Transcript: Nov 24, 2009

Justin: This show is brought to you by listeners like you and the contributions that people like you are giving. People who aren’t you who are actually giving. We couldn’t do it without them. So please, be one of them or unless that’s one of you in which thank you.

Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer! There are many reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving season. We here at This Week in Science are thankful for the University of California at Davis, for KDVS, for its sponsors whose views we do not represent. And we’re also thankful for Ali, our new intern.

We’re thankful for the men and women of science whose work we often recount for raising the questions and their reasons and methodical pursuit of the answers that follow. And we’re most thankful for you, our listeners.

Without the University, KDVS, its sponsors, science, Ali and you, we will be ungratefully sitting in an unlit cave 20 ft. below ground with no studio, no science to report on, instead talking about the latest developments in mysticism to an imagined audience of minion spirits without show notes.

And while those spirited minions of the imaginary mystical abyss do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of our actual listening audience, they too seem to be thankful this year. For without the light of reason and science to guide the way, the human spirit of imagination is ruthlessly haunted by ungrateful mystics peddling vagary, demanding that that vagary be taken seriously.

Seriously is something we will never ask from you here on This Week in Science. Coming up next.

Good morning, Kirsten.

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin. It’s a good, good morning and this is This Week in Science.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: And we’ve got – I have to tell you, this week I have – I don’t think I’ve ever had quite as difficult a time picking stories for the show.

Justin: Really?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: That many to choose from.

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There were tons and we also have a great what should be holiday today. The publication of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin’s seminal publication of his theory of natural selection which has caused all sorts of problems.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: I’m kidding. Which has led to all sorts of developments in fields – so many different scientific fields that is affected so much. And, you know, if he hadn’t published it, someone else would have published something very similar so the idea would have come around. It was coming around. It’s an idea whose time had come because the evidence is there.

Justin: Yeah. Maybe. I never liked those arguments, though, that the idea would have come along anyway.

Kirsten: Oh well, it’s true, though because Wallace the other researcher who actually sent a paper to Darwin and said, “Hey, check out my paper.” And Darwin went, “Oh whoa! This guy is using – has the same ideas as I do. I have to finish writing my work, my life work.”

Justin: But however, what I would propose is that, historically…

Kirsten: It was a fire, it’s a fire under Darwin.

Justin: …the fire was burning but however, if only one of them was coming to this conclusion ready to publish – and perhaps they would have been easier to ignore by the society of man.

Kirsten: Right. But there were many.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And I think there were more from what I’ve read, there were more than just the two of these guys who, you know, were alone in the science world coming up with this idea. It was an idea whose time would come and yeah, published, published, published. It’s great.

But today, on this week’s show in addition to the holiday of natural selection, Darwin Day maybe, I don’t know.

Justin: It can’t just be Darwin day because this is also my daughter’s birthday.

Kirsten: Oh, (Satya).

Justin: Three years old.

Kirsten: Three? Happy Birthday!

Justin: So happy birthday (Satya Starlight Jackson Donning).

Kirsten: Pretty little girl. She’s growing up so fast.

Justin: So it’s really (Satya) and Darwin Day.

Kirsten: And Darwin. (Satya-Darwin) Day. Tell her she’s lucky to share such a great day.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: We have lots more.

Justin: Darwin is the lucky one…

Kirsten: Yeah, I know but he’s dead so he doesn’t even know it.

Justin: Isn’t that lucky.

Kirsten: We have all sorts of science news today. I decided, the stories I picked I think are just about the craziest stories that I’ve ever heard from the confines of science.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Yeah. I dare you to not think that some of this science is just crazy stuff.

Justin: I think you’re going to be bringing it heavier than I am this week because…

Kirsten: Yeah. I’ve got brain tuning, electrical DNA and magnetic stars on the docket.

Justin: …you’ve got a long list. You’ve got a huge list of stories and I’m, oh my goodness…

Kirsten: I know, I know. I don’t know.

Justin: …can I borrow some? I’ll give them back at the end of the show.

Kirsten: Let’s get to it.

Justin: I’ve got robot vampires. Teaming – robots and vampires teaming up together that is. Some ancient DNA maybe and why the end of the world is inevitable and you should stop doing anything about it.

