SGU Episode 985

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SGU Episode 985
May 25th 2024
985 Canola.jpg

Canola field in spring bloom.
(Photo credit: R. Myers)

SGU 984                      SGU 986

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

Yogi Berra, American baseball catcher

Links
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


Introduction, Jay's kitchen cabinet[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 22nd, 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: So, Jay, how's your kitchen doing over there? I saw some disturbing pictures.

J: Very funny.

E: What?

J: Yeah, I sent you, I texted all you guys some pictures. So I had something extraordinarily weird happen today in my house. So my kids just got home from school and I'm like downstairs I'm working up all day and then when they get home, that's when I'm like, okay, I'll go down. I'll spend a couple hours with them or I might have to prep dinner. I hear like the sound that plywood makes when it starts to buckle like that crinkly cracking.

C: Mm-hmm.

J: And it has a very specific sound and I'm like, so I turn around, my plywood is breaking. I turn around.

E: Is that like the boat in Jaws when the shark is in the boat or something kind of like that?

J: So I see a cabinet of mine that's to the right of my sink, like in mid fall.

C: (gasps)

J: Yes. Yes.

C: And these are the high cabinets.

J: These are the high cabinets.

C: Not the low cabinets.

E: The one that's above the counter.

J: So this cabinet holds my plates, my bowls, and all of my cups for coffee and tea and all my coffee paraphernalia that my wife and I have collected over the years because we've become like we're like, we have an espresso machine. Like we have, it's my brother-in-law's fault. It's a long story anyway. So I see this, now what, guys, you know me. What's the first thing that I do? Like immediately, I have a second to react. What do I do?

S: Throw your hands up in the air. I'm screaming like a monkey.

J: So I plug my ears because I have hearing loss from being in a band for 20 frickin' years. So I'm very protective of my ears I'm like, I don't want to hear anything too loud. So I'm immediately like, ah and I plug my ears and I totally missed it. Like I didn't hear like the high volume, but the sound was so unbelievably loud that both of my kids immediately just decompressed. They start crying.

C: Aw.

J: So they, they're freaking out. So I knew what happened. I didn't even have to see it happen. Like I'm like, I watch it and then I run in because I hear my kids crying and I run in and I'm like hugging them. I'm like, it's okay. It's okay. Don't worry about it. I'm like, the only thing that matters is none of us got hurt. It's no big deal. Who cares? It can all be replaced. It was just a loud noise but it's scary. They were really shaking, you know.

C: It's just out of the blue?

J: Yeah. Out of the blue. I mean, that's it. Like, but there's weird circumstances around this. Like this is all coincidence. I'm a skeptic. I don't believe anything is going on, but, but I will tell you that.

C: But you have a ghost.

E: But those ghosts. Those ghosts.

J: But two days ago, my wife, well, my wife and I had been talking for the past month about stuff we want to get done around the house, right? So she says to me two days ago, as a follow-up to a conversation we've been having about our kitchen, because we were thinking about, like, extending the island in our kitchen and getting some, like lower cabinets and then maybe build a coffee bar so that we could decouple the coffee from everything else and just have it in its own space, right? But to me, there's, we're, this is fantasizing we're not 100% on any of this stuff. She says to me, Jay, you see that cabinet? The cabinet that fell off the wall, right? You see that cabinet? We should just get rid of that cabinet and extend the window in the kitchen so we have more light in the kitchen.

C: And your house was like, I'll make it easy for you.

J: Yeah. I haven't cleaned it up yet because I called a company that we used to do mold remediation for us. They do restoration. And the guy's like, don't touch anything. You know, he was like, you could sweep up, like, the outskirt debris, but leave it all. I'll be there tomorrow morning. I'll take the pictures for you and I'll talk to your insurance company for you. So it's all there right now. And of course, like, it's freaking me out because I'm like, the mess must be cleaned, you know?

C: Put some drop cloths over it or something.

E: No, you treat it like a crime scene. Throw some yellow tape.

C: Little cones.

J: But a few things. One, builders buy the cheapest, absolute cheapest stuff they can get their hands on. When you buy a house from a builder, if you're not, like, talking to them directly about the budget and you're telling them, I want these cabinets, they buy the cheapest, like, absolute, like, toothpick quality cabinets, you know?

S: It's literally called contractor grade.

C: Yeah.

S: If you go to Home Depot, there's, like, I remember there was in the lighting section and they had, like, one of these just outdoor light fixtures and it literally said, like, contractor light and it costs, like, five bucks. And I noticed it because the same light I have on my house, which I was replacing because it's a $5 piece of crap. But yeah, if you get your house on spec, where, like, they basically just build it and you buy it as is, it's all the cheap shit.

C: That's what I did. I've been having to replace so many things in my house.

S: If you get a custom where you're, like, I want this fixture, I want that, then, of course, you pay for every single thing you upgrade.

J: Yeah. I mean, look, let's face it. Like, if you buy hardwood cabinets, like, real hardwood, they're super expensive. You know, $50,000 plus for a normal size kitchen to put nice higher end cabinetry in there. Yeah. So these cabinets were made out of press board like that. It paints fine. You know, it looks good.

C: Press board? Is that what you guys call MDF?

J: Yeah. MDF.

E: Particle board?

J: Particle board, press board.

C: I've never heard the term press board in my life. Is that an East Coast, like, colloquialism?

J: It's old school.

B: No, it's not.

J: That's from the 70s. Oh, it's old school.

C: Oh, okay.

J: That's old school.

B: I never even heard of that. Particle board is what we call it.

S: We used to call it particle board.

C: So, Jay. When I was living in an apartment when I first moved into LA with my old roommate, in the middle of the night, we heard that same sound because this piece of furniture that was mounted to the wall, it was kind of like a wall-mounted cabinet to put, like, my roommate's wine glasses and wine bottles and stuff in, crashed to the ground during an earthquake. And it's like this, and then there's glass everywhere, just like your kitchen looks. I mean, yours is worse because that was like a huge cabinet. But it scared the living shit out of me. Like being woken up or just hearing that sound out of a blue, because I don't often hear, I don't feel the shakiness of earthquakes very often. They have to be pretty bad for me to feel them.

S: But Cara, you're used to being woke, right?

C: I'm used to being woke? And getting up by broken glass. Yes, both. But yes, it's scary. It's really scary. I may have had the same reaction as your children.

J: Yeah.

S: Yeah.

J: Well, it's a thunderous, percussive sound. There are bass notes in this. It's not like, la, la, la. It'll rock the house. The floor shook. I felt the floor shake.

C: Yeah. It sounds like something's crashing through your walls.

J: Yeah. Yeah. And you know what sucks about that type of flatware? It's made out of porcelain. They're coated in porcelain. The inside's probably clay. But Jesus, when that stuff cracks, it flies everywhere.

E: And flakes.

J: It flakes and goes everywhere.

S: So one time, not too long ago, I asked myself, all right, it's 20-whatever, 2020, what kind of space-age dish material science are we working with now, right? What is the cutting edge? I want unbreakable but pretty Chinaware. And the cutting edge is still Corningware. It's still this 50-year-old material science or whatever that is, 60-year-old, whatever that is.

C: I think there have been improvements in the plastic ones.

S: Well, there's the melamine was the other one. It's not great, and it's not dishwasher-safe officially. But it's fine.

C: There's a new one that's like, I can't remember, it's made out of wheat fibre or something like that, that looks like melamine, and it looks more high-end. But it still feels like plastic, so it's not what you would want for your dishes.

S: Yeah, it doesn't have the look and feel of stoneware, but you're like, we can't make unbreakable plates in 2024. I mean, come on.

E: Titanium.

C: I mean, metal plates, I guess.

B: Steve, I don't know about you, mine's made out of chrome metal, man.

S: Yeah, chrome metal will do it.

J: Well, so three things survived the crash.

E: Okay.

J: Okay.

S: You're digging it?

J: My wife and I have had, we used to have, a lot of really awesome mugs that we've collected throughout the years. Like I had, Bob, I know this is going to make you very sad, I had a mug of Bob's daughter when she was a baby, basically like, it was like an uncle mug I love you, you're my uncle, that type of thing. I bought Courtney an ElfQuest design that I made, I bought it on like, I made the mug myself I ordered it special with an ElfQuest design on it for my wife. That's gone.

B: You had somebody else make it for her.

J: And then I had all of these Star Wars mugs that you can't get anymore.

E: Oh.

J: You know, and they're all obliterated. So here's what survived. A really hokey looking Star Wars mug that has Baby Yoda and the Mandalorian, like, it's like basically like a triangular pattern of their heads. I don't like it. It's like a really stupid design.

C: You may not like it, but you're going to be drinking out of it.

J: That frigging mug came out like a champ.

E: Bad mug shot.

J: And then, and then what was the other frigging mug? I hate it. It's like this teal blue Stormtrooper mug. I'm like, oh my god.

E: I hate Mondays.

J: I had two jars of honey that are still there underneath everything. Like they're literally flattened by this. Like, so I don't know what it's doing on my hardwood floor, but I got to leave it. Yeah, it sucks.

Steve's Starlinked cabin, etc. (10:04)[edit]

S: So quickly, guys, I got Starlink.

C: Oh, cool. For your house?

S: Well, not for my...

B: You're supporting those satellites?

S: Not for my main house. My wife and I bought a summer cottage in New Hampshire from her cousin. Basically keep it in the family kind of thing her cousin was going to sell it. They didn't want to leave the family. So we agreed to buy it. But anyway, so it basically there's no internet at this place. And there's no option for internet.

C: Yeah, I have a friend in rural Scotland. He had to do Starlink for that reason. It's amazing.

S: It's amazing. I got it.

C: It's like, it's really...

E: Damn it.

S: I got it. And I had to test it out because I'm going there this weekend. I needed to know if I'm going to be able to upload the show on Saturday, you know?

C: Right.

E: Right.

S: So I tested it out. And at least here in Connecticut, I think it should be the same everywhere. It shouldn't matter where you are. That's kind of the point is that I had 50 megabytes per second download and 25 upload, which is perfectly fine. And it's just this thing I set on my deck, you know what I mean? It's very, I have to say, it's very impressive.

C: It's portable too. I know a lot of people I got into like souping up my truck and the roof tent and all that. I know a lot of people who put Starlink on their like vans or their trucks so they can just have internet wherever they are.

S: I know. It's 90 bucks a month in my location. Some locations have 120. I think it depends on how highly or low served you are or something. So it's between 90 and $120 a month. But here's the thing, no contract. You do it monthly. You just pay for it when you want to pay for it, which is perfect because we're only going to be there for three months a year or whatever. I don't have to pay for it or turn it off or anything.

B: Wow. How big is it?

S: It's not big.

C: It's like a satellite dish, right?

S: No, no. It's flat. It's flat.

C: It's flat. Okay.

S: And it's like a cookie pan. You know what I mean? Kind of size, like maybe like twice the size as a sheet of paper kind of thing or four of them.

