SGU Episode 982

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SGU Episode 982
May 4th 2024
982 horizontal running.jpg

"Running horizontally at self-generated artificial gravity in emulated lunar WoD" [1]

SGU 981                      SGU 983

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Large complex systems which suppose the existence of an objective reality work very well. Any attempt to throw out the idea of objective reality still has to explain why these things work.

Scotty Hendricks, American writer

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, May the Fourth, Jay in Ireland[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, May 1st, 2024, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody!

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy.

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys.

S: ...and Evan Bernstein.

E: Good evening everyone.

S: May the 4th be with you all.

E: Of course.

J: And also with you.

S: The show comes out on May 4th, Star Wars Day, one of our favorite days of the year.

E: Totally appropriate.

S: I have this tie that I wear that has these crossed lightsabers on it, but it looks just like an abstract tie pattern. You know what I mean? You would never think anything about it, but if you look closely, you can see that they're crossed lightsabers, so I always wear that on May the 4th.

E: And have you had patients or someone else mention it?

S: Yes. I've had a couple of people, a couple of people, who have said, I like your tie. They notice it. Most don't. Most don't notice the little details.

E: Yeah.

S: And May the 4th is one day before May the 5th, which was the airing of our first episode. So this is the last episode of our 19th year, and we are now officially in our 20th year of podcasting.

J: Oh, my God.

B: Are we done yet?

E: The day is actually here.

S: You ask that every year, Bob, and the answer is still no.

B: All right. I'm just checking. Got to check. Need an update.

S: And then, of course, we have our 1,000th episode coming up in August.

E: Oh, that's going to be so much fun to go back and look at the 20 years, 19 plus years of having done this. It's going to be amazing.

J: So, guys, I have a lot of people that are ... I asked our patrons to go through our one like 950 some odd episodes that we have, or what do we have, 975, Steve?

E: 970s.

S: 982.

J: 982.

C: Wow.

J: So they're going to go through all the episodes. And they're going to pick out like the funniest bits and so people can sign up like, all right, I'll take this episode or this group of episodes. And I might be opening that up to the public depending on how much work we can get done. I'll let you know in a future episode. But, yeah, 1,000th episode is going to be a long haul talking about all the things that we've done. We're going to have a lot of fun. George is going to be with us. I can't wait. That show is going to be so much ... five hour show, guys. Ah.

S: Yeah.

E: Will five hours be enough? That's the question.

S: No. It's going to go fast.

E: No, it won't.

S: If we put it on for just a few interviews, that eats up a ton of time. Just going through stuff, five hours will go fast. Trust me.

B: It will. Yeah, we've done a lot more than that.

S: So we've done six hours. That's gone fast. We've done 10 hours.

E: 12.

S: Did we do a 12?

C: Yeah, we've done a 12. I was there.

S: We did a 12 and we did a 24. And a 24. And we'll do another 24, damn it, if we make our Patreon goal.

E: The Jack Bauer episode.

S: We're sort of hovering. Yeah. Hovering there. Not too much more. But anyway.

E: Some more Patreons.

S: Yeah.

E: Well, it's a good time to remind your friends, remind your family, if they're not already a Patreon. Now's as good a time as any.

S: Jay, you were recently in Ireland. Was that your first time there?

J: Yes, it was. I went to Dublin. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go outside of the city because we were only there three days and it was a little celebration for my sister-in-law's 50th birthday. It's close. It's much closer than Europe, mainland Europe. Wow. I had an incredible time. What a beautiful city. There's a lot of culture there. The food was excellent. They had modern European-style food. They had traditional food, which I tried as much as I possibly could. I had the traditional breakfast. I had this beef. It's kind of like a beefcake stew thing with ... Oh, man. It was like-

E: Sounds good.

J: Yeah. Very good. Very, very good. One of my favourite things that we did, we went to the Guinness factory and went on the tour.

E: Nice.

J: It was really cool. They have a particular yeast that they use to make all the Guinness products. They breed the yeast and they genetically ... I guess they keep track and make sure that they're using the same genetic yeast so it doesn't shift over time. It's the same yeast you can make bread with. You know what I mean?

C: Mm-hmm.

E: If left to its own devices, the yeast will mutate?

S: Evolve?

E: Well, yeah.

J: Well, I'm sure that they do, but also you don't want to get a foreign yeast in there that isn't your desired yeast. They have a specific yeast that they use. They breed it and they freeze it and they bring it ... It's just a whole part of the business.

E: That's fascinating.

J: Yeah.

E: How would they know if it was contaminated?

J: Genetically. They do genetic testing.

E: They will? They'll just run it through the analyzer. Yeah.

J: Now, I will tell you this. I had Guinness there. I had it right there where they ... One of the places. That's the only place in the world that they make it. They make it all over the world. Having fresh Guinness versus something that's been bottled for a while, it tastes different.

E: Did you drink it at room temperature or was it cold?

J: No, they serve it cold.

C: But I don't think anybody drinks Guinness warm.

J: No, no. I don't think anybody does.

C: Yeah. I don't think they drink stout warm.

J: The English do, I think.

S: It is room temperature, it says.

E: Room temperature.

S: It's cellar temperature.

C: Yeah. Not like heated up warm.

S: No.

C: I guess we say warm when it's not icy cold.

S: Right, right. Warm to us.

E: Not a cold beverage.

C: We are ice water people in the United States.

E: I love my ice water.

C: Jay, it sounds like you might have caught a little bit of a cold on your trip.

J: I did. I know how I caught the cold. I was shoulder to shoulder at a Dave Matthews concert in Dublin.

E: You went to see Dave Matthews?

J: Well, that's my sister-in-law's favorite performer.

E: Wow.

C: Gotcha.

J: And it was wow. Like I have never even come close to seeing him live before, you know. His band was knockout awesome.

B: Really?

C: Oh, his band's incredible.

J: Incredible.

C: I don't love like Dave Matthews. I mean, I like some of it, but I don't I'm not a huge Dave Matthews fan, but his band is super talented.

J: And you know, the live experience, like they're jamming, you know. Like they are like a cool funk bass and drum and they just go for it like 15 minute song and it's fun. It was really exciting like I was pretty damn close because we were just in the standing like on the floor. Like most of the people at the concert were standing on the floor, you know what I mean? It was like a 13,000 max capacity place. Anyway, a couple of things. I had blood sausage.

B: Yeah.

E: Blutwurst.

J: And it tastes completely fine. Like there wasn't anything weird about it it's just, I guess blood is mostly made out of proteins, right Steve?

S: Oh yeah.

J: So they have a, they have a ketchup like relish topping that they use that is better than ketchup.

B: What?

J: Yes.

B: Did you bring it home?

J: A condiment called Ballymaloe. And we went on a food tour. It was a street food tour, right? It's like, this is the food. This is what the guy said. This is the food that you eat when you're hungover or it's late night after drinking.

E: That could be any food, but go ahead.

J: So he brought a bottle of this stuff. It looks like a ketchup bottle it's a little bit darker. And he goes, don't just use this, use a lot of it. And I am definitely a condiment overuser. Like I like a lot of condiments. It's just not good calorie wise, but I'd love it. I had this stuff and it is better than ketchup.

B: What?

J: Better. I will use this. I'm buying it on Amazon. I'm going to buy it and I'm going to use it. It's awesome.

B: But it's similar to ketchup.

C: By the way, did they call ketchup ketchup? Because in the UK, they call it tomato sauce.

J: No, he said ketchup.

C: Oh, interesting. Do you think that was because he was talking to an American?

J: Probably. Yeah.

B: Because that's the right way to call it.

C: And I should be clear. They don't call it tomato sauce. They call it tomato sauce.

E: Tomato sauce. Tomato sauce. I think in Australia, remember the ketchup packets, I think said that, tomato sauce.

C: Yeah. That's not uncommon. They also have brown sauce.

Molly Malone statue (8:18)[edit]

J: So there was another cool thing I found out. There is a statue in Dublin, the statue of Molly Malone.

S: Molly Malone.

E: Oh, no. Here we go.

J: And Molly, but the Molly Malone statue is very likely not a real person. She's representative of, I'm thinking like mid-1800s, turn of the century time frame, super hardworking, working class woman.

S: Like Rosie the Riveter?

J: Yeah. You know, that's a really good comparison there, Steven.

E: Was she wheeling a wheelbarrow?

J: Yes, she is.

E: There you go. There it is.

J: So she's like a fishmonger, you know what I mean? And the fable is, and the idea is, she was an incredibly strong person. She's representative of Ireland, you know? Incredibly strong person, hard worker, all of these wonderful qualities. And then two different tour guides that we because we did the food tour and then we just did a general tour of Dublin, of course, we got a lot to see and we had a very short amount of time. He said, there's a thing that's been happening where people touch the breasts on the statue.

C: Yeah, this is actually a huge problem.

J: Yeah.

C: Like around the world.

J: Yeah.

C: But the Molly Malone statue is a perfect example. It's like rubbing raw because men are sexually assaulting a statue.

J: Well, so I was there at three different times in front of the statue because it's in a central location, a really nice area. And I the first time we were ending a tour there and we were there for 20 minutes and everybody, kids, women, men, everybody was doing it because a lot of people think it's for good luck, you know? And then I had two different tour guides explain like it's just not the right thing to do. And there's obvious things here. First of all, you wouldn't do that to a real person. So you really have to think about this, like even though it might be it has like a good luck vibe to it. Like it's just not right. Like would you do that in front of like your 10 year old son? Like teach him, like you could do things like that like it was like that kind of thing.

C: Yeah. There's a woman named Imelda May. She's a singer from Dublin. And her quote is that this statue is the only statue in Dublin with breasts. The only statue in Dublin with breasts is basically assaulted in front of our children's eyes daily.

J: Yeah.

C: Yeah.

J: And then they vandalize the sidewalk near her, like saying like, don't touch me and stuff like that.

C: Yeah. Yeah. They're calling, I think they say, leave Molly alone.

E: So it leads to other, right.

J: But I really, I really liked it. I love the statue. I like what the statue represents. I do like that there's like a built in lesson there as well. It's a type of thing that's worth talking about, you know?

C: Totally. I mean, that's the only way we're going to see a cultural shift. Because I think that it's wrong to laugh and to have fun around it. But I also see what you're saying that like, first comes insight, then comes action, right? Like there's not even any insight into why it's wrong right now.

J: Yeah.

C: Yeah. And that's only going to change through activism and through people talking about this stuff. It's really cool that your tour guides didn't like promote that, but said like, hey guys, let's learn from this experience.

J: I totally agree. I thought about you actually, because I knew I was going to talk to you guys about this. You know, and it's just one of those things, like it's easy to take it for granted and just be like, this is just a statue and we're having fun. But I think the fact that that statue specifically represents the country and the history of the country too, all the more reason like.