Kirsten: That sounds depressing.

Justin: Just in time for the holidays. Holiday cheer in your eggnog.

Kirsten: Well I’m twittering that people need to listen to us right now because we are on the air. Hey, twitterers hello, happy morning.

Justin: Happy morning.

Kirsten: Happy morning. Okay, into the science, did you know that your brain is like a radio that tunes you into the past and the present?

Justin: Is that why I’m constantly hearing different frequencies, people chattering over each other?

Kirsten: Yeah. That’s my radio sound.

Justin: That’s pretty good.

Kirsten: Yeah. The tuning radio sound. All right, so researchers at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and the Center for the Biology of Memory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have discovered the brain’s mechanism for keeping you – keeping your past and your present straight.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Yeah, because really, what is it? How do we know if neural signals are just neural signals, if information is just information – how does your brain tell what’s a memory and what is real? What’s happening right now.

Justin: Mm hmm. I don’t know.

Kirsten: Right. This is, I mean, think about the questions, how does this happen? So these researchers were checking out the signals that the brain carries and they were looking at these waves, frequency waves, within the brain that are carried by the neurons.

They found there’s one type of wave called the gamma wave that seems to be the information carrier that determines the past or present. And so, gamma waves actually carry this information, it’s kind of like how – with the radio signal you can tune in to 90.3 on your FM dial. And that’s the frequency, the big frequency that is carrying the signal of – the information of our voices, on top of it, it’s a carrier signal.

So the gamma waves are like a carrier signal for information in our brains. And it turns out that the brain waves are different. They looked at the hippocampus in rats and listened to the transmissions within this area, in three different parts of the brain — information that was coming in as new information versus information that was older memory information in a different part.

And they found that there are slow gamma waves and fast gamma waves that come from different brain areas. And these different frequencies determine whether it’s past or present.

So let me see if I can find in here where it says, so the researchers say, “You know how when you feel like you really connect with someone, you say you are on the same wavelength? When brain cells want to connect with each other, they synchronize their activity. And so, the cells are literally tuning in to each other’s wavelength.”

The researchers investigated how gamma waves in particular were involved in communication across cell groups in the hippocampus. And what they found could be described as a radio-like system inside the brain.

The lower frequencies are used to transmit memories of past experiences, and the higher frequencies are used to convey what is happening where you are right now. And the cells themselves switch in and out of the low frequency and high frequency tuning so that they can tune in to these different wavelengths.

Justin: That’s awesome.

Kirsten: Yeah. So the cells themselves kind of synchronize depending on what’s coming in and they go into a low frequency state, they go into a high frequency state so that they can tune in to the inputs that are coming into them from other places. And also help you tell – help themselves tell also what is past, a memory, or what is present.

One of the interesting questions here though is, so schizophrenics and other people with brain disorders that have – where they have confusion as to what’s happening in time, whether they’re listening to voices that are real or from the past. They actually have – there’s evidence that schizophrenics have problems with their gamma waves.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Yeah. So there is a difference, there’s some kind of an abnormality in the gamma waves in these people. So maybe there’s some way that we can figure out how to adjust the ability of cells to tune in to the frequencies that are coming into them to be able to help these disorders.

I mean, from finding out about this, though, it really makes me wonder what it is that tells the cells to tune in or not. You know, what are the instructions that tell the cells, it’s like, okay, so the brain, now, we know, that these cells are tuning in in a particular way to the past and present signals.

The signals are carried in different ways but how did all this happen? Where did it all come from? Why does the brain do this? It’s a great system but, oh, my gosh, it’s amazing.

Justin: That is amazing.

Kirsten: Yeah. So it’s such an interesting discovery.

Justin: Yeah. I mean, and who would have thought that people would actually to be trying to hack pacemakers. Oh, it was – that was last week so…

Kirsten: That was last week.

Justin: See I’m having issues. I need to get my frequencies tuned.

Kirsten: That’s right. Tune in, tune in.

Justin: What is scarier than rampaging robots?

Kirsten: I really, absolutely don’t know.

Justin: Rampaging robots backed up by rampaging vampires.

Kirsten: What about zombies?

