SGU Episode 488

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SGU Episode 488
November 15th 2014
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 487                      SGU 489

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


SH: Sheldon Helms

SW: Siouxsie Wiles

Quote of the Week

Without precisely defined sources, methods, and concepts, it is possible to see absolutely everything and its opposite.

Thomas Piketty

Download Podcast
Show Notes
SGU Forum


  • Getting ready for the SGU's big trip.

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

This Day in Skepticism (1:27)[edit]

R: Hey, speaking of skeletons,

J: Yes?

R: (Scoffs) This is a very tenuous try here, but let's go for it.

S: Yeah

R: Um, speaking of skeletons, guess who saved tons of lives back in the early twentieth century?

B: Skelly?

J: Skelington?

E: Bones McCoy!

B: Skeletor!

E: Bones McCoy! Bones!

R: You're

E: He did a time-travel thing.

R: all wrong. You're all wrong. It was Sara Josephine Baker! Happy Birthday Sara Josephine Baker. Born November 15th, 1873. And she was amazing! She, first of all, is very famous for being the person who tracked down Typhoid Mary. So that

S: Twice, apparently.

R: was a big deal. Twice, yeah, 'cause you know that typhoid

E: Twice?

R: mary. She's a slippery one.

(Evan laughs, then makes a barfy sound)

R: She also was instrumental in helping the survival rate for newborn babies. She basically set up schools where she taught mothers how to care for their kids, like really basic stuff like how to dress them so they don't overheat, and

S: feeding them.

R: things like that. How to keep them clean. She was huge in improving hygiene around Hell's Kitchen, which at the time was one of the worst slums in New York. She saved many lives, and also made lives better. Like, at the time, when she was getting started, there were something like three hundred babies who went blind every year.

J: Oh no!

R: And she came up with a really simple method for reducing that to three babies per year, which is incredible!

B: Wow

R: She did that!

S: Yeah, we still do that. Put silver nitrate in the eyes of babies.

R: Yeah, and more than that, she came up with a method for putting exactly the right dose of silver nitrate in their eyes using a disposable container, so that, 'cause otherwise, they were getting infected, and using too much silver nitrate, and things like that. So, yeah, she came up with that.

She was also famous for talking to New York Times journalist, and mentioning that it was safer to be in the war than a baby born in New York city.

B: Oh my god!

R: Mortality rate was worse for babies than it was for soldiers at the time, which, obviously, was incredibly shocking, and helped give her all of the attention, and the funds that she needed to go on helping improve the hygiene of newborns and mothers in the area.

She also came up with an early form of formula, which allowed new mothers to go back to work quickly, which was obviously a huge benefit to them. And also, I think my favorite thing about her was that through all of this work, she got really famous, and New York University Medical School asked her to come and give a talk. She said she would, so long as they let her enrol. And they said no. But then they looked around to find another person with the same amount of knowledge, like maybe a man, and they couldn't find anybody who had anywhere near her amount of knowledge on children's health.

So they went back to her and said, "Okay, you can enrol." So in 1917, she graduated from there with a doctorate in public health. How bad ass is that?

S: It's awesome.

B: Wow

R: Pretty bad ass.

B: That's an amazing woman.

R: Sara Josephine Baker, happy birthday.

S: Yeah, it's unfortunate that typhoid mary is more famous than she is, right?

E: Yeah, what the heck?

R: Yeah, exactly!

S: It's funny.

R: Yeah, the quote-unquote "villain"

S: Yeah

R: is more famous than the hero.

News Items[edit]

New Antibacterial (5:23)[edit]

The Primeval Code (13:17)[edit]

Curiosity Discovery (22:51)[edit]

HAARP Closing (27:44)[edit]

(Commercial at 34:21)

GMO Labeling (35:49)[edit]

Interview with Sheldon Helms (47:34)[edit]

Interview with Siouxsie Wiles (52:08)[edit]

S: Well, we are joined now by Siouxsie Wiles. Siouxsie, welcome to the Skeptic's Guide.

SW: Thank you very much.

S: So, Siouxsie, you are from New Zealand; you're part of the New Zealand skeptics. And we're gonna chat with you for a few minutes about the conference that we're gonna be at there in a few week.

SW: We're so excited to have you. We even moved the conference. (Laughs)

S: Yeah.

E: Yeah.

R: That is excitement. We appreciate it.

E: We do.