E: Yeah. You wouldn't go up to the Abe Lincoln Memorial and grab him in the crotch, right?

J: Exactly.

E: You just would not do that.

C: That's such a beautiful example of like the internalized misogyny that we deal with. You just would never do that. That would be disrespectful. But people don't think that about a statue of a woman, which is, like you said, representative of Dublin. And actually, like they have, there's a song about her, Molly Malone, and it's like they're kind of their anthem. Like she's. Yeah.

J: And one of the tour guides said they sing it differently depending on where you are. Like you could sing it at like a sporting event and it would be like like very upbeat.

E: Upbeat cheer.

J: But then if you sang it in a pub with people, it would be more.

E: Somber.

J: Heartfelt. Yeah.

C: Yeah. That's really cool.

J: And then one last thing I want to say. The Irish people were absolutely generous, funny, friendly, accommodating, like just wonderful people in Dublin. Like wow. Like very different than New York City. You know what I mean? I love New York. I mean, I'm a New Yorker. You know what I mean? I grew up going to that city on weekends like.

S: But there's definitely a culture.

J: Absolutely.

S: There's a vibe. There's a culture in New York City.

C: Yeah.

S: Absolutely.

J: The Irish people want to have fun. They want to talk. They want to be intimate. They want to laugh. You know, I appreciated that a lot. I really got a lot out of this visit.

Daniel Dennett dies (13:16)[edit]

S: We should mention, unfortunately, we lost a philosopher, Daniel Dennett, last month on April 19th. He was 82, which is a good run, in my opinion. But yeah, Daniel Dennett was one of my favorite philosophers. He was a cognitive scientist, a specialist in philosophy of the mind philosophy of science, philosophy of biology. And you know, I think the philosopher who most nailed the philosophy of the mind I found his formulation of, like, consciousness, et cetera, the most compelling.

B: P-zombies?

C: Yeah, he was.

S: No, he's not the one.

C: No, he was into that, like, I mean, I just found out his doctoral dissertation was called The Mind and the Brain, Introspective Description in the Light of Neurological Findings.

S: Yeah.

C: So, it's like, this goes back to, like, probably his earliest interest in philosophy.

S: Yeah, yeah. No, he was awesome. One of the most widely read and debated philosophers.

C: Also, an atheist, a secularist, a big kind of promoter of critical thinking. And I think one of the rare men in their 80s who contributed so much, who wasn't canceled, you know what I mean?

S: Yeah, yeah.

C: Like, I'm allowed to celebrate him in all his glory because I don't know of any terrible controversy.

S: No asterisks to our celebration of his career.

C: Yeah.

J: So, we interviewed him at TAM10, I think it was.

C: Oh, wow.

J: And I gotta tell you, I think you'll find this funny, Cara. So, a few observations. I was talking about him actually on the TikTok live stream today. That guy and Steve, they were talking on a level where I couldn't understand what they were saying, right? And then I asked him a question and he couldn't understand me because, so I was in, like, a different, I was in, he was in a different altitude intellectually than I was. And the look on his face was funny in a sense, but also like, wow, I am, I don't want to use the word dumb because I'm just an average I'm an average person, you know what I mean? But this guy was so smart that I asked him a question and he couldn't really understand what I was asking. I was like, wow.

C: He was in it though. He was in it when you asked him.

J: Yeah. I mean, he-

C: He had to pull himself out of it.

J: Cara, this guy was so smart. It blew my mind.

S: Honestly, Jay it's not just a matter of like smart or not smart. Not that he wasn't brilliant. He was a brilliant philosopher, obviously. But those questions, because you could think if he were so smart, he should have been able to field a question from any level. I think, I don't remember that specifically, but I've encountered situations like that where there's hidden assumptions in the question and the problem is trying to figure out what they are and it's not immediately apparent. So you can't understand, yeah, there's something wrong with what's behind the question and I can't figure it out. So it is kind of stumping, you know what I mean?

C: Right. Like he wants to dissect that first and say, is this what you're asking?

B: The corollary to that is the reaction, oh, where do I even begin?

S: Where do I begin?

E: Well, we should ask to clarify the statement, right? That's not that's reasonable.

S: Well, he probably did, right? I mean, I think he asked you to say, ask it another way or something.

J: He did. And like I kind of describe, I would describe the way he talked where he was using words that were complicated. So I had to think really hard about what he was saying to keep up. It's like I would need to, he would use one word that means like five words to me, you know? And whatever, I'm just pointing out like from a regular guy meeting him and getting to talk to him and listening to him talk to someone like Steve, it was hard to follow and it was really deep and it was it was peppered with just so much information.

C: And yet at the same time, he does have a lot of public communication cred like I know for a fact that one of my dear friends here in Los Angeles who is an artist and a brilliant artist and somebody who's very interested in science and skepticism, but by trade, he's an artist. He's not trained as a scientist. He does very science friendly or science based art. And Dan Dennett was a very dear friend of his. He's much younger. He's closer to my age. And he, they would do talks. They would like sit in exchange about art and science together. These two people coming from very different worlds, sometimes at his gallery shows and things like that. And it was really, really fascinating. Like definitely, probably you caught him when he was in it. But definitely, as we all know, we've heard talks or seen him give speeches or speeches is a weird word, but talks or been engaged in conversation where it's very accessible.

J: Yeah, that's it. I guess I shouldn't I don't want to color him in a way where he wasn't accessible. He was he was talking to Steve on a super high level.

C: Yeah, he could like switch gears, which is I think a skill for sure.

J: You know, like Steve said, he was a philosopher and I we did a lot of reading about him after we interviewed him and I'm like, oh, I wish I knew more about him before we did the interview because I didn't know we were going to interview him. Like Steve's like, hey, we got a cool interview coming up. And I'm like, who is I never even had heard of him before. You know, then of course, Steve's like, yeah, like this guy is amazing. You know?

C: I love it.

Quickie with Bob: Horizontal Running on the Moon (18:42)[edit]

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S: All right, Bob, you're going to start us off with a quickie.

B: Yes. Thank you, Steve. This is your quickie with Bob. Horizontal running on the moon. In the news. The hell's that about?

C: You said in the news, right? Not in the nude?

E: We'll never know.

B: This comes from pathophysiologists and human locomotion specialists at the University of Milan in their study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. They described a way to minimize the detrimental effects of low gravity for future moon base alpha inhabitants. Now, we all know the problems associated with microgravity on the space station, right? There's loss of bone mass and muscle and much, much more. It really does a job on the human body. But exercises like running on a treadmill are quite helpful in orbit. But these researchers say that it wouldn't be as effective for people having an extended stay on the moon. So they wanted to figure out what they could do about preventing or at least minimizing bone and muscle loss. So they studied instead running horizontally inside a cylinder. The cylinder they borrowed for testing this is called a wall of death. It's that type that you see them at sideshows and country fairs where motorcycles can ride around and around horizontally.

E: Oh my gosh.

B: It's not a full sphere. It's just the inner rim, the intersection of the sphere. They go around and around and around and they don't fall off the walls. And that's because there's the friction of the tires and of course the centrifugal forces are helping as well. But people can't do that on Earth. You can't just run like that because you can't run fast enough. So to test the idea, to make an analog of the moon if you will, they suspended volunteers by a harness and a bungee cord and they were suspended within the cylinder such that the bungee cord simulated moon gravity once they started running. Can you picture that? So imagine you're kind of like in a room with round walls and no corners and you're suspended from a very high ceiling with a bungee cord that's attached to your hip harness. And you're kind of like hanging there right in the middle of the wall. So you start running. The faster you run, the more the centrifugal forces will pin you to the wall like that dreaded spinning room at carnivals that –

C: Oh, I love that.

E: Oh, yeah. They drop the floor off from you.

B: That was so much fun. So they did a couple of tests with a couple of volunteers and they found that the forces that the test subjects exerted against the walls of the cylinder when they were running were just like those forces that normal runners on earth and they concluded that those forces would be more than enough to keep future denizens of moon-based alpha safe from losing bone and muscle. So hey, so doing a moonwalk on the moon, people will be actually running in the cylinder horizontally to prevent bone and muscle loss. Very interesting. I wonder if that's actually going to become a thing. This has been your Quickie with Bob. Back to you, Steve.

News Items[edit]

Vampire Facials (21:41)[edit]

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S: Cara, tell us about vampire facials.

C: This was like trending all over the news this week and Evan, I thought of you. I'm surprised you didn't steal this news item before I had the chance to cover it. Not that you remind me of vampire facials, but it just feels very up your alley.

E: Yeah, Cara. You beat me to it on this one.

C: So this is actually a story that first was circulating in 2018, but there are new updates because the CDC just published a paper in their morbidity and mortality weekly report just a few days ago. So basically in 2018, a woman was traveling overseas and was tested for HIV and was tested positive, but she had zero risk factors. She hadn't been using-

S: Or so she thought.

C: Or so she thought, right? She hadn't been using... Zero, I guess I should say typical risk factors. She hadn't been using IV drugs. She hadn't had any sexual partners other than her long-term partner. But the one thing when they were trying to figure out how could this have happened was that she had gotten this microneedling facial at a spa in New Mexico. And so thus begins the investigation. The spa was visited. It turns out that it was unlicensed. It turns out that there were a lot of pretty awful things going on in that spa. And I want to find the quote here, quote, unlabeled tubes of blood and medical injectables that were stored in a kitchen refrigerator next to food. Yeah. Quote, unwrapped syringes that were laying about, scattered on counters, scattered on drawers. And in some of these unlabeled tubes of blood, there were multiple needle punctures. So there was good evidence that blood, unlabeled, untracked blood was being reused. So let's talk first about what a vampire facial is, and then we'll continue the story of what ended up happening at this medispa in, and I use that term in quotes, in New Mexico. So a vampire facial is actually a colloquial term that I'm pretty sure was coined by Kim Kardashian after she received one of these plasma-rich platelet facials at a different medical spa. So I don't know if you guys have heard of microneedling.

B: Yeah.

C: This is where tiny, tiny needle punctures are made in the skin. The idea with this, or at least these are the claims, is that it might increase like collagen and elastin production as those little needle punctures heal. The platelet-rich plasma portion of microneedling comes in when basically a blood draw is taken right there. The blood tubes are put into a centrifuge, spun down, and then the plasma portion is taken off. So the red blood cells stay in the tube. The plasma portion is taken off, and then it's injected using microneedling all over the face. And these claims are not substantiated at all, but interestingly, you can go to the American Academy of Dermatology website, and they talk about PRP. They talk about vampire facials, and even though they say there's little evidence to show that it works, they have a whole thing about how to get one and what you should do if you want one. And they say it's relatively safe, even though they even say at the top, there's little evidence.

