SGU Episode 363

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SGU Episode 363
30th June 2012

Transcript Verified Transcript Verified

(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 362                      SGU 364

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

Ripley: Ash, can you hear me? Ash?
Ash: [speaking in an electronic, distorted voice] Yes, I can hear you.
Ripley: What was your special order?
Ash: You read it. I thought it was clear.
Ripley: What was it?
Ash: Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.
Parker: The damn company. What about our lives, you son of a bitch?
Ash: I repeat, all other priorities are rescinded.
Ripley: How do we kill it, Ash? There's gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?
Ash: You can't.
Parker: That's bullshit.
Ash: You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
Parker: Look, I am... I've heard enough of this, and I'm asking you to pull the plug.
Ash: [Ripley goes to disconnect Ash, who interrupts] Last word.
Ripley: What?
Ash: I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.

Scene from the movie Alien

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion


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 Monday, June 25th 2012, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella.

B: Hey everybody.

S: Rebecca Watson.

R: Hello everyone.

S: Jay Novella.

J: Hey Guys.

S: And Evan Bernstein.

E: Hey, hey, hey.

S: (laughs)

B: What's happening!?


E: What's happening!?

J: Hey, rerun.

B: The ectomorph, the endomorph and the mesomorph.

E: Gosh, that must be deeply stored somewhere in my brain, I can't believe I pulled that out.

This Day in Skepticism (0:40)[edit]

June 30, 1908 - The Tunguska event occurs in remote Siberia.

R: Well, guess what was happening 104 years ago today.

E: What was happening 104 years ago today?

S: A great big space kablooie?

R: I don't know if I'd say a space kablooie, because technically it kablooied in the Earth's atmosphere, but yes. On June 30th 1908, something exploded near the Tunguska river in Russia and that is most likely to have been a meteoroid that exploded in mid-air and left tons of trees leveled and on fire and then stripped of course.

B: 80 million trees, by the way. Lots o' trees.

R: That's a good factoid. I have a few more. The explosion was approximately 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

E: Much less deadly though.

B: I found a website that said it was equivalent to 185 Hiroshima bombs, so...

R: Hmmmm.

B: Um, so somewhere in there.

J: Yeah, but big. It was a big explosion.

E: Maybe 1000 Nagasaki bombs.

R: And in some places, the shock wave would have been equivalent to an earthquake of 5.0 on the Richter scale.

J: Whoa, that's big.

B: Wow.

S: I think you mean magnitude scale, not Richter.

R: The area of leveled forest was 2000 – about 2000 square kilometres, or about 800 square miles.

J: Oh my god.

E: Wow. Devastating.

R: And this other interesting thing that I actually saw on the Wikipedia page of all places, in 1938, a researcher did an areal photographic survey, but the photos he got were burned in 1975 by order of Yevgeny Krinov, who was the chairman of the committee on meteorites of the USSR Academy of Sciences and apparently, Krinov says he was burning them because they were a fire hazard.

J: He – wait wait wait. He burned them because they were a fire hazard.

R: Yeah.

J: Something's not right.

R: Yeah, it's possible that he actually burned them because it was a giant mystery and nobody knew the solution to it yet and it was embarrassing to Soviet scientists, but who knows.

S: So there's still a bit of a controversy over what exactly exploded over Tunguska. Was it a meteoroid or a comet, basically ice with debris or just a chunk of ice? Probably not just a chunk of ice because there was some mineral debris discovered, but recently Italian researchers – I think we discussed this before[link needed], but they recently published some evidence saying that they think a big chunk of whatever it was actually impacted the lake a few miles from what was believed to be ground zero and there are two lines of evidence. One is that they have some seismic evidence to say that there's some big, solid chunk underneath there and second, that the silting is about 100 years worth of silt or sediment, so that puts it, dates it about the right time as the Tunguska event.

B: Really?

S: Yeah. So it doesn't sound definitive, smoking-gun evidence, but they have a pretty plausible hypothesis and they might actually be on the trail of a big chunk of whatever it was that impacted there.

J: Well what else could it possibly be, guys?

E: Alien ship?

R: It seems that right now "meteoroid exploding in mid-air" is the most popular thing but – the most popular theory, but cometary fragment of ice is a big one just because there's a chance that it would have melted and therefore, you know, like the old using an ice pick as the murder weapon dealie? But and also that theory fits in with a lot of reports from people at the time who said that they saw strange blueness in the skies for the days following the explosion. It's suggested that maybe those came from the particles left in the air from a cometary fragment.

S: Yeah.

J: OK.

B: According to Don Yeoman, he's the manager of the Near Earth Object office at NASA's JPL, he said – his characterisation of this event is that it's the only entry of a large meteoroid we have in the modern era with first-hand accounts, which is interesting. It's the only one really that we have. We've been hit many times, but only once have we really seen something this big and had somebody eyewitness it. And some of the eyewitness accounts were interesting. One guy said – he's quoted as saying that "suddenly in the north sky, the sky was split in two and high above the forest the whole northern part of the sky appeared covered with fire. At that moment there was a bang in the sky and a mighty crash."

J: Wow.

E: Wow.

B: He actually saw this thing, and another guy; it's amazing, the shock wave must have been pretty intense. This guy was sitting on his porch 40 miles away in Siberia, and he was hurled from his chair and he said his shirt felt like it was on fire. 40 miles away.

R: The eyewitness reports are really interesting to read because all of them sound like they were witnessing this apocalyptic event that must have just scared the pants off of them.

J: Oh hell yeah.

R: And it's really interesting to have them all describe something that epic, you know, and I mean just imagine being one of the only people in the world to have seen something like that. It's pretty incredible.

E: And survived to tell about it.

R: Yeah.

News Items[edit]

The Science of Prometheus (06:07)[edit]

Neurologica: The science of Prometheus

E: Fire, huh?

S: Yeah, hmm.

E: I heard Prometheus stole fire from the gods.

S: So we are about to talk about the movie Prometheus; this is an Alien prequel and we're going to talk about the science of this movie; it's a science fiction movie, the actually refer to a lot of different little bits of science throughout the movie, and it's a very fun way to talk about the science itself. This is going to be a massive, continuous series of spoilers about the movie.

R: Which is why I would like to actually get off the call now because I was not able to see it this week.

S: You haven't even seen it yet?

E: Wha? But. Da.

R: I tried, I had friends in from out of town, I couldn't get there.

E: All right.

S: We we actually did wait a few weeks until the movie came – we didn't do this right away, although I saw the movie as soon as it came out – we wanted to wait so that people who really wanted to see the movie will have had a few weeks to do so before we talked about it on the show, but if you still haven't seen it and you want to without spoilers, just skip over this section and then come back and listen to it once you see the movie. But if you didn't see the movie and you still want to listen to this segment, I'm just going to give you the quick overview. Some type of aliens arrive on a planet – we're meant to believe that this is the planet Earth – and the alien drinks some black goo and then disintegrates and seeds the oceans with his DNA. This happened apparently at some point in the past, but we're not really – it's not clear, is it the Earth? If it is the Earth, was this before any life evolved on the Earth? Was it just before human life evolved on the Earth? It's really not clear. Then we jump to the future – to the present day – actually no, about 100 years in the future when scientists are piecing together evidence of ancient alien visitors to the earth. They go to visit the apparent location of those aliens and they run into what turns out to be a military base of the creatures that made the aliens from the Alien movies. That's the basic plot. So now let's go back, we could probably take the scientific gaffes in the order in which they appear in the movie, or at least the big ones. So part of my problem with the movie – I mean, I don't mind having things being ambiguous and mysterious; that's part of good story telling and science fiction. You don't need to know exactly why HAL went mental against the astronauts in 2001; that's fine, but it has to make some basic sense. The problem is that I can't find any way to make sense of the basic premise that some alien seeded his DNA on this planet and that somehow resulted in us.