S: Yeah, I remember talking to you. It's like, “Well, we're gonna be in your part of the world then, beginning of December. So, that'd be a really good time for you to have your conference.”

SW: We were like, “Hell, yeah!” (Laughs)

(Evan laughs)

R: And these guys don't even know the pure joy of New Zealand. I can't wait. Because they didn't make it the last time. They screwed off to home, while I went to New Zealand.

S: We went to Can.

R: Whatever.

SW: Well, we loved having you, Rebecca. And we were pleased you're all coming, and pleased you're coming back, Rebecca.

R: Yay!

S: So, what kind of crazy shit is happening in New Zealand?


SW: You mean, just, you want to talk conference crazy shit, or woo crazy shit?

S: Yes.

SW: Woo crazy shit.


R: Start with whichever one you want to go with first.

SW: Let's start with the bad, and then we can end with the good.

S: All right, sounds good.

R: Good thinking.

SW: Today started the induction of a new lot of bishops for Archbishop Jim Humble's Miracle Mineral Solution Church; you know, the Genesis two church of – what is it – healing and health or something? So, he is here in New Zealand. And today, started a three day workshop to teach people how to give bleach to their friends and family to cure all their ills.

And it's been really interesting. So, the story broke in the media a couple of days ago. And they have interviewed his right hand man, maybe, was interviewed on New Zealand radio. But overall, the coverage has been really negative for them. And they haven't really been given much of a voice. It's been absolutely fantastic.

So, I got to go for Breakfast TV this morning, and talk about it. And there was no, you know, “and now we're gonna talk to the bleach drinkers.” And so I'm kind of proud of New Zealand media at the moment. It's been great. That was the same with the homeopathy story last week. There was very little actual airtime given to the homeopaths to make their case. So,

S: Excellent.

SW: yeah. So we're kind of sad, seems as if there's forty to fifty people are paying their five hundred dollars a pop to learn how to be bishops in the church, although there was something in The New Zealand Herald today that somebody got turned away, because they only wanted to make a thirty dollar donation. And they said, “No. You need to give us your five hundred dollar donation,”

R: Wow.

SW: Which makes it suggest it's not really a donation then, or they don't really understand the meaning of the word “donation.”

S: Involuntary donation.

R: That actually reminds me of the story Randi used to tell about going to the dumpsters after a faith healing to do, and he would find all of these checks for ten dollars, and twenty dollars, just thrown in the trash, because there's just not enough money for them to even bother cashing.

E: Yeah, sad.

J: Unbelievable.

SW: Wow. Yeah, so that's really probably the only really stupid thing that's happening. But it's a kind of fascinating thing, right, that they can't sell their bleach on the internet. So they come up with a church to sell it. It's kind of clever, really.

S: Yeah, they just invented a church in order to sell their snake oil.

SW: Yeah.

S: It's kind of like Scientology.

SW: (Laughs) Absolutely.

R: Allegedly.

E: Yeah.

R: Don't sue us.

SW: In my opinion. I was kind of hoping to get mention of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster on TV this morning, but I forgot. So, never mind. It was my hope, given it was live, but...

R: Yeah.

SW: Yeah! But, it's actually happening. It was kind of good news with last week's homeopathy story, that our now, the portfolio of the alternative health has been given to the real health person, who's very much an evidence-based policy guy. So, that's kind of good. Unfortunately they're not the party in power. But, yeah. It's not been a good couple of weeks for woo, I'd say, in New Zealand. It feels like they're getting a real good bashing.

S: Good. Have you had an opportunity, with all the press, to plug the conference?

SW: Oh! I haven't really been doing that. That seemed a bit naughty, isn't it? I do a fortnightly science plug on our national radio, so I was gonna do that next week.

S: Ooh, I love doing things fortnightly.

SW: (Chuckles) It's great, actually. One week on, one week off. Yeah, but the registrations are good. We're kind of pleased. New Zealand's a tiny place, but we're having it in our biggest city. And it will be smaller than most of the other conferences you've been to, but we like to think that we're small and intimate.

S: Intimate, yes, that's the term. Yeah, what do ya got lined up for us?

SW: Obviously, we've got all of you lot, which is gonna be fantastic. But we've got also a great heap of locals. So, we've got Ben Albert, who's a pediatrician. And he's been doing a fantastic PhD project on supplements, and whether they're dangerous or not - certain supplements taken during pregnancy. So he's gonna be reporting on his stuff, which is sort of hot off the press. And I think you'll like it. It's very exciting.

