SGU Episode 981

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SGU Episode 981
April 27th 2024
981 NASA-Advanced-Composite-Solar-Sail-System-Spacecraft.jpg

This artist's concept shows NASA's Advanced Composite Solar Sail System spacecraft sailing in space using the energy of the Sun. Credit: NASA/Aero Animation/Ben Schweighart

SGU 980                      SGU 982

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Failure is a reality; we all fail at times, and it's painful when we do. But it's better to fail while striving for something wonderful, challenging, adventurous, and uncertain than to say, "I don't want to try because I may not succeed completely."

President Jimmy Carter, American politician and humanitarian

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, John Oliver's UFO episode[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 24th, 2024, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: What the hell was that?

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Hi, everyone.

J: Bob, did you take happy pills? What's happening?

E: You threw us all off there, Bob.

B: I guess you don't watch John Oliver, Jay.

S: That's John Oliver's typical intro to Last Week Tonight.

B: Every episode.

E: And why would you be saying such a thing, Bob?

C: Yeah, Bob. Why?

B: Do I need a reason? Oh, yes. I was told I got a text from Christian Hubicki, our roboticist buddy. And I was like, oh, boy. I went down and I immediately - I had no time because I had to leave for work, just fast forwarded to the scene and took a screenshot of our logo.

S: What we're talking about, the segment was on UFO, which is a little bit unusual for Oliver. And early in the segment, he's talking about the fact that even Jimmy Carter saw an unidentified flying object. Again, not like an alien spacecraft, but just like a UFO, an unidentified object. And we interviewed Jimmy Carter about that. And on our interview with them, he insisted that although he didn't know what he saw was, it was not the planet Venus.

E: He was insistent.

S: He was insistent on that. We had thrown that out there. It was like, well, that wasn't the direction and the altitude of Venus. And people could mistake it because atmospheric conditions and et cetera, et cetera. But he was very adamant that it wasn't. So anyway, they were just using that quote. And while they used the quote of him saying it wasn't Venus and what Venus looks like, it showed the SGU logo and episode 107 or whatever it was.

B: Yeah, from 2007.

E: 2007.

S: From 2007. It was pretty cool.

B: Yeah, that was epic.

S: Yeah.

C: Yeah, it was unfortunate that it was in what I thought was like a pretty credulous piece. It felt very out of step for John Oliver, this piece.

B: Yeah, it was a little disappointing, I would say for sure.

S: Before we get on to that, I just want to point out that I no longer think Jimmy Carter saw the planet Venus because since then, after we interviewed him, there was another investigation which found that he was also looking in the direction of like a military base that had launched something which he probably is what he saw. So that was technology, not Venus.

B: Oh, interesting.

S: Yeah. And I think he accepts that explanation.

B: Oh, nice update.

S: Yeah.

B: Cool.

S: But in terms of the piece itself, I wrote about this on Neurologica. I was very disappointed with it ultimately. I mean parts of it were fine. And he did a reasonable summary of like, here's the history of the United States investigating UFOs. But you know, the show has a particular narrative, and I felt he was kind of shoehorning this topic into that narrative, and it didn't quite fit. So that narrative being like, this is a serious topic, we're doing it wrong, and we need to do a better job, right? And so in this case, it's like investigating unidentified flying objects, whatever you think they are, should be serious scientific work. The government is doing it wrong. And then here's all the examples of how they're doing it wrong. But that led him to a place of false equivalency, and also false balance where he was saying, you have hardened skeptics on one side who were like eye-rolling and dismissive, and you have true believers on the other side who will believe anything. And it sort of causes a chilling effect. And what we really need are dispassionate scientists researching this, because isn't this interesting, you know?

C: But don't you feel like he was conflating the two? Basically, he was saying, we need more serious inquiries, but then he gave a bunch of examples of serious inquiries. And then he's like, the whole thing of like, we're doing it wrong was really what he was saying, and maybe I'm misinterpreting, was we're talking about it wrong. Like he wasn't actually critical of what's been done. He was critical of the fact that like during a press conference, or when something is described by the government, there's a bit of an eye roll, or that the skeptical community is like, yeah, based on this, this is kind of bullshit. And he was saying, that's offensive, that's whatever, that's not giving it the seriousness it deserves. But it's like, I don't know, what is that logical fallacy? Like he wasn't actually that critical of the investigations.

S: Well he cherry-picked some, like the Condon Report. The Condon Report was a very small preliminary like pilot study. And the question was just, does this deserve further resources to investigate it? And Condon concluded, no. But he did a very limited investigation. And he basically quoted Condon as saying some very dismissive things about UFO believers and saying like, that's a biased investigation. It's like, well, he didn't prove the investigation itself was biased. In fact, it was fine. But it was what it was. He mentions Project Blue Book. But that's like, that was serious investigation. That was thousands of, it was years and thousands of sightings. And it was a lot of resources were put into that. He did not mention the recent Pentagon investigation. He did not mention.

B: That was huge.

C: That was weird.

B: That was a huge omission that was shocking to me.

S: He didn't mention that NASA is investigating it. So yeah, I thought he kind of like had his narrative and he kind of left out the things that didn't fit the narrative.

B: One thing that I did not like especially was that he had, did he really need to have a former Navy pilot on screen? Did he need to give this guy airtime saying there's something out there better than our airplanes? Because you know, he can believe whatever he wants. But giving that quote airtime, all I could think of was that the major takeaway for a lot of viewers of that episode is going to be that quote.

E: Yeah.

B: That was like not justified, not justified.

S: And he let it hang there. He did not counter. He didn't say, but skeptics say that it was probably a bird. That's the other thing. Like he said, there are, there are like good, there is good investigation. Didn't really give Mick West the props that he deserves, but he showed like there was a four hour video just technically analysing the go fast video. And his conclusion was, we now, it was boring, but he said, we now know like, like where it was and how fast it was moving, but we don't know what it was. So we made it seem as if it's still a mystery. And he didn't say, but therefore, because we know how high it was and how big it was and how fast it was with this analysis, it could be a bird. He didn't say that that is now compatible with a bird. It's not a mystery. It's probably was just a seagull or something.

C: He also literally didn't have any argument against the skeptic perspective, except sometimes it's mean. Like there really wasn't.

E: Did he really say that?

C: No, but that was the tone. Like every time he pushed back against the skeptical view, it was very much like, that's not very respectful of people and we should be listening to people when they have these, these observations. And like it was very much like he, he was tone policing and saying, because of the tone of how, how the skeptical, whether they be activists or scientists or whatever, because of the tone of what they're saying, I don't know what his conclusion was, but he wasn't giving it a lot of like credence and that was really frustrating to me.

E: He puts it into a position in which it's like an extremist position and you should be something aiming for something more towards the middle. That's a better place.

C: I mean, obviously that's the false equivalency issue because there is no middle on this, but it's more that like, I didn't hear a single critical argument against the skeptical position. Except they're kind of mean about it.

S: I don't think he was doing that. Yeah, but I don't think he was, I don't think he was even addressing the question of what UFOs are. He was being agnostic towards that. That wasn't the point of the piece. The point was that.

C: But he did list it.

S: But yeah, but I think he was, again, he wanted to leave that question unaddressed, which again, I think inadvertently led to this false balance kind of approach because he had to say, well you have the skeptics on one side and the true believers on the other. What we need are serious scientists in the middle, but they're chilled because of the eye rolling or they're put off because of the true believers. And when the government gets involved, they do it wrong and here's all the ways in which they did it wrong. And without the mentioning all the times where they did really good, serious investigation.

C: But that also shows a difficulty, like a lot of the serious scientists by nature are skeptics. You know what I mean? Like there's so much crossover.

S: Exactly. And like he even mentioned Carl Sagan, like favourably talking about like, yeah, we should be investigating UFOs and didn't mention that he wrote an entire book about why it's all bullshit.

E: Right.

S: You know?

C: Exactly.

S: Why the evidence is shite. So, yeah, it just it didn't land where I think you should have landed. He could have fit his narrative talking about this without, I think, taking this false balance approach. So, yeah, it was a rare, I think, flub on his part. And I do think at the end of the day, I think that he thinks there's something to this.

C: Yeah, I think so, too, because he sounded credulous, like they were just-

B: Really?

C: -yeah, yeah, he did. I don't think he's like a true believer.

S: No, no. Like he said, like he quoted the two pilots saying there was something real there. We don't know what it is. And he's like, yeah, that's that's chilling, he said, to think that there's something going on there. We need to know what this is, whatever it is, rather than he's not fully aware of the fact that, yeah, it's just seagulls and Mylar balloons and distant aircraft and drones.

B: Exactly.

S: That's the evidence is all compatible with that. And everything else is noise and bullshit from true believers. And there isn't really a mystery here. That's the thing. He thinks there is a mystery here when there really isn't. And we're not being dismissive when we say that. That's based upon lots and lots of investigation.

C: Right.

E: And the media does that at large as well, in a much larger sense.

C: And that's what's so frustrating, is that he did that. Like every time there was a claim that had been debunked, he pointed to the debunking. And so it's like he wasn't even listening to some of his own writing in the segment. It was very strange. And I couldn't help but think that maybe this is just the halo effect, that maybe one of his writers, that this was like a pet project or like something really interesting. And one of his writers was like, this is going to be the story we do. All right. Like, I'd be really curious to see what his real take is on UFOs.

S: Right. Right, right, right.

B: Talk about a deep dive, though. Finding a podcast from 2007.

J: I know.

B: A quick little Carter quote.

J: Well, we are listed in the Wikipedia. You know, it is something that's searchable, Bob.

B: Yeah, I know.

J: You can search for that.

E: Jimmy Carter UFO, we do show up. Yes.

S: Not on the first page.

C: I mean, don't think it was actually John Oliver doing that work.

E: Not on your first page.

C: Like his whole staff.

B: He's got his people. They've indicated in the past that they may be familiar at least with Steve's science-based medicine as well.

S: No, they've definitely made references that, like to me, feel like they came right out of the skeptical literature. That's not a mainstream reference. Like referencing p-hacking, you know.

C: Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of his writers doesn't consider themselves a skeptic. I mean, the tone of his show is very skeptical.

S: Oh, yeah. Of course. Yeah.

C: Yeah.

S: Absolutely.

C: That's why this stuck out a bit like a sore thumb, I think.