E: That is a veiled endorsement, I'm sorry. That is what that is.

C: And so then there are articles online, but you have to search for them, about the pseudoscience behind this, that it's really tenuous. Like the literature, the only studies that seem to show any benefit are poorly controlled studies.

E: As always.

C: And there's actually been larger reviews. Not only does it show that very often it's no more effective than placebo, but sometimes that it's even less effective. And interestingly, that doesn't just apply to PRP treatments in cosmetic procedures. It also applies to the long history of PRP treatments in orthopedic settings. So this is a longstanding medical intervention that actually doesn't have a lot of evidence to support it. But you see it a lot in orthopedic settings, especially for like sports injury rehabilitation.

E: I'm not surprised. That's rife with a bunch of problems in that industry.

C: I had heard of PRP before, platelet-rich plasma injections, in the literature about hair loss. Like this is a commonly used treatment for hair loss. But interestingly, even there, the comparison to placebo is not good. And there are a lot of experts that are like, I would not recommend this for hair loss, because topical solutions like minoxidil are equally, if not more effective. And those are, of course, over-the-counter topical solutions. So anyway, going back to this utilization in medispas. Part of the reason that this is so poorly researched is because it's not a drug. So the FDA doesn't have to approve it, because it's your own blood being taken out of your body, spun down, and re-injected into you. Since it's not a drug, it's not held to the same rigorous standards as drugs are.

S: Yeah, especially a medical procedure, which means it's basically left to the standard of care, which at most is regulated at the state level, which it does a very poor job of regulating the standard of care.

C: 100%. And I think in some cases, it has been certified as a medical device, simply because it utilizes devices. Like you have to have a centrifuge to do this, and you have to utilize syringes. And so in some places, it's legally categorized as a medical device. But even medical devices don't have the same rigorous standards as drugs. And oftentimes, these devices are used, quote, off-label, like in this case. We know that centrifuges and needles can be safe when used safely. But unfortunately, in the case of the New Mexico spa, this was an unlicensed facility. And the woman who ran it was actually found criminally liable for practicing medicine without a license. And she is serving time. I think it was three years or three-plus years. But it's not this one woman, right, this one woman who we started the story with, who found out that she was positive for HIV. Over the course of the investigation from 2018 to 2023, after which this spa was shut down, the records were poorly kept. It was very hard for these investigators to dig deep. But eventually, they identified hundreds of people who had visited the spa, especially those who had said that they'd either gotten Botox or vampire facial treatments. And of those hundreds of people, through testing and through contact, they found five people were positive for HIV. Two of them, a woman and her male partner, were in advanced stages of the disease. And because of that, they believe that they may have been the source of the infection. But three other women were likely exposed and actually caught HIV through these facial procedures. And as far as we know, this is the first documented case of an HIV infection or outbreak due to a cosmetic procedure. And so this goes to show that we always say, what's the harm? But there is a potential harm, and that potential harm is intense. These people did not go in expecting that they would be at risk for HIV infection from getting a facial. And they didn't go in, I don't think, with any sort of... It's likely that they didn't go in with any sort of belief that this would be a risky procedure at all. They went to a spa where they thought that this would be they'd be following sterile technique. But this was not a medical facility. And unfortunately, in those cases, you find that people will do things and they won't do them right. They may not have been trained in infection control at all. Clearly, if they were trained, they ignored their training because they were reusing needles and they were actually utilizing unlabeled blood on different clients, which is horrifying. This comes on the heels of just earlier, I think in the month, there was a scare about Botox because a bunch of counterfeit Botox got flooded into the market, and a bunch of people came down with botulism infections. You know, this is...

S: Probably not infections, just botulism.

C: Yeah, with botulism.

S: That's happened before, and it has been from people using improper Botox. There was one case where somebody was using Botox that was for research purposes.

C: We used to use Botox in my lab all the time.

S: Yeah, dosed for animal research, and they were giving a hundred times the dose you should be giving a human.

C: Yeah, because botulism is Botox, right? It's a neurotoxin.

S: Botox is botulinum toxin, right? So it's the toxin made by the botulinum bacteria. And so if you have an infection, you have the bacteria making the toxin. But if you just inject the toxin, you get botulism.

C: You get botulism. And it's hard to say because a lot of the coverage calls it a botulism outbreak. And so I'm like, oh, that's really bad language. It's hard to say if they're saying that, yeah, they just received the toxin from... But that's probably more likely, you're right, because they weren't probably getting live botulism. But again, it was like an unregulated kind of source of this kind of... What's the word I'm looking for? Is faux Botox.

S: Well, but the thing is, don't go to a spa and get a medical procedure.

C: And get a medical procedure. Exactly.

S: This is like... Spas are notorious for this because they're all based on pseudoscience, first of all. The whole spa industry is basically based on... I mean, there's probably some benign, fun things that happen in spas. Sure, if you want to get a massage, you want to lay in mud.

C: Oh, sure. I go to spas for massages.

S: Who cares? That's fine. But the thing is, the culture from day one. The spa culture from day one was built around health claims, longevity claims, wellness claims.

C: Completely.

S: That's their culture baked into the core.

E: Well, it's part of their marketing. Certainly.

S: And it still exists. That's why... This is spa reflexology. You know what I mean? They're just rife with pseudoscience.

C: And it's one thing... We always talk about the risk-benefit analysis, right? And pseudoscience is pseudoscience. And we want to avoid it whenever we can. But I was just talking with a friend about this, who we were talking about sort of like beauty pseudoscience. We're like, oh, what do we fall victim to? And what are we pretty good about noticing? And we were talking about these rollers that a lot of women use on their faces, which have absolutely no evidence, like gua shas and things like that. There's no evidence to support them. But my friend was saying basically like, yeah, but I'm not going to get HIV from that. And I was like, exactly. There's always a risk-benefit analysis. And I'm pretty sure that there's a lot of risk from taking blood out of your arm, spinning it down, and injecting it back into your face. Every step of the way, that needs to be managed by somebody who has licensing and training, the appropriate training in...

E: Right. A medical profession.

C: Yeah. In safe handling of infectious agents. And here's something. As I was doing a deep dive into this, I found something really scary. I found an article one of these very, very kind of like salacious articles in like the New York Post or something. But it was featuring a woman who is a, quote, health blogger, who was teaching people how to do at-home vampire facials.

S: Oh my goodness.

C: DIY. How to draw your own blood, spin it down, take the plasma out, and inject it back into your skin. I think I can say, I am not a medical professional, but I think I can say without a shadow of a doubt, don't do this.

S: Yeah.

C: Like just don't, do not do an at-home vampire. If I were you, I wouldn't do a vampire facial anywhere, because there's no good evidence to support it, and the risk seems quite high. But definitely don't go to an unlicensed spa. Definitely don't do it yourself in your home. You're asking for a medical consequence of that. Asking for an infection or an allergy or some sort of reaction.

J: What's the worst thing that can happen?

S: From yourself? Well, yeah, you'll get an infection. You're not using proper sterile technique. Your skin has bacteria on it.

C: Yeah.

S: And you could certainly introduce that.

C: Like lots of people have like staph all over their skin.

S: It's basically assumed that you have MRSA on your skin.

C: Yeah. In the article, they quote a surgeon named Christopher Englefield, and he says, performing a plasma-rich platelet facial at home could cause sepsis, blindness, nerve injury, infection, and tissue death.

J: Oh, my God.

C: And probably death-death.

E: Necrosis.

C: Yeah, exactly, if you don't catch these things in time. So these are proceed at your own risk, but like please be aware of the pseudoscience here. There's no good evidence to support this stuff. The risk-benefit is not in your favor. And we now have concrete evidence that five people, likely three of them, caught the HIV at the spa. They're still kind of don't exactly know, but that five people with HIV were linked to these facials in an unlicensed medispa. Also, if you visit these a lot and you get these types of treatments a lot and you're starting to feel a little bit concerned, get an HIV test, get a hepatitis test. It's important to make sure that you stay out in front of those things, in front of your health.

S: Yeah.

C: Yeah.

S: It's good to mention hepatitis. Maybe even the bigger risk.

C: Yeah. I would think that that's probably more common.

S: Yeah. We worry about that with tattoos, for example, because, again, that's somewhat of a medical procedure.

C: Totally.

S: You know, it should be done by people who are licensed, who know how to use sterile technique, who maintain their equipment. You know, there's just certain standards, and if they don't meet those standards, you run the risk of infection. Yeah, that's just life.

C: 100%.

S: All right. Thanks, Cara.

C: Yep.

Kava and Liver Toxicity (36:43)[edit]

S: Do you guys know what kava is?

C: Oh, yeah.

E: It's an island chain in the Pacific.

C: No, he's saying kava.

E: Oh, not Java.

C: Steve, like when I lived in Florida, I lived in one of those apartment complexes where there was like retail on the low level, and there was a kava bar down there. I never went to it. It always looked like pseudoscience to me, but yeah, it's like an almost psychoactive substance. It's legal, I guess, to drink it when you're young.

J: It's a wine, isn't it? Isn't it like an alcohol?

C: No, don't think it's wine. Yeah, I think it's more of a drug.

E: Like kratom?

S: It is a drug, like kratom. It is a plant. Actually, it's the Piper methysticum plant, and you can derive kava or kava-kava sometimes from it. It's in the pepper family, and it has been used for a very long time as a traditional drink or remedy or whatever in Oceania, right? Polynesia, Australia, Melanesia, and surrounding areas. Some people say for thousands of years. I don't know if that's been confirmed, but for a long time. The way it's prepared there is somebody chews on it and then creates like a paste with their saliva and then spits it out into a bowl, and then it's mixed with water, and there's other things that are done to it. It's kind of a traditional way of preparing it, right? But it's also an herbal product you can get as a pill or a tablet. Starting in the 1990s, some cases of liver failure were cropping up in people who were using kava products, and there was an outbreak here, right? But there was a bunch of cases happening, mainly in Europe, and this led to some case reports, and in many countries in Europe, it was banned because of the risk of liver failure. In 2007, the World Health Organization did a review of all of the evidence for kava and liver toxicity, and they came to a few conclusions. So one was they cited a 2004 study that was really an epidemiological study looking at the use of kava in Oceania, like traditional use, which is basically a water-solvent-based derivative of the plant, and they found no association with liver damage or liver toxicity. So this has essentially led to a bit of a controversy over whether or not kava causes liver toxicity or not. This is something that I've been following for a long time, but it's now this controversy is playing out on TikTok, which is how we came across it recently. There was a nurse, a medical communicator saying, don't take kava, it's associated with liver toxicity, and the comments fill with misinformation, right? But one of the things that caught my attention were a lot of people are saying that the idea that kava causes liver failure or liver toxicity is a myth that was debunked by the WHO 20 years ago.

E: So they're pointing to this.