Justin: No zombies yet. Or maybe we’re the zombies.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: Yes, it’s happened finally – the threshold. The threshold, the singularity of sorts.

Kirsten: Oh, men.

Justin: And robot domination. Robots are lawyering up.

Kirsten: What?

Justin: They’re getting lawyers.

Kirsten: Robots are getting lawyers?

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: What? Oh, man this has gone way too far.

Justin: Robots are already used for lots of things. They do our manufacturing, they defuse bombs. They control traffic, they vacuum our carpets. Scientists predict that pretty soon, robots will be using artificial intelligence, play even larger roles on the battlefield and in our homes. Especially with the baby boomer aging population, they’re very likely to be designed for health care, for elder care.

Kirsten: Yes, yes a lot of that.

Justin: But who, oh, who will we be blame? Who will we sue if a robot-controlled weapon kills a civilian? Who can be sued if one of these new robot cars takes an unexpected turn into a crowd of pedestrians? And who will be liable if the robot you programmed to bathe your elderly mother drowns her in her tub?

Kirsten: Oh, my gosh, what a terrible idea. You’re dying.

Justin: Oh that’s not funny but…

Kirsten: You need a robot helper.

Justin: The robot helper?

Kirsten: To pat your back.

Justin: The robot helper that drowns you in the tub?

Kirsten: Oh, my gosh.

Justin: Oh, no. So here is – comes Ryan Calo – M. Ryan Calo, a Resident Fellow at Stanford Law School Center for Internet & Society. “I worry that in the absence of some good, upfront thought about the question of liability, we’ll have some high-profile cases that will turn the public against robots, chill innovation and make it less likely for engineers to go into the field of robotics and for it to be less likely for capital to flow into making robots.”

I don’t know if that be would be my biggest concern there but the personal robot technology field is expected to exceed $5 billion a year by the year 2015. And Calo says, “We’re going to need to think about how to immunize manufacturers from lawsuits in the appropriate circumstances.”

We’re already at the point where, when a military robot or gun kills or injures a soldier, there’s no liability to the contractors who developed it.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And, of course, the robot gets away scot-free.

Kirsten: Scot-free. Mm hmm.

Justin: Oh it’s malfunctioned, just had a homicidal malfunction. Ah, big deal.

Kirsten: I don’t know, when we get to the point where we realize that, you know, all our cells are really just working on electrical frequencies, anyway we’re all just robots. Can’t we just have malfunctions, too?

I mean, maybe the robots need to go to like some robot home somewhere.

Justin: Prisoners.

Kirsten: Home for psycho robots.

Justin: Bad robots.

Kirsten: My robot needs psychotherapy.

Justin: The other element of this is that robots are going to be having lots of cameras and sensors, audio, visual sensors so they can navigate through our home, right?

Kirsten: Yes, yes.

Justin: And we’ll be susceptible to being hacked. So robots designed to clean your house and to drown your elder care parents could be potentially turned into spies or – I love this one, this is how I knew I’d consider – vandals. Because that’s what the hackers going to do. A hacker is not like, “Who cares who you are, I’m going to have that robot go pull your flat screen off the wall,” and then laugh. Right?

Or steal like, I mean, that’s my prediction is that we’ll really know that robots, personal robots have gone too far when they are being used for like, bank robberies. When they’re like doing holdups or when they’re mugging people.

Kirsten: It’ll happen.

Justin: Don’t laugh, oh, don’t laugh.

Kirsten: I actually saw that in a movie. A listener a long time ago sent me a movie from Australia. It’s this home movie about this guy who makes robots and then he makes the robot go rob a bank.

Justin: I’m going to have to find that. I’m going to have that resent and I’m going to have to watch it.

Kirsten: I have it. I’ll bring it to you next week.

Justin: “Don’t laugh,” says Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster and visiting scholar at Stanford’s Media X project, said during a recent panel discussion, “People get emotionally attached to robots. So that at some point, they may want to marry them.” Yeah. People apparently do.

Kirsten: Yeah. And then you’re going to have to have lawyers for the divorces. Robot divorce attorneys.