S: Still, it's cool to see our logo on a national television.

C: Hell, yeah.

E: Nice surprise. Nice surprise.

S: It's kind of more of like an Easter egg for our listeners to see that.

C: Yeah. We get a lot of like fun emails from people taking screenshots.

S: All right. Well, let's get on with the rest of the episode.

News Items[edit]

Voyager Fixed (12:21)[edit]

S: Jay, you're going to start off by telling us how Voyager has been fixed.

J: Yeah. So Bob talked about what happened or basically what the symptoms were, but finally we know more details and actually NASA was able to fix it, which is pretty damn remarkable.

B: Remarkable.

E: That's a long screwdriver.

J: Yeah. So do you guys remember what Voyager 1's mission was?

E: To photograph-

B: It's like Jupiter and Saturn, right?

E: Yeah. The gas giant.

S: To seek out new worlds and new civilizations.

J: Yeah. I mean, it was basically to do a close flyby of the outer planets because they happen to be in a rare 176-year alignment.

C: Oh. And so all that additional stuff was more added because we knew it wasn't going to come back?

J: Yeah. Yeah. So they-

C: The golden record was, it just going to keep going, so we might as well.

J: Yeah, they wanted to take some digital imagery of the outer planets and all that, but then they said that's its primary objective, but then they had a secondary extended objective, which was to study the outer solar system and beyond just to keep going. And they wanted it to transition into what's known as the interstellar mission, right? And it did and it survived and it has survived for a very long time to the point where, it's pretty much outside of the Earth's heliosphere. And it is floating in interstellar space, which is unbelievable. I don't think any of the people who originally designed it even thought it would last this long.

B: Oh, God, no.

J: So what happened was NASA discovered that Voyager 1 was unable to send any readable data back to Earth. This goes back to November 14th of 2023. And they were able to deduce that it was due to a chip failure in one of the three onboard computers. And that was a big problem because how were they going to fix it, right?

E: 1977 computers we're talking about.

J: Exactly. Exactly. I mean, we're talking about really, really low powered computers that don't have any versatility just chips that do very singular type things. What they discovered was after the engineer team did a deep dive on it, they were able to figure out that the chip that malfunctioned, and there's only three of them on board, by the way, that the chip that malfunctioned was specifically intended to help with the flight data subsystem. And that chip was also responsible for storing data. It was flight data. It was basically the memory of what the spacecraft was experiencing and sending to NASA. So they couldn't fix it manually. They had to figure out a different way. So what they came up with was that they decided that they would redistribute the data that was stored on that chip to the other chips.

B: Yeah, like the corrupted bit of the memory, right?

J: Yeah, the corrupted bit of the memory and also code that runs the chip, like the operating system. So they load balanced it across the other processors, which also have memory on board. And they had to reboot it. And it took 22 hours to send the signal to tell it what to do. It did something. And then 22 hours after that, they got a signal back and it was freaking functioning again. They totally pulled it off.

E: I mean seriously. How impressive is that?

B: I mean, also, but they are waiting now, though, to actually get for the ultimate conclusion is to get actual new scientific data back. And I think they're still waiting on that.

J: They are. That'll take a while.

B: But it seems to be in a much better place now.

J: So guys, I mean, put this into perspective here. We're talking about, I'm about to throw a number at you that the human brain can't really conceive of because we're not built to understand big numbers like this. It's currently 15 billion miles or 24 billion kilometers away from the Earth. That is so unbelievably far. And to think that in 22 hours, light can get there, right? The radio signal can get there. They told it what to do. It did it relatively quickly. And then 22 hours after that, it sent an info back saying, I'm fixed. Basically, I'm functioning and here's my heartbeat data. That is what they usually check on. They can check on it at any time and it'll say, I'm good or something's wrong.

C: So Jay, given that number, which is to me completely meaningless, where is it compared to stuff like that?

J: If you zoom out of our solar system and you zoom out, zoom out, zoom out, and then the planets and the sun shrink down, and then there's a zone which we call the heliosphere, which means that you are still under the effect of our local sun.

B: So the magnetosphere, the sun, and the solar wind. It's outside of that influence into the interstellar medium.

C: So it's past all of the outer minor, what are they called? Minor planets?

B: The dwarf planets?

C: Yeah, the dwarf planets. And it's past, because those are within that boundary, right?

B: It's still barely out there. It's not even close to the Oort cloud of comets. It's not even close.

C: Oh, okay. It's not even close to the Oort cloud.

E: Oh, so we got a ways to go.

C: But it is technically, okay.

J: It is no longer under the influence of our sun.

C: Okay, gotcha.

J: And you know, this is a 45-year-old spacecraft. That's the other thing. You know, when you just think about that, like we have spacecraft that just went to the moon and they're done, you know? And this thing has been going for 45 years. Both of them, Voyager 1 and 2. So mad props to the engineers at JPL for being able to figure this one out and work with a computer that was from the 70s.

C: Yeah, that's incredible.

E: Just, you know.

J: Right?

E: That's hard to comprehend.

C: I feel like this just reinforces like my mom's husband or like my cranky dad when they're like, cars back in the day, they didn't have all those computers and they had the crank windows and they still work. It's like this computer from the 70s is still going so strong, the Voyager.

J: I mean, that's an interesting thing to think about, Carol. Is it simplicity, the reason why it lasted so long?

C: Are there more mechanical things in there that aren't necessarily computer? I don't know. Yeah.

J: You know, today things are so computer run like when you go back to the Apollo missions and all the wiring and crazy switches and all that shit that was aboard that ship. And then you look at SpaceX's latest spacecraft and it's got none of that wiring, you know? It's just got computer processors.

C: Just big touch screens for everything.

J: I would think the touch screen thing would be less trouble prone, but you would have to ask an expert, you know? I don't know. But I love the fact that there are human endeavours like this that are impressive, that are generational. You know, it's possible it could go another 30, 40 years and we might be still getting signals from it. You know, that-

B: Wait a second. Wait a second. No. There's a hard limit here, Jay, in terms of how much energy that it has.

E: Well, it has a nuclear powered device on it, right? There's something that will decay out.

B: I remember reading it may only have, I don't know the number, I think it might be something on the order of 15 years or less when it'll reach a point where it's got no juice left.

J: They're saying 2036.

C: Yeah.

B: Okay. There you go.

E: It will run out.

C: Depending on how much power it has.

J: You want to look at it negatively like that, Bob, go right ahead.

B: Power shmower.

J: I'm trying to tell people how magnificent this is and you just got to like you got to come down hard. That's fine. That's science. I get it. But you got to let me dream, you know?

C: But you know what's kind of funny is like I just looked up an FAQ from the JPL Voyager page, which clearly was written a long time ago, because it says, how long can Voyager 1 and 2 continue to function? And the first line says, Voyager 1 is expected to keep its current suite of science instruments on through 2021.

E: Oops. Time for some updates.

B: Wow.

E: But if you go to NASA's JPL mission status on Voyager, it will give you a live mission elapsed time, which is ticking away, second at a time. Distance from Earth, it's making that calculation as it goes. Some other data here as well in real time. And this thing is traveling at 38,000 miles per hour, which is, yeah.

B: And Cara, don't forget, when they said its current suite of capabilities, they may have been accurate because it's definitely not what it used to be.

C: Yeah. It says it has to like prioritize instruments and kind of shut them down based on how much the radioisotope thermoelectric generator can power. It says it puts out four watts less each year. So it goes down by four watts each year. But this is interesting. OK, even if the science data won't likely be collected after 2025, they think that's sort of when they can, like the last point at which one science instrument would operate. Engineering data could continue and they could remain in the range, both Voyagers, in the deep space network through 2036, depending. So they might, that 2036 number sounds like that's just based on where it'll be. The two Voyager spacecraft could remain in the range of the deep space network through about 2036, depending on how much power they still have to transmit a signal back to Earth.

B: Right. Yeah.

C: So it still could be doing stuff. We just won't know about it.

B: I mean, up until it seems to me that up until 2036, we should, it should be able to communicate and transfer data. But after that, no, because it just won't.

C: Because we won't be able to reach the data.

B: Well, four watts. Yeah.

C: Yeah.

B: Four watts though a year is you're going to hit zero at some point.

C: Gotcha. Yeah. It's interesting how loaded a question, like how long will it work is like, what are we asking specifically?

E: Depends.

C: Yeah.

E: Yes. Yeah. Need more info. Oh, and Voyager 1 took the pale blue dot photo as well, which you can never forget because that is one of the greatest photographs of all time.

J: Yeah. I totally agree, Ev.

NASAs New Solar Sail (22:27)[edit]

S: Oh, we got some other cool space news this week. NASA has launched its next generation solar sail technology.

B: Ooh, talk to me.

E: Ooh.

S: Yeah. So this is the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System or ACS3. They launched it on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket. You guys familiar with this? Let's just talk about that for a second.

E: No.

S: So this is the only reusable small sized orbital rocket, right? So this is the smallest rocket that could actually get into orbit. And it, it's used for delivering small satellites and it's re, the first stage is reusable. You know how it's reusable?

J: No.

S: So when it, after it comes back down through the atmosphere, it deploys a parachute to slow it down and then a helicopter grabs it in midair.

E: Oh snags it.

B: What the hell?

E: Hooks it right out of the air.

B: I got to see that video.

S: Well, I'll show it to you. I got it. So anyway, so it was launched from New Zealand from their one of their launch pads there.

B: Spice.

S: And yesterday and successfully apparently. So it's a CubeSat with a solar sail, right? With the next, basically the next generation of a solar sail. And so it's going to about twice the altitude of the ISS, 600 miles above the ground. It needs to be in a relatively high orbit because once the solar sail deploys, it has to be high enough that the pressure from the solar sail is greater than the drag from the atmosphere. So they want to use it to get into a higher orbit. They just want to show that the solar sail works and then it could change the orbit of the CubeSat using the sail. Do you know how much acceleration you get? Like how much pressure is on the solar sail when it's optimally oriented to the sun?

B: How big is the sail?

