur. Yeah, of course.

B: Of course? Come on.

C: If it's a marine reptile, it's not a dinosaur. It's very important that you make that distinction.

J: Thank you. It's not a dinosaur, Cara.

C: Thank you.

J: It's a water-based, very old animal. You know what I mean?

C: Yes.

J: But economic loss, 2050, 19%. It's probably going to be worse than that. It's got to be the corn.

E: I love it. This was good.

C: Got to be the corn.

S: Okay. So you guys are all in agreement. So I guess we could take these in order.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: A new economic study finds that by 2050, the economic loss of climate change will be about 19% of the global economy, or $38 trillion annually, even without further emissions. You guys all think this one is science. And this one is science. Unfortunately, it's going to be bad. And that amount of money, Cara, as you alluded to, is six times the cost of mitigation.

C: Oh, my God.

B: How short-sighted and stupid is humanity?

S: So it would be a lot cheaper to mitigate climate change than to deal with the consequences. And this is a conservative estimate, right?

E: Yeah, no kidding.

S: There's a range. Well, first of all, there's a range. There's always a range. So that's six times the cost of keeping global warming to two degrees Celsius. So 19% is the average. The range is between 11% and 29%. Given uncertainty. So it could be not as bad, but it could be a lot worse even than that. And of course, that number gets worse if we continue to emit greenhouse gases. That's like the baked-in costs. So yeah, it's going to be bad.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: All right, let's go on to our number two. Scientists have bioengineered a cultivar of corn that has orange stalks and leaves to make weeding easier for robots. You guys all think this one is the fiction. And this one is the fiction. But there was an article where scientists proposed that we do this. They haven't done it. They just said, hey, here's a good idea. Let's genetically engineer crops so that they are coloured, not green, so that it'll be easier to train robots to weed around them. And they specifically mentioned it would be easy to insert genes for things like carotenoids, that would make them orange, or anthocyanin, which would make them blue. That would be the other option. Could have blue leaves and blue stalks. And they didn't specifically mention corn, although I know we already genetically engineered corn, so that's why I used that one. Any time where they're training robots to weed around the crops, you could make the crops colourful, especially if the plant itself is not the crop, you know what I mean? This wouldn't affect the corn itself, just the leaves or whatever.

E: Did they mention if it would have any impact on pest prevention?

S: No, at least not in the part that I read. This is just for training robots for weeding. Which is potentially a very useful technology. Hand weeding is very good because you don't turn the soil over, right? Tilling is bad. Bad for the soil. It releases a lot of carbon into the atmosphere. A lot of carbon is stored in the soil, and tilling releases some of that. So no-till farming is great. But also, so what's your other option? It's using pesticides, right? Like herbicides. Or hand weeding, which is just really labour-intensive. But having robots do it, that could really significantly reduce the need for herbicides and tilling. So that's a potentially useful technology. And making it easier for them to be more accurate by being able to easily see the difference because of a dramatic color difference could be helpful. They also said you could make the leaves different shapes. Again, to help distinguish it from the crops. But I like the color idea better. I like the idea of blue plants, right?

E: I do too.

S: All right.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Okay, all of this means that paleontologists have formally described the largest marine reptile, an ichthyosaur, estimated at 25 meters. About the size of a blue whale is science.

B: Holy crap, man.

C: But Bob, I think there's already a sauropod that was the size of a blue whale and a whale that was the size of a blue whale.

S: No. Blue whales are the biggest.

C: I don't know. I'm telling you.

S: Well, we talked about one that was maybe heavier, but not bigger.

C: Okay.

S: That's what you're maybe thinking of. But definitely not bigger. Like not longer. This one. All right. So this one they said 25 meters. Adult blue whales. So apparently the southern hemisphere blue whales reach 27 to 30 meters. The northern hemisphere blue whales get 23 to 24.5 meters. So this would be in between those two. That's why I said about the size of a blue whale. So yeah, that would definitely be the biggest non-blue whale thing ever discovered. This is unfortunately only known from two jawbones. So the second one that was discovered and described, and this is what led to like formally naming it as a species because it's a better preserved specimen. And now that there's two, they're like, yeah, this is real. We could actually present this formally and name it. They're calling it Ichthyotitan severenensis.

B: Nice.

S: So new genus and species. Ichthyotitan severenensis.

B: Love to have seen that bad boy.

C: No, you wouldn't. You would not want to see it.

E: From a distance.

C: Very far away.

S: So obviously they're just estimating. I mean, we have a pretty good idea about ichthyosaur anatomy. So they figured they could extrapolate from a jawbone. But they said we really need a more complete specimen to be sure. That's why I said estimate. But yeah, that thing must have been a monster.

J: Would it eat people?

C: There were no people back then.

S: Yeah, there were no people back then. It ate fish, right?

B: Yeah, it would eat you, Jay, and you wouldn't even realize it ate you.

E: Yeah, you're a piece of krill, basically.

C: Which is sad because its name is fish lizard.

S: Yeah.

C: But it's not a fish and it eats fish.

S: It is a lizard, though.

C: Yeah.

S: It's a fishy lizard. All right. Good job, everyone.

C: Thanks, Evan. You led the way.

B: Thank you, haunted corn maze.

E: Right? Everything I learned in life.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:49:20)[edit]

Actual science is the great accomplishment of mankind. The antidote to ignorance, superstition, religious zealotry, and nonsensical beliefs in general. An eclipse exemplifies, to even the lay-est of laypeople, just how advanced modern science is.

 – John Gruber (1973-present), technology blogger, UI designer, and co-creator of the Markdown markup language

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

E: This quote is suggested by a listener, Tim from Auburn Hills, Michigan. Thank you for this suggestion, Tim. Some call him Tim. And his last initial is F. I think I can say that safely. And the only Tim F I otherwise know is Tim Farley from way back when. Jay?

B: Farley, Farley, Farley.

E: Oh, Bob, there you go. Here's the quote. "Actual science is the great accomplishment of mankind. The antidote to ignorance, superstition, religious zealotry, and nonsensical beliefs in general. An eclipse exemplifies to even the layest of laypeople just how advanced modern science is." And that was said by John Gruber. John Gruber is a technology blogger. He authors the blog called Daring Fireball and produces its accompanying podcast, The Talk Show. So a nice quote there. Eclipse related by John Gruber.

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

B: Sure man.

E: Thank you, Steve.

C: Thanks Steve.


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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[9]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description



  1. Wiktionary: verklempt - Overcome with emotion, choked up.
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