E: Right, right.

B: Looking exactly like them, with –

E: A perfect match.

B: – 100% DNA correlation.

J: Well it's not just that, Steve; it's that it's rewriting proven science, science that is globally accepted by those that believe in science. So the issue here is that right out of the gate, from the word go, the movie is starting with a premise that's going to rub a lot of the science fiction fans wrong, like it's taking some of your core audience and basically saying "hey, for whatever reasons, I'm going to insult you right now".

S: Right, so the thing is, it would be OK if it were just – it's planting its DNA on the pre-biotic Earth and that DNA eventually will evolve into all life on Earth, because we are really not sure how the first self-replicating molecules got onto the Earth, it could have been through panspermia, it could have self-assembled on the Earth and there are theories as to how that could have happened, but it actually isn't against established, proven science that the Earth was seeded with molecules – with organic or self-replicating molecules 4 billion years ago or 3.5 billion years ago.

J: Not fully-formed DNA though.

S: Well even DNA, that's a little bit of a stretch, but even that wouldn't be an assault on what we know happened. But here's the thing: how would that lead, 3.5 billion years later, to humans? Because a human's DNA is what was seeded, you know what I mean? That doesn't make any sense, that's the connection that's completely missing.

E: It's almost like they're suggesting two different biologies at work here: there's one that the Earth conjured up itself that contains everything except humans, or the close ancestors of humans, and the engineers are responsible for the humans that came along on Earth; we've got two different biologies, effectively.

S: But that's almost worse, because how are they so similar to the rest of life on Earth and clearly humans evolved on Earth from other life on Earth. We were not planted here from some other system.

B: Yeah, it would be obvious.

S: Yeah, so there's just no way to make the whole thing work, you know?

J: Right.

E: But what about the archaeology in the caves, 35,000 –

B: That's the other big one.

E: That's the next step.

S: I found that so annoying. So two of the main characters in the movie are archaeologists who uncover a cave painting in which a typical cave painting cave man is pointing at these – it was like 5 or 6 or whatever – dots on the wall and they correlate apparently to paintings from multiple other cultures from 2,000 or so years ago. This cave painting was much older than 35,000 years; that's all that we are told. So we have different cultures painting these pictures of these seven dots and the archaeologists figure out that the dots are a star map.

J: Right.

S: This makes absolutely no sense, whatsoever.

B: On so many levels.

E: On a lot of levels. The place they go to is said to be 35 light years from earth, and even in 35,000 years, you're going to see shifts, in something that relatively close to the Earth. That map's not going to be worth anything.

J: But guys, even here, and I've read a lot of stuff online about this. The star system had to be close enough that they can get there sub-light speed in two years.

S: No, no, there's no way they got there sub-light speed in two years. There's no star that we could do that.

E: Well not, sub-light speed, yeah.

S: All right, we have to give them – and again, I have no problem with these kind of super-technological gimmes in science fiction. They had to do some kind of super-luminal speed; they're going through wormholes or they're gating or something.

J: But Steve, never in the Alien science fiction universe did they go faster than light.

S: They had to, Jay. They had to.

J: When? But they never said it – OK, maybe they had to, but it was never said or talked about, it was just in the background.

S: Yeah I know, but I'm willing to give that to them because it would take thousands, tens of thousands of years to get to the nearest stars sub-light, at anything with any reasonable acceleration.

B: Wait a second, if they're going at relativistic speeds, maybe it's two years ship time. Who knows what Earth time would be. Although, it would be kind of silly to get back to Earth and have it be 100,000 years later; that would be really silly if you plan on going back to Earth, but it's just something to consider.

S: Yeah, I'm talking Earth time. Ship time could be much shorter, although it would still be more than two years, I believe, but then it would be hundreds or thousands of years on Earth time; it doesn't fit the story line. So look hey, we'll give that to them. They do some kind of faster-than-light travel. But here's the thing: Evan already alluded to the fact that over 30,000 years, the location of any stars in our vicinity would shift, they wouldn't be where they were. A star map that's more than 35,000 years old would be worthless. I also think the whole concept of just any two-dimensional pattern of dots being a star map that's going to direct us to a specific cluster of stars – we would have to assume that it was as seen from the perspective of the Earth; we wouldn't really know – are the stars actually close together or they only lined up in one direction? It's just not enough information; they should have had some more complicated graphic or glyph that's just more than five dots, you know?

J: Yeah.

E: Yep, agreed.

B: Yeah, it sounds like they whipped together that idea, "oh let's do five dots" in one 20-minute meeting. "Yeah let's just do that". They didn't give it much thought.

J: That's exactly what happened, Bob. It sounds like people came up with it that are science fiction fans but don't get science. "Oh yeah, it'll be these five stars!"

S: "It'll be a star map!", yeah.

J: Yeah it's so basic, it's like – that idea is 30 years old.

S: Yeah, exactly. That's lazy old-school writing. And then their discussion of it was confused, they said "so we found the system", meaning? What do you mean the system, there are five stars here? And they said "and there's a sun in the system" or "there's a sun in one of them". What do you mean there's a sun in one of them, aren't these all suns?

J: Yeah, and they can't be much of a system without a sun anyway. "A system" implies that there's a sun in there, right?

B: Yeah it does.

S: And somebody commented that it could have meant that there was a planetary system around one of the stars making it a "sun", but it's still not the right nomenclature. Why didn't they say "and one of these stars has a planetary system around it"?

E: That's it, quick fix.

S: If they meant that, that's what they should have said. That part I found totally...

J: So two years goes by. Now an incredibly rich guy hires these two scientists to basically lead up a mission to go to the planet and find the Engineers.

S: Yeah, the Engineers are the alien creatures that made Humans, somehow.

E: Oh with an android; there's an android on the team too.

S: Yeah, best part of the movie, by the way, was the android.

B: Yeah, he was cool.

S: First of all, I have to say I enjoyed watching the movie; it was gorgeous to watch. I mean, just the images and everything were fabulous; I think it's worth seeing. The annoying parts are almost fun to be annoyed at; I like picking apart movies like this. The science wasn't the only problem; there were some major problems with the writing. I hated the way the characters were written; we can get this out of the way right now. One big problem was most of the main characters in the movie were scientists that were hand-picked to go on this trillion-dollar mission to discover not only the fist contact with alien life, but the aliens who may have been responsible for humanity, or life on earth, and who clearly had visited Earth and left a message for us to follow – to go find them. Huge mission, right? And all the scientists are buffoons.

E: (laughs) Every last one of them.

B: Plus, they sign up for a four-year mission without knowing the details of what the hell they're doing. "Yeah I'll do it". Wouldn't you ask for some details, I mean come on!

E: The geologist was just in it for the money, like he said.

S: Yeah. "I'm just in it for the money."

B: He must have been really good.

E: Cheap.

S: Is that why they picked you for this mission?

E: Which one do you want to start with?

S: I mean they're all terrible. So they get on this – and it's actually a moon of a ringed gas giant, although Bob and I were talking about the fact that the tidal forces on this moon would have been enormous.