S: It's about the size of an apartment. It measures seven meters, 23 feet long. So that's one of the booms. So basically it's there, there are four booms with the solar sail material in between them. So this is testing both new booms and I think the same sort of solar sail material. So when successfully deployed, it will have the acceleration equal to a paper clip, like resting a paper clip in the palm of your hand. That's how much pressure will be exerted by sunlight on the solar sail. They also say that when it's reflecting light, if it's in the right orientation, it'll be twice as bright as Sirius, as the star Sirius, which is the brightest star in the sky. So I guess we'll be able to see it from the ground. So what's the boom? The booms used to be made of steel. This one is made out of a carbon fibre reinforced polymer. So it's both stronger and lighter. And that lightweight is obviously critical because obviously every ounce matters when you only have a paper clip's worth of acceleration. The solar sail is about the size of a toaster when it's all compact. And each of the booms unroll, they say like tape from a tape measure, you know what I mean? It's like rolled up and then it stretches out. It actually took me a while to figure out what the sail itself is made of. Most of the reporting doesn't say.

E: Oh, could it be, well, it wouldn't be classified.

S: No. No one bothered mentioning what it's made of.

B: I hate when they do that.

S: I think like NASA's reporting on it didn't say anything. The Planetary Society reporting didn't say anything about it. But eventually I found out. So it's a membrane of polyethylene naphthalate, PEN, with one side covered in an aluminium coating to increase reflectivity and the other side coated in chromium to increase thermal emissivity. So that's it. Yeah. It took me a while to find that little bit of information. Because everyone was talking about, I guess, they're really much more excited about the booms.

B: The booms. The lightweight booms.

S: Upgraded booms. And they say, so if this tests out, it's going to be two months before they actually unfurl the sail. Two months. So we have to wait that long to see if that works out properly. And then if everything works, then they'll see if they can use it to maneuver the CubeSat. And the CubeSat is about the size of a microwave oven. You have to have your appliance, I guess, scale. And then if everything works out, they said with this material, they should be able to make bigger and bigger solar sails. The bigger the solar sail relative to the satellite that's attached to it, the more acceleration you're going to get from it.

E: Yet still being able to use small reusable rockets to launch these.

S: Yeah. Because it's always going to be small and light. Even the bigger versions of it are still going to be relatively small and light. So the booms, seven meters, 23 feet long, weigh just 900 grams or two pounds. So that's pretty light. 75% lighter than the metallic booms that they were using. And 100 times less susceptible to warping under extreme temperatures. So they're more stable. The next follow-on missions, they say, are going to use sails of 2,000 square meters.

E: Wow. Nice.

S: So that's significantly bigger.

E: And all of this is solar powered?

S: It's all just... I mean, the CubeSat itself, I don't know. The solar sail, obviously, is just...

E: I'm talking about the sail, yes.

S: The solar sail, it's just light from the sun.

E: So we don't need to pulse lasers or anything?

S: No. It's not a light sail, right? It's not a light... A light sail is something that operates off a laser. This is a solar sail that operates off the sun. Light sails are a similar idea, but you're shooting lasers at the sail. But the sail itself would have to be of a different material. It'd have to be a lot stronger. And we still don't really know what those are going to be made of. Like what a laser light sail would be made of. There are some ideas, like this sort of ruby encrusted thing, whatever, like some exotic materials that we're thinking of for that. This is just a solar sail, right? So it's just sunlight.

B: Those light sails, though, they're going to be big in the far future, man.

S: I agree.

B: Mark my words.

E: It's going to be a monster, right?

J: Far in the future, Bob.

B: You don't have to carry your fuel. It depends how big you're talking, but we could see small versions of the directed energy light sails in, I don't know, 10 years, 15 years. But for really transporting through the solar system using that, or even farther, it's going to be quite a while.

S: At this point, it's all material science. But the potential of this technology is immense. And unlike almost all of science fiction, this could be our major mode of long distance space travel. Because as Bob said, the big advantage here is that you don't carry your fuel with you.

B: It's huge. It's more than big.

S: It's huge. It frees you of the tyranny of the rocket equation, right? And even though accelerations are very minimal, they can be continuous and they build up over time and you can get to incredible, incredible velocities, 20% of the speed of light or more.

B: I've heard even far more than 20%, potentially, the laws of physics will allow it. Who knows how far it would be practical.

S: It also could be, and this was depicted in the show For All Mankind, is a ship that isn't entirely solar sail based could still use it. You could unfurl your sails and get a little bit of an extra boost. Whatever fuel you save, again, it's magnified because of the rocket equation. It's mainly going to be used for small ships, satellites, et cetera, probes, until we can get to the point where we have the material science to have really massive light sails that are strong enough and can reflect lasers being bounced off of them. And then maybe you could attach a large enough ship to have people in it. But that's far future.

B: Yeah. I want to see some science fiction with that.

S: Yeah. It has a lot of potential.

E: Take that, Wernher von Braun.

S: Rockets have their uses. We will always need them to get off planet.

E: Oh, yeah.

B: Most likely, yes.

S: All right.

Bird Flu in Milk (31:25)[edit]

S: Cara, give us an update on the bird flu. I understand it's in our milk now.

C: Yeah. It's getting-

B: I thought it tasted funny.

C: A little worrisome here. So I want to kind of go back a little bit for those of you who maybe don't know. We've talked about the bird flu a few times on the show, but a little bit of sort of background of kind of the modern bird flu that I'm describing here. So way back in 1996, there was this strain of H5N1, bird flu, which was really, really pathogenic and it was infecting waterfowl in China. Within that year, I think maybe one year later, 18 people in Hong Kong got sick and six of them died. And then the virus just sort of went away. In 2003, it resurfaced in Hong Kong. And since then, it's sort of been in the background. We've had lots of outbreaks in poultry. There have been like, I think, 800 reported cases of illness in human beings. But during that whole time, all the way back since 2003, it's been evolving. So the version that we're dealing with right now is a version that erupted in 2020 in Europe. And it spread really quickly, pretty much all over the globe. Lots of birds died. So first to Africa and then Asia, but then we're seeing it now across the globe. So lots of birds died and specifically farmed birds. But the big difference with this evolved version that started in 2020 is that it's also pretty good at infecting wild birds. And then there have been multiple spillover events. Some of those spillover events were sort of like one-offs. So let's say a wild dog eats an infected bird, and then it dies. But some other events are a little bit worrisome because they've shown to, or they've proven to be the beginnings of pretty big outbreaks across species, and not just in birds, but mammals. So in the summer of 2022, a bunch of seals died. A few months later, we saw a mink farm in Spain that was infected. And then eventually we saw birds who were kind of flying across the globe, traveling and spreading this disease. So lots of seabirds. And then we saw sea lions dying in droves, in absolute droves. And there are like whole articles that you can read about the marine issue. So these sea lions and then eventually I think elephant seals were dying in really, really large numbers. We don't really know when those spillover events happened or exactly how they happened, but it could be that these marine mammals were infected with the droppings of birds or were in close contact with infected birds. And then what's interesting is that we started to see mammal-to-mammal transmission, which is pretty worrisome. So it does seem to be the case that infected birds first passed the virus to mammals, but then there's pretty good evidence to show that mammals pass the virus to other mammals. Specifically in this situation, we're talking elephant seals and sea lions passing. They breed in really large colonies. They're on these big beaches. Apparently elephant seals are like really big sneezers. This is where we start to get a little bit worried, right? Because there are a lot of opportunities for mammalian transmission to people, people hanging out on the beach where there are sick beached seals or individuals who are in close contact with scavenging animals, for example. And so we're seeing that there's a legitimate concern about spillover to people. But let's now talk about sort of the next big thing that is hitting the news waves right now, and that's farm animals. And what researchers think, they're still collecting data to try and figure this out, is that there was another spillover event back to birds that then ended up spilling over to cows. And we're starting to see that there are fragments of bird flu virus, of H5N1, in our milk supply here in the United States. Samples of pasteurized milk, this was announced on just yesterday as of this recording from federal regulators, that samples of pasteurized milk in some kind of isolated situations are showing inactive remnants of the bird flu. Now there's been a lot of critique about how the USDA is handling this. You know, kind of a common response is like, don't panic, but let's try and get out in front of this. We don't have any reason to think that the viral fragments can sicken people, because A, they're dead, B, they're just fragments of virus, and C, they're in pasteurized milk. So we have to remember that pasteurization is one of the best tools we have for preventing illness. And there are often bacteria and viruses in milk prior to pasteurization. If you are somebody, I don't think the listeners of this show are going to be included in this, but if you or someone you know drinks unpasteurized milk, I would be much more concerned right now. I would be much more, I mean, I would never drink unpasteurized milk anyway, but-

E: I drank it once in my life by accident, not knowing that I went to a diner-

C: Where they had unpasteurized?

E: And I asked, and I rarely do, I asked for milk, I don't know, pancakes or something, and it was like, what is wrong with this milk? Something's totally wrong here. And then, oh my gosh, it's a Polish diner. And you know, in, again old school kind of tradition, they don't, they wouldn't pasteurize the milk.

C: Whoa.

E: So that was it. And it was like, shock to my senses.