S: Yeah.

C: That's interesting.

S: Well-

E: 2007 review.

C: Oh, they're pointing to that article.

S: Yeah, that's not exactly true. So you see these sort of dueling narratives, none of which are true, and the real answer is way more nuanced. So of course, they did a deep dive on it, and I wrote about it for Science-Based Medicine, because it's a great story. So the idea that like any use of kava is a risk for liver toxicity is an oversimplification. The idea that it's a myth that's been debunked is nonsense. But to me, it reveals the real nature of the herbal industry, right? Because here you have an herbal product, kava, that is based upon this traditional use, but the products themselves are prepared completely differently. So first of all, mostly they use alcohol or some other solvent, not water. And then they...

C: Oh, so of course you're going to feel it.

S: And then they concentrate the result, right? So you have a much higher concentration of active ingredients. And also there are things that are missing from the herbal remedies like glutathione that may actually have a mitigating factor on some of the toxicity of kava. And you can't extrapolate from one pretty distinct genetic population, and you can't generalize that to the world, right? To everybody. Well, we don't know that that's the case, but if they have been using it for thousands of years, maybe there was some genetic pressure like not to get liver failure from it. So here's the data that we have right now. There's animal data showing that there's the potential for liver toxicity from some of the ingredients in kava. There are case reports of individuals getting fulminant liver failure, some requiring liver transplants, some dying from liver toxicity correlating with taking kava. But those cases are highly variable and they're very muddy. There's confounding factors. And interestingly, this also is a point about this whole controversy that interested me. Many of the people who are saying that there is not a proven link between kava and liver toxicity or the people who are selling you kava, right, or the kava proponents, are saying a couple of things that are very dubious. One is what I've already mentioned. Well, it's been safely used in Oceania for centuries, therefore it's safe. Well, that's... Yeah, but that's a different formulation. And lower dose, water soluble, other constituents, it's a completely different chemical brew.

C: And also among a people who might have been using it traditionally for ages and learned safe handling practices. Just all this stuff.

S: Whatever.

C: Yeah.

S: Exactly. So like some people were saying, well, the fact that the herbal, like one herbal formulation of it has shown to cause liver toxicity, it doesn't mean that it's traditional use is not safe. It's like, yeah, we're not saying that. But you also... The fact that the traditional use is safe doesn't say anything about these other formulations either. It cuts both ways. So that...

C: Totally. If I'm using ayahuasca in Peru for a really long time, I'm not going to buy it on the street.

S: Right. Exactly.

C: You know, like that's very different.

S: The other thing is they're saying that, well, we don't know that it wasn't contaminants in the kava products. There's also frequent substitution. There's also frequent adulteration, like they put drugs in there. Also, it could have been due to an interaction with something else that they were taking. And you know, we also don't know what the dose was that they were taking. They might have overdosed. And to me, they're offering this as a defense of kava. But to me, that's like, yeah, that's why you shouldn't take herbal products.

E: Right.

S: Because...

E: You don't know what the heck you're taking.

S: You don't know what you're taking. You don't know what the dose is. Right. You don't know how it was prepared. You don't know if there's any substitution or adulteration or contamination. There's no data on drug-drug interactions. You don't know... There's no warning. Don't take this with other products. Don't take this if you use alcohol on a regular basis, whatever. It's just... It's natural. Therefore, it's safe. Take it, as much as you want.

C: It's such a weird thing when they do that. It's like they're saying all of these reasons why it's different. And they're like, but you should trust me because I'm a bartender.

S: Right.

C: It's like, what?

S: But they're saying like, therefore, we're not sure that it was the kava itself that caused the liver toxicity. It's like, well, first of all, if you're someone who has liver failure from this, you probably don't care. You know, but yes, scientifically, yes, we want to know. But they're basically saying because this is so scientifically poorly studied and so poorly regulated, we can't know for sure how toxic it is. Right. That's not a reason to take it. That's a reason not to take it.

E: Wait till it is flushed out.

S: Some of the cases, by the way, not all of them, but some of the cases are very compelling that it was actually the kava that caused the liver toxicity.

C: Interesting.

S: Yeah. So not all of them, but there were some cases where like, yeah, this is a really good story. There really weren't any other confounders that we think are plausible. So that probably really does. So here's the final sort of defense of kava thing. People saying it's one in a million, right? And there's this one study that calculated that if you look at just the reported cases of liver toxicity, that it happens about one time for every million doses. It's like, OK, fair enough. You know, that's pretty rare. And that's acknowledged that this is probably an idiosyncratic reaction to kava, meaning that some people have a reaction to it that's atypical. It's not like a guarantee that you're going to get toxicity at a certain dose necessarily. It's more that there's a rare reaction to it that some people have that causes liver failure. Again, fair enough. But that number is deceiving. So first of all, it's estimated that official reports capture less than 1% of actual cases. So right out of the gate, multiply that by a hundred. So now we're talking about one in 10,000 doses. Second, this is not one in 10,000 users. This is one in 10,000 doses. So if you dose this on a regular basis, you could be getting into the one in a thousand range or whatever. So to put this into perspective, if we saw this on a drug that was going up for FDA approval, it absolutely would not get FDA approval. Or at best, at best, there would be what we call a black box warning. Do not take this drug if you have these conditions. And practitioners have to check your liver function test if you're going to use this. You have to be monitored for-

C: And you can't. Yeah, you can't take... There's all these other drugs you can't take in combination with that.

S: Exactly. There would be this whole package insert, blaring the potential for liver toxicity. If it was so useful, it was so useful that it was worth putting on the market. But if it wasn't-

C: Right. If it was like a cancer treatment or something.

S: No, there's not worth putting this on the market with potential liver toxicity. But it's an herbal product, so it gets a pass on all of this, on all of this. So it's still a cautionary tale. Herbs are drugs. They have toxicity. They have drug-drug interactions. And the only difference really is that the industry is poorly regulated, so you don't know what the dose is. You don't know what the contaminants are. And again, the other thing is there's so many exposés of the pipeline of the plants that get processed for herbal supplements. It's a disaster. The pipeline is... There's no control. There's no quality control. There's no verification. You have just people farming plants from the wilderness, the jungle or whatever, whatever they're getting it from, they don't know what... They either don't know what they're harvesting, they don't care, or like, well, this is very common. I'm just going to pick a bunch of this stuff and send it. Because they know that downstream, no one's checking and nobody knows, right? It's like some plant with some label on it that says it's the Piper plant. Okay, no one checks. So anyway, I'm sure there are some companies that try to do a good job of at least some aspects of it. I'm saying that's universal. But every time there's an investigation, it's rife. You know, we're talking like in the 30 to 60% range of massive problems with... And again, like there was a review about 10 years ago where they did the DNA barcoding and they just pulled these herbal products off the shelf and said, looked at the DNA, what's actually in there? And like only 5% had no problems, right? Which means that virtually all of the products had either substitution, which means it wasn't what was on the label. It was alfalfa, right? It wasn't even kava or whatever. Or it had adulteration, which means they deliberately put drugs in there to have an actual effect. Or contamination, like there's lead or something in there, like something that's not supposed to be in there. Virtually all the products had one or more of those issues.

E: Sounds like zero quality control.

S: Yeah, because there's no quality control. It's all industry voluntary, you know?

J: Steve, is it even remotely possible to get the government to move on something like this?

E: Oh my gosh.

S: So at this point... So which government? Yeah, so this is all country by country, and some countries do a much better job than others. Right now in the United States, we have DSHEA, which is the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act.

E: 30 years.

S: 1994. Yeah, 94. That's right. 30 years. DSHEA basically took herbal products away from oversight by the FDA.

E: Thanks Orrin Hatch.

S: Absolutely. And the other guy, I forget his name, but there was one Republican, one Democrat.

E: I remember Hatch.

S: It was bipartisan citizenship.

E: It was, unfortunately. Yeah.

S: Orrin Hatch, who's from Utah, which is the center for the herbal industry in the United States. Go figure. The FDA basically, they have the burden of proof to prove that harm actually happened. But you can market it without having to provide evidence of safety or of effectiveness, as long as you're just making weasel-y word claims you're not naming a disease by name. So that's what we're... So that would take, literally, Congress would have to update that law. It would take an act of Congress, right? We would need new legislation. And Jay, legislation to modify DSHEA, to update it, to make it more consumer protection comes up almost every year and goes nowhere. Just so...

E: Throw it in the bin.

S: The political will does not exist to change that law in the US. So we would take a lot of agitation on the part of the public, some consumer protection, you know? There is no consumer protection when it comes to certain industries, because everyone's been sold that this is consumer freedom, right? It's not the right to buy snake oil is consumer freedom, Jay. Like, you don't need to be protected from this sort of thing. So that's where we are. So it would be a really heavy lift, be a really heavy lift.

Chiropractic Strokes (52:01)[edit]

S: All right, Evan, tell me about chiropractic strokes.

E: Chiropractic strokes are not good. But it's been in the news. And just a few days ago, I came across this particular article with the headline, St. Louis County Woman, and that's St. Louis, Missouri, by the way, St. Louis County Woman says she suffered a stroke after visiting the chiropractor. Her name is Ashley Nelson. She was taking a flight back home to Missouri from New York. And here's what she said right in the article. I napped on the plane, kind of in a funky position, and I had a stiff neck after that. She returned to her home in Baldwin, Missouri, and she was in pain and sought relief from a chiropractor. She says, he got me right in and he started doing the manipulations. And as soon as I opened my eyes, my vision was completely crossed. Then they write that she left in an ambulance. So an ambulance was called to take her. And then she said, my face started becoming numb as well. At the hospital, they were able to find out that her right vertebral artery had been torn. And with that tear, a little piece broke off and went into her brain stem that caused the stroke.

S: So just to clarify, it's not the tear of the artery that breaks off. It just forms a blood clot on the tear. And the blood clot breaks off. And it could either occlude the artery right there, or it could break off and form an embolus and clog a distal artery downstream. So it's the blood clot. It's not the artery that's breaking off. Just to clarify.

E: The piece of the artery did not tear off.

S: Yeah, it's a tear in the lining of the artery.

C: The damage to the artery is what caused the blood clot.

S: Yeah, the damage is a location where a clot can form, and then that causes the problems.

C: Yikes.