C: I was just about to Google it, Steve. Do you guys ever do this? I was about to Google Starlink receiver and I wrote cookie link receiver.

S: Yeah. Your brain crosswires. I do that all the time. Sometimes I think faster than I type a little bit and I'm starting to type a word I'm thinking of like in the middle of a sentence.

C: So silly.

S: But yeah. And I was thinking of that very thing. It's like it would not suck to just have this in your car because-

C: Yep.

E: Right.

C: Because you will always have internet.

S: I know. I know.

E: If you can afford it.

S: Seriously, if you're going on a long road trip, I would 100% put that in my car for a long time.

B: Oh, yeah.

C: Especially if you're only having to pay for it.

S: Yeah. You pay for it for the month.

C: When you're using it.

S: Or whatever.

C: Yeah. That's nice.

E: And how long did it take you to get after you bought the subscription?

S: Five days.

C: Yeah. I think it's a lot easier now than it was when it first came out, it was a whole thing. They were only serving areas that were like had the need.

S: Yeah. It's not the whole world yet, but it's getting close. It's all of North America is covered.

C: And a lot of rural areas around the world.

S: Yeah.

C: Which is nice.

E: Well, that was the point, right? To service places that can't have it.

S: Yeah. And it is a valuable service. I remember when we were visiting Hawaii, like we were on one of the islands, and they're like, this half of the island has no internet. Like it just has no internet.

C: Yep.

S: But now it does. All right. Let's get started.

What's the Word? (13:28)[edit]

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

C: Yeah. So the word this week is zoas. Oh, shit. I got to listen to it again. Give me a second.

S: I was going to say, did you look up how to pronounce it?

C: I did. And I've already forgotten.

E: Pronunciation.

C: The word this week is Zooxanthellae. And this word was recommended by my friend, Sarah, who is an ocean science expert, because I forgot that I had to do a what's the word this week, or that I get to do a what's the word this week. And I was like, quick, weird science words from the ocean. Zooxanthellae is a word that you may not have heard, but you know what it is. So these are phytoplankton. They're sort of in the group that are called dinoflagellates. And they live in symbiosis with marine invertebrates. One of them is a very famous marine invertebrate that is very colorful and is able to feed itself with the help of Zooxanthellae. And when they leave, those things become, "bleached". What is that?

E: Coral.

C: Coral. Yeah. So these are the things that allow coral to thrive. They live inside of not just corals, but some sponges, jellyfish, and nudibranchs. And they're yellowish brownish in color. And they utilize the process of photosynthesis. And so because they've got those chlorophylls, the chlorophyll A and B and a couple of other pigments as well, which kind of cause them to be that yellow-brown color, they're able to basically, in a symbiotic way, provide the coral with sugars, amino acids, these different products of photosynthesis, which then it uses to make proteins and fats and carbohydrates, and even produce that calcium carbonate that they need. And in return, the coral give the Zooxanthellae this protected environment that's elevated so that they can receive sunlight, which is necessary for them to utilize that photosynthesis. And when I dug up the, because I've got to do the etymology, I found that it's pretty straightforward, right? So it comes from the ancient Greek, the sort of prefix of the word Zoo, Z-O-O, right? Like zoo means animal, which is funny, because they're plants, technically. And but they're like, they're like little animacules. But yeah, I think they're actually within the, technically, are they within the plant kingdom?

S: The phytoplankton, I think are.

C: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, because I think plankton are not, but phytoplankton are plants. And so yeah, so they're little teeny tiny, like single-celled plants.

B: Base of the food chain, right?

C: Yeah, I mean, pretty much they're, they're down there. Not quite like bacteria, but yeah, they're, they're sometimes free floating, but very often living in symbiosis with these other animals providing that service. The middle part of the word Xanthos, do you guys know what that means? Xantho?

S: Yellow?

C: Yellow. Mm hmm. Yep. It's from the Greek for yellow. And then the end part of the word ella or elli is just a common word forming unit that you see at the ends of words very often to denote that something is a microbe. Usually it's used for bacteria, but you'll see it for other things as well.

S: Yeah, I know the Xanth prefix because of xanthochromia, which is a finding, when we do a lumbar puncture, we look at the spinal fluid. Spinal fluid should be clear like water. If it looks yellow, if it's xanthochromic, that means there's a chronic blood in there. There's blood that's been there long enough to break down and then tinge at yellow.

C: Interesting.

S: Yeah. Xanthochromia.

C: Yeah, and you do hear the word, the xanthem, like a lot within like chemistry, material science, physics, yeah, xanth. Xanth means yellow. Who knew? I guess we knew.

S: Yep. All right. Thanks, Cara.

News Items[edit]

Blue Origin Update (17:35)[edit]

S: Jay, give us an update on Blue Origin.

J: So yeah, Blue Origin, they successfully resumed their human space flights after a brief hiatus. It was almost two years.

S: Yeah. 22 months.

J: Yeah. This new mission is called NS25. It launched on May 19th of this year. The mission is Blue Origin's first crewed launch since August 2022, and there were six passengers on this suborbital flight aboard the New Shepard rocket capsule system. So the time off that they took was due to an uncrewed mission failure back in September of 2022. The New Shepard rocket, unfortunately, it had a serious anomaly resulting in the destruction of its first stage booster, which is serious, very serious. The capsule, however, was able to land safely under the parachutes, which is fantastic. It goes to show you how the engineers, they over-designed the spacecraft to be able to handle situations like this, and it was able to recover. They had to ground the New Shepard, and it took over a year for Blue Origin to investigate everything that led up to it, and it ended up being a thermostructural failure in the rocket's engine nozzle. I tried to find out more detail about that. Apparently, there are panels that separate hot parts from cold parts and that type of thing, and there was an issue with that. So the rocket was cleared for flight again after an uncrewed mission in December of 2023. So it checked out back then, and it took them this long to plan everything and get it ready. So the NS-25 mission launched at 10.37 a.m. Eastern Time from the Blue Origin's West Texas site on board were the following people. So you guys ever hear of Ed Dwight? He is a 90-year-old sculptor. He's also an author, and he's a former U.S. Air Force captain. He was the United States' first black astronaut candidate in the late 60s. I think JFK, actually, back in 61, he wanted him to enter the Aerospace Research Pilot School, or he helped him get in there. So it was really cool. Like he's actually a historical figure. Next person was Mason...

S: But he never flew until this flight.

J: I don't think he did, Steve.

S: He did. They're telling you that he never flew until this flight.

J: Mason Angel, who is a venture capitalist, was on board. Sylvain Chiron, a French craft-brewing millionaire. Kenneth L. Hess, who's an entrepreneur. Daryl Schaller, a retired accountant. And Gopi Thakkaru, a pilot and aviator. Now, who are these people? These are all people who paid to be on the flight, because most of the people here have to pay, and this is the beginning of space tourism. So during this mission, the crew, they did have a brief period of weightlessness, and they were able to view the Earth from space. You know, go figure, guys, the Earth checks out. It's round. It's got curves. They reached a maximum altitude of 65.7 miles, or 105 kilometers. It was a short trip, just under 10 minutes from takeoff to landing. They touched down safely. You know, it was very non-eventful. Two of the three parachutes deployed, and it was no problem. It can land safely with two parachutes. So this mission was Blue Origin's 25th New Shepard launch and its seventh crewed flight. The other 18 missions were uncrewed research flights. Now despite the successful mission, Blue Origin has not disclosed the price for the seats. They don't do that, but there's ways to find out. So in 2021, a seat was auctioned off for how much do you think, guys, what was it auctioned off for?

C: $10,000.

S: $28 million.

C: Jeez.

B: $50.

C: I'm like, $10,000?

J: Good guess, Steve. Yeah.

C: $10 million.

J: It was $28 million. It was a fundraising event. It was for fundraising.

E: $28 million. Oh.

C: That's how much all the seats cost.

J: And that's considered to be exceptionally high. It was a Space Flight Now charity auction. But typically from 2018 on, prices have been between $200,000 and $300,000. And there's another figure I found that said that there was a ticket that also sold for $1.25 million. So the prices vary wildly. You know, $200,000, that is a lot of money for 10 minutes. But I mean, there's people that have it, that $200,000 isn't that much money, and they want to get up there and they want to see the Earth. I've been thinking a lot about this space tourism thing. So it's really starting to take off now. There is a competitor out there, right, Virgin Galactic, and they charge about a half a million, you know, $450,000 up for a ride in their VSS Unity space plane. And they have another mission coming up on June 8th of this year that people apparently have tickets for. So this is cool. You know, it's really good to have multiple companies that are building systems that are space worthy for emergencies or for whatever it's just good to have the competition out there, it keeps prices low, relatively low, you have to be super rich to be able to do any of this stuff. But still, it's generating money for these companies that they fold back into these programs. It's all really cool. And I just keep in mind, I want to make sure you understand, these are suborbital flights, there's no orbits happening, just go up and they come down.

S: Yeah, that's why it's called the New Shepard Shepard was the first American into space and it was a suborbital flight. Their new system that they're working on, they've been working on for years, is the New Glenn, which will be orbital. Yeah, so that will go into orbit. That's a two-stage rocket, this is one stage. And it's a lot bigger, obviously. Getting into orbit is actually a lot harder than doing a suborbital flight. And that one is they're talking about it mainly as just getting satellites and payload into space, but it seems like eventually they're going to want that system to also be able to be crewed. And that will be the rocket that will service their planned space station, which is the orbital reef that they're planning. So they have big plans for a whole infrastructure of space tourism, but also, piggybacking on getting commercial satellite launches and other things into space as well. So they're pretty much at this point the main competitor to SpaceX in terms of private company getting into space.

J: Yeah, and if you haven't seen pictures of the orbital reef they have renderings of it. It's really cool. Like, it's really modern looking and it's going to be like kind of like a space hotel, that's going to be happening. Apparently they're going to be doing hydroponics there and all sorts of stuff. Who knows? We'll see what happens when it happens.

"Orbital Reef, a commercially developed, owned, and operated space station to be built in low Earth orbit. The station will open the next chapter of human space exploration and development by facilitating the growth of a vibrant ecosystem and business model for the future." (Image credit: Blue Origin) (Click/tap image for article.)

S: But the best thing about the New Glenn is that it does not look like a space penis.

C: That's a very good thing. The New Shepard, right? That's the one you had been talking about, Jay. I may have missed it, but did you say how long the flight is?

J: It was just under 10 minutes.

S: Although it says 11 minutes is like as the average flight.

C: 11 minutes.

S: That's a lot of money per minute.

C: $300,000 for 11 minutes.

J: Yeah.

C: Does it have really big windows?

S: Yes.

J: It does.

C: Okay. That's good.

S: Yeah. If you look at it, that's like a selling point. They say like every passenger gets their own window seat. And it's the most windows to space. Like these are their selling points. And if you look at the inside of the rocket, it looks pretty good.

"A visualization of the interior of Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle, which the company plans to use to ferry tourists on short trips to space." (Image credit: Blue Origin) (Click/tap image for article.)