C: Yeah. So, and if you're somebody who regularly drinks or buys unpasteurized milk, I would definitely be a little bit more concerned right now. It looks like the most recent data that I found is that here in the US, H5N1 has been detected in over 30 herds of dairy cows across eight different states. And even one farm worker was known to get infected by the virus, but luckily they weren't that sick. They got pink eye from their exposure. But there is a lot of concern amongst agricultural and infectious disease scientists that the federal response has been really, really slow. And a lot of it has to do with basically just the protocol, the red tape, like in order to test these cows, you have to have permission and you have to be able to send the samples to the FDA or the USDA labs. And then they run these PCR tests. But yeah, up until just this week, the USDA was only reimbursing for animals that were obviously ill. And animals either have outward symptoms or they said the infected cows, this is a lot in obviously like female dairy cows, the infected cows, their milk looks different. It's yellowed and it's viscous. And so when farmers are coming across that, they were able to send those samples to the USDA's lab and get reimbursed. But unfortunately, new evidence shows that there are a ton of these animals who are asymptomatic but positive. They don't have a change to their milk, but they're carrying the virus. And because of that, the recommendations have been changed, but only recently. So previously, farmers couldn't test their healthy looking cows. That's hard because that means there could have been a lot of viral spread that wasn't being observed. Another thing that people are really concerned about, and when I say people, I mean epidemiologists and public health officials, are pigs. We don't have evidence so far that pigs have caught this strain, or at least not in large numbers. But pigs are a scary reservoir. And that's because they call them often, quote, mixing bowls. Pigs can catch bird flu and pigs can give diseases to humans really easily. Like they're a really good kind of transmission site and pigs live near cows and chickens, obviously. But unfortunately, right now, the USDA is not recommending that pigs be tested. So we don't really know if pigs are being infected. We do know that this H5N1 virus is, I think they're using the term epidemic status, but over the past several years. But these new outbreaks here in the US in milk are, again, it's something to be concerned about. It's not something to panic about. I don't think the real issue is that we can be sickened by drinking this milk. I think it's more that the fact that this milk has viral particles is kind of revealing to us that the infection is probably not nearly as contained as we hope it is. And it's probably being passed on amongst these mammals in a way that we're just not able to get out in front. And mass cullings don't always work. They're also hugely detrimental not only to the economics of farming, the actual incomes of these farmers, but also to the food supply. So obviously, we don't want to see every dairy cow in the country being culled. That would be a crisis of like massive proportions. At the same time, we have to get out in front of a flu like the bird flu because it can eventually evolve, sicken people. And this is one of those things in the pandemic playbook that we're preparing for. That is one of those sort of critical events is a bird flu spilling over. So the good news is we have protocols in place. The bad news is we saw what happened during COVID where there were some really amazing steps forward, but there were some pretty big missteps. And so this is just something to definitely keep our eye on. And it's fascinating. And I'm really amazed by how few people even know about it.

B: So when can I panic?

C: Probably when people start getting... I wouldn't ever panic. But when I think it would be much more concerning is if we start to see cases of people falling ill.

S: You know, Cara, the last time we said that we should be concerned but not panic was at the beginning of COVID.

C: Right.

S: That's what we were saying then too. Yeah. But we've been talking about possible bird flu epidemic or even pandemic for decades.

C: Yeah. It's in the playbook. We know that this might be one of those viruses that does the thing that we don't want it to do.

S: And we've got to keep an eye on it.

B: Steve, what about mRNA vaccines? Would that be...

S: Sure.

C: Yeah. Totally.

B: Right?

C: And maybe even for the animals. I mean, that's also something that we could...

E: Yeah. Right. Pinch it at the source as close as you can get it.

S: Yeah. Absolutely.

B: I mean, I'd be testing out that technology now with the animals.

E: They probably are.

C: Well, there's another... I didn't want to take up too much time, but there's a great article that y'all can look up on the New York Times called Lasers, Inflatable Dancers, and the Fight to Fend Off Avian Flu. Farmers are getting very technologically savvy and creative and using some pretty high-tech approaches to try to keep this epidemic from spinning out of control. They feature one guy who raises turkeys, and he uses lasers that are installed on his barns, and they fire this light that seems to fend off ducks and owls and other wild carriers of the virus to try and keep his turkeys safe. So a lot of farmers are getting really creative and utilizing whatever they have access to.

S: All right. Thanks, Cara.

C: Yep.

Dark Energy Getting Weaker (45:17)[edit]

S: Bob, is dark energy getting weaker?

B: Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Yeah, this is fascinating. New research reveals that dark energy, which is expanding the universe at ever faster rates, may perhaps be weakening over time. If true, this really could be the biggest news in cosmology this millennium. It could mean the universe will not eventually end in a heat death or the dreaded Big Rip, but in the old-school Big Crunch way, as gravity eventually brings it all back together.

E: Oh, thank goodness for that.

B: Yeah, right? So this all started in the 90s, though, as eventual Nobel-winning research on supernova 1A explosions showed dramatically that the universe's expansion is not slowing down, but shockingly, was speeding up. I mean, I don't know if any of you punks remember that, but that was a huge paradigm shift. Like, what? It's expanding faster and ever faster? What is going on? And this was a quickly deemed dark energy in honour of our complete ignorance about what the hell it ultimately was that was causing the expansion. But it was amazing to find out over a very brief period of time that, oh yeah, 70%, 68-point-something percent of the universe's energy was composed of this dark energy. We didn't know what it was. I was like, wow, talk about a quick change. So the idea here is, I really got to cover this, just that the basic idea here is that there's an unknown force that's inherent in space-time that works against gravity and grows over time, which is the critical piece. It grows because as space expands, the dark energy is not diluted, as you might assume. That's really the critical sentence right there. It's not getting diluted. So dark energy is like one meatball in a stretchy bag, and I guarantee you that that sentence has never been thought of or spoken before, ever. So dark energy is like one meatball in a stretchy bag. You stretch the bag so it's five times the original volume, and then when you look inside the bag, it now has five meatballs inside. So once space expanded for nine billion years, dark energy reached this critical point where it was strong enough to overcome gravity and make that expansion happen faster and faster. All right? Does that make sense? So now dark energy is also called lambda or a cosmological constant because it was quite similar to what Einstein added to general relativity. It's a great story. General relativity predicted an expanding universe. Of all the accolades that Einstein received, this would have been yet another amazing, amazing prediction. But everyone, including Einstein, assumed the universe was static for some reason. So he threw in a fudge factor into general relativity known as lambda or the cosmological constant, which was a force inherent in space that worked counter to gravity. Sound familiar? Keeping it static instead of expanding. And then, of course, Edwin Hubble just blew him out of the water 12 years later when he famously showed that the universe was in fact expanding, proving that general relativity was initially correct. So then Einstein removed the cosmological constant from general relativity, famously calling it what? The biggest blunder, his biggest blunder ever. So now the cosmological constant idea was in the dustbin for decades until 1998 when the accelerating expansion was discovered and then lambda or cosmological constant was then resurrected and now it's just inextricably linked with dark energy. Okay, so now we're up to current times basically until DESI enters the room. DESI stands for Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument. Look it up online because this is an amazing device. It's literally, it literally has 5,000 pencil-like robotic eyes that can move to collect light from millions of different galaxies and it has a, it's on a five-year mission, five-year mission, sound familiar? To make a 3D map, the most detailed 3D map ever created of the location and the velocity of 40 million galaxies spread out over 11 billion years of cosmic time. So the light from those galaxies are essentially broken down into its spectrum, right, of the different coloured wavelengths which then allows for the calculation of the redshift of the light which is caused by the varying expansion speed of the universe throughout its history. So that's kind of very high-level view of what it's trying to do here. The result from DESI's first year though of surveying was recently released and the cosmologists were kind of shocked, pretty shocked and many of them are very happy but it was very unexpected. The galaxies that are closer to us, that they have less expanding space between us, right, they are somehow closer to us than they should be. So because of that, they're concluding, I mean it's not a firm conclusion at this point but it seems that dark energy is not constant based on this preliminary data but it's changing over time. Luz Angela Garcia-Penaloza, a former DESI team member said, the release of these results was a great day for cosmology pointing to a decreasing effect of the dark energy over time meaning it is evolving and therefore not constant after all. So a little bit down to earth here, it needs to be pointed out that these results, they're not really even calling it evidence yet. It's the first year's data, there's four more years to go. Some refer to the information more as hints but some people are also saying that it's very robust. So if you want a more objective assessment, the new findings so far has about a one in four hundred chance of just being a statistical fluke which in the parlance, that's three sigma which is okay but the gold standard for science is called five sigma. Five sigma is the gold standard. That's one chance in 1.7 million. Once you reach that, then you could start drinking. So of course but don't forget, five sigma is great and maybe they'll get there with this but even five sigma results in the past have fallen when you got new data, new interpretation. So even that's no guarantee of course. So this is such an interesting new installment of this saga, this multi-decade saga of dark energy. For me though, one of the most fascinating aspects of this news is what it means for the fate of the universe. If dark energy is constant, say that DESI is wrong and the cosmological constant is constant, not changing, then this would lead to what I call the island universe future which is kind of sad but not as bad as it could potentially be. So that would mean that the increasing expansion of the universe will ultimately isolate all the tightly gravitationally bound systems. So for example, future denizens of our local group of galaxies, about what, 50 galaxies that are really gravitationally bound tightly together but at some point in the distant future, not too far though, we will have merged into one big mega galaxy but at that point though, the event horizon of the universe will have shrunk so much that we won't be able to see anything past our galaxy, our one big mega galaxy. So it's just a very sad image of the future where civilizations will never probably be able to infer the wonderful history and evolution of our universe. It's really sad to think that they can never even figure that out. They will think what we used to think over 100 years ago that our galaxy was it. There was no other galaxies and now there's, oh yeah, there's like tens of billions of galaxies or more, far more that are out there. So even further in the future with this constant, cosmological constant, there's the idea of the heat death, right? We've talked about this, the heat death of the universe where even the last black holes and perhaps particles of, final particles of matter have evaporated away, life, any type of life is not even conceivable because there's no energy gradients within the entirety of the universe. So pretty bleak, but it could be worse. Imagine if dark energy is not constant but stronger, even faster, even exponentially increasing eventually, basically the opposite of what DESI seems to be saying. This is like a real worst case scenario where dark energy is actually a phantom energy where accelerating the expansion of the universe, it increases so fast that even the very fabric of the universe rips apart and of course this is named the Big Rip. If this were happening and if it did happen, if it did happen, it could be, it could happen in only like 150 billion years or something like that. It's not ridiculously far in the future, it's just mind-bogglingly far in the universe into the future. So now if this were happening, you would be looking into space and you would see, what you would see is increasingly smaller collections of matter breaking up. So you would see galaxy clusters, super clusters breaking up for no apparent reason, then clusters and galaxies would be breaking apart, then planetary systems would be breaking apart and then eventually even bound atoms and that's when we would, adios, game over because when atoms become unbound like that, that's it, I mean no life could exist. Talk about a scary scenario. But I have to say this is considered very unlikely, it's a worst case scenario, but it can't be totally ruled out yet. But I think at some point in the future they'll be able to really just rule that out. Now a weakening dark energy, as DESI seems to be indicating, that would mean that the expansion of the universe could potentially stop. The acceleration will stop, the expansion itself will stop and then start coming back together in something like the classic Big Crunch, right? We all believed in the Big Crunch decades ago. We thought that's how the universe was going to end before we even thought of dark energy. So sure, the Big Crunch, it gets pretty hot at the end, but for me it's the most helpful end game for the universe because who knows what could emerge after that happens, right? If it's all coming back together something interesting could come out of that. So if the Big Crunch does happen, I'll see you at the SGU table at the restaurant at the end of the universe. And if you get that, you're awesome.