B: Yeah, they would have been nasty; I mean, the surface would have overturned itself in and out over the millennia; there really wouldn't be much on the surface; the tidal forces would have been nasty. It would have been just basically a volcanic planet, I would guess, from the proximity to its primary.

S: Maybe it was further away than it seemed.

E: But it looked good.

B: Perhaps. It was just something that I noticed; I was like, "yeah, what about the tidal forces".

J: We're like a total nightmare to people who make movies like this.

S: They can talk to scientists while they're writing the movie rather than afterwards.

B: Right, or talk to us; we'll help you out.

E: That's the thing, they probably did.

S: Yeah, Ridley, next time call us, please. So listen, so the scientists get to this planet; they find that there's artifacts and they essentially go into this big beehive-like complex or working structure. They're inside this place; the planet apparently has oxygen – I'm calling it a planet, it's really a moon but it's a world that people were on.

B: With 1 g apparently.

S: Very convenient 1 g, very nice. It had oxygen even though there didn't appear to be that much life on it.

E: And nitrogen, yep.

S: But the carbon dioxide was too high for humans to breathe; they would pass out from the CO2. So they had to have helmets on, and apparently the air inside the structure was breathable. So now the scientists who are on a planet with alien life, what do they do? They take their helmets off.

E: Throw their helmet off.

S: "Well the air is breathable".

E: "How else can we know?"

S: What else can we be in isolation for?

E: Gee, microbes, bacteria.

B: Yeah, how about an airborne infection, hello.

J: Of course, anything, guys, anything. And this is one of the big defining moments in this movie and in all science fiction movies, the big "take the helmet off" moment. Right? It's such an iconic mistake to make. Don't take your helmet off! It never leads to anything good, number one, and number two, every single time somebody takes their helmet off, they shouldn't!

E: But Jay, you don't understand, it lends dialogue to the people who have to say "no, don't take your helmet off, you shouldn't". "I'm taking my helmet off anyways".

J: Wait now Steve, you missed – I'm sorry I have to jump back to a moment in the movie that you missed because it happens to be the big defining "this movie is crap" moment for me, OK? So, it's when the lead scientist says that the circles they found on all the drawings is not a star map, but it's actually an invitation from the engineers who created the human race, right? And to cap it off, when she's asked how she knows that information is correct, she says she doesn't know, it's what she chooses to believe. And apparently that's good enough for all the other scientists on board because not one of them instantly pukes at that moment and says something like "hey, 300 years of science is now thrown away because you found an invitation". And then on top of that – I'll even go one step further – the truly profound sadness of the whole thing is that, according to the movie, she's right! She's actually right; all of that horrible thinking and lack of reasoning is correct in this ridiculous universe.

S: It actually wasn't a leap to say that – if you buy the whole star map thing and it was left obviously with multiple cultures, that we would see the pattern and everything – that they intended us to follow it. I mean that's what she was saying. And that's actually fine; that she concluded that, but the evidence and the logic led you to that, not just "I choose to believe it; I have faith in it" and the fact that that statement went unchallenged by a room full of scientists created the sense that these characters were not behaving like real scientists. But most of the time they weren't behaving like normal human beings, let alone scientists, they were doing things that were just stupid and were out of character and were completely inconsistent; the character writing was just terrible. So, I agree with you Jay; it's part of what we're talking about, getting back to the taking-the-helmet-off thing, the other thing was that you had no sense from the way these people were behaving, of any training or seriousness. There was no protocol. Wouldn't there be an elaborate protocol in terms of not getting infected when you're on a planet that you have a high – you're there because you think there's alien life there, and they would have some kind of protocol in place, but there was nothing; they were like high school kids exploring an abandoned building. It was just no sense that these people knew what they were doing or had any training or were prepared for this at all.

J: Right, the height of that lack of protocol comes about 15 minutes further into the movie when two of the scientists get stuck in another part of this spaceship/monument-type deal, whatever the hell they're in, and they're in there overnight because all of the other scientists went back to the ship but they got lost and they get stuck in there, which is ridiculous that the guy got lost in the first place.

S: Yeah, we have to pause, all right? Because this is another bit about not behaving like scientists. This is the geologist guy who is like "oh I'm just here for the money, I'm a tough guy". Now he turns into a little pansy because he – first of all, he bugs out – he wants to bug out because they found a dead body. "Oh my god, we found a dead body, I'm so scared, I'm getting out of here. Screw you guys I'm going back to the ship". This is also the guy now who brought these laser-tracking devices that are in the process of completely mapping this entire structure. This is the guy who gets lost. The guy with the map – the 3D laser-generated map of the entire structure – he's the guy who gets lost.

E: Hey, he's just in it for the money Steve; come on.

J: Yeah. All right, so now these guys are in this room; they're in the room that has like all of these...

E: Pods.

J: Little pods that are reminiscent of Alien...

S: With the eggs.

J: The room with all the pods with the, if you remember, with the eggs that have the laser light (mumbles)... So that goo is actually the stuff that changes biology, OK? And there's worms on this planet that they show that are crawling around and the worms get in the goo and the goo turns the worms into the alien worms. Like, it's what an alien would be if it impregnated a worm. So, the worm very quickly grows into this big worm, and the biologist of the crew – if you don't know what a biologist is, I'll remind you: it's the guy who understands, oh I don't know, biology – sees an alien worm thing come up. And his initial reaction is, "oh look, look how cute it is".

S: It doesn't look like a worm. It's the size of a beefy cobra and it adopts the stance and the attitude of a cobra; flaring its head, hissing, it's obviously, obviously, a threatening display and this guy goes "oh look at the cute little animal". I mean it was, like it was a puppy. This is the guy – this is the two guys who were leaving because they saw a dead body and they were freaked out by it and now he wants to play, to cuddle up with a hissing space cobra.

J: An alien, an alien! I don't care if you see an alien and it looks like a little teddy bear, you run! It's an alien, for Christ's sake, the thing – who knows what's going on?

S: That's like – do you guys remember Galaxy Quest?

J: Yeah.

B: Yeah.

S: The cute little guys. "Look at the cute little guys", and they bare their teeth and they're horrible carnivores. Exactly; they're alien, you don't know what they are; you don't know the millions of threats that that thing could have evolved, and to assume, "oh the guy's a biologist so he must think that all life forms are cuddly even if they're carnivores". That again, the guy wasn't even behaving like a human being, let alone a biologist hand-picked to be the first biologist to study alien life.

E: Was that you guys' first moment of disgust with the movie, because that was it for me, where I became like "wow, they are really insulting my intelligence right now as a movie goer".

J: I'll agree with you, Evan; That was – I think you and I were sitting together and I remember us sharing a look at that moment.

E: We just sighed and were like, hands on our foreheads, like, what are they doing?

J: This is a really good example of what I like to call – John Carpenter's The Thing set the bar and you have to – from that moment forward, when that movie was created in the 80s – you have to live up to that movie, and here's why: The reason why that movie was insanely successful, where this movie blatantly fails is: everybody in The Thing did exactly what regular people would do. They were scared; they were cautious; they didn't really do anything stupid; they tried to talk about things; they tried to do the best job that they can, and it was obvious that they were all relatively intelligent.

S: Yeah, they did a good job, actually; that's the thing, it made the movie more scary because the people in the movie were like really being proactive and intelligent and they still got screwed! Whereas in this movie, it's like they're dead because they're stupid and they deserve to be dead.