J: Yeah. It looks very modern. It's probably a pretty good ride. I don't know. I mean, I don't know if I would-

E: I wouldn't do it.

J: I wouldn't do it. Yeah.

S: I would.

C: You're both like, nah.

E: I'm not that. I'm not that.

S: I would. If they offered me a free seat, I'd go tomorrow. Absolutely.

C: I'd do suborbital.

S: Suborbital, yeah.

C: I don't know if I would do orbital.

J: Yeah. I mean, I've extensively read about the space station and I don't want to go on the space station.

C: No. It probably smells so bad.

J: It does. It smells horrifically bad.

B: You get used to it.

S: Yeah. Eventually you get used to it.

C: Yeah. But you have to get used to it to get used to it.

S: I think I would probably get my space fixed with a good suborbital flight. That'll be fine.

C: Yeah.

E: Good enough.

S: Right.

C: Less deadly.

Human Predator (25:31)[edit]

S: All right. Cara, I understand that humans are the most dangerous game.

C: Yeah. So something that we kind of already knew. But there is a new study that was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences, called Fear of the Human "Super Predator" in Native Marsupials and Introduced Deer in Australia. And this was published by a group out of Tasmania and Canada. And this is piggybacking on previous research, which I didn't really know about, from all over the globe that show, using interesting kind of experimental paradigms, that animal species largely are more afraid of people than even natural predators. They tend to be more vigilant and they tend to run from indications of people at higher rates, usually about twice the rate as natural predators. And I mean things like in Africa, giraffes will run from the sound of people more than the sound of lions.

S: Yeah. They're not dummies.

C: Yeah. So we know, right, without kind of really having to get too into it, that human beings are the largest, sadly, apex predator on the planet, that we kill more animals than other animals kill animals. But the interesting thing here is that animals know that too. And I think what was extra interesting about this study and the reason that they decided to look in Australia is because Australian animals are often thought of as being somewhat naive to predation because they don't really have apex predators. So they've got this really interesting fauna in Australia for a variety of reasons. But they're usually pretty comfortable in their habitats and they show what the researchers call atypical anti-predator responses. So they were like, okay, maybe Australian animals won't have this human fear response because they tend not to have a predator fear response because they tend not to have predators. So they looked at four different native marsupials, the eastern gray kangaroo, Bennett's wallaby, the Tasmanian pademelon, and the common brushtail possum. And they also looked at fallow deer, which are an introduced species. And basically it was kind of a cool paradigm. They set up like a camera trap and when the animal came within a certain distance, they would play audio. Now the human audio is not human beings yelling or being aggressive. They just played like podcast. I watched a YouTube video.

S: Did they play our podcast?

C: They didn't. In the YouTube video, they didn't. And so I'd have to dig deep into the supplemental material to know. But it is interesting because it's just like neutral talking sounds. They also played a Tasmanian devil sounding like the freaking devil. Like it sounds horrifying. It's like, rawr! You know, you're like, no, I do not like that. They also played wolves and they played dogs barking. And then they used a control sound, which was sheep bleeding, not bleeding, bleating. And so there's some interesting takeaways that they found. First and foremost, the controls were true controls. The animals tended not to really react. The second thing that they found was that just like in previous studies across the globe, these native marsupials fled significantly more often upon hearing humans compared to the next most frightening predator, which was dogs barking. On average, 2.4 times more likely to flee from humans than dogs. And there were some differences between the different organisms. Wallabies fleed from predators the most, 38% of the time they fled. And they fled 2.8 times more often from people than dogs. And when I say people and dogs, I mean from the sounds of people and dogs. And 26 times more often than controls. Kangaroos fled from predators 30% of the time, fleeing humans 2.1 times more often than dogs and 7.2 times more often than controls. Possums fled 18% of the time, 11 times more often than controls, and let's see, 1.6 times more often than dogs. And then Pademelons didn't flee very often, 6% of the time they fled. But even though they only fled 6% of the time, it was still 2.6 times more often than dogs and 7.1 times more often than controls. They think that part of the reason that Possums and Pademelons didn't flee is because they're pretty small and they usually would hide as opposed to fleeing. That tends to be their anti-predation response, if they have one. So even though these animals are often thought to be kind of naive to predation and tend not to have an anti-predation response, they still had a robust anti-predation response to the sound of the human voice. Interestingly, the Fallow Deer, which they thought would have a more robust response, actually had a less robust response. They still did flee, but they fled from humans about as often as from dogs. And they thought that perhaps this is because they were an introduced species and the long history of deer being moved around the planet for hunting purposes, which you would think would mean that they are more afraid of humans. They just may be kind of a little bit more passively domesticated because of so much capture and release and capture and release.

S: They're acclimated. It's nothing else.

C: Yeah. Yeah. They are a bit more acclimated, although they shouldn't because they're the whole point very often of these, of moving these animals around was to have basically hunting available.

S: But that raises an interesting question though, Cara, is the reason why these animals are more afraid of humans because we're an unknown or because they've evolved to know that we kill animals and they need to stay away from us?

C: I guess that is an interesting question. And I'm not sure. So are there wolves in Australia?

S: There's dingoes.

C: Yeah, but there's no wolves. So that would be an unknown as well. And they did not flee as high. Wait. Yeah. They've never had native wolves. They don't have a native wolf unless you count the dingo. But yeah, the dingoes has a different vocalization. So that would have been a novel sound to them and they did not flee it more often than humans.

E: Do they account for scent?

C: Well, there is no scent because it was just audio recordings.

E: Only recordings.

C: Yeah. All of them. So that was no scent in any of them.

E: No scent whatsoever. Okay.

C: So it was just the sounds of Tasmanian devils going rararar, which they would have been exposed to before, dogs barking, which they would have been exposed to before, sheep bleating, which they also have been exposed to but do not pose a threat, and then wolves, which they wouldn't have been exposed to. So interesting. There's kind of like a double control there.

S: Yeah. Interesting. Yeah.

C: Yeah. So it does seem to be the case that these animals across the globe have learned that human beings are dangerous and that they need to flee. And even in the situations where they didn't flee, because remember, those numbers were low in some of them, like only 40% of the time that they flee. They observed vigilance in excess when the human voices were played compared to the other animals.

E: Interesting.

C: So even if they didn't flee, they were like freezing and listening really intently.

E: I'd like to see a chart of all the predators with the frequencies at which they emanate these noises and if there's any sort of correlation there with frequency.

C: Who knows? But I mean, it is interesting. You know, at first I was like, really? But then when I looked at kind of the wealth of literature that they were piggybacking off of, the fact that African prey animals are more afraid of the sounds of people's voices than lions is very telling.

S: Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting.

C: Yeah.

S: And yet, in some contexts, animals become less afraid of humans when they...

C: Like our coyotes here in Los Angeles.

S: Yeah. It's funny. If humans are a source of food...

E: Source of food. Yeah.

S: And there's that case of, I think, is it jackals in Egypt or something, where they are... Like the butchers throw them the scraps and they're like, they're halfway to being domesticated almost.

C: Yeah. And you see that...

E: Wow. Just from scraps.

C: I see that. When I visited the Galapagos, there's like this famous... I think it's a seal. It might be a sea lion. Ooh. This sounds bad because I think they don't have one of them. I think it's a seal that like lives by this fishing post where they're always gutting the fish. And this guy, I mean, he's got like stuff growing on his body because he never has to get into the water. He's just fed very well and just hangs out and all these pelicans hang out there too. And they're not afraid of people at all.

S: Yeah.

C: So it's true. While some animals do, I think, kind of self-domesticate based on like food sources and shelter and things like that, these kind of, "wilder animals". And they looked at not just at prey animals. They were looking at across the globe. These studies look at both ungulates usually and carnivores, and they all tend to be more afraid of people.

S: All right. Thank you, Cara.

C: Yep.

Escaped GMOs (35:27)[edit]

S: This is one of those weeks where I had a few things where I could have talked about this week, but I chose one about GMOs. Haven't spoken about GMOs for a while. This is an interesting study. They were looking at feral canola.

C: Oh, like the oil.

E: Canola oil?

S: Yes. Well, not the oil, but the plant that the oil comes from.

C: The thing that makes the oil.

S: Yeah.

E: That's where you may have heard it, though. In the class.

C: I was thinking of an animal at first. Feral. Canola.

S: Feral, because it refers to canola plants that are, this is a cultivated crop, right? They were looking at it at North Dakota to see how much canola has spread outside of the field into the wild. Right? So they're looking at canola plants growing in the wild, and of course, they come from planted fields. And they specifically wanted to know several things about the feral canola and how many of them showed the phenotype or the genotype of GMO variety, right? How many of the feral canola were the transgenic canola. And it's an interesting question because there's been more speculation than really evidence about this. The anti-GMO or just the people who are making the point that because of the precautionary principle we're introducing transgenic crops into the environment and we need to know how likely are they to get out of the farmland and into the wild and what does that mean and what would the implications be? So one possibility is that they could, the GMO canola could thrive in the wild. Another possibility is that they could not thrive, right? That they, outside of a protected, nurtured farming environment, they would not compete in the wild and they would die. So which do you guys think happened? Is the feral canola thriving or not so much?

C: Probably... oh, I don't know.

E: Do you think not? I thought, yes.

J: I think they're thriving.

C: Because it would be potentially more robust if it would, wait, can we know what the transgene-

S: Most of them are for herbicide resistance.

C: For herbicide resistance.

E: Oh, herbicide resistance. Well.

C: Yeah, then maybe it's not thriving. Well, it would be the same as it's wild, oh, I don't know.

S: It's interesting, right? It's not an obvious answer to it. So they found a number of things. One thing is that they found that there was, in fact, quite a bit of feral canola, although the incidence has been decreasing. So comparing the data to 2010, the amount, the incidence of feral canola was less in 2021 than 2010. So yes, it's out there. It is surviving long-term, right? They don't just die that year. They actually can be a self-sustaining feral canola population in the wild, but it is decreasing over the last decade. But they looked at that canola to see how much of it is GE versus not GE, and what they found was that the non-GE canola was over-represented in the feral population compared to the farm population, right? Does that make sense? So there was a smaller percentage of the canola in the feral population was transgenic versus the population of canola that's being cultivated on farms. So it seems to be a competitive advantage to being the non-GMO version of the canola.

C: And it also shows that this issue of runaway seeds is not a GM issue, it's just a seed issue.

S: Yeah, there's no super advantage to the GMO plants.

C: Right.

S: They also found one other thing that was very interesting, is that even the plants that had transgenic genes in them had fewer transgenic genes than the GMO version, which means that they're losing their transgenic traits over time.

B: That's encouraging.

C: Because they're breeding with other plants?

S: I guess, but the thing is, one of the concerns that was raised by GMO skeptics, if you will, was that the transgenic genes would thrive and spread. They would proliferate, they would have a selective advantage, and that they might even then cross-pollinate and get into other plants. But they're finding that, if anything, the non-GMO plants are doing better, and the transgenic genes are being selected against over time.