We've got our very own vaccine myth buster, Helen Petousis-Harris, who works for the Immunization Advisory Centre here. So she's going to be talking about all our vaccine cracks that we have here in New Zealand.

We've got Steven Galbraith who I should note is my husband, who's a mathematician. And he is gonna talk about mathematical cranks. Because I think when he moved to New Zealand, he sort of thought that maybe he wouldn't get quite so many people emailing him, telling him they had solved various mathematical things.

But actually, he's had heaps. So he thinks that New Zealand might be a little hotbed of mathematical cranks. So he's gonna talk about that.

And then one of the things I'm really excited about, so we have a wonderful scientist and engineer here called Michelle Dickenson. And she's basically turning into New Zealand's answer to the MythBusters. So, she is just this fantastic ball of energy, who likes destroying things, and blowing things up, and stuff.

So she's gonna come and talk to us. Her superhero thing is Nanogirl, because she's basically a nano scientist.

R: That's awesome.

SW: So she's gonna come and do some things. But what's really exciting is that on the Friday evening, we're going to, after you guys have done your quiz, we're going to do some sciency stuff. So we'll have some chemistry demos. Michelle's gonna have a whole lot of nano technology demo's. And then, because I am there, there'll be lots of things that glow in the dark as well. So we'll do...

S: Yeah, I understand that you like bugs that glow.

SW: Bacteria, yeah. So, I make bacteria that glow in the dark. And so, I make nasty bacteria glow in the dark, so things like TB and various other things. So I won't be bringing those along. I'll bringing some ones that aren't so deadly – in fact, aren't deadly at all. And then there'll be various opportunities for people to play with bacteria, or have their photograph taken using the light of glowing bacteria.

So it should be fun. So we'll have basically hands-on sciency things, plus you guys, so that'll be sort of the kick off on the Friday. And then the Saturday will be talks by various people. So it should be fun.

One of the other things that will be very cool, and I'm really looking forward to is a guy called Toby Ricketts, who's a film maker. And he is at the moment trying to make a film about tax and religion. And it's inspired by the fact that in New Zealand, we have a company called “Sanitarium,” who are our big maker of breakfast cereals. But they're owned by the Seventh-day Adventists.

So they don't pay any tax. And so he's doing a film about them. So it'll be really interesting to hear how he's getting on with that. I have managed to indoctrinate my daughter into not, in the super-market, she points them out, the Sanitarium Rice Bubbles, and things, and she's like, “They don't pay any taxes! They're really evil, aren't they, Mummy?” So, she's eight.


SW: She's good at that. In fact, she even told her grandparents when she was staying with them once, that they bought the wrong cereal. She didn't like their cereal because it was from the company. So this should be fun!

S: If there's still anybody out there that wants to get tickets for the New Zealand Skeptical Conference, where do they need to go, Siouxsie?

SW: They need to go to Yes, I know, Auckland, fifth to the seventh of December.

J: That was dot en-zee for those of us that don't say zed.

R: Well, that's the test. If you can figure out where to go online, you can get in. If you can't even figure out en-zed, then you don't belong at the New Zealand Skeptic's conference.

J: I guess you're right. Well, what if David Young wanted to go? He lives in China. He doesn't know about zed.

R: He might know zed. He lives in Hong Kong. That's a very British...

S: All right, Siouxsie, thanks for joining us, and we look forward to seeing you in person in a few weeks.

SW: Yeah! Very, very soon! Awesome! Thanks for having me!

Science or Fiction (1:01:34)[edit]

Item #1: Astronomers have found evidence that half of all stars in the universe exist outside of galaxies. Item #2: A new study finds that methods currently used at airports to detect deceptive passengers works only 3% of the time, but a new method being tested was effective 66% of the time. Item #3: The tiger beetle moves so fast it cannot see its prey, so instead, biologist recently found, it relies on thin hair-like projections that are 20 times the length of its body.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:19:44)[edit]

“Without precisely defined sources, methods, and concepts, it is possible to see absolutely everything and its opposite.” - Thomas Piketty

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.

Today I Learned[edit]

  • Rebecca's This Day in History segment sounded extremely similar to one of Bob's Forgotten Superheroes of Science segments, which shows a continuity between the two.


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