J: That's right, at some point you just start going – first off you don't care about any of the characters, but when you don't care about characters in a movie, sometimes you start pitching for the other team. Then you're like "go get him, alien, yeah! Kill him, he's an idiot, I hate that guy!".

E: Save the human race!

S: Yeah. Here's the part where the acid gets sprayed in his face, here we go. Along the theme of "scientists acting out of character". So the archaeologist gets infected with a space worm. He's looking in the mirror. A space worm crawls out of his eye. So clearly, taking off the helmet was not a good idea; he's infected. And he doesn't mention it to anybody. And there's no isolation protocol. You know, he looked a little concerned for a moment there, but then I guess he figured everything was OK.

E: "Oh yeah, I'm fine."

B: It wasn't the helmet though that got him; the android gave him the drink.

S: I know, but he didn't know that; at this point he should be thinking "jeez, I guess I shouldn't have taken my helmet off," not "oh I wonder if the android spiked my drink with aliens deliberately".

J: Yeah and they take their helmets off again the next day; he lets his wife who he loves take off her helmet again.

S: Yeah.

E: What about the head that they put in the bag?

S: So yeah. So, they find a decapitated head of one of the aliens who – they're humanoid, their DNA is "identical" to human DNA, but they're like 8 feet, 9 feet tall and they're not exactly identical to humans. Anyway, they find the decapitated head. They mention that it's remarkably well preserved but they don't really offer any reasonable explanation for why the thing is fresh; it's not just well-preserved, it's fresh, like–

B: It's pliable, yeah.

S: It's like living-tissue fresh. And they're able to trick it into thinking it's alive by stimulating its locus ceruleus, so I guess they just chose a random name of a part of the brain to stimulate.

E: (laughs)

S: "Let's look up a brain, oh locus ceruleus; we'll go with that one," you know.

E: Do a Google search, quick! Brain parts.

J: And they stick like this meat-tenderiser-type of prong into the head and its eyes open up and it gets a horrified look on its face and then for no reason –

S: It explodes.

J: The head explodes.

S: Just because, you know. Because it was scared.

B: And there was no alien in it, it just exploded. It's like, well why?

S: Because it was cool I guess. It just threw stuff all over the place.

E: Something's got to blow up.

J: Because it was mad, it was mad that they woke it up, and I'm not kidding when I say that.

E: You disturbed my slumber!

S: All right, one little thing, there's- at one point the scientists throw out the line that they're going to carbon-14 date the remains, right; it was the alien that they found? Now, very quick background on how carbon-14 dating works: Carbon-14 is an isotope of carbon-12, which is the typical isotope. It's usually formed by cosmic rays colliding with nitrogen atoms in the atmosphere, converting the nitrogen atom into carbon-14. This is incorporated into carbon dioxide, which gets incorporated into plants, which then get eaten by animals. So, living creatures on Earth with have the same ratio of carbon in their bodies as the ratio of carbon-14 to -12 in the atmosphere of the planet; it's sort of in this steady state. And then when you die, the carbon-14 – now you're not replenishing your carbon 14 any more, so the carbon-14 spontaneously decays back into nitrogen, but the carbon-12 is stable, so the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 is – we know the starting point because we know what the ratio is in the atmosphere and then the amount of carbon-14 will decrease according to the half-life, which is about 5000 years, of carbon-14 decaying into nitrogen. So, in order to do carbon-14 dating, you need to know what the steady-state ratio or carbon-14 to carbon-12 is, and they make no mention of calibrating the carbon-14 dating to this world, this moon. Further, we have no idea what the aliens were eating; we don't know that they were eating plants or animals derived from this planet's atmosphere or if they brought food with them and what that ratio was. They really don't have any way of knowing how to calibrate the carbon-14 dating. You can't just apply it to this – to organic matter on an alien world in an unusual situation that you have no idea about.

B: And that's something that any scientist would have picked up. If they'd just run this by anybody – you know, at the very least they could have come up with something different, a different element, some other little bit of technobabble that would sell the scene but not make it scientifically stupid.

S: Yeah.

E: But my fear here is that Ridley Scott and his team did that; they did consult scientists; they did get the correct ideas of these things, but they dismissed them; they decided to go a different direction because it wasn't cool enough in their minds. I think that's what happened.

B: Oh boy.

E: Because right, what, did Ridley Scott and the Prometheus crew find the most incompetent scientists in the world and gather them together as the scientific consultants for this movie?

S: I just don't think that they – I think that they just didn't listen to whatever consultants said.

E: They just didn't listen, right.

S: But it wouldn't have taken, it's not like it was an artistic thing. So you have the guy say "oh I'm carbon-14 dating this, assuming my calibrations are correct to this planet". You know, just throw something so that anybody who knows what it is won't be insulted by it or would go "oh well, they actually thought of it, that's cool" and if you don't know what it is, it just sounds like technobabble which lends to the atmosphere of the movie. You know, it's generally a good idea to write to sort of the most knowledgeable or the deepest level of your audience or always be one notch better than that. You never want to write on a level that is more ignorant than your audience is going to be, and while a general audience may not pick up on a lot of these things, this is a science fiction movie, a lot of science nerds are going to watch it and pick it apart, which is what's been happening. All right, we have to get some of the medical crap in the movie.

E: Well, that was all good (laughs).

S: Yeah. So the main character, who is the wife of the guy with the space worm, who got infected by the android; they have sex and apparently that's enough to inseminate her with alien genetic material; so she's rapidly growing an alien inside of her womb. She discovers this. Fortunately, the ship has an automated surgical unit, you know, like this little box, you climb into it; the computer has attachments that will do surgery on you, right?

B: This is my favourite little technological device; it was really cool, you plug in what kind of problem do you have? I have a penetrating wound, I've got a stye in my eyelid, whatever; you go in there and these robotic arms take care of your problem, slicing into you and doing whatever it takes and it's really cool, and I really love that scene, except...

S: Well the execution was crap. First of all, incorporate some diagnostics. The thing is that, other than the fact that this was all automated, the technology on display was very 2012.

B: It was basic, it was basic.

S: It was automated current-day surgery. It wasn't the kind of surgery you'd expect to be happening 100 years from now.

B: Right, that is true; it was a little simple and it seemed tailor made for that one specific kind of operation that she needed and they weren't really tools that I think were adaptable to all different types of things.

J: It actually had a claw like the claw that you would see in one of those machines where you drop the claw to get the plush doll. You didn't have like an articulate hand type of thing that – you know, you'd have this robot hand in there that was much more articulated than a human hand. It just came out with this stupid hook claw and plucked – and takes something out of her body. Oh god, go ahead Steve, I don't want to take the medical aspect.

S: That's all right, I mean, you're doing fine because it was that stupid. So it does essentially a caesarian section on her to extract this alien from her womb. First of all, they didn't preclude the actual surgery with any automated diagnostic; it's like, I'm sure it could have imaged her and found exactly – done an automatic diagnostic run, that would have been an nice addition, and then it slices into her pretty much like you would today, nothing laproscopic, nothing more technological. Again, this big claw descends, sort of grabs the thing by the head and pulls it out. There was no finesse; it looked it was going to drop the thing; I mean, it really didn't look like a very sophisticated surgical attachment, you know. And then this is the worst part though, this is the killer.

B: Yeah, this is bad.

S: So the surgery is done. There's two bad things. One is that it pulls out the alien and then she yanks the umbilical cord out of herself, right? So she detaches it from... so what is that umbilical cord connected to?

E: All her vitals.