Justin: So here’s the thing, the robots are going to lawyer up to the point where robots will be able to do anything in our society with impunity because they won’t be people. So not only will they not have rights, (hacker bot), but they also won’t have liability or be punishable, bank robber bot. It’s going to be a very strange world to be sharing with these robots.

Kirsten: Yeah. It’s going to have to go, they’re going to have to find the way to hold the people behind the robots responsible until the day that AI gets to a point where the robots are completely self-sufficient.

Justin: I see, so you’re saying robots don’t kill people? People kill people with robots?

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Oh, that makes sense.

Kirsten: At least right now.

Justin: But that’s kind of – how do you track? That’s going to take some serious high-tech forensics to figure out who programmed the robot to rob the bank? You know?

Kirsten: Yup. Hacker signatures. You know, there’s ego involved everywhere.

Justin: Or even better is – they could do this already, I suppose. But lawyer robots like the combination. Because really being a lawyer is mostly about remembering what laws are applicable.

Kirsten: Sorry, it’s the Jetsons.

Justin: It’s the Jetsons. You did Jetsons and you then you did radio frequency like you had a dial on a radio. You’re dating yourself which I date myself, in case…

Kirsten: Yeah, I know. All right, in terms of dating and other things, you know, the older you get, the more mutations you get in your DNA. Right?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: It just happens. It’s a part of life. Mutations are a part of life. Just turns out, well, our cells have repair mechanisms that constantly monitor our DNA to look for mutations and fix them. How do they find the mutations among the millions, millions of base pairs? You know, you have a protein that’s a million – a gene for a protein that’s a million base pairs long.

One mutation within a million. How do you find that one little bad egg that could potentially be gumming up the works and mucking things up?

Justin: It could be a good egg, couldn’t it?

Kirsten: It could be a good egg, it’s true. Well researchers have been trying to figure out how it’s possible that the repair mechanisms just find these mutations and are able to fix them.

One idea has been bounced back and forth for a while that it’s actually the electrical characteristics of the DNA. So proteins, base pairs, molecules – all of these things have charge. They are composed of atoms held together by electrical charges and have, you know, the properties of basic electrical physics that are holding everything together.

And so, some of these base pairs will have a particular charge. Amino acids, very often, have a kind of negative charge or is it positive? I think it’s negative. And so, DNA itself actually has an electrical charge in certain and it could actually be a characteristic of itself. And so.

Justin: So could the overall strand have like a signature?

Kirsten: A signature that a particular gene maybe has a signature that the repair mechanisms know…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: …and they expect somehow that maybe they’re supposed to be within the exons – the parts of the DNA that are actually expressed into proteins – that maybe exons have a particular characteristic signature, electrical signature.

And possibly when a mutation…

Justin: They’re a little off-pitch, a little out of frequency, it’s like, “Yeah, we better go take a look.”

Kirsten: Yeah. Right and so maybe it’s this electrical characteristic that the mutation changes that signals to the repair mechanism to tune in to it and to go fix something. Is this what it should be? Is it not? I don’t know.

This is an idea that’s been published recently in It’s fascinating. So it’s less of a random search for mutations than possibly was previously thought. And so now, what they need to do is go in and test the electrical signature of DNA.

There is experimental evidence, this is according to an article in the website, that these resistance measurements done on DNA with cancer-causing mutations that they’re finding evidence that the cancer-causing mutations change the electrical signature in those areas. Very interesting, right?

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Mm hmm. Yes.

Justin: So we’re talking about the origin of the species, its anniversary today, huh?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I don’t know if anybody out there on campus, at the UCD campus got a hold of one of these. But there’s this campaign to handout Origin of Species, the book.

Kirsten: Oh.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: That’s cool.

Justin: Sounds nice. Get a free copy. When somebody walks up and hands it to you, “There’s the Origin of Species on the earth!”

Kirsten: Here. That’s great.

Justin: Red flag. The introduction is – been written by some religious (unintelligible) extremist who sort of try to paint Darwin in a negative light and the whole idea of evolution.

Kirsten: What?

Justin: The rest of the book is there but there’s an introduction which is like, you know, something along the lines of Darwin was Hitler’s cousin and it’s not right. Pretty bad. So be aware out there people that there’s something like…

Kirsten: Subversive printing.