E: Yikes. And this is unfortunately a story we've heard about before, where people, for the most part, I think under the age of 45, they've received some sort of chiropractic manipulation, and then a stroke occurs. And there's been some startling accounts of it over the years. For a couple of examples, May 2021, her name was Emily Wall, a 34-year-old homemaker and mother in Westville, Utah, died two days after a chiropractic neck manipulation. Back in 2016, Playboy model Katie May died after a stroke. Her autopsy report revealed it happened after a visit to a chiropractor. And Steve, this one in 2014, you wrote an article in Science Based Medicine about a 30-year-old man who died from complications of a stroke after he had a chiropractic manipulation. He was being treated in the office for neck pain, and according to reports, the chiropractor did not call 911, but his father drove him home after his manipulation, but it was too late. He suffered from a major stroke and later died. And these are just a couple of the newsworthy cases, the ones that have made the headlines, but there are a lot of other reported cases. This is not an isolated incident. And they have these strokes, in some of these cases, right there in the chiropractor's office. So it's not like days go by that something develops. In some of these cases, it happens pretty much minutes within it happening.

C: Obviously, they need to call the ambulance immediately, but there's nothing they can do in their office.

J: No, hell no.

C: That's so scary.

J: They only cause harm in their care.

C: Yeah, exactly.

E: Well, yeah. The relevant question, I think, about chiropractic and strokes boils down to perhaps the reason why a person goes to a chiropractor in the first place. In other words, you have a person, they have neck pain, but does that mean they already have, say, that tear and that has occurred? And that's the reason why they're going to the chiropractor in the first place? Or does the manipulation itself cause the tear?

C: Are you saying like somebody might already have an aneurysm and that's causing them pain?

S: A dissection.

C: Oh, a dissection. And that's causing them pain. So they're seeking, I don't know, does that seem reasonable?

S: So that is what chiropractors think, right? So they, when confronted with, and there's been more than isolated case reports, there's been case theories, there's been, obviously you can't do like double-blind research on this sort of thing because it would be unethical. But there's been a lot of, there have been case reports which have documented plenty of cases where there is a pretty good story for a cause and effect that the chiropractic manipulation caused the dissection. Chiropractors say, well, wait a minute, how do we know they didn't have the dissection? That's what brought them to the chiropractor in the first place. And which again, this gets similar to the kava story. It's like, well, even, first of all, there's no reason to think that that's true in every case. Even if it's true in some cases, that's hardly a defense because you know what's the last thing you should do to somebody who has a dissection is manipulate their neck, right?

C: And I think that's why I even said aneurysm and not dissection because I was thinking like, okay, maybe there's something congenital or something that's been forming over time because are dissections usually resulted from trauma?

S: Yes. They're usually resulting from trauma.

C: That's what I figured. So there would be a reason.

S: Sometimes the trauma, the trauma could be minor and unrecognized though. It's not like you have to have been in a car accident. It could be that you turned your head a little bit too far, you know what I mean?

C: Oh yeah. I heard about a guy who had the exact same thing, a dissection from playing pickleball.

J: Oh my God.

C: Yeah.

S: Exactly.

C: Because it's like his head went one way, his body went in the other direction and he...

S: So sometimes it could be a minor trauma they didn't recognize and then they get a dissection, they have neck pain, they're not sure why, they come into the hospital and hopefully we pick it up and then it's like, okay, we admit them, it's a whole series of things that we do to really minimize the risk of the dissection becoming a stroke, right? You give them blood thinners, et cetera. Sometimes you can even do an interventional radiology where you go in there and you pull the clot out before it goes down straight, it depends on where it is.

C: And like if somebody gets in a terrible car crash, they put them in a collar to prevent any sort of further injury until they know what's going on. The chiropractor is the opposite of a collar.

S: Yes. Exactly. So saying that, well, maybe they already had the dissection is not a defense because you shouldn't be manipulating somebody who has a vertebral dissection. So anyway, but non-chiropractors reviewing the scientific literature have concluded that yes, there's a mechanism there. Again, things less violent than the neck manipulation could cause a vertebral dissection. Why wouldn't a chiropractic manipulation at least sometimes cause it? Then they say it's extremely rare, which is again, like the kava thing. I'm like, well, again, sure, I will acknowledge that in terms of the number of neck manipulations and the percentage of them that result in a dissection is small. But when there's no proven benefit, the occasional stroke and death is not worth it for zero benefit.

C: Again, it's a risk-benefit analysis.

S: Yeah, there's no risk-benefit because whatever benefit you think you're getting, you can get from more gentle interventions that don't have that risk.

E: Heat compresses, cold compresses the other things that are not the—

S: Or even just gentle mobilization, like what physical therapists would do versus the violent chiropractic manipulation that they do. Again, we're not saying anything that might happen in a chiropractic office has this risk. We're saying specifically what is called a chiropractic manipulation, which is forceful and abrupt and violent. Not more—

C: That's where they like crack their neck.

S: Or just quickly rotate the neck as opposed to more gentle things, which again, where the risk-benefit is there. So this is an issue we've been covering on Science-Based Medicine for a long time because there's this ongoing controversy because chiropractors refused, generally speaking, refused to acknowledge a very real risk of something that they do. And I tell all my patients straight up, don't let anyone manipulate your neck. Just do not do it. It's not worth it. There's no benefit.

E: Because what's the benefit?

S: The risk-benefit is absolutely not there.

C: And that's just another, I think, indication of this pseudo-medical bullshit because like you said, they're doubling down and pulling back and saying, no, it's not risky. It's not risky. Whereas plenty of medical interventions have legitimate risks and physicians don't say, no, it's not risky. They say, I am now going to read the risks to you so that you can make an informed decision about whether this intervention is worth the outcome.

E: Correct. And that leads to the point, should chiropractors be informing patients about this potential for strokes?

S: At the very least.

E: At the very super least. In fact, this is held up in court. Yeah, back in Texas of all places in 2012, a patient who suffered a dissection and stroke as a result of neck manipulation brought an action against the chiropractor alleging that they failed to disclose the risks associated with the procedure. Now a jury found in favor of the patient and awarded damages. An appeals court overturned that. It got kicked up to the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court said, uh-uh, that chiropractor is liable, should have known the risks, and definitely we're having this case stick. And definitely they should have warned them and been disclosed about this. It's cited in other chiropractors on their websites and things that they actually do refer to that Texas case for the ones who are in the habit, if they are, of giving this disclosure to their patients. I mean, for their own professional benefit, they should be doing that.

C: Jesus.

E: Nothing else to protect themselves.

C: I have to do informed consent and talk about the risks of therapy. We just talk. And there are legitimate risks that could heightened depression if you are starting to talk about trauma and things like that. Like, I have to do that. I'm not even touching them. It's nuts that chiropractors don't have to.

S: Yeah, there's a double standard.

E: No doubt.

Merging Lifeforms (1:02:29)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, is it possible for two different life forms to merge, like on Star Trek with the, what were they called, the Trill?

B: Yes, exactly like the Trill, only much, much smaller.

S: And not as sexy.

B: Yes, no dots. The new research has convinced some scientists enough for them to declare that the rarest of evolutionary scenarios, the merging of organisms into one life form has occurred again. This so-called primary endosymbiosis has last happened for certain one billion years ago with the arrival of plants. This was fascinating. I've talked about endosymbiosis a few times on the show. It is fascinating and very interesting. Two papers recently published on this in the journal Cell and Science. So the crux of this news item is this whole concept of endosymbiosis what exactly is happening here. The process starts when one microbial organism essentially engulfs another one. The process, I found this out today actually, the process was likely something like phagocytosis where a cellular membrane wraps around the object creating it like an internal compartment. And that makes a lot of sense because otherwise if you if you engulf something like you were going to eat it, then why would it hang out for a long time? Why wouldn't you just digest it? So the host doesn't then treat it like a swallowed meatball and absorb it as food. The host microbe protects it, gives it nutrients and protection and energy and at this point the swallowed meatball in this metaphor is called an endosymbiont. It's a cell living within another cell. And after a great while, the endosymbiont can no longer live on its own and relies on its host. Of course, this is like generations later. It now needs the host to provide, for example, its tasty meat sauce and those bits of bread inside because it can't make that anymore. It's got to provide that. So this is now considered an obligate endosymbiont for all intents and purposes. It's a new organ but in the case of cells, it's called an organelle, a specialized machine performing a critical task that is inextricably now linked with the biology of the original host. The most celebrated example of this occurred over 2.2 billion years ago and was almost without doubt, I think, one of the most critical evolutionary events in Earth's history. An early Archean microbial cell engulfed a very special bacterium that was the ancestor of our own mitochondria, the so-called powerhouses of the cells.

C: Would you say that mitochondria is more historically, well, I don't know, this is like birds versus whatever monkeys are, but like chloroplasts were also endosymbionts and think about what that allowed for.

B: Stay tuned. Stay tuned, Cara.

C: I was like, you're favoring the mitochondria.

B: And I think I do have a right. I'm just going kind of in historical order but I think this is more important.

S: Bob, were you correct when you said that the Archaea was the host and the bacterium was the mitochondria?

B: Yeah. Yeah.

S: OK.

B: Swallowed a special bacterium that was the ancestor of our own mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells. So the absorbed bacteria was able to utilize that new kid on the block called oxygen back in the day and using oxygen to create tremendous amounts of energy in the form of ATP that the cell, that the bacteria could use. It was able to create so much energy it's thought that some of that energy leaked into the main part of the host cell which was able to use that as well. And I was trying to come up with a really good analogy for this. This was like if a lame chemical rocket absorbed a fusion reactor to create a direct fusion drive rocket. That's what I came up with and I'm standing by it. This endosymbiosis essentially helped set the stage for all that followed, vastly increasing the complexity of life, allowing for the evolution of all multicellular life including fungi, plants, animals, including, of course, people. So for that reason there, Cara, I think this was more important.

C: That's true. Yeah. Everything respires.

B: But a billion years later, another cell engulfed the photosynthesizing bacteria similar to common blue-green algae or otherwise known as cyanobacterium. This bacteria had chloroplasts that allowed the cell to capture sunlight and transform carbon dioxide into carbohydrates, splitting water and releasing oxygen. That is called photosynthesis and that's how plants evolved. So yes, that's another one, another critical example of this point in history in the evolution of life where things would be amazingly different if this did not happen.

C: I'm glad that you specified the mitochondria thing too because I have to tell you, Bob, back when I used to teach like Bio 101, I feel like the most common misconception in lab was plants breathe carbon dioxide and animals breathe oxygen and it's like animals and plants both respire. They both have mitochondria. They both utilize oxygen. It's just that plants also make sugar using carbon dioxide. But I think that's, weirdly, a lot of people are kind of like have a mis... They're misinformed or maybe they misremember what they learned in school about that.