S: Wouldn't it be connected to some kind of placenta? So if you just yank out and detach an umbilical cord from a placenta inside of you then you will bleed out fairly quickly. You can't leave a placenta inside of you and just yank the cord off.

E: But this is an alien.

S: You know, it would have been a nice little touch if she delivered the placenta too, or wouldn't the automated robot thing know, "OK now we have to get rid of the placenta as well"?

J: Or at least sew it up or something, anything.

S: But then the big big thing was that in order to close this wound; so now it's cut through skin, sub-cutaneous tissue, fascia, abdominal muscle and then the womb.

E: Cockles.

S: And then to close all of that up, it just staples her skin shut.

E: Chooka chooka chooka.

S: That was it. Like I said, 2012 surgical technology.

J: At that point, she would need to lie in a hospital bed, even if she didn't bleed to death like Steve said, she gets up and does phenomenal feats of athletics after that.

B: Of running.

E: Running, jumping.

B: Her guts would be on the floor even before she got out of that little surgical pod.

S: Yeah so stapling the skin closed would not be enough to keep your abdomen shut. It would have been nice – technically, they would have done at least three levels of suturing: the womb, the abdominal muscle, probably another deep layer, and then the skin, so three or four layers of closure to really close that wound. They didn't do that, and the other thing is, it's 100 years in the future. Staples, really? I mean come on, shoot some foam in there or have the healing lasers close it up. I would totally give them some hypothetical futuristic medical technology that allowed for almost instantly close and be healed to the point where she could run around without spilling her guts all over the floor, but all it did was put in one external superficial layer of staples and there was no appearance of any other advanced medical technology. And then, as everyone said, she's running around, wincing at her stomach but running around. There's no way; she would have burst those staples wide open with what she was doing.

J: Yeah, but they were staples that were 100 years advanced, Steve; come on.

S: It's not about the strength of the staples, it's about holding your guts in with your skin, as opposed to all the layers of muscle and fascia that normally do it.

J: Garbage! What else you got?

S: It was terrible.

B: Yet again, another cool idea that they totally trashed; it could have been so much better. I still enjoyed that scene, just because the concept was so awesome, but the execution was like, oh guys, a little extra thought, an extra $1000 in your stupid budget and you could have made it so much better.

J: Steve, I'm curious to know what you think in particular about why, in this movie, we don't connect with the characters, and we don't care about the characters, because that's always the kiss of death for a movie.

S: Yeah, partly because – for example, with the geologist. What was his character? Who was this guy? First he's a tough guy, "I don't care"; then he's techno-guy, whipping out the laser balls, and then he's afraid of a dead body, and then he's stupid. I don't know, I don't know who this guy was, he had no consistent character.

E: He's grossly incompetent.

S: You know what I mean? I can't really describe him, it's just like he was in every scene what he needed to be to clumsily push the plot forward and there was nothing there to connect with. And the other characters – again there was- he was the worst in my opinion, but the other ones were flat in a lot of ways and they didn't – they were too stupid to really connect to. I thought they were so obviously plot devices; so when a character is a plot device, they're a redshirt, you're not meant to connect to them. It's like everyone in this movie was a redshirt; they were just there to- it's like the teenager in a horror movie who does the really "hello is there somebody there?" you know?

J: Yeah. "I'm going to go take a shower over here now! Bill?"

E: (laughs)

S: Yeah, it's like you're there to be splattered. So immediately, I'm not going to care about you because I already know that you're splatter fodder. That's why.

B: I always compare it to the characters in James Cameron's Aliens, the second Alien movie, because for me that's one of the science fiction epics, and I love the way he wrote his characters in that movie; almost every one of them, either I loved them or I hated them, but I had a strong connection and emotion. But all of these characters, like anybody in the entire movie, except the one guy that wasn't a human.

S: Right, exactly.

B: I didn't like any of the humans, like come on. Oh, pathetic, pathetic.

S: Game over, man. Game over!

B: Yeah.

J: I have the final comment, and I think you all will agree. An Alien only shows up in the last 15 seconds of the movie.

S: An actual Alien, yeah.

J: The whole movie was a set-up.

E: Yeah, an actual one.

J: For crying out loud, come on!

S: (laughs) It seemed gratuitous, and like "OK, this is supposed to get us excited for the next movie?" You know.

E: (laughs) Hey, but other than that, guys, this movie was great! Woah! Other than that 50 minutes, this was wonderful.

Time Slowing Down (42:04)[edit]

Telegraph: Not enough hours in the day? Scientists predict time will stop completely

S: Well, now that that's done with, Bob, tell us why time is slowing down, and not just while you're watching the movie Prometheus.

B: Yeah. This is a weird story. Some scientists have come up with a pretty wacky alternative explanation to the ever-increasing expansion rate of the universe. They say that this expansion is just an artifact and that it's being caused by time slowing down, as Steve said. But not only that, at some point in the far future, according to them, time could totally stop, freezing the universe in its tracks. Now you're probably thinking, "what the hell are you talking about, Bob? What about dark energy, right?" Well, yes. This, of course, runs counter to what scientists have called dark energy these past 20, 25 years or so. In the 90s, examinations of certain types of supernovae called Type 1a showed that they were fainter than expected. And since all of these supernovae were all fainter than they should be, based on the red shift, meant that they had to be further away, meaning that the universe is expanding faster and not slowing down like everybody assumed at that time. So, the energy or whatever it is that suffuses space to cause expansion is exactly what dark energy is. Now this latest take on the apparent, I guess, expansion of the universe comes from Professor Senovilla and there's a couple of other guys, Marc Mars and Raul Vera; they're from the University of the Basque Country, Bilbao and the University of Salamanca, Spain. They say that we're looking at this whole effect backwards. The universe only appears to be expanding at an increasing rate. What might really be happening, according to them, instead, is that time is slowing down. So when we look into our telescopes, we're looking into the past when time was moving at a faster rate, and it's this that's giving us the illusion – this artifact or illusion of increasing expansion. We can't – humans can't notice time slowing down with our paltry human senses, of course, unless you are watching the Jersey Shore or something like that, but many billions of years from now, the effect could be very dramatic. Professor Senovilla says then everything will be frozen like a snapshot at one instant, for ever.

J: I hope I'm doing something cool when that happens.

B: Yeah, right?

E: Not pulling some weird face or something, picking your nose.

B: Yeah, I know what I'd like to do.

E: (laughs)

B: A lot of this strikes me as being really silly and the really frustrating thing is that I couldn't find too many useful details about this. A lot of what I found – I found one thing that was really way to technical for my nanobrain, but a lot of the stuff was written by people who clearly are more accustomed to writing about home gardening. I was really amazed at how pathetic some of these news items were. I've got to throw you some quotes because my jaw just dropped with some of this stuff. At, they were saying that "the theory of an expanding universe is based on the fact that planets appear to be moving away from us". Well no, not planets; I mean it's stars and OK, you know, kind of like, you know just a mistake like that; it's not a typo, that's just like wait no, you've got to do a little more homework before you write something like that.

S: I have no patience for people who don't know the difference between planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies, universes. There was like one cartoon from our youth – you guys remember this? Where like the intro was, "together with the other civilisations of the solar system, they help protect the universe from other things in the galaxy". It's like they were just completely mixing it all up, like it's all just random phrases referencing space, you know? Oh I just hate that. I can't imagine walking around without having a reasonable working model of the universe in your head, you know? Like how everything fits together, at least in a very basic way, I just don't get it.