Justin: …of about 50,000 copies…

Kirsten: That’s significant.

Justin: …of this is being handed out on college campuses across probably at least California.

Kirsten: And they didn’t change the actual document, they just docked an introduction on it?

Justin: Apparently not. I don’t have a copy. If anybody has a copy of this, send it in to me or, you know, something or if it’s available online, if anybody can give me some feedback on this. I don’t know, my understanding was that the actual Origin of the Species portion of it is still there, it’s still fine.

But it was just some sort of whack job introduction that was placed on top of it. And for some reason (Kirk Cameron) appears to be a part of this. I don’t know. It’s pretty bizarre but this is what I’m hearing.

But any way, meanwhile, scientists are going about finding the actual origin of biological molecules like RNA and DNA. How they first came together billions and billions of years ago from simple precursors.

Now, study appearing in this week’s journal of something that isn’t written down here, researchers in Italy have reconstructed one of the earliest evolutionary steps generating long chains of RNA from individual subunits using – now this is the tricky part – they had to use warm water. It didn’t make it happen.

Justin: Whoa.

Kirsten: Whoa.

Justin: Many researchers believe that RNA was one of the first biological molecules present before DNA and before proteins. However, there’s been little success in recreating the formation on RNA from simple prebiotic molecules that were likely present on primordial Earth billions of years ago.

But now, Ernesto Di Mauro and colleagues have found that ancient molecules called cyclic nucleotoids can merge together in water and form polymers. Polymers being just a chain or a train. You envision like a train of molecules, they like to stick together and keep sticking together and create long, long strands.

This is of over a hundred nucleotoids long and water ranging from 40 to 90 degrees Celsius similar to water temperatures that were found on the ancient earth.

So they’re showing that it may have been a lot easier to get those, some of those early steps under way when all it took was some warm water. That’s awesome. That’s so awesome.

Kirsten: Well, I think a part of the interest there is well, warm water versus scalding hot water. A lot of the ideas of where these molecules have come from stem from the discovery of, you know, ancient bacterial species, the archaea, they’re not even really bacteria but the archaea designation that are around thermal vents.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: And the idea that possibly the very hot temperatures, acidic environments are at least almost what we would consider completely uninhabitable that those are the ones that were necessary for the development, that the harsh environment must have triggered something.

So warm water is, you know, that I like warm water.

Justin: And certainly – and warm water isn’t necessarily that far away from a thermal vent if you can get ejected.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: So then, you know, you got this whole range of temperatures that can pass through in the forming of these early stages. But, oh gosh, did you find it?

Kirsten: Okay, let’s see. I found something here. Oh let’s see,, it was initiated by Kirk Cameron, plan innocuously named “Origin Into Schools” announced in September. Points out that University of Berkley cannot prevent the action because their own website dictates that, “Anyone is free to distribute non-commercial materials in any outdoor area of the campus.”

And Cameron adds, “What are they really going to do, ban the Origin of Species?” Well, it’s kind of funny as points out that – supposed to be this adding – this book is supposed to be a clever and ran around the censorship of creationist ideas. But then Cameron himself indicates that the censorship isn’t actually happening since it’s against University rules, right.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: But anyway, the book itself, it’s a foreword from an 1859 text with an introduction by Ray Comfort, a minister who made a specialty of arguing about – for creationism. The introduction says very little about the Origin of Species and limits itself to familiar creationist canards about the complexity of the human eye and the absence of transitional forms from the fossil record. Yeah, I don’t know.

And although Comfort claimed in advance that not one jot or tittle of the text of the Origin of Species would be missing from his addition, four entire chapters were omitted.

Justin: Oh, oh my goodness.

Kirsten: Yeah, Comfort said, “This was an error limited to the first printing,” but his critics have claimed that the sections were intentionally left out because they contain strong evidence for Darwin’s theory.

Justin: And also Darwin’s book was written a while ago we’ve come – we haven’t stopped working on it. And evolution is still going on.

Kirsten: Yeah. Yeah, we haven’t, we haven’t, we have not stopped working. It’s – the research goes on and on and on. What the heck is biophotonic communication?

Justin: Sexy, that’s what it is. Dead sexy.