B: Yeah. Yeah. I think so. Yeah. Absolutely. So yes, endosymbiosis is rare and wonderful, huh? As Smaug the Dragon would say. But perhaps we have found another one. This new example involves a species of algae called Browruidosphaera bigelowii. We thought that this algae did what other photosynthetic organisms did to get nitrogen and I got to spend a moment on nitrogen. Nitrogen is truly amazing and more fascinating than I even thought in this application. Nitrogen is critical for life. DNA, amino acids, proteins, they all have nitrogen atoms in their structures. There may be a lot of nitrogen in the air, right? When I think of nitrogen, I think, oh, there's like what, 70 something percent in the air, but it's hard to break apart into molecules. Very hard. In fact, only bacteria can do it. Certain species of bacteria can break that apart. But plants cannot fix nitrogen themselves. That means, you probably hear that a lot, fixing nitrogen. That means that they cannot take atmospheric nitrogen and break it down into a form like ammonia, which can then be used for the critical cellular processes. That's why you keep hearing about nitrogen fertilizers, right? Like manure, chemical fertilizers, and why they're so important for crops. You've got to get that nitrogen in there. They've got to get access so that they can grow and produce whatever they're growing. If there's more nitrogen, they'll grow more of it. It's very important.

E: Bob, if they could pull nitrogen out of the air that way, wouldn't plants overrun everything?

S: No. Because there are plants that, quote unquote, fix nitrogen, but they do it because they have a symbiotic relationship with root bacteria. So there are bacteria that live by the roots that fix nitrogen and then feed it to the plants.

B: Right. And that segues nicely into my next section here, because many plants and algae get their fix, if you will, by entering into this mutual relationship, Steve, with microbes to get access to their fixed nitrogen. So it is this symbiotic relationship. But in those cases, the bacteria are always separate and distinct in this symbiotic relationship. It's just kind of like a handshake, here's some nitrogen, you give me some of this stuff, we're good, see you later. So it's this type of relationship that scientists thought that this algae, this B. bigelowii had with its bacteria, just as kind of like this handshake deal, exchanging nitrogen for whatever, until they took a closer look. They found out that as the algae grows, so did the bacteria that was connected to it. The synchronized growth rates indicates that likely there's some linked metabolisms in play here. Jonathan Zare, a study co-author, said that's exactly what happens with organelles. If you look at the mitochondria and the chloroplasts, it's the same thing. They scale with the cell. So they're seeing this similar scaling with this bacteria and this algae. So that's one. Two, the researchers then used an advanced x-ray machine to show also that replication and cell division were also synchronized between the algae and the bacteria, another critical clue that was very convincing unto itself. And then the final stroke here that they lay out in their papers is that when they compared the proteins created from a removed bacteria, so they took this bacteria and removed it from the algae host, and they looked at the proteins that it created all by itself. And they compared those proteins to the proteins that are created in the algae cell itself. And they show that the isolated bacteria only made about half the proteins that it needed to survive. And that was, to me, that was the final stroke here. The rest of those critical proteins that the bacteria needs to live, it comes from the algae host. So that's pretty much it. As Jonathan Zare said about this, that's one of the hallmarks of something moving from an endosymbiont to an organelle. They start throwing away pieces of DNA, and their genomes get smaller and smaller, and they start depending on the mother cell for those gene products or the protein itself to be transported into the cell. So that's what they found with this relationship, endosymbiotic relationship between the algae and the bacteria, which you can't really even call it algae and bacteria anymore, right? They're not distinct, really, anymore. And this is exactly what—this is what happened in mitochondria. If you look at the mitochondrial DNA, it's a very similar scenario. So it seems pretty clear that the researchers are seeing a modern example of primary endosymbiosis happening. Now, this isn't just happening recently. They suspect it's been going on for 100 million years, but it's still in process. It could specialize and change much more over the next million years. Who knows what it'll be like then? Then I'm thinking, well, all right, this isn't just a cool footnote in algae evolution, you know, and it's like, oh, okay, that's cool. And Steve, I'm sure you'll have a few things to say about this. In terms of the future, if we could learn from this and engineer such an organelle into crop plants, this would absolutely revolutionize agriculture. It'll help with pollution. It'll help with climate change because the way—we produce a lot of chemical fertilizers. I think billions of people on the earth now depend. Something like two and a half, two and three quarter billion people directly depend on chemical fertilizers and the process that we use to create these fertilizers—Steve, you've heard of this, the famous Haber-Bosch process.

E: Oh, yeah.

B: Very, very—it's an amazing process. It's done wonders for agricultural production over the decades, but it's also unsustainable. It's so fossil fuel intensive. It causes nitrogen pollution and algae blooms. It costs billions of dollars a year. So there's a huge price being paid for these chemical fertilizers to get nitrogen and make it available to plants. If they can fix their own nitrogen, all of that, none of that, all of that could go away. And you'd also have a more equitable distribution of these chemical fertilizers because a lot of these chemicals to have this Haber-Bosch process are more northern hemisphere. So you've got these farmers and elsewhere on the planet that they don't have access to it. So in the future, hopefully they won't even need to have access to it because they will also have these crops that can fix their own nitrogen, which would be amazing. They've been trying to do similar sorts of biotechnology for many, many decades because they recognize what an amazing deal this would be if you can make crops fixate their own nitrogen like they're seeing here. And hopefully they'll be able to do that. But it was really interesting. And also, just an interesting aside, there have been a couple of other somewhat strong suspected primary endosymbiotic adaptions that they've noticed with other types of algae and things, but they can't be 100% certain. So now it looks like there's three here that we know for sure. And there's been maybe one or two other times that they're pretty sure. It may be a kind of happen, but they can't be 100% certain. So this endosymbiosis is fascinating and very rare and critical for the evolution, at least for life on Earth.

S: There are research programs looking to basically do genetically engineered crops with the genes for the fixing nitrogen, but forming that symbiotic relationship with the soil bacteria. Imagine if we had wheat that could fix its own nitrogen. Some crops can, like rye famously can. That's why you plant it. Like it's a good winter crop that you plant the rye so that you enrich the soil with nitrogen. But imagine if we could spread that to all of our crop plants, how amazing that would be. GMOs, baby. That's how we're going to get there.

B: Yeah. That's right.

E: The future.

Who's That Noisy? (1:16:00)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Single cicada caught, delivered by a cat

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]

Lots of background noise, but there was a noise inside the noise.

E: It was like an electric charge kind of weird thing.

J: Well a listener named Joe Vanden Eden, Eden, Enden, Vanden Eden.

E: Mr. Christian.

J: I know. It's like, you got to be kidding me. Okay. He said, it's the stridulation of a three-banded grasshopper. Love those little guys. Very crunchy when deep fried, Joe. I will never eat insects deliberately, number one. Number two, it is not a grasshopper, but it was a good guess. Can anybody define the word stridulation?

S: Rubbing their legs together?

J: I'm looking it up right now and it's not.

C: No, I think that is it.

E: Wings?

C: I think it's when they go squeaky, squeaky with their legs.

J: Yeah, I agree. That is incorrect, but a good guess. Another listener named Visto Tutti, Visto. He said, this sounds like the call of chit-chats, a kind of gecko lizard in Southeast Asia. In LAO, they crawl around on the walls and roof of restaurants. Only very rarely will one fall from the ceiling into someone's soup.

E: Oh, I think he meant Laos, but forgot the S. LAO?

J: Okay. All right. Thank you. That clarifies that because I just I read things and I'm like, I don't know what that is, but I'm not going to freak out about it. All right. Visto, that was an interesting guess, but you are incorrect, my friend. Michael Blaney has written in yet again, and Michael says, that sounds like one of those wooden frog things. My mother had one that I used to play with as a kid. The wooden frog has a ridged back and you drag a small wooden stick about the size of a little spoon across its back and it makes a clicking sound. So I have encountered this thing before and I know what that sound is. And again, not a bad guess, but we have a correct guess for this week coming from a listener named Jeremy C. and he says, hi Jay. My guess for this week is, anybody want to take a guess before I tell you? It's a large insect.

C: Cicada?

J: Correct.

C: Yay.

J: So Jeremy guessed correctly. So he has a cat named Neo that caught a single cicada. It was too large for the cat to eat because they have an armor like a beetle and it brought this thing into the house and just sat there with it buzzing in its mouth.

B: Wow.

C: So cute.

J: He didn't know what to do. The cat didn't know what to do with it, tried to play with it and then it got away. So that is correct. Yeah. This is a bug that is about to emerge from the ground not too long from now. And this is a single cicada, so take a listen again. That's what a single one sounds like.

B: Wow.

E: What a million sound like.

J: Yeah, when you get a million of them, it takes on a completely different sound, which is really interesting. First time I heard of a cicada. Guys want to guess?

S: You heard of its existence?

J: Heard of its existence.

S: When you were five?

J: Listening to a Grateful Dead album.

E: Really?

J: He says crickets and cicadas sing a very different tune.

E: Oh yeah.

J: Yeah. And I didn't know what it was. I did not know what he was referring to and I looked it up and I'm like, oh, he's talking about an insect. Very cool.

E: There you go.

J: So anyway, good guess. We are in a world which we share with insects and they are everywhere and there's a ton of different kinds.

E: Oh yeah.

J: And global warming is probably going to increase their numbers. But anyway, I thought that was really cool. And at the time, the backstory here is that this came from a listener named Kathy Taylor and Kathy explains that, let me see here, a video was taken by her son, Finn, who at the time, he was four and a half when he shot this video and recorded the sound here, which I think is really cool. I love it when kids are interested in nature and in science and everything. It's just really cool. So anyway, thanks for that.

New Noisy (1:20:15)[edit]

J: I have a new noisy for this week, guys. Hopefully somebody will be able to figure what the hell this is.

[Slow revving whir]

Do you want to hear it again?

E: Mm-hmm. Yes.

J: [plays Noisy] Okay. If you think you know what this week's Noisy is or you heard something cool, you got to take the chance. Email me at I appreciate any submissions that you guys send in.

Announcements (1:20:42)[edit]

J: So there's a few announcements real quick. Number one, we are in our 20th year as of today.

S: I heard that somewhere.

J: If you listen to this podcast, if you've learned from us, if you think that the work we do is valuable, please consider becoming a patron of ours. We can always use more money to spread more critical thinking around the world. So listen, go to Take a look at what we offer there. But I will tell you, I think the most valuable thing is that we have a wonderful community of incredible people who talk to each other every day on Discord. And lifelong friendships have been made and will be made among these people. And I couldn't speak highly enough of them. So if you're interested, please join us. Become a patron of the SGU and help us continue to do what we do for another 20 years.

B: Another 20?

C: Poor Bob. He's so tired.

B: Jesus.

E: Bob?

J: Bob, you can retire from lots of things, but you are not allowed to retire from the SGU.

B: All right.

E: Bob, you have to be there for our 2000th episode.

B: Oh, boy.

J: Bob, do you belong to the SGU mailing list?

B: Yes, I do get it.

J: Oh, you do? Great. I was about to really get on you about that. All right. Well, how did you join the SGU mailing list, Bob?

B: Somebody did it for me.