S: You get one SGU nerd point if you get that.

After Death Communications (TW) (55:43)[edit]

  Trigger warning icon.jpg Trigger warning: suicide, death

S: All right, Evan, tell me about after-death communications. That sounds legit.

E: Yeah.

B: Define-

C: After-death.

B: -define death.

E: Correct me if I'm wrong. This is my first time having experience with that term. Have you seen this anywhere before?

C: I have because I read a lot of hospice literature.

E: Okay.

B: And movies.

E: Yeah. Okay. But from our work as skeptics, I don't know that I've read about this in skeptical articles.

C: Yeah.

E: I may have missed it.

C: I think a lot of people call it a lot of different things.

E: Gee whiz. Yeah. Well, okay. So I am going to talk about that. But the other thing that's going to be mentioned in this news item is a mention of suicide and a description from a person who is going to give a story about suicide. So that's the warning for anyone who needs to skip this item. I read this today at the Huffington Post. It's in their personal section. So they're not trying to slip this into a science section or somewhere else. So take that for what it is. It's the personal section. But the title to the piece is, My Patients Tell Me They've Had a Paranormal Experience. I Believe Them. I Had One Too. So of course, I'm going to stop and read that article. Written by Scott Janssen, who is a hospice social worker and writer. I'll give you a little background. He has written extensively about providing trauma-informed care for patients who are terminally ill and has spoken nationally about ways to better support veterans who are nearing the end of their lives. His work has appeared in publications including Social Work Today, Psychotherapy Networker, the American Journal of Nursing, Reader's Digest, and the Washington Post, to name a few. In the article, Scott tells the story of one of his patients. That's correct, right?

C: Yeah.

E: Okay. So one of his patients. Scott asked the patient a question. Here was the question. Why do you have feelings of peace in the face of death? The patient's answer was a story about how he nearly took his own life many years prior. Scott's patient, many years ago, was trying to cope with his own son's suicide that did happen. And ultimately, he was taking blame for it because he was a bad father to his son. Now here's what he says. I'm going to read to you the relevant quotes from that story. Again, this is the patient telling this to Scott. One day I decided to do the world a favour, not that anyone would have noticed. I took my .45 calibre and walked to my workshop that day. I remember crying and saying out loud how sorry I was for all the pain I've caused. Then I put the pistol to my head. I was just about to squeeze the trigger when I heard my son's voice clear as you and me are talking. Stop. He just said, stop. I put the gun down and looked around. There was no one there, but I swear I felt some kind of presence over in the corner where I keep my air compressor. That's where the voice came from. Nothing I could see, but whenever I looked in that direction, I felt warm and safe, which is not what I'm usually feeling. I said out loud, son, his name is Tank, Tank, is that you? Then he said, kind of upbeat, it's not your time. Keep going for now. I'll see you again when it's your time, I promise. My boy came back to me to give me some peace. He ain't suffering for what he's done or taking the heat away for the way I screwed things up. Him promising to see me again took away any fear of death. I don't really know how to explain it.

C: So sorry to clarify, his son is dead?

E: Yes, his son is, his son was dead from suicide prior. This was his own brush with that, but claims he had this moment. What Scott, the social worker, then says, or at least writes in the article, he says, whatever one calls these experiences, crisis apparitions, bereavement hallucinations, or after-death communications, also known as ADCs, again, the term I'm not familiar with, studies show that they are very common, especially in the year or so after a loved one dies. One meta study analysing the research estimated that over the course of a lifetime, 30 to 35% of people will experience some kind of ADC. And this holds true across culture, race, gender, education, socioeconomic status, and religious traditions or spiritual beliefs. By the way, the technical definition of ADC is defined as spontaneously occurring encounters with the deceased. That is how it shows up. Now, this reference, I looked at the reference where he got that study. It's a dissertation from a candidate for a PhD in philosophy back from 2011. So I guess we got to kind of take that for what it's worth.

C: Why? Dissertations are sometimes way more rigorous.

E: It could be, yeah, it could be. I mean, I don't know, but it wasn't from a journal, I guess is what I'm saying.

C: Gotcha. So it means that they probably didn't publish in a journal or they published a portion of it. But dissertations are, I don't know, Steve, what would you say? But I personally feel like dissertations and theses are peer-reviewed in that you have a committee that is actively working with you the whole time and have to review it. And it's almost like more intensely peer-reviewed. It's just that, sadly, the peers are at your university. So in some ways but you usually do have an external reader as well.

E: Okay.

S: Einstein established the photoelectric effect and won a PhD off of his thesis.

C: Right.

S: You know.

E: Okay. All right. Fair enough.

S: Yeah. It doesn't mean it's not legit science.

E: Okay. All right.

C: But interestingly, you did say it was a philosophy paper. That also doesn't mean that it's not good science, but it sounds like you said it was kind of like a meta-analysis.

E: Yeah, that's how Scott described it in the article that he wrote here. Yeah, that's how he described it. And then he goes on to write, after 30 years of working with people who are grieving and hearing dozens, maybe hundreds of reports like this, I believe him because, he says, when I was much younger, this is Scott, I experienced an ADC myself. Here was his after-death communication experience. He says, I was sound asleep when I was jolted awake. I think this was back in 1986. He said, I was sound asleep. I was jolted awake by the loudest siren I'd ever heard. It was coming from the upper left-hand corner of my bedroom. Then two siren pulses, the kind you hear when an ambulance or police cruiser is rolling into or out of an active scene. I jumped up, adrenaline pulsing, fists clenched, ready for anything, realizing that there was no one breaking into my apartment. I took a deep breath and listened for a television, thinking maybe a neighbour was watching one of those cop shows with the volume all the way up. But it was dead silent. Was I dreaming? I had no memory of being in a dream. Besides, the siren had woken me instantly and was still audible when I was wide awake. As my mind grasped for an explanation, I heard what sounded like an ambulance door opening and a gurney being rolled across asphalt. Then a voice, hurry, get over here. Thinking there was trouble in the parking lot, I pulled back the shade and peered out into the night, expecting to see an ambulance crew working on someone. Nothing. Then I'm going to truncate this. I'm going to make it kind of shorten it down. Minutes later, the phone rang. This was a little, a couple hours later. It was my dad. My uncle, with whom I'd always been close, had been killed by a drunk driver in California. I asked what time. When adjusted for time zones, it was the same time I'd been woken by the siren. Are these experiences supernatural? Are they hallucinations? Frankly, I no longer think much about what causes them. I focus on what they mean to the people who've had them. Yeah.

C: Right. Yeah.

E: So, and this is the gist of his piece, okay? I think it brings up a lot of different questions.

C: I like what that last thing that he said, though. If I want to, like, if I can interject for a second.

E: Yeah, absolutely.

C: Granted, it sounds like the author is more credulous. I'm obviously, like, way skeptical. But I think what he said right there at the end is so important for a practitioner who's working with somebody who's dealing with death. Like he said, I'm not really so much thinking about what caused them. I'm just thinking about what they mean to the person. And that's also my approach.

S: Which is fine. Because, again, in a therapeutic relationship, it's not your job.

C: No, you didn't actually see your dead son. Like, I would never do that.

S: You may think that, but it's irrelevant to that interaction. But I do think he's going a step further and saying, not only is he just walling that off therapeutically, he actually, it sounds like he thinks that these reports are credible in some way. Or at least he's not skeptical of them.

C: Oh, yeah. It definitely sounds like that. Just based on the title.

S: Yeah.

E: Right. Because, and again, because he experienced something himself that he can't otherwise explain.

S: Bit of a false dichotomy there, by the way. It was a hallucination or paranormal or maybe a coincidence.

C: Or, yeah, the last one was definitely, I mean, that he didn't say that.

S: You heard a siren, you know. And then your memory of when it happened probably then tweaked to bring it in alignment with the information the timing of the uncle's death.

C: Yeah, it's actually kind of annoying that he mentioned both of those things as if they're the same phenomenon. Like uncle dying, woken up, heard a siren, ooh, it was at the same time, versus a suicide attempt and hearing the voice of his son. Or very often what he probably describes more in the article, and this is where a lot of the literature is, people who are actively dying, verbalizing that they see dead relatives or that they heard from dead relatives. It's an incredibly common experience.

S: So this, but the older gentleman who was about to kill himself with a gun, so first of all, he was obviously an emotional extremist at that point. If you read the whole article, the guy was troubled. This was a troubled individual who had a very sad life, it sounds like. And he blamed himself for his son's suicide. And now he's about to kill himself alone not even thinking that anybody in the world would care. I mean, talk about emotionally, emotionally brittle. The idea that he heard something that comforting that essentially absolved him of his guilt.

C: Yeah.

S: I mean, it's all obviously a psychological experience, you know. And also, I'm sure, I don't know about you guys, but I've heard voices before, like, especially when I'm tired. When I'm sleep deprived, you get the little echo in your brain of something.

C: It's so common for people to hear their name called.

E: Yes.

S: Oh, absolutely. I hear that all the time.

C: And if you remember, back in the day, phantom phone rings and vibrations were really common, but most of us keep them.

E: I still get those.

C: See, I was going to say, I haven't had my ringer on in like a decade, which is probably why I don't hear it anymore.

E: I still get those.

J: I don't get the phantom phone ringing in my pocket anymore.

C: Yeah, because you probably don't have your ringer on.

J: I don't.

C: Yeah, because you're no longer attuned to hearing your phone ring.

J: It's very interesting.

E: Yeah, it is fascinating. And about the name as well. Absolutely, I've heard words spoken in which there was obviously no one there. And guess who it was in my head who was speaking? It was Rachel, my daughter.

C: Yeah, it's going to be somebody who you have an emotional relationship to, whose voice resonates for you.

E: And again, if you don't know any better, that's an absolutely practical reaction to have, is that you definitely heard the voice of somebody else. And how do you account for that? It's tricky unless you know. Also, my second question about this is, should a professional be reinforcing in a way sort of – maybe not reinforcing the dying person belief, but should they be offering their own anecdotes as a means of comfort? Like acknowledging that I too have also had something like – an experience like this. Is that crossing a line?

C: Did he – no. I mean, it depends. But did he say – are you asking can therapists self-disclose?