Kirsten: Dead sexy. Some evidence – evidence is growing and it’s actually turning into an entire new field of research suggesting that biological cells – plants, bacteria, human – who knows? That biological cells actually can communicate with each other through the exchange of photons.

Justin: Yeah. I’ve heard of this before.

Kirsten: That cells, biological cells, emit light in the visible UV spectrum. They emit light that can somehow — we don’t know exactly how — be picked up by other cells and get them to synchronize or spur particular actions of some, you know, one thing or another.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago last year, showed that human cells could synchronize chemical processes when they were completely separated from each other in every way except the ability to communicate through photons. Crazy.

This new study, Sergei Mayburov at the Lebedev Institute of Physics in Moscow now suggests a mechanism for how it could occur. He says that, “Okay, we know photosynthesis happens, you have a photon of light coming into particular light capturing structures within cells in plants and other organisms. These cells – and then lead to a transfer of electrons along an electron transport chain that then bumps into some kind of energy-producing mechanism.”

What if, why couldn’t this process go backwards? What if a cell had some kind of excessive electricity that could be used or energy that could be use in a particular way to bump an electron up the chain and cause it to be – to emit a photon of light?

And it wouldn’t necessarily have to occur only in cells that photosynthesize. This is something that could potentially occur in all sorts of cells as long as there’s some kind of electron transport mechanism that’s there that will allow it to kick off a photon off of some kind of a structure at the end.

And so, he comes up with three ideas. So the ideas is it has to be reversible, so this photosynthetic process would have to somehow go backwards, like I just said.

Justin: Right. Which, according to physics could be totally possible. It’ll be able to reverse it.

Kirsten: Second – could be yeah. Physic because – yeah based on physics, as long as there’s enough energy to go in to boost an electron out, it should happen. It doesn’t have to be limited to photosynthetic cells. And if this is happening, his third stipulation and that it would possible to modulate communication.

So, it wouldn’t just have to be a random process why wouldn’t — if cells can do this — why wouldn’t they also do this on purpose?

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: For communication. So there are questions. It’s not obvious which molecules are involved. And he doesn’t suggest anything in his paper according to this article at Technology Review from arxiv. – based on his paper in

Justin: But if I were to speculate far into the future, I think this could lead to flashlight eyes.

Kirsten: Flashlight eyes.

Justin: Wouldn’t that be convenient? It’s just dark and then you just, a little click and then there you go.

Kirsten: I need a little light here. Yeah, and we have found, I mean, there was a study just like a month or so ago – a little while ago that suggested that people glow…

Justin: Yes, that people actually are putting out photons.

Kirsten: ..that we put out, yeah, a small amount. And the number that’s given in this.

Justin: And you, you always look radiant, Kirsten.

Kirsten: Oh, why, thank you. You’re so sweet. There’s research suggest that many cells produce photons at the rate of about ten photons per square cm per second.

Justin: So you just need to learn how to focus that through our eyeballs. And then we can have them.

Kirsten: That’s right. Just fascinating, fascinating stuff. I mean, this is crazy. This is the stuff where I’m just like, what? I mean, this is turning biological cellular function on its head.

Who would have thought 50, 60, 100 years ago that cells are emitting light and communicating? You know, like little kids in their windows across from each other with their flashlights. Morse code. I don’t know, fascinating idea.

This is This Week in Science.

Justin: We’re at the break, the top of the hour. The bottom of the – middle of the show.

Kirsten: Middle of the show. And while we take another break, why don’t you go meet some elements.

Justin: From a talent, so unproven, no agent would touch him. Comes a book, so confusing, no publishing house would publish it. Owe me. The new book by Justin Jackson, that boldy predicts the failure of the Large Hadron Collider. And gives you a “what if” scenario for parallel worlds.

Check it out there’ll be a link, you can click the link, go buy the book.

Kirsten: Thank you for listening to TWIS. We rely on your support to bring you this show. Please, donate to keep the science-y goodness coming. We’ve made it easy for you, on the website With a click of a button, you can donate $2, $5, or even $10 a month or you can donate any amount of your choosing as many times as you want.

Just go to and donate. TWIS needs your support and we thank you for it.

Justin: We’re back with more of This Week in Science.