J: I guess Ian and I just added you. All right. Well, I guess what I'm trying to get you to say, Bob, is direct people to the homepage where you'll find a button on there where you can join our mailing list every week. Ian, Steve, and I send out a mailer of all the things that we did the previous week. We have a word of the week, and we have little doodads and pictures and fun stuff in there too for you. If you're interested, you can just go to our homepage and join that. Also another quick thing, people find us largely by reading reviews about podcasts. If you have a way to leave us a review on the podcast player that you're using or on iTunes or anything like that, we really appreciate it because it will help other people find our podcast. Steve, have you heard of this place called Chicago?

S: Sounds vaguely familiar.

J: Now, was Chicago part of the original 13 Colonies?

S: No.

J: Well, we will be visiting Chicago as the SGU. This includes Chicago will have all of us, me, Bob, Steve, Evan, Cara, and then George Hrab will be joining us, and Ian will be there hiding his face for the entire weekend. We are going to be doing three different shows in Chicago. So on August 17th, there are two extravaganzas. One of them is sold out. There is an early afternoon. I think it actually starts at 2.30, not 12, like I said before. I'm just working out the details with the promoter here. But we have two shows. One of them is still available. If you're interested, it's going to be early afternoon on that Saturday the 16th. I'm sorry, Saturday the 17th. You can go to, and there's a button there for you to click if you're interested in buying tickets for that show. And on Sunday the 18th, Sunday, August 18th, we will be recording our 1,000th episode. Yes, five-hour show, live in person. We will be having George with us as well to help us go through the years. We'll be recording a full SGU episode, and then we will be talking about lots of stuff about the SGU history, reminiscing, bringing on guests to talk about them being on the show, and interviews, intimate stuff, information you've never heard before. It's just going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be a really, really cool seminal moment, and we want you to join us. If you can, go to and click on that button, and you'll see a way to buy tickets for that show.

S: All right. Thanks, brother.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:24:35)[edit]

Follow-up #1: Rocket Lab Reusable Rockets[edit]

S: One quick follow-up from last week. We were talking about the Rocket Lab, their reusable booster, where it gets picked up by a helicopter. Remember that?

B: Yeah.

E: Yes.

S: And they have done that, and they have done that successfully, but there's an update. They stopped doing that because their hit rate wasn't that great. Sometimes they miss. One time, the helicopter grabbed the rocket but didn't like the way it was hanging and thought it was risky, and so dropped it. So now what Rocket Lab has been doing is just letting them splash down. Now for reusable rockets, if you're going to use part, like one of the boosters or one of the stages or whatever, if you're going to use part of the rocket again, you have to recover it in such a way that it's reusable. We know that SpaceX deals with this by actually having the rocket have enough fuel that it could land again on a platform, right? This was the Rocket Lab's solution was to have it on a parachute and then have the helicopter grab it out of the air, but that's been proving to be too difficult. The third way it would be to have it hit the ground softly enough that it doesn't get damaged, but that's tricky. Or the fourth way would be to have it splash down, but that's maybe even trickier because then it gets exposed to saltwater to seawater, and that can also cause damage. So it's not reusable. Basically like a capsule, like if a capsule splashes down, it's definitely not reusable. At least no currently existing capsule. Just too many electronics and stuff, I guess. What Rocket Lab is saying is that they're they're designing their boosters so that they can survive a splashdown into the ocean and still be refurbishable, reusable. So and they have been investigating the boosters that they've recovered from the ocean, and there's less damage than they thought there was, and they think they may be reusable. They haven't actually reused one yet, but they're working on it. So that's, we'll keep, well, I guess we'll keep you updated on that, if they actually manage to reuse one of their recovered boosters. And of course this is all part of trying to reduce the cost of getting into space, right? The more that you could reuse, the cheaper it is. If everything is a one-off, you're right, those are very, very expensive. Okay, it is time for Science or Fiction.


Science or Fiction (1:27:11)[edit]

Theme: Deciphering jargon Item #1: Efficient spin-up of Earth System Models using sequence acceleration.[6]
Item #2: Multimodal MRI reveals parametric dynamic inhibition of extrapyramidal circuitry.[7]
Item #3: Liquid crystal-integrated metasurfaces for an active photonic platform.[8]
Item #4: Efficient stochastic parallel gradiant descent training for on-chip optical processor.†† [9][10]

†† This item was not part of the three SOF items Steve used for the game.

Answer Item
Fiction Multimodal MRI
Science Efficient spin-up
LC-integrated metasurfaces
Host Result
Steve clever
Rogue Guess
Efficient spin-up
LC-integrated metasurfaces
Multimodal MRI
Multimodal MRI

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine and one fictitious, and I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. There is a theme this week, again, three news items, but with a theme. I've been planning on doing this one for a while, but I came across an article doing my research, and I'm like, yeah, I'm going to do it. I'm going to pull the trigger on this. So here are three news items. What I'm going to give you is the actual title of the published study. That's it. I'm not going to describe it for you. I'm not going to summarize it for you. I'm just going to give you the title of the published study.

C: Oh, no. Any of these could be science.

E: Oh, gosh.

S: So this is to see whether or not you can parse the jargon. Do you think this is real, or did I make one of these up? Okay? Are you ready?

C: Uh-huh.

E: Bob is.

S: Here you go. Item number one. These are titles. Item number one, Efficient Spin-Up of Earth System Models Uses Sequence Acceleration. Item number two, Multimodal MRI Reveals Parametric Dynamic Inhibition of Extrapyramidal Circuitry. And item number three, Liquid Crystal Integrated Metasurfaces for an Active Photonic Platform. All right, Jay, hit it.

Jay's Response

J: All right. First one here. Efficient Spin-Up of Earth System Models Using Sequence Acceleration. It doesn't sound too impossible. All right, next one. Multimodal MRI Reveals Parametric Dynamic Inhibition of Extrapyramidal Circuitry. Okay, third one. Liquid Crystal Integrated Metasurfaces for an Active Photonic Platform. I think number three is definitely science. Yep, I really believe that that one is, because I could totally understand what that's saying. The first one, Efficient Spin-Up of Earth System Models Using Sequence Acceleration. I don't know. I mean, the second one, the Multimodal MRI Reveals Para... What the hell? But of course, because it's super hard to explain and there's lots of words in there that most people just don't really know what the hell, that would be the exact one I think Steve would be like, oh man, you're really going to think this one, right? Damn. I mean, so between one and two for me, and I think number one is BS, the Efficient Spin-Up of Earth System Models, because I don't think that anything spins up when it comes to the earth. That's it.

S: Okay, Evan?

Evan's Response

E: All right. Efficient Spin-Up of Earth System Models Using Sequence Acceleration. That one makes kind of sense to me in a way. I'm guessing it kind of what spin-up means here. So I guess if you're going to... Earth System Models, right? I don't know. Does this have to do with figuring out other planets around the galaxy or wherever? So if you're going to kind of figure out how that planet perhaps came to be, you would use a spin-up program using sequence acceleration so you could, I don't know, get to the final stage in a faster way. In a way, that kind of makes sense to me. The second one about Multimodal MRI, all right, that's okay, reveals Parametric Dynamic Inhibition... See, that's where this falls apart for me. I don't know that. Parametric Dynamic Inhibition of Extrapyramidal Circuitry. So yeah, that one, I think I'm in agreement with Jay that that one's the most gobbledygookish of all three of these, therefore it's likely science. And the last one, I'm left with the last one, kind of this Liquid Crystal Integration Metasurfaces for an Active Photonic Platform. Liquid Crystal like LCD, Liquid Crystal Display, Integrated Metasurfaces, I don't know, like a tablet for an Active Photonic Platform, lights, I don't know. I think that one's the fiction, Steve, just because the other two, I'm a little more sure of.

S: Okay. Cara?

Cara's Response

C: Efficient Spin-Up of Earth System Models Using Sequence Acceleration. Okay. So I don't know what a spin-up is, but yeah, right? And Earth System Models Using Sequence Acceleration. Okay. But if that's a verb, then okay, this one is doing something. Multimodal MRI Reveals Parametral MRI Reveals Parametric Dynamic Inhibition. Okay. Dynamic inhibition makes sense. Parametric is probably just some stupid measurement word to make it sound smarter. Of extra-parameter circuitry. I think you can see that circuitry on an MRI, but I feel like this one's missing a verb. Like, okay, so the MRI is revealing inhibition of circuitry. Why? I would think that the study wouldn't be, hey, look, the MRI can see that there's inhibition of the circuitry. It would be like following this drug use or as a function of a disease thing, like as a function of Alzheimer's or something like that. So that seems like it's missing something. Liquid Crystal Integrated Metasurfaces for an Active Photonic Platform. That one feels okay, Liquid Crystal Integrated Metasurfaces. Oh, you know I hate material science. So wonky. For an Active Photonic Platform. Okay, so basically they're saying we use this material, these surfaces, in order to make a platform for this. So yeah, the one that bugs me and also the one that I feel like the gobbledygook is right up Steve's alley would be the neuro one in the middle. And so I'm going to... Why don't we spread out so that we don't get [swept]. I'm going to go with that one as the first one.

S: Okay. And Bob, no help. They're all over the place.

Bob's Response

B: Yeah. All right. Efficient Spin-Up. Yeah, that's kind of vague. Of Earth System Models. So what does that mean? So is that like an Earth-Moon system model that incorporates maybe, I don't know, satellites orbiting the Earth or Lagrange points or near-Earth orbiting asteroids? I don't know. But it seems like a fairly basic system if it's just the Earth System Models. Or maybe it's bigger. Maybe it includes other planets, but then they wouldn't call it Earth System Models. That one's kind of weird. And Sequence Acceleration. What the hell does that mean? Let's see. I'm going to go to three Liquid Crystal Integrated Metasurfaces for an Active Photonic Platform. This makes a lot of sense to me. Liquid Crystal. So these are integrated into a metasurface. So you've got components that are at the nanoscale so that it can interact with light. And then, of course, the last half here, Active Photonic Platform. So this makes perfect sense. So it's some sort of exotic metasurface, similar to a metamaterial. But there's also metasurfaces. So it's a nanoscale. So that one makes a lot of sense. I know when Steve, he picked it, he created that out of nothing just so it would grab me as being clearly realistic. But the second one, yeah, the second one definitely was bugging me more than even the first one. Multimodal MRI. What does that mean? I mean, it's an MRI, but multimodal means that it's incorporating other aspects beyond an MRI or using other types of MRIs that work together. Parametric Dynamic Inhibition. So there's a dynamic inhibition of... And then this is the word that gets me, and I'm thinking it might even be a typo. Cara, you pronounce that word as extra pyramidal, but this is extra pyramidal. This is a pyramid.

C: Pyramidal.

S: It's extra pyramidal. It's extra pyramidal.

C: It's a type of cell.

B: So it's a typo.

S: No.