E: Yes, to their patients.

C: Sometimes. Some people don't. Some people do. It kind of depends on your training and what your orientation is. Did – but is he saying that he shared that anecdote with his patient or is he just –

E: Yes, he did. He did. In the article, he says he did.

C: So it depends. I think that there are ethical ways to do it. But the general – I mean, obviously, there's no right or wrong answer here. But generally speaking, in my training, because I am very existentially humanistically oriented, sometimes self-disclosure is part of the conversation. Like some of my clients know that I take antidepressants and I – and that conversation normalizes medication usage. But I never self-disclose in service to myself. The ethical thing to do is to think, is this therapeutic? And if it's not therapeutic, if you're doing it for your own discomfort or your own whatever, no, that's totally not ethical. But if you're doing it as a therapeutic intervention, then yeah, it can be ethical.

S: Let me say one thing too. It seems that there is this assumption that – it's an asymmetry here – that it's okay to tell a patient that you believe that their paranormal beliefs are real. But it's not okay to tell them that you think that they're not real.

C: I see.

S: I think a physician, a therapist or a counsellor or whatever should be agnostic towards their patient's belief systems, like neither confirming nor denying it. Because then in a way you are exploiting your relationship, your therapeutic relationship, your authority to endorse a belief that's personal. And even if you believe in it, you have no business imposing that on other people.

C: I see what you mean.

E: That's how I felt reading this.

C: And I was really just answering based on a generic question.

S: Oh, I know. What you said was fine. My wife says the exact same thing. It's like, yes, sometimes if it's in furtherance of a therapeutic whatever goal, but you have to be very careful about it. It's got to be a very deliberate choice that you make to self-disclose. But I'm not worried about that element of it. I'm worried about – I think if you're going to say we shouldn't be skeptical of our patient's personal religious or paranormal beliefs, we shouldn't endorse them either.

C: Right.

S: Right?

C: I think the important thing – yeah, I would never ever say I believe what you believe, or I would never say that belief is correct.

S: Yeah, right.

E: No.

C: Like it's more that I try to – I work really hard within the opening sessions to understand their frame so that I can be empathetic to their frame, but then I operate within their frame. So if somebody is like, when I pray, blah, blah, blah, I'll bring up prayer with them, not necessarily endorsing beliefs and saying I have absolute knowledge that this is true or not true. It's more operating within their frame with them.

E: It's a good reminder, especially for skeptics, because we talk about so many pseudoscientific paranormal things as part of the activism that we do. But we also have to understand scenarios, situations, moments in life, especially for these people who are so close to the end and facing death. You have to temper things appropriately based on certain situations.

C: Totally.

E: And this is absolutely one of those situations.

C: Yeah, exercise empathy. It's really a function of empathy. I would never, if a patient is close to death and they're starting to have hallucinations or apparitions, be like, is it your son? I wouldn't plant those things in their head. But definitely if they're like, I see my son, I'm talking to my son, I'm not going to be like, no, you don't. That would be so messed up.

S: You're clearly deluded because you're a broken human being.

C: Right. It's like, come on. But also, to be fair, as a psychotherapist who works with people who are quite ill and sometimes dying, not only am I consulting or liaising with their oncologist, their psychiatrist, their palliative care physicians, I'm also very often speaking with their chaplains.

S: Yeah.

C: Like chaplaincy is a huge part of this approach. And it's offered within the clinic.

S: Now, Evan, you mentioned hypnopompic hallucinations. That could be a very different context. I have neurological patients, not psychological or psychiatric patients. I've had patients who have sleep-related hallucinations, either hypnopompic or hypnagogic. And sometimes they're very frightened. They think they're real. They think they're being haunted or whatever. And in that context, I could reassure them, like, nope, that is a neurological symptom of your narcolepsy or whatever it is that they have. And explain to them that this is a brain thing. Right. This is not. And they're very reassured by that. Like, oh, I thought I was going crazy. No, no, no. We see this all the time. This is just what happens when you're, whatever, sleep-deprived or when you have this disease. And it's treatable. I can give you a prescription for a medication and we can make that go away. So context is everything.

E: Absolutely. Also, there is the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline that you should know about. It provides 24-7 free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. And they offer best practices for professionals as well. This is a service in the United States. So keep that in mind, everybody.

C: Yeah. It's relatively new, too, and it's great. Thanks for sharing that, Evan.

Who's That Noisy? (1:13:50)[edit]

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

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

[rapid clicking, almost a buzz]

What the hell is that?

E: A slow game of Pong with a bunch of card shuffling in the middle.

J: I don't know if I could even venture a guess if I didn't know what it was. Like, it's such an odd thing. So I got a listener named Benjamin Devult, D-A-V-O-U-L-T.

E: That's okay. Yeah, that's a fair pronunciation.

J: He said, Ben here, the Frenchie from Japan. I'm writing as fast as possible because I'm pretty sure I have the answer. This is the exo-atmospheric kill vehicle sort of flying machine that uses compressed air bursts to move in 3D in the air. Very noisy, very maniable. Maniable? M-A-N-I-A-B-L-E.

E: He was typing fast, so it could be a typo.

J: Good. Okay. He said, very cool. All right, Benjamin, that's not it, but now I have to see this thing, the exo-atmospheric kill vehicle. That sounds very cool.

E: Yeah. But don't let the name fool you. It's more of a transportation system.

J: Another listener named Darren Pacusic said, hello, Jay. Darren Pacusic from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. That's in Canada, for those of you who don't know. Saskatchewan, this is me talking. Saskatchewan is an incredibly huge area in Canada, and from what I understand, has a very low population. And didn't Bugs Bunny used to make fun of Saskatchewan?

E: No, Saskatoon.

S: No, he said that's that whole open sesame, open sarsaparilla, open Saskatchewan.

J: Oh, you're right.

E: Oh, Saskatchewan, yeah.

B: That wasn't Bugs Bunny.

E: Wasn't it?

B: That was Daffy Duck.

S: Are you sure?

B: Oh yeah.

E: Well, they were in both in that one, I think.

S: My memory is that it was Bugs Bunny doing that bit. He was pretending not to know what the...

J: Yeah, I remember Bugs Bunny saying it, too. Anyway, he says, even though I have listened to every episode of your podcast...

B: Challenge accepted.

J: The first time I felt confident enough to submit an answer wasn't until a couple of weeks ago when I submitted an incorrect guess for the sousaphone noisy. Or is it sousaphone? Now I can't remember.

C: Sousaphone!

J: It's sousaphone.

E: Sousaphone.

J: I was surprised because I think I may know this one. I believe this is someone trying to set some sort of hand clapping record. Wow. A hand clapping record. All right, we'll see, Darren. Let's see. You're not correct, but you're not super far away from the real answer. Visto Tutti wrote in and he said, I think this week's noisy sounds like launching the ICBM nuclear missiles. And then he quoted, God damn them, they blew it all to hell. Who do you think that... Is that a quote from, guys?

E: Oh, that's Planet of the Apes.

J: Thank you, Evan.

E: I know that movie backwards, forwards, every way.

J: Visto, you are not correct, but I do like the quote. This is not the launching of an ICBM, but I have heard an ICBM launch from underwater and from a boat. And they do have kind of like a fast compression sound like that. So I see where you're coming from. I have a winner here. The first one that wrote in the correct answer this week's name is John Sanchez. And John says, hello, John from Chicago. The sound is speed jump roping. Speed jump roping. He says, hope I can see you guys at the 1000th show. So let's listen to this again. By the way, a lot of people guessed correctly, but this is the world record. Speed jump roping. Take a listen. [plays Noisy]

E: Wow.

J: So this guy's jump roping so fast that you can't believe it. You know, it's one of those like, what? That's actually happening in real time. Like that dude is doing it that fast. He did. Okay. His name is Cen Xiaolin, and he's breaking the record of 228 jumps in 30 seconds at the World Jump Rope Championship in Oslo. What the hell, man, right? I mean, can you imagine? Yeah. I don't know. I mean, I jump rope. I'm doing like about four or five a minute.

E: One every two seconds.

J: And then I trip. This dude is like, whoa. I mean, I was like, wow. Okay. So if you see the video, just look it up. You definitely want to check this out. It's just one of those odd things you got to take a look at. So good job, everybody.

New Noisy (1:18:12)[edit]

J: I have a new noisy for this week. This noisy was sent in by a listener named Kathy Taylor. And let me see here. I will set this one up a little bit. Kathy's son, Finn, recorded this noisy. And at the time that he did it, he was, I believe, four and a half years old. So check this out. And just ignore all the background noise. It's obvious what the noise is. I don't want you to get confused. There is some people talking in the background.

[rapid clicking, almost a buzz]

So it's the clicking noise. If you think you know what this weeks Noisy is or you heard something cool, you got to email me at theskepticsguide. It's

Announcements (1:18:53)[edit]

J: Steven Novella.

S: Yes, JPUS.

J: Are you aware that Chicago is a city in the United States?

S: I am. I've been there a couple of times.

J: Cara, have you been to Chicago?

C: I have been to Chicago.

J: Did you eat the deep dish pizza?

C: I actually did eat deep dish pizza in Chicago.

J: What did you think?

C: You know, I don't really love pizza.

J: All right, this discussion is over. Anything that you say from this point forward is just an insult. So just nothing. Nothing. I didn't even ask.

S: You're dead to me.

J: The pizza's dead. So we are having a show in Chicago. This show, this very important show. We're doing extravaganza as well. And those are great shows. But the important show is the SGU's 1,000th episode. Now, this 1,000th episode will be recorded live. It'll also be recorded with five hours of content. There will be five hours of content that day. This will be happening in Chicago. We will be talking to people who've been on the show. We will be talking about some of the highlights of our shows over the last 20 years. We're going to have tons of virtual guests lining everything up right now as we speak. So please do try to join us. If you're interested in seeing this in person, you can go to This is going to be on August 18th. That is August. That's happening this summer, August 18th, in Chicago. We'd really love to have you out there. Tickets are selling pretty rapidly. So if you're interested, I recommend that you act now. Go to, and there's a button on there that will tell you everything. We sold out our first extravaganza, and the promoter asked us if we would be willing to do two. So we are doing a second extravaganza. That extravaganza is happening on August 17th. That is Saturday, August 17th. The available show right now starts at 12 noon. It'll be our very first afternoon show.