B: I don't get it either, and what also gets me is that people will say, "oh I don't care". How could you not care about the big picture; it just amazes me that people just don't care enough to get even a fundamental appreciation of stuff like that. But there's a couple more here. The Telegraph said "observations of supernovae, or exploding stars, found the movement of light indicated they were moving faster than those nearer to the centre of the universe."

S: The centre of the universe, huh?

B: There is no centre, everything is the centre of the universe; there is no place that you could point to and say that is the centre. So that was kind of sketchy. And the Daily Mail had a good one: "The reports that scientists have used measurements of light from exploding stars millions of miles from Earth[1] to show the universe"...

S&E: (laugh)

B: Whoa, so wait a second.

E: Wait, at least 5 million miles for Earth, Bob; that's all, a lot of miles.

B: The sun is more than millions, it's 93 million. That was the one that's... millions of miles from Earth, OK.

S: Trillions of millions of miles from Earth or something like that, but you know.

E: Well yes, right?

B: How about quadrillions or quintillions, come on. Let's see... oh,, let's see, what do they have to say? "It might sound difficult to believe, but a cosmologist at Cambridge University, says the idea is not without substance:" And here's his quote, and it struck me as too odd. "We believe that time emerged during the Big Bang, and if time can emerge, it can also disappear - that's just the reverse effect." [2]

E: Uh.

B: What? I'm having trouble...

J: What, are they making this shit up?

B: They did not name this guy; they didn't even say his first name, you know?

E: They misquoted him; clearly, they must have.

B: I think they just made it up. I can't imagine anybody, any cosmologist from Cambridge University saying that; that just strikes me as no, it's just the reverse effect? It doesn't make sense to me, I mean, how is time – yeah, "time could disappear since it appeared in the first place". Wait, spacetime – it's the fabric of the universe; how is time going to disappear?

S: That's probably a reporter butchering a quote from the scientist.

B: Well yeah.

S: That's the most likely scenario. They talked for an hour, they cherry-picked that one quote from him to plug into the story and they butchered it, that's by far and away the most likely thing that happened.

E: That's good work, boys.

B: If you put something in quotes, man. Oh boy. OK. So, I mean I don't even have much more than that. And also the other thing that kind of disappointed me was that I found a lot of talk on this specific story that's like 5 or 6 years old. So it's like oh wait, this isn't really brand-new stuff, this has been passed around for literally years, and the fact that I haven't really heard about any of this before and no one is really talking about it makes me think "well yeah, it's just never really panned out" and for some reason, I couldn't really work out why, it's back in the news, I didn't see anything that –

S: Slow news day.

B: Yeah, it must have been a slow news day.

S: No they do this, I mean reporters will dredge stuff up from years ago and report it as if it's news.

R: It reminded me of a news story we talked about a couple of years ago[link needed] about the time dimension being replaced by another space dimension, do you guys remember talking about that?

S: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

B: Well not another space...

R: Yeah, it's like the brain-theory-sort of stuff where they were... and it's another thing, that was like four years ago; I don't think I've seen anything about this since, so maybe it was another sort of flash-in-the-pan suggestion, but it is cool to think about it because it forces you to realise that time isn't something that always was, or- and you can't even talk about time that way, like in terms of always, because every, like our language, the way we act, the way we understand things is all informed by the fact that we're subject to time and so it's really- what's a PG way to say mind f –.

S: Mind screw.

B: Mind coitus.

E: Brain copulation.

J: Brain copulation?

R: It's a mind screw, I'll go with that.

S: Yeah.

R: (laughing) Brain copulation.

B: Um, yeah. I've heard of that – well I haven't specifically heard of doing away with time and adding another dimension of space, but I have heard of multiple dimensions of time, which is- I wouldn't know how that would work, but it sounds really cool. How would that work? How would these two dimensions of time interact, because the dimensions of space can obviously coexist, but I'm not sure how time would actually pull that off, but it would be cool if it's possible.

S: The one kernel of reasonableness in this whole thing is that time is a variable; it's not a constant, it is relative, so saying that "oh we appear to be moving faster now than we did in the past, so we must be accelerating", yeah but it's true, you could manipulate other variables to get to that result, and you could just say, "well maybe we're not accelerating, maybe time is slowing down". It sounds crazy but that's no crazier than saying, light is a constant and space and time are variables; you know, the whole relativity thing. And just because theoretical cosmologists haven't done much with it in the last four years doesn't mean that it's been dis-proven or it's dead. It could be the time of thing that takes decades to really think through.

Quickie with Bob: Higgs Update (51:11)[edit]

Higgs announcement expected

J: I want a quickie with bob.

R: I demand a quickie with Bob.

E: I don't want a quickie with Bob. Oh, OK.

B: OK, so this is your Quickie With Bob, and this is a quick update with the Higgs Boson – it was in the news the past couple of weeks. The Higgs Boson is a particle that is supposed to imbue all matter with mass. The Standard Model of physics predicts it. It's like one of its major predictions that hasn't been found yet and it looks like we're so close, we can taste it. Scientists will release their new data- their new discoveries that they've made at CERN regarding this, next month during the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Melbourne, Australia. I'd live to be there, it's July 4th to July 11th, right before TAM so maybe we'll have something interesting to talk to at TAM. There was a spokesman from CERN, James Gillies said recently "On July 4 we will be able to say whether either there is nothing in the data this year; or there are still hints in the data, but not strong enough for us to be able to say that it is a discovery; and possibly a discovery," he said. "Either of those three things is possible."[3] You know, perhaps they'll say "yup, we've finally found the Higgs and it's all good and we're so confident we can announce a discovery" so that, of course is the best case scenario, but maybe, perhaps more likely, they'll say something like, "well, we've narrowed yet again the range of energies that the Higgs could be hiding in". That's another possibility, and it would be OK that they're zeroing in even more but you know, it's not the best news. And then of course there's also the possibility that they still could say "well guys, after careful examination of the ATLAS and CMS data, last year's tantalizing results were just a statistical anomaly". That's possible, that they could discount the cool results that they had last year, and that would be a big bummer, but who knows? Even that might point to some interesting new physics. But then again, you know, if you listen to some of these respected bloggers that have been talking about this, maybe we do have a right to be fairly confident that they're going to come out with some really awesome news next month. Mathematician Peter Woit wrote in his blog, Not Even Wrong, he said "The bottom line though is now clear: there’s something there which looks like a Higgs is supposed to look."[4] So according to at least...

S: Eeeh! Time's up! All right.

B: Oh boy.

R: We'll never know.

S: So essentially, there may or may not be an announcement next month which may or may not have demonstrated the Higgs. Got it.

E: (laughs)

S: All right.

B: This has been your Quickie With Bob, I hope it was good for you too.

S: Thanks Bob.

Who's That Noisy? (53:42)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Wendy Wright

S: Evan, it's time for Who's That Noisy.

E: Steve, yes.

J: Nice try, Bob.

E: Who's That Noisy. From two episodes ago we had the baby rhinoceros; remember that cute little noise the baby rhinoceros made, but nobody got that right. So, cute though it may have been, it stumped the audience so, but you know go ahead, have a look online for baby rhinoceri, and they are cute. OK, moving on. Last week's Who's That Noisy, and here we go:

There is no evidence of evolution from one species to another, there's micro evolution within a species, but not going from one species to another.

R: I'd know that voice anywhere.

E: Yes, that purveyor of science and evolution and good education Miss Wendy Wright.

S: Wendy Wright.