C: Which statistically makes sense, because we're talking like, I don't know, if there's like 35,000 genes in an organism, and like two of them have been changed, like, of course the other 28,900 it's like, it doesn't make sense to think that just because a gene has been altered, it's going to have higher fitness, when it wasn't altered to have higher fitness.

S: Right.

E: Superpower.

S: Exactly. So that's the big question, and the super weed kind of fear-mongering that, oh, these transgenes are going to get into the weeds, and then, you know. But you're correct, it's all about the fitness, it's about the selective pressure. So this suggests, if anything, there are selective pressures against the transgenes. Now why would that be? This study didn't explore the why, this was just an observational study describing what is going on out there. But just invoking some generic evolutionary principles, when we see genes decreasing over time, one possibility is just, there's no selective pressure at all, it's just genetic drift.

C: Yeah.

S: If there's no pressure maintaining them over time, they'll, as you say, Cara, they'll just-

C: Yeah, it's just a numbers game.

S: They'll just go away. But what that means is, at the very least, there isn't selective pressures to retain them. But it's also possible there are selective pressures against these genes, and the researchers do think that may be the case, given how rapidly that they're being lost. That was really kind of a surprising finding. So what causes selective pressure against genes? Well, if they're making proteins that are not needed, that's wasting energy.

C: Right. Interesting.

S: And so any waste gets selected against pretty strenuously. It's why cave salamanders lose their eyes, right? I mean, they might be at disadvantage because they can get infected and stuff, but even just spending the energy to make an organ you don't need is enough of a selective pressure against something. So what this suggests is that, yeah, there's a lot of canola getting out there from farms, and some of them have transgenes, but it doesn't seem to be an advantage, and there seems to be, if anything, selective pressure against transgenes and against the GMO cultivars of these plants. And so while the authors, who I think were trying to show that their conclusions sort of emphasize that, well, we need to do more research because these things are getting out there in the wild, but actually their results are pretty reassuring.

C: Yeah. And it's another tick in the column of, like, a lot of times when people are fear mongering, or maybe not even fear mongering, because I think a lot of people have legitimate fears. They're not the ones mongering those fears. But when I talk to friends here in Los Angeles, and they talk to me about their gut reaction of why they're anti-GM, it's very clear that most of their issues have nothing to do with genetic modification, and they have everything to do with corporate farming practices. And this is just another tick in that column.

S: Right, exactly. This is a generic problem of farming, and maybe it's not that much of a problem, but it's not a special problem, especially for GMOs.

C: Right.

S: Yeah, exactly. I agree. And I think especially within the skeptical community, because whenever I talk about GMOs, even to a skeptical audience, there's always some people who are like, I don't know about the whole GMO thing. And they always cite concerns about corporate power, about-

C: Yeah, seed patenting.

S: Patenting seeds, about farmers' rights and farmers being able to replant their own seeds. And all of those issues are tangential to the GMO thing. It's like, all right, let's dial back history to the late 1990s before there were any GMOs. Right, so there were zero GMOs on the market. And what percentage of seeds that American farmers were growing were patented? It's like 95%, 98%. What percentage of them could be replanted? None of them? Because none of that 95%, because they're hybrids, and the hybrid seeds, they're hybrids. First of all, they're patented, they're proprietary, and you can't replant them just scientifically, because not just legally, you can't replant them because the hybrid traits do not breed to the next generation. You get a mix of crap. You won't get the hybrid cultivar that you're looking for.

J: It's a hybrid.

C: And the thing is, they choose them.

S: So GMOs changed nothing. It changed nothing.

C: It changed nothing. And these people who are corporate farmers, or even small farmers, this is the part that makes me bananas, is when people are like, these farmers are being forced to use these. And it's like, no, they're choosing to plant-

S: Yeah, it's like you've never actually spoken to a farmer, have you?

C: Yeah, they're choosing to plant them because their yields are way better with them, and they'd rather pay for new seeds each season and get those yields.

S: Otherwise, imagine what they have to do. They have to set aside some of their seeds, store them over the winter, keep them dry, and then plant them the next year. It's very labor-intensive, it's costly, it's just so much easier to buy fresh seeds the next year.

C: It is. And the seeds that they're buying, these seeds that are patented, are optimized, whether they were optimized through transgenic technology, or whether they were optimized through traditional breeding technologies, they have-

S: Or hybridization, or mutation farming, don't forget that.

C: They have features that give the farmers better yields. They're not going to buy a product that doesn't give them the return they want.

S: Cara, have you ever watched any of Clarkson's Farm?

C: No.

E: I saw Green Ape.

S: It's a reality show where, I forget the guy's name, but it's Clarkson.

C: Oh, is it the guy from Top Gun? Not Top Gun. Top Gear.

S: Top Gear, yeah.

E: Top Gear, yes.

C: Sorry.

S: He buys a farm, and then he farms it.

C: And then he- Yeah, I have friends who have told me I need to watch it because it's always effing up left and right.

S: It's funny, yeah. But it does give you an appreciation. And he says, I'm a fake farmer, I'm not a real farmer here, but he does use the platform to highlight a lot of the challenges for the farming community, and I think they appreciate that.

C: Yeah.

S: Storing seeds is a nightmare. It's a nightmare because you have predators, vermin will come and eat it, and any moisture, and forget about it, they're ruined. If they start to sprout, they're gone. So the idea that farmers want to save their seeds over the next season is like-

B: Wow, it's hilarious.

S: It's incredibly naive. Yeah.

C: So all of these arguments, you're so right, Steve. The only thing I can say a lot of times is like, have you ever talked to a farmer?

S: Yeah, have you ever talked to a farmer? Exactly. But also, Cara, it's propaganda. They say that. They didn't invent those issues. They were told that these are the issues. And it was very effective propaganda, but it's just one of those issues. And the thing is, GMOs is one of the issues where you can correct people by giving them information. If you correct that false information, it is an information deficit problem. And you give them the correct information, and they change their mind. So it is-

B: Or they ignore it and walk away.

S: Maybe. But just statistically speaking, is what I'm saying, Bob, you actually can move the needle just by educating people about farming, and DNA, and genetics, you know what I mean? Give them- because it is very, very fear-based, and lack of information-based, you know?

C: And what's hilarious is that the farmers are educated on this stuff.

S: Yeah, they're very educated.

C: They're the ones-

S: They're the experts.

C: Making free decisions on this.

S: This is their livelihood.

B: This is their job.

C: This is their livelihood. Lots of them went to school for this.

S: With very narrow margins, they cannot survive even the slightest inefficiency in what they're doing. They have to be experts. And you're right. Many of them they're not just like pragmatic experts. Many of them are degreed experts in agriculture. That's good. Anyway-

C: Which is where they do GM research. It's like, ah!

Solar Storm (48:38)[edit]

S: All right, Bob, tell us about this recent solar storm.

B: So guys, we all survived the great solar event of 2024, right? And I'm not talking about-

E: I did.

B: I'm not talking about the eclipse. I'm talking about the strongest geomagnetic storm in a generation that could have been, and by all rights, maybe should have been far worse. What happened, and why do most of us just associate it with pretty auroras and not major power outages or worse? Now, we know that the sun is nearing its maximum period of activity in its solar cycle and space weather can cause problems here on Earth. But May 10th, 2024 was still one for the record books in a lot of ways. It started on May 3rd when NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory saw 82, "notable solar flares". They were notable.

E: Wow.

B: Coming from two large clusters of sunspots that were incredibly active. They were basically spewing stuff like almost constantly, which is really pretty dramatic. By May 7th, no less than seven coronal mass ejections were launched directly towards Earth. Seven. Seven. Now, little definitions here. Flares, we know what flares are, right? Solar eruptions of electromagnetic radiation from gamma rays to radio and particles, and they could be really intense explosions and can spawn CMEs, coronal mass ejections, billions of tons of plasma ejected not by the sun's surface, the photosphere, but the sun's corona or outer atmosphere. That's where this plasma is coming from. I did not know that. And all that plasma is wrapped in magnetic fields traveling up to speeds of millions, five, let's say, five million miles an hour, I think 11 million kilometers per hour. It's really fast. These CMEs can get to the Earth in like 15 to 18 days. And it's this weaponized magnetic field that's what's wreaking havoc with Earth's magnetosphere causing what we call the geomagnetic storm. And this is what hit the Earth on May 10th, and we all have either directly seen the beautiful auroras, or we've seen pictures somebody else took, or we remember our raised fists in the air cursing the goddamn clouds. And no, I'm not even going to go there. All right. The auroras were beautiful, seen far beyond their normal range, typically near the poles. They were seen in Mexico, Southern Europe, South Africa, Florida, but not goddamn Watertown, Connecticut apparently. And I'm going to stop right now with that. So those pretty lights, though, those pretty lights hide a nasty potential, though. They remind me of those those deep sea anglerfish, those creepy dudes?

J: Oh, yeah. They're so weird.

B: They dangle.

E: Yeah, with the big dangled light.