E: Doubleheader.

J: Yep, we're doing a doubleheader that day.

S: It's our first doubleheader too.

J: It is.

S: We'll see how we hold up.

J: We'll be great. We will be fine.

E: Oh my gosh. Some of those poses we have to strike.

S: The things we will do for our listeners.

E: Oh, the things you'll see.

J: If you would like information on that show, you can also go to and check out. There are buttons on there that will direct you to get the information that you need. So a couple more things, guys. Every week, we send out an email that is a summary of every single piece of content that was produced by the SGU the previous week. We also have a few other fun things added in there for you. So if you're interested, just go to our homepage. You can join our mailing list. Right now, about 35,000, 40,000 people are getting the email, getting tons of positive feedback. It's just fun. We're just making it easy to see the stuff that we've created. And then every once in a while, we throw in some funny pictures of Bob. But other than that, nothing strange going on here. Guys, if you enjoy this show, this is our 20th year and our 1,000th episode year. If you enjoy the show, if you've gotten anything out of it and you want to help support the work that we do, please go to And there you can join us as a patron. And once you do, you'll be able to gain access to the SGU's Discord channel, which is a collection of all of our patrons there. They hang out and chit chat with each other every day about all sorts of different topics. Lots of really fun conversations. And now that over the years, I've gotten to meet quite a few of the patrons that we do have. Right out of the gate, we have a wonderful community. I think the people are fantastic. We did not a con last November. We were with a couple of hundred of our patrons. And it was really, it was epic. I mean, I was blown away by the community that we have. So if you're interested, please go to We can always use your support in helping educate the world against TikTok.

S: By the way, Bob, I think you found the same video I did. We were both wrong. It was neither Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck who sang Open Sarsaparilla.

B: It's a guard.

S: We had some Middle Eastern looking guard that they were interacting with in that episode. They were both in the episode. But they were both in the episode there. So both of our memories were flawed.

J: And mine.

S: Yeah.

J: It's OK. It doesn't bother me.

B: But if I thought about it for a moment, I would have got there.

J: OK, Bob.

S: I'm not confident. I think my memory was more corrupted than Voyager's memory chips there.

E: Bob's too worried about the big crunch.

B: No, that's the Alibaba bunny episode. It's a classic episode.

S: It's a classic episode.

B: Which I love a lot.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:23:22)[edit]

Email #1: Havana Syndrome[edit]

S: All right. We're going to do one email. It's actually a bunch of emails. So a number of weeks ago, I talked about Havana syndrome. And this is, again, I think I maintain this is a great skeptical topic because it's right there in the gray zone, which means that it really challenges our skeptical approach to these kinds of questions. So, again, the quick back story is that starting in 2017, some U.S. and Canadian diplomats in working in either embassies or I think military bases were reporting a constellation of symptoms such as headache, nausea, dizziness, tinnitus, ringing in the ear, fatigue, things like that, fogginess, difficulty thinking. First reported in Havana. And so the question has been, is this a real external attack by some foreign power on our personnel? Or is this all just a mass delusion akin to sick building syndrome? You know, when I talked about it, I wasn't really giving an answer. What I was saying was just we can't have a knee jerk reaction to these kind of questions and just endorse the most skeptical narrative and then build a case for that narrative because that's what fits best with our skeptical approach. But rather, we need to like really analyze it, technically break it down, consider all the alternatives, acknowledge what we don't know, et cetera. And I went through very quickly. I think that is it plausible that either a pulsed ultrasound or pulsed microwave or whatever weapon could cause this constellation of symptoms? Again, neurologically, I find that very plausible, maybe not in everyone, but in susceptible individuals. But certainly we know that these kinds of stressors can cause these kinds of symptoms. So that's plausible. Is it plausible that these are all just other medical entities whether it's migraine or whatever, and that they're being misidentified as, quote unquote, Havana syndrome? That's plausible too. Is it plausible if some foreign power would be testing these kind of weapons on American diplomats? Sure. Why not? And then is it plausible that such weapons exist? And I basically said to that, I really don't know. I haven't read any technical analysis that would either rule out these weapons or say that, yeah, they exist right now. The other thing is that it has been investigated by American intelligence agencies, and they've concluded that there is no evidence of that this is a foreign attack. So that was where I left it. And then people have some very strong opinions about that. There were some people writing and thinking that it's real. Some people writing and saying they think the government's lying because they lie, which I think is a logical fallacy. Right? The government also tells the truth. So you can't use that as a... You can't just say that. You can't use that to say that they're lying now, just that it's plausible that they could be lying, but you can't use that. It doesn't really help us either way. And other people saying, no, this has got to be mass delusion. These weapons are science fiction. You know, it's a conspiracy theory to think that this is anything else. I did further research. Again, I think this is a fascinating open question, in my opinion. And so I did some further research. A couple of things came up. So when I addressed, again, the neurological question, I think it's like, yes, it's plausible, but no, there's no smoking gun. The question about, are the weapons themselves plausible? There are experts who say that they are. But I do think at the time, I thought that maybe the sonic weapons were, or the ultrasound eapons were more plausible. But the big limitation there is that they would have a short range and would not work really through buildings very well. But the microwave weapons, I think, are way more plausible after doing further research. We actually had prototypes of these weapons 20 years ago. In the United States. And then we stopped doing research basically because there was no ethical way to study the weapons. But they said that there's absolutely no reason to think that Russia or China stopped developing these weapons. And it's absolutely plausible that they would have a portable, meaning in a car or a van or something, pulsed, microwave directed long range weapon that could operate through walls and could plausibly have this kind of effect on people. So that, I don't think we could say that it's science fiction to say that these, that a microwave weapon could exist, given that we had a prototype 20 years ago of a portable device like that. Again, I'm open to more information, but that's what I'm reading. There was also a journalistic report that came out not too long ago, I think since I did the report, saying that some of these cases have been linked to a Russian intelligence unit, unit 29155 of the Russian GRU. Then they've been, they've been associated with more than one of these episodes. And so some people think that they're the ones who would be doing this. And if they, if there was a unit within Russia that's doing it, it would be them. So it's kind of all fits together. Again, I don't think that this is a home run. And I think that this is, there is reason to be skeptical of this. I think we still don't know, but that's an interesting lead, if it is one. Some people pointed out that the, like in Havana, that the local Cubans who were working at the embassy didn't come down with the symptoms. I couldn't really find anything definitive about that. But let's say it's true. I don't think that's, that is definitive in and of itself, because it's possible they just weren't targeted. But also, are we really sure that it isn't true? Because would we know? Would they have necessarily reported that the way that an American diplomat would report it to the, to higher up the chain? So I don't, and I don't know that that's been studied exhaustively so that we could say that it hasn't happened. So at the end of the day, I think it's still an open question. And the thing I have to emphasize is that I'm not saying, no one is saying, I don't think, that 100% of the reported cases are part of this same Havana syndrome. That, yeah, there's a lot of mass delusion or just sick building syndrome where people start to attach their symptoms or their strange experiences. Like some people were hearing cicadas and they thought that was the sound or other people had migraines or whatever. Yes, there's going to be a lot of noise and a lot of false cases associated with this. But that's not the same as saying that the whole thing is 100% not real, that there aren't legitimate cases. And I admit I am taking a physician's approach to this question, which I think is a completely legitimate and valid one. Physicians always think in terms of differential diagnosis. We don't just say this is the most likely answer. We say these are all the possible answers. These are the ones we could rule out. These are the ones that are more likely. These are the ones that are less likely. But you have to be open to a range of alternative ways of putting the evidence together, right? Because sometimes the 95% answer is wrong. In fact, it should be wrong 5% of the time, which is 1 in 20, which, like I said, I often tell my residents, that means we'd be wrong once a week, right? Or whatever or more. If you assume that 95% equals 100%, you have to always be open to the less likely possibilities. Sometimes that's the correct answer. I'm definitely going to be following this one. And I think it's just important for us, again, not to do that knee-jerk, skeptical narrative, but to really break it down technically and admit that even in a story like this, some aspects of it may be plausible. I still think it's more likely than not that this is, especially given the investigation by American Intelligence Agency, that this probably isn't a real attack. But I would not be stunned if it turned out that that's the case. Some of these cases were, in fact, like a directed microwave weapon that was being used or tested against American diplomats. I don't think that we could remove that from the list of possibilities at this point in time. All right, let's go on with science or fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:31:40)[edit]

Theme: Medical risk

Item #1: A recent study finds that living in Canada increases one’s risk of developing multiple sclerosis by up to 70%, with risk being proportional to the time lived in Canada.[6]
Item #2: Researchers find that use of anti-acid drugs, including proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, and antacids, are associated with an up to 70% higher risk of having Migraine headaches.[7]
Item #3: A recent review of studies finds that gum disease is associated with up to a 30% increased risk in developing Alzheimer’s disease.[8]

Answer Item
Fiction Gum disease & Alzheimer's
Science Canada & multiple sclerosis
Anti-acid drugs & migraines
Host Result
Steve clever
Rogue Guess
Canada & multiple sclerosis
Anti-acid drugs & migraines
Gum disease & Alzheimer's
Canada & multiple sclerosis

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. We have a theme this week. It is just three news items, but they happen to cluster in a theme. And so I went with it. The theme is medical risk. These are things that are associated with or risk factors for other things. OK, here we go. Item number one, a recent study finds that living in Canada increases one's risk of developing multiple sclerosis by up to 70%, with risk being proportional to the time lived in Canada. Item number two, researchers find that use of anti-acid drugs, including proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, and antacids are associated with an up to 70% higher risk of having migraine headaches. And item number three, a recent review of studies finds that gum disease is associated with up to a 30% increased risk in developing Alzheimer's disease. Jay, go first.

Jay's Response

J: All right, this first one here, a recent study finds that living in Canada increases one's risk of developing multiple sclerosis by up to 70%. What the hell? If that's true, why the hell would that be? Risk of being proportional to the time lived in Canada. All right, saying that that's true, what would cause multiple sclerosis? I just don't know. That seems so crazy to me.

B: Well, you would obviously have more than one sclerosis.

J: Yes, there's multiple. And they come out only at night, Bob.

E: Nocturnal.