E: Yeah. Rebecca, you guessed this one correctly.

J: Wendy Wright is wrong!

R: I did, and it's sad that, like her – something about her voice just, as soon as I heard it I was like oh god, that terrible interview with Dawkins where she just – like the stuff that comes out of her mouth!

E: First of all she's the former president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, which is a conservative Christian political action group, she's apparently...

R: Where three of the top five paid positions are men.

E: (laughs) That is iro... that's called irony.

R: A little fact for you about the Concerned Women of America.

E: She was once listed as one of the 100 most powerful women in Washington in 2006 by Washingtonian Magazine, which is a scary enough thought in itself. And you do have to go and you have to watch on YouTube the interview conducted by Richard Dawkins of Wendy Wright[5], and she's clueless as all get, she absolutely has no clue what science is, but at the same time, my impression is that this woman is very, very convincing in the sense that she handles herself very professionally. She sounds - to the uninformed and to neophytes when it comes to this thing and to the ignorant - she comes off as being very intelligent and very well spoken in a certain way, she never says "um", she never pauses, she never fumbles over her words, she has her lines, she has her rote down very, very well. And you can see how she could be a very influential person in a place like Washington, DC which pays very little attention to the science of the day, in my opinion. So it's fascinating to watch.

S: Looking intelligent to the ignorant, got it.

E: Many, many correct answers. Apparently this interview was watched by many of our listeners, which is a good thing. Belgarath from the message boards was the first one to guess correctly, so well done sir.

S: All right, well what have you got for this week?

E: OK, here we go. This week's Who's That Noisy.

(piano music)

E: OK, so what you heard was music, OK, that's clear enough to anybody, right? But this music is an interpretation of something scientific; that's your clue for this week.

J: Oh cool.

E: So you need to figure out what is this representation. What does this music represent in the world of science?

J: OK.

E: Give it your best shot, is our email, and you could also guess on our forums, Jump on the message boards and give us your thoughts. Good luck everyone.

S: Thanks, Evan.

Questions and Emails[edit]

Nessie Disproves Evolution (57:29)[edit]

S: Couple emails this week, the first one comes from Michael Denman from the United States and Michael writes:

I saw this article today and was just absolutely amazed. I hope you're able to share it with your listeners.

S: And he links to an article about how American fundamentalist schools are using the Loch Ness Monster to prove that creationism is correct.

R: Mmhmm.

E: (laughs)

R: This is actually something I've heard in creationist circles before, although – I mean the argument, this is the first time that I've heard that it's being taught in schools.

S: Yeah, it's interesting because what they're talking about is the Accelerated Christian Education or ACE program, which is kind of like a curriculum, a Christian-based curriculum that is taught in religious schools in the United States, in some religious schools, and also is used by a lot of Christian home schoolers. And it's interesting because I had the same reaction; there's a couple of arguments in there that I've heard from a number of different creationists, and now I know why, because they're all learning it from this Accelerated Christian Education textbook crap. So this is one: I looked into it a little bit further and there are people who went through this education and who are no longer believers who have reported on the content of these books and quoted from it directly – I guess they have copies of the book.

R: And that gives us a little hope, just to mention, you know, some people escape.

S: One website called Leaving Fundamentalism has a couple of blog posts, one is the Top 5 Lies Taught By Accelerated Christian Education. Number 5 is the "Loch Ness Monster Disproves Evolution". Essentially they say that the Loch Ness Monster is a dinosaur, a plesiosaur, which is not a dinosaur by the way, a plesiosaur is an aquatic reptile that lived at the time of the dinosaurs but was not a dinosaur – it's like a pterodactyl.

R: That won't be the worst fact that they'll have gotten wrong, but OK.

S: Yeah. It's like saying a pterodactyl is a dinosaur. Nope! It was a flying reptile, not a dinosaur.

J: What?

S: In any case, pterodactyls were not dinosaurs.

E: Nor were they birds.

B: Yes.

S: They were their own order of flying reptiles that were contemporary to the dinosaurs.

E: That's right, like Batman.

S: So what they say is:

Some scientists speculate that Noah took small or baby dinosaurs on the Ark... are dinosaurs still alive today? With some recent photographs and testimonies of those who claimed to have seen one, scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence... Have you heard of the "Loch Ness Monster" in Scotland? "Nessie", for short, has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

S: There you go.

E: What the hell scientists are they talking to?

S: If dinosaurs are contemporary to mankind, then evolution is wrong. That's the whole point there, which is...

E: I'll live you that.

S: ...wrong and wrong. Number four, and this is something I've heard, I've argued with creationists about, I didn't realise it was coming from this source. "Solar fusion is a myth".

B: (laughs)

S: The sun is not powered by solar fusion, it's powered by...

J: By love.

S:'s the energy of its collapse; the sun is shrinking. The reason why they like the idea of the sun shrinking is that if you extrapolate into the past - millions of years in the past - the sun would have gobbled up the Earth, so it disproves the antiquity of the universe. Of course, the sun is not shrinking and it is, it burns with a nuclear fuel. Number three is "a Japanese whaling boat found a dinosaur".

E: Godzilla.

R: I love that one.

S: Yeah (laughs) And it's – some people are saying, "are they confusing this with the movie Godzilla?" But no, it's the decayed lump of flesh that you could see whatever you want in it, that somebody pulled up; it's some animal that was rotting in the ocean.

R: I just how matter of fact the statement is, you know?

S: Yeah.

R: Fishermen found a dinosaur.

S: There you go.

R: Evolution is wrong. Don't ask questions. That's it. That's the fact.

S: Number two is "evolution has been disproved". OK we know that one. And number one is "humans and dinosaurs coexisted". This is interesting because they cite the Paluxy tracks, which have been disproved so thoroughly that even Answers in Genesis will no longer cite it as evidence, but it found its way into the ACE textbook and there it stays; you know, and they apparently haven't updated it in the last 30 years.

E: They're perhaps referring to that scientific show that was once on television called the Flintstones, in which humans and dinosaurs existed quite well together, yes.

S: So unfortunately, yes. That is the quality of some fundamentalist education in the US and apparently in the UK as well; it's not isolated to the US.

Science or Fiction (1:02:18)[edit]

S: Well let's move on to Science or Fiction.

Voiceover: It's time for Science or Fiction.

S: Each week, I come up with three science news items or facts, two genuine and one fictitious, and I challenge my panel of skeptics to tell me which one is the fake. Now we're in the pre-TAM phase where we have to get a few shows under our belt quickly so that we'll have the show done while we're in Vegas at The Amazing Meeting, so it makes it challenging to come up with multiple Science or Fictions in the same week, so often I resort to doing some special themes, and I'm doing a special theme today. This is a fun one.

B: Oh god.

S: Now have you guys heard of the Wisdom of Chopra?

E: (laughs)

R: Is that the random generator?

S: Yeah. It doesn't help you that you've heard about it.

R: Damn.

S: So somebody has come up with a wonderful website called the Wisdom of Chopra that generates random phrases that are meant to sound like the kind...

E: Probably makes more sense than anything he's ever said.

S: ...of wisdom that Deepak Chopra dispenses on his Twitter feed.

R: Oh no. Oh I think we're about to try to figure that out.

S: What I have are four bits of wisdom, three are from Chopra's actual Twitter feed. One I generated on the random phrase generator.

R: Oh man.

S: From the Wisdom of Chopra.

J: Pretty smart, Steve.