B: They dangle. It's a bioluminescent light in front of their face. And the light lures you in, and then, damn, the teeth get you. This is what this reminds me of. For the first time in 20 years, we had a G5 level geomagnetic storm, as categorized by NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They have levels from a minor G1, and then all the way G2, G3, all the way to a G5 listed as extreme, potentially resulting in blackouts, transformer damage, and even some grid collapse. That is all possible with a G5. We could have seen all of that. Geomagnetic storms are only just one part of space weather. So you may hear, you may have heard of the G1, G5 stuff before. But there's also solar radiation storms, which have a scale of S1 to S5. Don't hear about those too much. These are high velocity charged particles. And so for an S5 storm, it could seriously hurt astronauts and passengers on a plane, satellites, it could completely disable satellites. But they don't really interact with our magnetosphere like the geomagnetic storms do. So you didn't really see too much talk about solar radiation storms. But this one was more about the geomagnetic storms. How did we do in this big nasty G5 storm? Now keep in mind, this G5 happened last in October 2003. So if you remember, you may have seen this headline in the newspaper in 2003. The headline said, half of Earth's satellites lost. That was an actual headline. And it was bad, not necessarily dramatically worse or anything than what we experienced. But there were a lot of negative things like, for example, like that headline, there were literally half our satellites in low Earth orbit. We didn't know where they were. We couldn't get a bead on exactly where they were. So it took days to actually retarget all of them and know exactly where they were, which is important because you want to make sure satellites aren't going to hit each other or anything. It's good to know where they are. So that was just one of the things. But there were also transformer problems. There were outages. It was not good. The G5 storm in 2003 was not good. And by all accounts, it really seemed to be a lot better. And you know, but it's hard to compare one G5 to another. They're very complicated. Like I said, you had, we had seven CMEs approaching the Earth from the sun and they can come together and root. They could coalesce. They can amplify each other. They can hit one after the other. So there's lots of, there's like a really complex interaction, so it's hard to compare them. But as far as we can tell, we did very, very well this time around. Sean Dahl is a space weather forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado. He said simply, this is a success story. And it really was. And that's because we've been, we've been working on hardening power grids and coming up with ways to detect such storms and implement mitigation strategies. They really has been a concerted effort, especially after the 2003 G5. And apparently in the last, even the last 10 years, we've made some big strides. And it just really struck me. Isn't it nice when humanity does that when faced with a big potential threat, right? They come together and they actually deal with the problem and mitigate the problem and try to make it better. And I just don't get used to it though, because that is not the norm, people. Okay. So we fared well. You know, a butt was coming. I've been kind of implying it. On the other hand, it's hard to say precisely how close we came to a catastrophic event earlier this month. We can't be sure how bad it could have been or, or even things that happened that were not being told. And corporations that control power grids and satellite operators, they could face many disadvantages from full disclosure. They're really reticent. Daniel Welling is a climate and space scientist at the University of Michigan said they don't want to look like they're vulnerable. Satellite operators have to ensure their spacecraft and that can be very expensive. So they do not want to make their premiums go up because they, they admitted, Oh yeah, we had a lot of problems with our satellites because of the geomagnetic storm. They're going to probably end up paying more. So that's why they're kind of quiet, kind of tight lipped about it. But that said, we do know that a bunch of things that were done to deal with a geo storm. Some planes were rerouted to avoid polar regions where solar radiation could have spiked in ways that were harmful to the crew. NASA actually moved the space station crew to the most shielded part of the ISS. What do you think that was? The cruise quarters. That is the most shielded area of the space station. So they were in there. They really weren't that worried, but they out of, as they put out of an abundance of caution, they moved them all into the cruise quarters just in case. Let's see. New Zealand had circuits all over its national electric grid switched off preemptively. And for sure, power grids all over the world almost certainly took dramatic precautions, such as one thing I found out was opening capacitor banks. But we really don't know for sure because they're not really saying really what they did to prepare for the storm. We do know for sure though, some things that happened that are hard to prepare for. For example, GPS got messed up for a lot of people, especially GPS guided farming equipment. They were doing weird things, going in circles. It's really cool. Cause when we had our haunted corn maze, we hired a guy to cut our corn into the paths that we wanted. And he was very good at it and he was using GPS guided equipment to cut the corn. We gave him the plan, we gave him the drawing and he cut it precisely. It was really cool. All GPS guided, but don't do it during a G5 storm, probably not going to go out well. Atmospheric swelling from the storm caused the Hubble Space Telescope orbit to decay faster. Now that happens because you're pumping terawatts of energy into the upper atmosphere and it's going to, it's going to swell and then orbits will decay faster. So that's not good. The Hubble dropped 80 meters per day instead of the 40 that it typically does. So it doubled its drop speed, which is concerning. If we had bad geostorms in the next couple of years, if it happened a few more times, or I don't know how many times more, but it could actually cause the Hubble to burn up in the atmosphere years before it's supposed to in the mid 2030s. So that would not be good for the Hubble. And then the dreaded SpaceX Starlink satellites, I'm talking to you, Steve, 6,000 of them up there. Now they weren't reported to have bad problems this time around, but I mean, who knows, they could have, but we do know that in back in 2022, 38 of their newly launched satellites burned up in the atmosphere because of this atmospheric swelling. It caused the extra drag, caused them to deorbit, bam, gone, millions of dollars, 38 satellites toasted because of that. So yeah, and that's not good. So I really hope that we don't rest on our laurels on this. It's because it's easy to be like, hey, we got this. We took a G5 on the nose and we're fine. No major problems, but that would be very, very short sighted. We could still see some for the next year or two, we can still see some large coronal mass ejections headed to the earth. We could see more G5 storms. And don't forget, like I said, one G5 doesn't necessarily, they're not all the same. They're definitely not all the same. Don't forget, there's also the inevitability of a far stronger G5 storm on the scale of the infamous 1859 Carrington event that we are almost certainly not prepared for. I can almost guarantee we are not ready for that. That was many times more dangerous than what we experienced a few weeks ago. And that would still be a G5. They don't go to G6, friends, so that would still be a G5. But that would be, that's the one, that's the thing that scares me the most, more than almost anything else. Because Steve, we did a talk on this a bunch of years ago saying that a Carrington level event is, first off, it's inevitable. It's not a matter of if, it's when it will happen again. We will get hit with some mega coronal mass ejections that could take down grids for extended periods of time, cause damage. I mean, people compare it to like being thrown back into the 1700s. I mean, getting if we don't take care and prepare for it, it could be a horrible, horrible event that just changes civilization forever. Imagine having no electricity, no vehicles, nothing, no modern conveniences. All of a sudden, bam, that's it. And you're in the 1800s or whatever. It's hard to say exactly how bad it would get with a Carrington level event, but it would be, I think, dramatic, it would be dramatic. And it could be even worse in Carrington, who knows. So we need to keep our eye on the ball on this one. And it it could happen in the next, it could happen next year, it could happen in 10 years, could happen. They say this is going to happen and it's, there's a real, Steve, what was the odds? It was like a 20% chance it's going to happen in the next 20 years. It was just like, oh my God, that's actually horrible odds.

S: Yeah. Yeah. Of a, of a major event.

B: Of a Carrington level event.

S: But again, you're right. There's nothing special about Carrington level. We could get something that's two or three times as bad as Carrington.

B: And then, yeah.

S: Those are, those are physically possible as well. And yeah, the last time we did a really deep dive on this, I think the answer basically was we just don't know. It may not be as bad as we think, but it may be worse than we think. We we don't, our infrastructure really isn't tested against something like a Carrington level or greater.

B: Yeah.

S: And we may think that it could be resilient, but it certainly hasn't been reinforced as much as it can be. And we don't have things like backup giant transformers that we should have warehouse somewhere. You know?

B: Yes. That seems critically important, I think. I know that, I know they're not cheap, but.

S: So we're not maximally ready, but we don't, we don't know how bad it would be.

B: I'm encouraged that they, they did all this work in the past 10 to 15 years. That's great. But I think now they're like, eh, that's it. We survived the G5. We're good. I hope they're not thinking that way. You know, when the Carrington event happened in the 1850s, we did not have our electrical infrastructure that we have now, but it still set telegraph wires on fire. I mean the telegraphs in other areas were running, even though they weren't like plugged in because of the induced current from the geomagnetic storm. I mean, crazy kind of crazy stuff happened. Worldwide communications were not significant at all, but they were caught. They were impacted for sure during the Carrington event. So if it happened these days, I mean, it could be devastating is really one word that works in that sentence. It could be devastating and we just need to get even more prepared for what I would call a G6, a G5 plus event that is, that is inevitable.

S: All right. Thanks, Bob.

Crypto Astrology (1:03:17)[edit]

S: All right, Evan, tell us about crypto astrology. What is that?

E: Uh-huh. Crypto astrology. Well, first I'm going to start with the disclaimer. This news item is not investment advice. If you have any questions concerning investments, please consult with a licensed financial advisor or don't. You might be better off. Well, let me explain. I'll get to that. I'll get to that in a second. But let me start with a non-rhetorical question, if I may, what [do] Bitcoin and astrology have in common? Any answers?

C: I have no idea.

E: No? I would, that's one of the two correct answers. Not a damn thing is one of them. The other correct answer is the letters T and O. That's about as far as I could get as far as finding any correlation between Bitcoin and astrology. Well, astrology is a thing. I can't remember the last time we maybe spoke about it on this show, but you may also know it as business astrology, economic astrology, or astro-economics. I like that. I think I like that one the most. And yeah, of course, it's a thing because for as long as there's been people and economics magic-based predictions have largely focused on, well, money, health, money, relationships, those kinds of things. You know, consult with your tarot card reader about your finances. Consult with your psychic. Consult with your guru. Consult with your astrologer. Forever. Yep. And when you can claim an edge in a money growth industry, regardless of how unscientific it might be, you can rest assured there is a market that wants a piece of that perceived advantage. There's a human weakness there for you. There's room for exploitation. Enter the financial astrologer who will try to convince you that the planets and the stars can have an influence on your investments. But you know, the more wealth a person has to invest does not mean they're immune into believing in pure nonsense. Correlation is not causation, which is one of the key takeaway lessons from this week's news item. This came out just yesterday at Wired.com. he article is written by Brooke Kneasley. And here's the headline. Crypto astrologers see price moves in the stars. They predict the ups and downs of Bitcoin based on planetary movements, and their super secretive clientele listens. You know, like those old commercials when EF Hutton talks people listen. I think they're playing on that. So they start with talking about this one particular advisor. His name is Marsilio. And to him, the art of interpreting planetary movements is similar to making predictions based on the movement of stock and asset performance over a specific period. Here are some quotes from this astrologer. He says, "Astrology is the measure of time. I've been at this for a long time, and I have a particular technical analysis system that I've been developing for many years. Some of the traditional astrological theories work quite well, but some of them don't, or markets have their own expressions of root energies." Yeah. So traditional astrologers associate waxing moons and growth and waning moons with winding down energy. But in a thread, he analysed the average percentage return of Bitcoin over a 15-minute time frame in all markets from April 2020 to the present, 2024, and discovered the waning phase of the moon cycle correlated with a 350% better average performance than during the waxing phase. So sort of the inverse, I guess, of what, I don't know, astrology would otherwise tell you when it comes to making these kinds of financial decisions based on astrology.

S: But we should say, Evan, that technical analysis itself is bullshit. In fact—

E: Well, yes, and I'm actually getting to that. We have some—

S: Yeah, we've talked about this in the past with experts who have made the point that technical analysis is astrology, basically.

E: Yes, yes.

S: It's essentially the same kind of thing.

E: It is. It absolutely is. And there's plenty of studies that have gone into that and have shown that statistically that is in fact the case. And therefore, sort of the astrologers may in a way have an advantage because they can sort of cloak their brand of forecasting within the folds in which people do not understand the statistics involved in these kinds of forecasts, right? They move around in otherwise, I guess, legitimate circles, ones that don't rely on outright pseudosciences to make their forecasts. And I guess I'll jump right over to that since you brought it up, Steve. But let's see. So one study looked at the track record of stock market experts who predicted the market's direction. Overall, their accuracy rate was 47%, which is less than you would expect from random chance. We've heard of the fellow Jim Cramer. I don't know if you guys know the personality from CNBC. He's very popular.

C: Oh, yeah. He is not good at calling scams.

E: Right. Yeah, no. I disagree with him on a lot of things.

C: He's like O for O. Yeah. It's pretty bad.

E: But you know what his accuracy is? 46.8%.

C: Yeah.

E: There you go. In some cases—

C: And he's an "expert"?