J: All right, I don't know about that. I just, I don't have anything in my head that's giving me an indication there. So let me go to the next one. Researchers find that use of anti-acid drugs, including proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, and antacids are associated with up to 70% higher risk of having migraine headache. So Steve, like if you take if you take like a chewable tablet that has calcium, like that's not good too?

S: That's an antacid.

J: All right, so apparently something about that can give you a migraine. Jesus, I just, I'm striking out big time over here. Last one, a recent review of studies finds that gum disease is associated with a 30% increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. I think that science, clearly brushing teeth, is incredibly important. So between the first one and the second one, 70%. I'm going to go with the first one, the Canada developing multiple sclerosis one. That seems way too freaking high.

S: Okay, Bob.

Bob's Response

B: Yeah, Jay, 70 seems way too high for that first one. So that's why I think it's probably science. In this case. And the third one, I agree with you, the gum disease and Alzheimer's sounds reasonable. So almost by the process of elimination, I'll have to say that the antacids can increase the risk of having a migraine. And if this is true, Steve, we need to talk about a new antacid that mom is taking.

S: Okay, Evan.

Evan's Response

E: The Canada one is strange. What would be the reason? I can't wait in a way to find out, but it's awful in a way. Why? Why would that be? And 70%? Oh, my gosh. So I'm kind of maybe leaning towards that one being the fiction, as Jay said. The antacids, including proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, up to 70% higher risk of having migraine headaches. And I'm thinking that one is science because it kind of leaves a range sort of like up to 70% higher risk. So maybe each of these things, one of these three things maybe is 70%. The others are less, but each one of them is their own risk and increasing risk. The last one about the gum disease being associated with up to a 30% increased risk in developing Alzheimer's disease. Something about this one is not right with me. Obviously, gum disease does impact the body in various ways. I always thought it was heart risk, heart disease risk associated with gum disease. I'm familiar with that. I didn't know about the Alzheimer's though, but I suppose plaques in the brain, plaques in the mouth, gum disease. There's a disconnect there and I can't quite put my finger on it. So I'll tell you what. This week, I'm going to spread it out. I'm going to say the Alzheimer's disease one is the fiction and that will leave Cara to break this tie.

S: Okay, Cara. Up to you.

C: One each, huh?

S: Yeah.

Cara's Response

C: I can see there being a link for all of them, except the Canada one makes no sense to me. Multiple sclerosis, I thought was like really complicated, like the etiology is really complicated. Like it's environmental, it's genetic, it's all those things. So I guess maybe some of the variants could be, but what is in Canada? Like, is there some toxin in Canada that we don't have in the US? I don't know. Antacid drugs, all the different types associated with the higher risk of migraine headaches. That's kind of interesting that like all the different types would be. But, and I think these numbers are worrisome. 70%, 70%, 30%, gum disease, 30% increased risk, increased risk too. Like, what does that actually mean? They're all like correlations and associations. But I don't know. The one that doesn't make sense to me is the Canada MS link. So I think I'm going to have to say that that's a fiction.

E: I almost did that as well.

C: I don't know though. Come on. We don't know. We never know.

S: So you guys are all spread out.

C: Yeah.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Let's start with number two. (laughter) Researchers find that using anti-acid drugs, including proton, because I had to pick one of the ones that only one person went with. Researchers find that use of anti-acid drugs, including proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, and antacids are associated with up to a 70% higher risk of having migraine headaches. Bob, you think this one is the fiction. Everyone else thinks this one is science. And this one is science. This is science.

B: God damn it.

S: Evan, you were correct. 70% is the proton pump inhibitors. And then it is 40% for H2 blockers and 30% for antacids. But they all increase the risk of migraine headaches.

J: Why?

S: And Cara, I was interested in that too. Like why these are all completely different mechanisms of action, even though they're for the same purpose. And of course, this is correlational data. But they look at this for a reason, because there's reason to suspect that this might be the case from previous data. So is it just like a side effect of these medications? Or is there some mechanism there? We don't really know. But this is interesting. And that effect size is pretty significant. You know, 70%. That's not nothing.

C: Yeah.

S: It probably means if you have migraine headaches, you shouldn't take these medications. But it doesn't necessarily mean that nobody should ever take them ever. You know, it's all risk versus benefit.

J: So do you know the mechanism, Steve?

S: No, as I said.

J: Is it?

S: Because they're different. Because right? Those are different mechanisms.

C: They work completely differently.

J: Like is there anything that like because I get heartburn every once in a while. And I'll take some chewables, you know. Like is that like I should stop doing that?

C: Well, do you have headaches or migraines when you do that?

E: Do you have migraines?

J: No.

C: Then probably not.

S: Yeah, don't worry about it.

B: It doesn't sound like that big of a deal in terms of like, if you start getting headaches, then you stop taking it. It's not like it's your it's your blood pressure.

S: Well, the real, but the thing is, but it might like you develop a migraine syndrome. And then even if you stop the medication, now you have migraines. That would be, so that's, I don't know that that's true. I'm just saying that could be true. And if it is, then it's not as simple as just stopping the medication.

C: It's also interesting for people who, for whom they're having a hard time identifying their migraine triggers. They may not have ever thought about their use of antacids. So now they can I keep a migraine log. And so I kind of generally know, like when my sleep is screwy, when my circadian cycle is really messed up from a lot of international travel, that's when I tend to cluster my migraines. Some people know when it's, they eat certain foods, right, Steve? Like there, some people have triggers.

S: Oh yeah.

C: You have to kind of identify them. And maybe people don't even write down how often they take antacids or when they take heartburn because they never thought there would be a link. This might be a way for them to add that to the mix of potential triggers.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All right. Let's go on to number three. A recent review of studies finds that gum disease is associated with up to a 30% increased risk in developing Alzheimer's disease. Evan, you think this is, am I correct?

E: Yes.

S: Evan, you think this one is the fiction?

C: He's going to be right. You're going to be right, aren't you, Evan? I don't know.

S: This one is the fiction.

C: Yeah, go Evan.

E: Holy crumbs.

C: But that's weird. Canada, what?

S: Okay, we'll get there.

E: Yeah, the Canada thing is bizarre.

S: So you're right, Evan. Also, this is thought to be a risk factor for heart disease, not for Alzheimer's. That was the switcheroo that I made. And even there, it's not a cause and effect clear. It's not a clear cause and effect. It's possible that both gum disease and heart disease have the same risk factors. Specifically, smoking, right, is a risk factor for both. So you would have to really exquisitely control for that confounding factor before you could say it causes it. But there's also plausible mechanisms, too. The thinking is that if you have gum disease, you get more bacteria in your blood, which then goes to your heart valves or your heart and causes heart disease. So yes, gum hygiene, teeth hygiene, oral hygiene is very important. And it may be an actual risk factor, not just a correlation for heart disease. But it's not 100% certain at this point in time. But it's Alzheimer's I just made up.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All right, which means that a recent study finds that living in Canada increases one's risk of developing multiple sclerosis by up to 70% with risk being proportional to the time lived in Canada is science. And this is funny because to me, I'm like, this makes 100% sense. But I wondered if you guys would know enough to know why it makes sense. So it's already been well-established. That latitude how far away you are from the equator, is a well-established risk factor for multiple sclerosis.

C: What?

E: I never knew that, no.

C: Is it because of sunlight?

S: No, it's because of viruses. Almost certainly it's because of these are in these temperate, these high temperate zones, certain viruses are more likely. And we think that the viruses are a trigger for susceptible people. Like you have to have the genetics and the virus. And then it gives you multiple sclerosis, at least some types of it. And it's also very much related to how long you've lived at those higher latitudes and at what age. Some evidence suggests like you really have to be there by the time you're 15, but not necessarily. This study was just looking at immigrants to Canada and showing that the longer they live there, the higher the increased risk, up to 70%, which again is a pretty significant.

B: Jesus.

S: Pretty significant.

E: So countries have to come with warning labels now?

S: You know, it's a very interesting clue about one of the many complicated causes of multiple sclerosis. And there's also independent evidence that certain specific viruses may be correlated with the risk of MS. So yeah, this was like a completely unsurprising finding. If you're familiar at all with MS, but I figured you guys weren't.

C: Yeah, I had no idea.

S: It seems weird, right?

C: It's super weird.

S: When you don't know that latitude connection as an environmental risk factor for MS. Yeah.

B: Could you please in the future pick news items that we are familiar with?

E: Yeah.

S: Maybe. Maybe. How much is it worth to you?

B: Let's talk later.

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

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:43:45)[edit]

Failure is a reality; we all fail at times, and it's painful when we do. But it's better to fail while striving for something wonderful, challenging, adventurous, and uncertain than to say, "I don't want to try because I may not succeed completely."

 – President Jimmy Carter (1924-present), American politician and humanitarian

E: "Failure is a reality. We all fail at times and it's painful when we do. But it's better to fail while striving for something wonderful, challenging, adventurous, and uncertain than to say, I don't want to try because I may not succeed completely." And that was President Jimmy Carter. Giving some good wisdom there about failure and its importance in a way.

S: Yeah, you shouldn't live your life fearing failure. And failure, you shouldn't shame people for failing, right? We all fail.

B: Shame people for not trying.

S: Yeah. Yeah, but I don't think we should shame people, period. But I mean, I think that certainly I, and I often will applaud you, you guys, if you're striking out on your own for science or fiction and losing. It's fine. As long as you, I'd rather you think for yourself and follow the herd, no matter what the outcome. But yeah, if you never fail at something, you're probably not risking enough, right? You're not pushing yourself enough.

B: Or you're ridiculously smart.

S: I don't think there's anyone who is so savvy and skilled and smart or whatever, that they would never fail. And even still, you should be calibrating to what you're capable of. You should be pushing the limits to the point that there should be a certain amount, a certain failure rate expected. And again, if you never fail, either you're delusional, right? You're just lying to yourself about it. Or you're just never venturing outside your comfort zone, you know? And then even then, even then, I don't think you can failure-proof your life. It's just not, it's just, there's too many ways for things to go wrong, you know? What's more important, I think, is how you react to the failure when it occurs.

B: Yeah.

E: Right. Learn from it.

S: Right. Admit it. Learn from it. Be humble. Exactly. But that's a good quote. I like it.

E: Yeah.

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

E: Thank you, Steve.

C: Thanks Steve.

J: You got it.


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


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