S: You have to tell me which one of these four phrases was randomly generated from the other three, who are actual things that Deepak Chopra has said on his Twitter feed. OK, ready?

B: Maybe we should call this Chopra and Fiction instead of Science or Fiction.

E: Science or Chopra.

B: Because there's clearly no science this week, folks!

S: Fiction or fiction, right?

J: Sounds like it.

S: Item number one. "Awareness is the birthplace of possibility". Item number two. "To know the world, feel your body".

R: God damn it.

J: Oh yeah, I feel it every night.

B: Ooh.

E: (laughs) There's the world again!

S: Item number three. "Established in Being, perform action". And item number four. "Knowledge is the path to your own positivity". Jay, go first.

J: All right, so this, "Awareness is the birthplace of possibility". I've got to say that that sounds like so much like him that the website is either fantastic or that's him. Second one. "To know the world, feel your body". You are a filthy man, Deepak. There's so many things I could say about that, but not on this show. And then the third one is, "Established in Being, perform action" and that is the exact type of pseudo-scientific crap that comes flying out of his mouth every day. And finally, the last one. "Knowledge is the path to your own positivity". Wow. Oh, this is really – this is just a total crapshoot man. I'm going to say that "Knowledge is the path to your own positivity" is the fake.

S: All right. Bob?

B: I'm going to go against all my instincts and agree with Jay.

S: (laughs) OK.

J: You suck, Bob.

S: Evan?

E: So three are Chopra and one's the generator?

S: Yep.

E: He is a unimpressive human being, isn't he? I can't believe –

S: He made 22 million dollars in 2008.

E: Gosh.

J: It's incredible.

E: He may have made it but he certainly didn't earn it.

S: (laughs)

E: I will say that "Established in Being, perform action", that is the generated one.

S: OK, Rebecca?

R: Yeah, that's the one I was going to go with as well, it's the only one that's not a full sentence, not that I think that we can rely on Chopra to consistently create full English sentences or actually any other language full sentences, but having used the generator, it does tend to pump out the occasional –

B: Too obvious.

R: – non-grammatical sentence, so I'm going to go with that one.

S: OK, 2 and 2. So you all agree that Deepak Chopra said "Awareness is the birthplace of possibility" and Chopra did say that, that's from his Twitter feed.

B: (chanting) One and three, one and three.

S: Good job.

R: Hooray.

S: All right, the next one: "To know the world, feel your body". And that one, Chopra did say that one.

J: Excellent.

E: (laughs)

B: (chanting) One and two, one and two.

J: (Bad Indian accent) You must masturbate every day.

S: He's talking about the whole interconnectedness of you and the universe, that whole Eastern philosophy thing about everything's connected and you are the trees and you know – it's like the Force; the rock and the trees and so, yeah, to know the universe all you have to do is know your own body.

E: Yoda is ten times more prolific than Chopra ever was.

S: Right.

E: At least 11 times.

S: Well he lived until he was 800 or something, right?

B: Yes, yes he did.

S: So, two of you are right and two of you are incorrect. Did Chopra write "Established in Being, perform action"?

J: Perform action now sir!

S: Yes he did, that is a Chopra phrase.

E: Oh!

B: Yay! He did!

J: All right Bob, good job, Bob.

B: High five, Jay.

R: Dammit.

S: The wisdom generator pumped out "Knowledge is the path to your own positivity". Yeah, I did have to admit all of the ones that I did when I was – were pretty good. Here, I'm at the website now, I could generate some more.

B: Positivity is what sold me on that one.

S: "Your heart is only possible in positive space-time events." That one's not that good.

E: Space-time, huh?

S: "Interdependence grows through the flow of photons."

J: The guy's a poet, you know what I mean? He just...

S: "God explains existential belonging." I mean, this is his twitter feed, he doesn't have to work any more, he could just hook his twitter feed up to this. "Love comprehends reckless potentiality."

B: You picked the best one, Steve, because all these other ones suck.

E: You don't expect people to swallow this tripe.

S: I thought that was a brilliant idea, the Wisdom of Chopra.

J: I love it; I think we should use this at TAM. We should poll the audience. I'd love to see what they think.

R: It was a good idea.

S: All we need to do is come up with our own mechanism for a random generator.

R: Yeah.

E: Random Egnor generator, random creationist generator.

R: On Skepchick I used to occasionally do quizzes and my favourite was called Oprah or Chopra.

S: Oprah or Chopra.


R: It was very difficult.

J: Oh my god that is awesome.

E: Oprah or Chopra.

B: That's good.

R: Oh, actually I got it wrong. It was actually "Oprah, Chopra or the Popera"[6]. You had to guess which was which. They were really difficult.

S: That reminds me of a game that's also exceedingly difficult, and that's "Shakespeare or the Bible", have you guys ever played that? It's really tough; lots of common clichés that we toss around there, and the question is did that come from Shakespeare or the Bible, and it's hard.

R: Yeah, and there's a reason that people say that Shakespeare wrote the King James Bible or whatever, you know? Some of it does, sounds very Shakespeari-ish. Shakespearian, that's probably the world.

S: Shakespeari-ish?

R: Shut up, I'm tired.

E: There could be a Shakespearacy.

S: Right, if you believe in William Shakespeare.

R: Nah, he didn't exist, it's all in the movie.

S: One guy couldn't have written all that.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:10:11)[edit]

S: Jay, you have a quote for us?

J: I do, but it's not really a quote, it's – this week I want to redeem the fact that Prometheus sucked so bad, and I want to read the following. I'm going to assign characters to some of you, and we're going to read this because this happens to be the best dialogue from the movie Alien, and my favourite part of the entire movie.

  • Ripley: Rebecca
  • Ash: Jay
  • Parker: Steve
  • Lambert: Evan

Ripley: Ash, can you hear me? Ash?

Ash: [speaking in an electronic, distorted voice] Yes, I can hear you.
Ripley: What was your special order?
Ash: You read it. I thought it was clear.
Ripley: What was it?
Ash: Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.
Parker: The damn company. What about our lives, you son of a bitch?
Ash: I repeat, all other priorities are rescinded.
Ripley: How do we kill it, Ash? There's gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?
Ash: You can't.
Parker: That's bullshit.
Ash: You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
Parker: Look, I am... I've heard enough of this, and I'm asking you to pull the plug.
Ash: [Ripley goes to disconnect Ash, who interrupts] Last word.
Ripley: What?

Ash: I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.

J: Oh man that scene is so good.

E: Ian Holm totally delivered.

B: (Monotone) That was a great quote.

J: Thank you Bob.

R: That was really natural, Bob.

Announcements (1:11:41)[edit]

J: All right, I have a couple of quick announcements. Of course, it's not too late; go to TAM, it's going to be a good year and it's going to be exceptionally good because we're having the skeptics' poker tournament. You can go to to pre-reg and we will take care of all the payment arrangements when you get there; really hope that you join us.

S: And don't forget we have the SGU dinner Friday night. The four guys will be there and we will have an auction afterwards, including auctioning off a guest rogue spot on the SGU, so don't miss your opportunity. All right, well thanks for joining me again everyone this week.

R: Thank you, Steve.

E: Thank you Doctor.

B: No problem.

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

Voice-over: 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 You can also check out our other podcast, The SGU 5x5, as well as find links to our blogs and the SGU forums. For questions, suggestions, and other feedback, please use the "Contact Us" form on the website or send an email to If you enjoyed this episode, then please help us spread the word by leaving us a review on iTunes, Zune, or your portal of choice.


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