E: Yeah. Other experts, like 35%. They all score 48% or under. So that's it. I mean, there is no advantage. Overall, 48% of forecasts were correct. And when you're right 48% of the time, you're wrong 52% of the time. That's a quote back from The Simpsons. But in any case, astrology has a certain appeal to it that attracts some investors. And again, for people that are attracting through crypto and Bitcoin, which is what this article specifically focuses on, you're dealing with a higher end or kind of a more—perhaps a more sophisticated investor than sort of your average person who's just looking to do things with their 401k, for example. So again, just because somebody is wealthier has had past successes in building their wealth, that does not immunize them from being taken in by effectively people who are spouting astrology or any—or tea leaf reading or any other things. And they say that it comes down to kind of several things, sort of—and this is a pull out from that article that I thought was interesting as well. Despite the heavy emphasis on astrology for all of these accounts—and they're talking about the various astrologers that they interviewed basically for this piece—a good number of social media respondents don't seem to understand the astrological terminology according to astrologers, but are still following and asking for the insights. So you have to wonder two different things. I think two different things here. Are they not following it because it's nonsensical? Because astrology itself doesn't make sense, and so there's that. But then there's also in a way, I think there's a sort of deliberate aspect to it. Because what's true in financial investing, which goes beyond astrology, is that they'll come up with terms and things and have sort of a language all their own, sort of that they deliberately have invented over the years in order to keep people sort of feeling stupid about this kind of stuff, right? And that therefore only the people who are really in these trenches every day and are really versed in it, they're the ones who have the real special secret set of knowledge that otherwise ordinary laypeople could never really appreciate those kinds of nuances when it comes to making some kind of financial decision. So is it deliberate, or is it nonsensical, or is it both? And I think that was kind of a key aspect there, sort of a theme as part of this article. And then you go on to show—and there's a bunch of quotes in here about the crazy stuff. I want to read you one crazy thing that they throw out there about investing. Here you go. Tell me if you think this makes any sense. The stellium of Pluto, Mars, and the Sun in early Capricorn, those are the most reliable points in the natal chart.

J: What the hell?

C: Birth chart. I got that part.

E: Right?

S: Yeah, natal chart is the birth chart.

E: Stellium. Stellium is considered three planets within any given sign at the same time. How the heck is anybody supposed to know what a stellium is in astrological terms? It kind of gets clouded and lost in sort of the overall jargon of finances.

S: Yeah.

C: But that's by design.

S: It's a pseudoscientific use of jargon to try to superficially seem legitimate.

E: Right. Right. A patina of legitimacy. But not even. I mean, if people did know a little bit more about astrology, they'd probably not even really consult with these people. Now the reasons why – and then to wrap up, I mean, there are some reasons why financial prediction is not real, has a bad track – or I should say has proven to not have a good track record. In fact, they call it in this Wall Street article, Wall Street Journal article, a terrible track record in fact. Here's a couple of points. First of all, you cannot predict the unpredictable. The stock market has – overall has so many variables. Stock markets – and of course, Bitcoin and crypto, which is what this article is about, these fall in the same category as well. There are so many factors in play that it is really – you can't predict it. They say that weather forecasts for 7 to 10-day – have better results than stock analysts do when looking at 7 to 10-day forecasts. You have a better shot at predicting the weather, much better in fact, than you do going out chasing fortunes through stock sales and trying to time markets. Also, analysts have a lot of biases sort of working that they either consciously or subconsciously sort of rely on, including first impression bias. That's when an analyst's first impression of a company, which has great stellar earnings, that positively impacts future forecasts. You're not supposed to – you're supposed to adjust for that bias. The recency bias, of course, greater weight on recent experiences that they take into consideration and then the analysts can't anticipate factors impact – other things that impact all these earnings, changing customer habits, competitive threats. They say you couple all that with the pressure to issue favourable reports and an overall reluctance to acknowledge bad news, right? You kind of – you have those kinds of biases working against you as well as far as that industry goes. Just so many things that explain why financial forecasting is in itself really – I guess its own kind of pseudoscience but then you put astrology in there and it takes it to a new level.

S: But Evan, to be clear, there's two types of ways to analyze the stock market, right? There's technical analysis, which is what we have been talking about, and fundamental analysis. Technical analysis is numerology. It's astrology. It's like you're just trying to predict based upon past performance. You're looking for trends, patterns in the random noise of the stock market. And again, as our skeptical colleague said, the stock market is very good at destroying information, right? Any information you have is immediately destroyed by everyone acting on that information. That's why the only way to really get an edge is through insider trading, which is illegal.

C: Right.

S: But technical analysis, 100% astrology, BS. Fundamental analysis is different. Fundamental analysis is saying, what are the company's assets? What is their – how leveraged are they? What's their market doing? It's analysing the fundamentals of the industry and the market and the company and how healthy is it. And if you say that, OK, this company is a little undervalued based upon its fundamentals, that's a good investment versus this company is overvalued. So you're basically using your judgement and pitting it against the market, right? And you may find opportunities. So experts who do fundamental analysis, who know the ins and outs of an industry, may have better analysis than the average person who's just buying stocks or whatever.

E: Right. Right. And they don't promise crazy yields or things that are kind of off the charts. It's a more – it's a much more conservative approach to the analysis.

S: Yeah. So we're not talking about that. That's fine. That's like actually knowing what's going on and making intelligent decisions about risk versus benefit and value, whatever, versus the astrology of technical analysis. So that's –

E: Right.

S: Yeah. So don't write us in saying, what are you talking about? Whatever. It's –

E: Yeah.

S: Technical analysis is just numerology of the stock market. That's all that that is.

E: That's it. And here you go with Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, and any other future crazy financial stuff that they come up with.

S: It's the same thing. Crypto is just another –

E: No different.

S: Another way of gambling on the market. You know?

E: No different.

S: It's probably more pure gambling because there is no fundamental analysis of crypto really, right? I mean, maybe I'm wrong about that, but it's just – it's all just – like what's it worth? You know, what is Bitcoin worth? It's all just based upon the market and not any real physical assets or anything. You know what I mean? Like there is no –

E: Right. But to think that there's some advantage you can get to predicting the ups and downs of it. Forget it. Absolutely not.

Who's That Noisy? (1:17:11)[edit]

Answer to previous Noisy:
Battery-powered sprayer wand

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

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

[Rapid mechanical whirring]

So Evan, a couple of people commented on your ray gun guess.

E: In the 1970s, there were these little metal ray guns with a little trigger to it and had a little wheel in it that would make a noise and it would light up and that's the noise it would make.

J: Yeah. Visto Tutti said, Evan is right that it does sound like a vintage toy space laser gun, but that would be too simple for Who's That Noisy. So he says –

E: Oh.

J: I'm saying it is the mating call of a bower bird. Those little guys put on quite a song and dance to impress the lady birds. So I'm not surprised that somebody picked a bird because birds could basically make any noise that we hear on this show. But that's not correct. Nice try, Visto. Next time I'm sure you'll get it. Michael Blaney wrote in. Hi, Jay. It sounds to me like one of those little motors used inside those toys with the little legs, like the teeth on legs that walk around after you wind it up. But the legs are moved so the motor runs out. You know what I mean? Remember those things? It's a good guess. That's not it. But I have – actually, I have one right here by the way, but that's not it. Keely Hill wrote in. Hi, Jay. This week I will guess a partially broken electronics Happy Meal toy, something that had a siren like a fire truck. That is also not correct. And the last guess for this week, Eric Klein wrote in and said, I think the noisy this week is one of those carpet guns that you use on a stretched out canvas type material that pushes in yarn and cuts it all in one motion. I tried to figure out what this is. I don't know exactly what this is. Do you guys know what it is?

S: What he's describing?

J: Yes. All right. So guys, there was no winner for this week. And I'm not surprised because I picked something really, really hard. You either know it or you don't. It's one of those things that you either have used this device or you have not. But I thought it was a cool sound and I wanted to give it a try. So what this actually is – again, this was sent in by a listener named Jared. He said, I captured this audio while spraying Roundup on weeds in my yard. The sound is the included battery-powered sprayer wand. I found this sound enjoyable as my brain immediately recognizes it as a pew-pew space laser. So this all kind of folds in on itself. I know it was hard and I picked it, like I said, just because I thought it was a cool sound. But now I personally, I have Roundup and I had the same exact thing. So I did recognize the sound when I heard it. And again, Steve, Roundup is not dangerous, correct?

S: Relative to other options, it's actually pretty good.

J: Okay.

C: Yeah, but it's not candy.

J: Yeah, but don't, yeah, don't gargle with this stuff. All right, so no winner this week. No big deal.

New Noisy (1:20:06)[edit]

J: We got another one coming at you right now. And here it is.

[motor winding up, engaging its action, then winding down]

There you have it, guys. By the way, that song was sent in by a listener named Gary Kappelman. If you think you know what this week's noisy is or you heard something cool this week, you can email me at WTN@skepticsguide.org.

Announcements (1:20:45)[edit]

J: Steve, we have a couple of announcements. So one of them is that we will be in Chicago and third weekend of August. We'll be there on the 17th and the 18th. We have three shows. Tickets are still available for two of those shows. We have the extravaganza, which is on August 17th. That show, I think, begins at 230 in the afternoon. And then we have a the 1000th SGU live private episode that will be recorded on the 18th. This is a five hour show. It's going to be a pretty epic thing that we do. You know, we've done these long shows before, but this one we will be celebrating our 1000th episode, 20 years of skepticism. You can join us. You can be a part of this entire thing. Just go to theskepticsguide.org for information on either of those shows. Steve, something else.

S: Yeah. What do you got, Jay?

J: Super early. This is early. But Steve and I have been talking. And guess what, guys?

E: What? What?

J: NOTACON 2025.

E: Wait a minute.

J: Yes. Yes.

E: What?

J: It's happening. Steve and I talked and we greenlighted it. I have that. I haven't picked anything yet. I have not picked the dates. I have not picked the location. It's very likely that we're going to do this in White Plains again. But you know, if you want to email me, if you have suggestions or any ideas, feel free to email me. Again, this is all very difficult stuff to plan, takes a long time to do it. That's why I'm mentioning this very early. But I would like to do it in about a year, plus or minus a month is fine. So April or May of next year, I think would be a cool time to do it. So there it is, guys. People loved it. I got tons of feedback.

B: It was awesome.

J: Yeah. And I've already been talking to George, just sidelining, like hey, if we do it again, what would we want to do? You know, just coming up with some more fun bits and everything. And we just because we could do whatever we want this isn't a conference that's on rails in any way. We could do anything that we want at these conferences. So we decided that the entire conference was going to be about Cara. She's awake, everybody. We promise you that we will plan something super fun. I think one of the most popular bits from last year was the live cooking show.

C: Yep.

E: Yes.

S: That was kind of fun.

B: That went far better than it had any right to.

C: Yeah. I think we were all really pleasantly surprised that nothing caught on fire.

E: First of all, we didn't trigger any smoke alarms. That's one.

J: I remember telling the hotel, like, there's nothing to worry about, nothing's going to catch on fire. You know, like, we've never done this before. No, but there was no fire, though. It was just, it was all...

E: Just hot plates.

J: Yeah. But the hot plates were, what do you call it? The induction?

E: Convection.

J: Right? The induction.

C: Induction. Yeah. Induction.