C: No. No, it's a type of cell.

S: No.

C: That's a real word.

E: She's saying type of, not typo.

C: Yeah, it's not a typo. That is a type of cell.

B: That helps because if it's not a typo and it has anything to do with parameters or pyramids, because if it had anything to do with pyramids, I was like, no, there's no extra pyramidal circuitry that I've ever heard of.

E: There is on Mars though.

B: So if that's legit, it still seems off more so than even the other ones. It could also be this damn Earth system model.

E: Remember the game, Bob. Remember the game.

B: Oh, yeah. I'm always trying to read into what Steve is doing to screw me over yet again, but that often fails.

E: Yes.

B: So I can't –

E: This game is a personal front to you.

B: I can't metagame. I can't metagame because that doesn't help. So I'll go with the multimodal MRIs. That still seems wacky, a little bit more wacky than the first one. So I'll say that one's fiction.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Okay. You guys are all over the place.

C: Pyramidal cells are shaped like pyramids. They are shaped like pyramids. That's why they're called pyramidal cells.

B: Extra – cool. All right.

S: This is the extra pyramidal circuitry, which is a different part of the brain, which –

C: Which is outside of – yeah.

S: Which modifies the –

E: Now if it was hyperpyramidal, then –

B: I've never heard of extra pyramidal cells, but this is circuitry.

C: Yeah. So it's made up of those cells. Anyway.

S: Okay. We'll start with number one. Efficient spin-up of Earth system models using sequence acceleration. Jay, you think this one is the fiction. Everyone else thinks this one is science. And this one is science. This is science. So, yeah.

B: Oh, good.

S: Yeah. This is science. So you're good.

B: What does that mean?

S: Yeah. So what does it mean? So efficient just means efficient, right? It does it faster, better.

B: Whoa.

S: Spin-up. So the word spin-up is used to define the training period of these models. And this is a weather model, right?

E: Oh.

B: Oh!

S: So when they make a weather – when they make a model that models Earth system weather climate, they have to first run it for months just so that it settles into an accurate simulation of pre-industrial weather.

E: Like a calibration?

S: Kind of. Exactly. It's kind of like a calibration. They make sure that the simulation is stable and simulating pre-industrial weather. And then they can introduce new parameters to see what happens, right?

E: Like throwing a bunch of carbon into the air.

S: So that's the – yeah. So that's the spin-up phase. And yeah, it takes a really long time. So what they found was a way to accelerate the spin-up phase so that it takes – it's ten times faster. It only takes weeks instead of months. Or they say under a week instead of many months, it takes under a week. So that's a huge – hugely increase in efficiency. And they're using a mathematical doohickey known as sequence acceleration, which I don't understand well enough to explain to you. I tried, but I just said forget it. It's a mathematical doohickey. All right?

E: I know what doohickey means.

S: So I mean if I had enough time to like really read into it over and over again, I probably would get it. But I think that's all you need to know. That's the method that it's using in order to make these models more efficient at settling in on an accurate model of the pre-industrial climate system. So efficient spin-up of Earth system models using sequence acceleration. Make sense?

E: Does now.

S: Okay. So let's go on.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Number two. Multimodal MRI reveals parametric dynamic inhibition of extrapyramidal circuitry. Bob and Cara, you think this one is the fiction. Jay and Evan, you think this one is science. And this one is the fiction.

E: Aww. You went for the obvious. High five, Cara. Boom.

C: Yeah.

S: So multimodal MRI is real. Right? And in fact, this was inspired by a real article that started with multimodal MRI. I'm like, all right, I'll start with that and I'll just make up everything else.

B: How is it multimodal?

S: It uses multiple mutually informative probes to understand brain structure and function. So basically using different modes, right? Because MRI has a lot of modes, lots of different ways that you can use the magnetic field in terms and the radio sequences that you give in terms of like the duration and the relaxation phase and the processing and whatever. There's all kinds of sequences, different modes that we use for MRI scan that reveal different things. So if you use multimodal, it's like looking at the same tissue, but it's like under these different windows. So you get better information. Parametric I just threw in there because it sounds cool, but it's basically a parametric just as a parameter that you measure, you know. Although it does have a specific meaning, I think in electronics. So the definition is assumed relating to or expressed in terms of a parameter or parameters. But in electronics, it means relating to or denoting a process in which amplification or frequency conversion is obtained using a device modulated by a pumping frequency, which enables power to be transferred from the pumping frequency to the signal. Got it? But in any case, it doesn't mean anything. Dynamic inhibition. So the extra-parameter circuitry is real, right? This is the extra-parameter system and this...

C: And dynamic inhibition is real, right?

S: Dynamic inhibition is real. I just threw them together. And in fact, most of the circuitry in the extra-parameter system is inhibitory.

E: Well, this is what I was thinking.

S: So it is sort of all semi-plausible but yeah, it's ultimately...

C: But it doesn't say anything. It says an MRI saw inhibition in a brain.

E: But how many...

C: Why would you publish that? But why? Why did it see it?

S: Maybe the new bit is that it's dynamic. I don't know.

C: It said it's parametric.

S: It's parametric and dynamic, Cara. That's the new bit.

B: I would think inhibition sounds like the key word there in terms of significance.

C: Yeah, but not if that part of the brain has always been somewhat inhibitory.

S: There's a lot of inhibitory circuitry in the extra-parameter system.

C: Yeah. So it's like, okay, we saw the brain doing what it does.

S: But dynamically. All right.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: Item number three, liquid crystal integrated metasurfaces for an active photonic platform. So, Bob, you basically nailed it. This is real. Metasurfaces are real. Liquid crystal integrated metasurfaces are real. Photonic platform is real. Metasurfaces are basically using surfaces structured at the nanoscale in order... Like very regularly, very detailed in order to create behavior that you wouldn't normally have. And this is sort of the biggest...

B: Yeah, you wouldn't see that in nature.

S: The biggest thing in photonics now is using metasurfaces and metamaterial, et cetera. So, yeah.

B: Oh, yeah. They've got a big, big future. Huge. Huge. That's where some sci-fi shit's gonna be coming from, like stuff like, whoa, didn't see that one coming.

E: Dynamic and parametric.

S: I almost used this one, but it also had the word efficient in it. I didn't want to repeat it. Efficient stochastic parallel gradient descent training for on-chip optical processor.

B: Wow.

S: That would have been a good one. This was fun. This may happen again.

B: Yeah. I like that. I like that. No, I...

E: Oh, thanks for the warning it'll happen.

B: I like it because it's something that we could actually suss out. If you actually have some knowledge, you could potentially...

E: What are you saying, Bob? Me and Jay are crippled here?

B: No, I'm just saying that a lot of the news items, it's like, there's no way to plausibly kind of like figure out if it's a real news item.

C: Yeah, sometimes that's the case because it'll be like, researchers did a thing and it's like, well, yeah, any researcher could have done a thing.

S: Yeah. I quit your complaining. I usually include some thing in there that you could think you're seeing.

E: Substance. Yeah.

B: You do it sometimes.

E: Do it in order of magnitude.

S: It's more or less plausible or whatever, but yeah, sometimes you just got to know the item, you know? Absolutely. Evan, you're so easy.

Silly phrase, "Absolutely"[edit]

E: Here's the thing. I think it'll be a good time in Chicago for us to explain perhaps some of our inside jokes and things we laugh.

S: I don't even know if you know the origin of that phrase.

C: I don't know the origin in any of them, so it'll be a great learning experience for me.

E: We'll have to talk about it.

S: My wife and I were watching a play at the Yale Rep, and it was just this really bizarre play. And it was fun. That was really fun. There was this one crazy character who I think was Irish, had this wacky hairdo. And all he would do, he would just, whenever anybody said something, he would go, absolutely. That's stupendous. You know? He'd just say like these one-word hype phrases, you know? It just sticks in your head, you know? So I've just been saying it for 20 years, absolutely.

E: I love it.

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

E: All right.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:44:58)[edit]

Large complex systems which suppose the existence of an objective reality work very well. Any attempt to throw out the idea of objective reality still has to explain why these things work.

 – Scotty Hendricks, American writer

E: "Large, complex systems which suppose the existence of an objective reality work very well. Any attempt to throw out the idea of objective reality still has to explain why these things work." And that was written by a fellow named Scotty Hendricks. And he's just a writer on things. Here's what he says. I use my knack for making complex concepts accessible to my readers in hopes of introducing them to big ideas and recent discoveries they ought to know about. So I'm glad he does that. I looked up this quote because, again, this is talking about kind of our 1,000th show coming up and we're going to be talking a lot kind of about our history in a sense. And the first skeptic lecture that I attended, Steve, was a lecture that you gave at the Cheshire, Connecticut Library, 1996, which something was stuck with me from the very beginning in which you said that skeptics – the philosophy of skepticism has – makes a couple of assumptions. One that the universe is knowable. And the second thing is that there is objective reality. And when you said that, I had to really stop and think about that, about objective reality because I had never thought about that before. It just made such an impression on me, like right out of the gate, that my gosh, kind of duh, of course, but at the same time, I had given it zero thought up until that point, until you mentioned it. And it's stuck with me ever since. So I went and looked up some quotes about objective reality.

S: That's a good quote. I love it. Very well put. Yeah, so that's one of the fun things about philosophy is explicitly stating these really precise concepts that have just been on the edge of your awareness until it was crystallized, right, in this perfect terminology. As you say, like Daniel Dennett, getting back to him, he uses all this jargon. That's because they mean something very specific, right? It's like the good use, the proper use of jargon in order to make your ideas, your thinking more precise and more meaningful, not just to obfuscate them with flowery words, right? So yeah, and this quote is a really good choice, Evan, because I think that this is the science works idea, right? You have to acknowledge that science works. One of my current favorite examples is we crammed a bunch of chemicals into a rocket and put some electronics on top of it and lit the fuse. And then years later, got back high definition pictures of Pluto. And it was, you think of all the science and modeling and physics and math and everything that went into that feat, right? Getting those pictures back, a lot of stuff that we think we know about the universe has to be true in order for that to have happened. We got to be doing something right, you know? And there's really nothing else that people do that humanity has ever done, which comes anywhere close to that kind of validation, right?

B: What about divine inspiration?

E: Still working on that.

C: I feel like the MRA vaccines have been a really good example of that as well.

S: Sure. There's lots of examples. That's just like a really poetic one, I think.

C: Totally. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

S: Absolutely.

C: Absolutely.

S: Absolutely.

B: Yeah, we've been saying that since the very earliest days. Science delivers the goods.

S: Science delivers the goods. Yeah, that's a Carl Sagan quote.

J: It says it so freaking well. It just says it.

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

J: You got it brther.

B: Sure, man.

E: Thank you, Steve.

C: Thanks, Steve.


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

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


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[11]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description


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