J: Yeah. There's no, there's no, like, fire. You know, there's nothing that, you know. Anyway. Okay. So we will, we will give you more details as this unfolds, but we're very excited and very happy that we will be doing that again next year.

S: All right. Thank you, Jay.

Questions/Emails/Corrections/Follow-ups (1:23:45)[edit]

Follow-up #1: AI discussion[edit]

S: I've got one follow up from last week. We got a number of emails about the artificial intelligence segment. So there's a couple of things that we want to address. Jay, why don't you start us off by just giving us more information about the topic that you were covering?

J: Yeah. So my intent was to tell everybody about the updates that OpenAI has made to ChatGPT. They announced it. It was a formal announcement. They had information on their website. I saw the demo, and then I was using the current, current version of it, and I was reporting on that. But there's a lot of details in here, and I got several emails from people, so I kind of collated the information. To be more accurate, this will give you a better idea of, like, when things were rolled out and what functionality existed in the past and what's coming. So first of all, one of them I mentioned is function calling. This is connecting to the API, the ChatGPT API. So this was actually introduced over a year ago, which would improve the reliability of the ChatGPT API responses by allowing developers to essentially define functions the model can understand and respond to correctly. So this update that they came out with, again, it was over a year ago, is really, really helpful for software engineers to make their own custom applications. Now from my understanding, that API will be updated with the latest and greatest functionality that it will be rolling out over the next few weeks or so. There's something called a context window. Now this actually was the thing that I mentioned where in previous versions of the software, you would get 4,000 or 32,000 tokens, say, and again, these are like discrete pieces of information. And they upgraded that to 128,000 tokens, which is a massive increase in the amount of data that any single session could essentially deal with. So that's a great improvement. Now I don't have any information on when that was released. So I'm just assuming that the 128,000 token release was one of the recent updates. Then there was image recognition. Now they have image recognition was available in ChatGPT+. This was another version of ChatGPT. That's been available in ChatGPT since last year. Now this is good for providing screenshots or design files when developing websites. And apparently that's what I was using when I took the picture and it was analyzing the picture. Again, I didn't know that this was available last year and it was on the website like it was a new item, but it isn't. It's something that's been available for over a year. So there is voice chat in the phone app. This again was also available last year. I believe they used something called their Whisper software. But now they're supposed to be launching a newer version of it, but there's been delays. I think they call it the Simple Voice-to-Text Transcription System. And again, that has been around for a while. And I think these things were available in like a beta version and not in the widely available version. But I'm not 100% sure about that now because apparently there's lots of things that ChatGPT can do that I wasn't aware of. The Omni model, which is the new model, this is the 4.0, the O for Omni. This combines the image, video, text, and voice into what's called a single cohesive experience and it can distinguish between multiple different voices. And this was released last week, but it doesn't improve the intelligence of the ChatGPT model. That's an important thing to understand is ChatGPT, apparently the Omni version of it isn't theoretically more intelligent than the previous version of it. It's just the tools that it's using are more powerful and more integrated. Now there's also real-time video and voice interaction. This is not yet available and it'll be rolled out to the plus subscribers soon with no word about when it'll be rolled out to 4.0. And then finally, GPT 4.0 model, this is available for interaction like GPT-4, GPT-4 noted for its speed and cost efficiency when using the API. So the big thing about ChatGPT 4.0 that I think that is a hundred percent is that it's going to be incredibly fast once it's all ramped up and all the servers are optimized and they get a lot of user data in there, they'll be able to make this thing behave like it did on the demo, which is almost instantaneous, which is pretty cool. So again, it's complicated. There's lots of different versions of ChatGPT. Some of them have had certain aspects going back a year. I think the goal here is to get GPT 4.0 to have all the latest and greatest stuff and all of that will be rolling out at some undisclosed time. They said weeks, but until it rolls out, we won't know.

S: Yeah. The other thing about the feedback that we got, a lot of people think that we're overhyping and not being skeptical enough of artificial intelligence in general, the large language models, ChatGPT in particular, which I honestly don't agree with. I think that we're being very careful to not overhype it. We joked about not overhyping it the last time we talked about it. But the thing is, we're now two years into this large language model rollout, right? And I got to say, it's interesting. I think there's a lot of people who are falling on the skeptical side. They think that they're being skeptical of AI and all the false hype. And they're actually, in my opinion, being cynical. They're not really being very, very skeptical. They're kind of being like knee jerk. There's hype, therefore it's all bullshit. It's more nuanced than that. Yes, of course, the industry is hyping it. That's what they do. But this is actually a genuine new AI platform that has some serious abilities and implications. And also, of course, it's not sentient, it's not general AI. There's a lot of things that it can't do. We've been, I think, very clear about the limitations of what it does. But over the last two years, pretty much as we predicted, there's going to be incremental advances in doing what it does. And there has been. It's been pretty steady and fairly impressive, right?

J: Yeah, without a doubt.

B: Sure.

S: All the things we're talking about didn't exist two years ago. And this is what we said was going to happen. There's going to be a lot of investment. This is the first crop. This is like right out of the gate. You know, the chat GPT 1.0 or whatever. There's no reason. There's a lot of room for incremental improvements within this technology without having to fundamentally change the technology itself. And we're still on the steep part of that curve. That's happening.

J: We are seeing the very beginnings of a big rollout of different types of artificial intelligences that do different things. And these systems are improving over time. If I'm a little excited, forgive me for that. I can't help it. I'm a total geek when it comes to this stuff. And I absolutely love it. And I use chat GPT almost every day. But I do have an expectation here to see multiple companies who will be competing for our dollars. I pay OpenAI right now to use the better version of chat GPT or to get more access to it. And I will be switching to a new company if they have better technology than chat GPT. This is exactly what we want. We want that competition in order to drive dollars to these companies, in order to make them keep their prices down, and to drive innovation, which is exactly what's happening.

S: Yeah. But I mean, it's like a lot of technologies that we follow. And yes, we are technophiles. I get it. But when we talk about battery technology, it is legitimately improving. We talk about things that are actually happening. We are always careful to separate the hype from reality and to ask the question, okay, but what's actually happening here? Because we know that if you read anything from the company, it's marketing bullshit. And we know that if you read the mainstream media, it's all, this will be able to do A, B, and C. And rather, what we want is like the technical technology news, like what is actually happening here? I agree that your report last week was a little superficial, and that's why we wanted to take another bite at it. But I just think, a bite at it, but I think the idea that we're like, we're overhyping the technology, or we're not being skeptical of it, is just not fair. It's just not what's happening. And it's also, I think, like you feel the need somehow to be cynical about large language models when they're a really useful technology. Have a little bit of nuance in your opinion. You could say it's overhyped at the marketing and the big tech end, but it's actually a powerful technology. It's transforming research. That's just objectively true. That is happening. And it is, for what it does, it's fairly powerful and getting better all the time.

J: I agree.

S: All right, let's move on. It's time for Science or Fiction.

[top]                        

Science or Fiction (1:33:06)[edit]

Theme: Armor

Item #1: The oldest example of plate armor dates back to Europe 3,500 years ago, and has been demonstrated with modern testing to have been fully functional.[7]
Item #2: Although surprisingly maneuverable, at their peak a European full suit of armor weighed about 200 pounds, so that knights would require a hoist to assist them onto horseback.[8]
Item #3: Graphene-based body armor has been shown to have twice the stopping power as Kevlar, and 10 times that of steel.[9]

Answer Item
Fiction 200-lb (91-kg) European suit
Science Oldest plate armor 3500ya
Science
Graphene-based body armor
Host Result
Steve win
Rogue Guess
Bob
Oldest plate armor 3500ya
Jay
200-lb (91-kg) European suit
Evan
Oldest plate armor 3500ya
Cara
200-lb (91-kg) European suit

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

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts, two real and one fake. And then I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. We have a theme this week.

C: Uh-oh.

S: Yeah, uh-oh. It's a fun theme. It's kind of unconventional.

E: Balloons.

S: The theme is armour. This is all about armour.

C: Oh God.

J: Armour? I am all over this.

C: I'm going to give this one away.

S: All right. Here we go. Iron number one, the oldest example of plate armour dates back to Europe 3,500 years ago and has been demonstrated with modern testing to have been fully functional. Iron number two, although surprisingly manoeuvrable, at their peak, a European full suit of armour weighed about 200 pounds so that knights would require a hoist to assist them onto horseback. And item number three, graphene-based body armour has been shown to have twice the stopping power as Kevlar and 10 times that of steel. Who hasn't gone first in a while?

E: Bob.

S: Bob, go first. Evan threw you under the bus.

E: Well, you asked the question and I gave the answer.

Bob's Response

B: Well, this is a tough one. 3,500 years ago, the first plate armour sounds a little far in the past to have that, but I don't know, man. Fully functional. I mean, hard to say. The European full suit of armour, 200 pounds. That sounds a little heavy, not a lot heavier than I would think, but using a hoist to assist them, I think that that sounds totally reasonable, even if it was even a little bit lighter. Let's see, the graphene-based body armour, twice the stopping power as Kevlar, 10 times that of steel. There's so many ins and outs to this. I mean, twice the stopping power of Kevlar. Yeah, I mean, I could see that. Plate armour, 3,500. I'm going to – I'll say that the plate armour 3,500 years ago. I'll say that's fiction. That seems a little bit too far, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's true, but I would say it's fiction. This was a hard one. Good job.

S: Okay. Jay?

Jay's Response

J: I do think that plate armour existed 3,500 years ago. Yeah. Yeah. That feels fine to me. I'm accessing my older files here, but – okay. So with that one, as I'm pretty damn sure that's correct, going on to the next one, I don't think that plate armour weighed 200 pounds. That is really heavy. Again, like plate armour wasn't that thick. You know, it definitely was not bulletproof. I mean the longbow arrows could pierce it. So yeah, it wasn't that thick. So I don't believe that that was 200 pounds. And the last one, I agree with the last one. I think the graphene-based body armour is better than Kevlar. So yes, the second one, Steve, is the fiction. Not 200 pounds.

S: Okay. Evan?

Eva's Response

E: Oh, boy. So these are all good points. Now 3,500 years ago – okay. Plate armour. Would this be bronze armour?

C: You think he's going to tell you that?

E: No. That's what I'm thinking.

C: You have to try.

E: I think there was bronze armour, fully functional bronze armour, though. I don't know about that. Maybe not. Although, hmm. Example of plate – but maybe it wasn't plate armour per se. There's something up with that one that might be a little off. The next one about the suit of armour weighing 200 pounds and that knights required to hoist and assist. Jay, I kind of think Jay's right here. Because I don't recall it weighing 200 pounds. I mean, that's a lot for people to have to go into combat with and stuff, right? But I kind of remember something about being hoisted onto horseback. But again, maybe 200 pounds is the wrong part there. And the last one, I don't know anything about the graphene-based body armour compared to Kevlar and steel. So I'll say, I guess I'll go with – Bob, since I threw you under the bus, I feel kind of guilty. So I think I'm going to join you for that reason. And that way, if we go down, we go down together.

B: You just read my mind.

C: What are you joining on - the plate armour?

E: 3,500 years ago.

C: 3,500 years.

J: And we all go down together.

S: All right. Cara.

Cara's Response

C: Okay. So it looks like it's probably between the plate armour being 3,500 years old and 200-pound European plate armour. I mean, I could go graphene, but you guys seem to agree on it. And what the hell do I know? So I'm going to call that one science. Okay, two against one. So my guess, though, is that plate armour – and I could be wildly off here – doesn't have to even be metal. Like couldn't it be leather or something? With leather plates?

S: I'll give you the answer to that question is no. This is referring to metal plate armour.

C: Okay.

S: Leather armour is never called plate armour.

C: It's not, even if it's the shape of plates.

S: No, it's leather armour.

E: You have to refer to your player's handbook.

C: Yeah, I clearly wasn't aware of that.

E: If you read your D&D player's handbook, you would know this.

C: Okay. So what is less likely? Well, I do think there was probably a heavy need as far back as human beings decided to kill each other to protect ourselves from their weapons. I also am thinking like, probably like medieval Europe, these people in their suits of armour, these knights were probably diminutive, a little more diminutive than modern people. I could be wrong. They might have been smaller dudes. And a smaller dude and a 200 – like, if the armour weighed more than the guy, would he really even be able to fight in it? I don't think so. That just seems ludicrous. I don't know. I would think it would cause too many injuries. So I got to go with – is this with –

E: Jay.

C: Jay. Yeah, I'm going to go with you and say it did not weigh 200 pounds.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: All right. So you guys are evenly split, but you all agree on the third one. Graphene-based body armour has-

E: You fools.

S: -twice the stopping power as Kevlar and 10 times that of steel. You all think that one is science, and that one is science. That one is science.

C: Yay.

E: Okay.

S: So yeah, I mean, this is – there are studies looking at the potential of graphene and body armour going back 14 years. It's been a little bit tricky to develop into an actual product, but they're getting there. And it has been tested. They do have versions of it that have been tested. And yep, twice the stopping power. They used a gold bullet. It wasn't like fired out of a gun. They had some kind of device that would accelerate a piece of gold up to like much faster than the muzzle velocity of a typical gun. And it was better at stopping that, twice as good as Kevlar. Kevlar, which is more than half a century old now, is still pretty much the cutting edge technology for bulletproof vests and for body armour. There are other options now. There are definitely other options, and there are some more advanced materials or whatever. But Kevlar is still there. But graphene is probably going to be the next best body armour. I know the US Army is looking to – is developing it, is actively developing as part of a whole body armour system, right? It's not going to be like pure graphene. It's going to be – you'll have some steel plates in there. There may be some – I know they're working on – they also have – there are ceramic plates. There's Kevlar or other versions of that material where you can have graphene embedded in some kind of resin. Like there's all different kinds of ways that you can use it. But it is really good. Graphene is really good at absorbing energy and dissipating that energy. That's what it's super good at. And so it would definitely upgrade any body armour system that incorporates it. So that one is science. Let's go back to number two.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Although surprisingly manoeuvrable, at their peak, a European full suit of armour weighed about 200 pounds so that knights would require a hoist to assist them onto horseback. Jay and Cara, you think this one is a fiction. Bob and Evan, you think this one is science. This is interesting because you can think about this a couple of ways. So first of all, as I said, this was at its peak, right? So this is the evolution of the full suit of plate armour to its absolute heaviest, right? How heavy did it get? And the idea is that this is for mounted knights. That once they get on their horse, that's where they're staying, right? At that point, they're either holding the lance or they're swinging their weapon, but they're not like running around.

C: But even a horse, well, I guess 200 pounds plus a dude on a horse.

S: Yeah, but that's why you need a war horse. They bred war horses to be massive. But on the other hand, that's a very heavy suit and very hard to move around, you would think, although they're very well constructed. So if we balance all those things, what's the correct answer?

C: That Jay and I win.

S: This one is the fiction. This is the fiction.

C: Yay, Jay!

J: What up.

B: I knew it.

S: So the idea that knights had to be hoisted or pulled or whatever onto their horse is complete fiction.

E: Really?

C: Is that what you imagined?

E: Is that interesting?

S: It's a common misconception. I don't know where it came from.

E: That must be it.

S: That's why I used that, but it's complete fiction.

E: Oh, it tricked me.

S: A full suit of plate armour weighed about-

E: 100 pounds.

S: 55 pounds.

C: Oh, that's it.

S: 55 pounds.

B: 55.

J: That's heavy, guys.

C: I mean, it is.

E: Oh, yeah.

S: And they were extremely manoeuvrable. I once saw a demonstration of a guy basically doing a cartwheel in one of these suits of armours. Yeah, because manoeuvrability on the battlefield was key. You would not want to be in such a heavy suit that you couldn't move around. And even if you start out on a horse, if you fall off that horse, you're basically dead.

E: Yeah, you're done. You're dead.

S: If you're in this 200-pound suit that you can't move around. So no, they were meant to be light and manoeuvrable, but still protect their vital bits. And as they evolved, they actually got trimmed down further and further. They realized that, yeah, we really only need it for the real vital organs. Any piece of metal that wasn't absolutely necessary to protect them and tended to go away as things evolved. But yeah, so 55 pounds, highly manoeuvrable, never needed to be hoisted on a horse. They can get on the horse by themselves or maybe with a stool or a squire, giving them a little bit of a hand, but no hoist.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: All right, that means that the oldest example of plate armour dates back to Europe 3,500 years ago and has been demonstrated with modern testing to have been fully functional is pretty cool science. So do any of you know what this armour is called?

J: No.

C: Old armour.

S: It's called dendra armour, which is based because it was used by the dendra army. This is in Mycenae or Mycenae, I think it's Mycenae, Mycenae. So this was discovered in 1960. They discovered this suit of bronze armour.

E: Aha, bronze.

S: It was bronze. And it had several horizontal plates in the front and back, kind of like a skirt, and then a breastplate. And the breastplate had a very high collar. It's interesting. I've never seen this design otherwise. So imagine this solid vertical collar around the head. It's so high that the person who's wearing it is basically peeking over it. So it's kind of like the lower half of their helmet.

C: Right. It's kind of smart.

S: And then they have a conical helmet on top of that, so their eyes are just peeking out between the helmet and the top part of their breastplate. So they wanted to know, there was a recent study, which is what inspired this theme. They wanted to know, was this ceremonial armour? Is it decorative armour? Or did people actually fight in this armour? And so they made replicas of it, like as accurate as they could. And they had members of the Greek army, I believe it was, they had them fight in it like all day. They had them 11 hours wearing this armour. The Marines of the Hellenic Armed Forces was the actual fighting men that they used. And they were able to maneuver and fight quite well with it. And it was very functional. They were able to fight all day in it without any excess strain or wear or whatever. So it was actually a functional design. They wanted to know this because if the Dendra army had this armour at that time, it would have been a significant technological advantage over any other army in that part of the world at that time. Their soldiers, if they really could move around and fight well in this armour, would have had a dramatic tactical advantage on the battlefield. So this is probably not insignificantly responsible for their success as a civilization. Yeah, I thought that was interesting. So take a look at the link with the picture of the armour. It's very funky looking.[10] But I'll mention that historic weapons and armour are of interest because they have all been tested by time. You know what I mean? It's like there's a difference between, I know Cara you're fascinated by this, but there's a difference between fantasy weapons and fantasy armour and historical replica armour and weapons because the historical replicas were evolved organically over time with use for a specific purpose and their form follows their function, right? Whereas fantasy weapons are based purely on aesthetics and they're completely impractical. You know what I mean? You would never actually take that weapon into combat because it's just meant to look good, not to be actually functional. But if your life depends on the speed and efficiency and effectiveness of your armour and your weapon, whatever, it's going to be perfected over time. And again, we underestimate how deep history is. There were hundreds of years to perfect these. Like the medieval longsword was used over hundreds of years.

J: Yeah, and they iterated slowly.

S: Yeah, it was iterated until it was optimized for how it was used. So good job, Jay and Cara.

J: Thank you.

C: Thank you. Thanks, Jay.

S: All right.

E: Do I mean bad job, Bob and Evan?

C: Yes.

S: Take it as you will. All right, Evan-

E: You're not supposed to say that. Good job to one and not good job-

S: I know. You're not supposed to say that to kids.

E: And some skeptic adults.

S: I actually was literally told that, like it was one of my teaching seminars, like you shouldn't say good job because it might make the other kids feel bad.

B: Good effort.

E: Bingo.

B: Good effort.

E: You mean young minds that can't handle such intricacies.

C: Good effort, all four of you.

S: Yeah.

C: Thanks, Steve.

E: Everyone wins.

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

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:49:27)[edit]


It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

 – Yogi Berra (1925-2015), American baseball catcher

E: "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." Yogi Berra, of course.

S: Yeah, I love that.

E: Oh, Yogi Berra. So good. So quotable. Wonderful. Hey, by the way, do you know that- Here's a guy. All right. He was a baseball player. Maybe not everyone listening knows who Yogi Berra is. Baseball player for the New York Yankees, hopefully most people in the world recognize the baseball team New York Yankees. He played 19 seasons, right, in Major League Baseball. 18 of those years he was named an all-star.

B: Wow.

E: And he won 10 World Series championships. That's the most of those two statistics of any player throughout the history of the game. That's remarkable.

B: Remarkable. Yeah, that's nuts, man.

E: That's impressive.

S: And what's funny about the Yogi Berra-isms is that they seem silly at first, a lot of them, but then there's this hidden logic to them. You know what I mean? It's like this sideways logic to them.

B: Oh, yeah. That's the appeal.

S: Yeah, yeah. And I think this is just the way his mind works. I don't think he's ever trying to be funny or clever. This is just how his brain logiced, you know?

E: Yep. And newspapers loved him, quoted him a lot, and he would come up with ... That's just what would come off his tongue and funny stuff, you know?

S: So, man, a couple of favorites. One of my favorites is that nobody goes there anymore. It's always too crowded.

E: Yeah. Right?

S: In other words, give me somebody's directions that he says, when you get to the fork in the road, take it. But when you know the context, it makes sense because basically the fork came back together so it didn't matter which way you went. You could go either right or left, and you would end up at the other end of the road in the same place.

E: Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.

J: Oh, my God.

E: I always thought that record would stand until it was broken. Just good stuff.

S: Yeah, it did stand until it was broken. Okay. Well, thank you all for joining me this week.

B: Sure, man.

J: You got it Steve.

C: Thanks, Steve.

E: Thanks, Steve.

Signoff[edit]

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 theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to info@theskepticsguide.org. And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.

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Today I Learned[edit]

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

References[edit]

Vocabulary[edit]

  1. Wiktionary: zooxanthellae; single-celled dinoflagellates that are able to live in symbiosis with diverse marine invertebrates
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