Kirsten: That’s right. Welcome, welcome, welcome. I’m saying hello to everybody on Twitter. All you people out there. Oh, people are saying that we need the song Robot Reform School, to complement Robot High School. Maybe we do, maybe I’ll see about tracking that down.

Justin: Robot charm school. How about that?

Kirsten: Robot charm school? Exactly, so they don’t get in trouble. Oh, man. So we’re back, this is This Week in Science. I have a rant but you should start off. Do you have a story?

Justin: No, I got a rant, too.

Kirsten: Okay.

Justin: No, it’s not a rant but I don’t know if ever – this is a story that’s all over the news. I don’t think I have to fully report on it here but there’s this Belgian man who doctors thought was in a vegetative coma for the last 23 years, became conscious recently. Actually they discovered through some additional testing apparently that perhaps he’s not completely gone.

He’s now actually able to communicate apparently via some sort of set up where he can use his heel or something to type and is now communicating to the outside world.

Supposedly this may be slightly hoax. I’ve heard other people say – some people out there saying, “Well, maybe he’s not really doing this. Maybe this is sort of a (ouija) board effect.” But it seems like there’s enough people involved that it’s probably legitimate.

So 1983, car accident, comatose state, no ability to communicate the fact that he’s conscious to the outside world. And actually in about 2006, they began to discover that his mental facilities were all still there. He was just in this sort of paralyzed state where he could not communicate.

Kirsten: Wow.

Justin: And he’s now communicating to the outside world. I just wanted to bring this up especially because now we have…

Kirsten: It just seems so unlikely that they wouldn’t notice for 20 years. Did they not test the brain activity?

Justin: Apparently not. I mean, there was – they did all sorts of like, you know, clapping and poking with pens and things like that. Just nothing, there was never a response. But now they figured out that his brain has been entirely functioning.

Kirsten: Yeah. Sorry, I interrupted you, what were you going to say?

Justin: Oh yeah, well, I mean, I brought this up on the show before, but now that we have an intern, Ali, I think it’s important that you also know that I have a standing order not to be unplugged. No matter what happens – because I don’t know who’s going to be there at the critical moment, right? You know?

Kirsten: Now you just have more witnesses for saying it.

Justin: I’m picturing Ali, remaining the faithful intern as I’m in my vegetative state just sort of standing by the plug not allowing anybody to come near it 24 hours a day. But this is why though, it’s like I’ve been in here, it’s been very frustrating, you know, to say at least that I’m completely here.

And they’re like, “How did you cope?” And I was like, “I meditate a lot. There’s not a whole lot else to do.” But I’d be completely satisfied even with less than that. Even if I’m in a vegetative state where it’s truly mental vegetative state…

Kirsten: Still don’t unplug you.

Justin: I would be happy as a carrot. I would be enjoying myself. The only alternative to this world, I will have plenty of time to experience. I’m in no hurry whatever – from a blinking eye, it’s getting puffed with air to see if I’m there. That’s enough, that’s enough for me. That’s all I need. Don’t pull my plug, that’s all.

Kirsten: All right, the verdict is coming.

Justin: I just wanted to – there’s not enough times that you can restate this now while you’re able to talk.

Kirsten: True enough. Most people don’t want to talk about it.

Justin: If you end up in the coma, you won’t be able to explain in detail once you’re in the comatose state that this is your willful desire and but this is mine. Just let it be known.

Kirsten: Happy as a carrot.

Justin: Rant! Kirsten, rant! Kirsten’s going to rant. I can’t believe this.

Kirsten: I’m going to rant because I am so tired, I’m so tired of some of the things I see in the world.

Justin: You got to come on a little more fierce than that.

Kirsten: So this week in the end of the world, this week in the end of the world or as I’d like to call it this week in, “stop the madness, people”.

Justin: All right.

Kirsten: Okay. So, this week, this last week a bunch of hackers broke into a university’s research station email and published a bunch of emails covering 13 years of research communications on the internet.

And they’re crowing about how the emails fly in the face of climate science and prove the controversy and prove that climate science is a bunch of hogwash and blah, blah, blah.

Okay, hi hackers, you broke the law, number one.

Justin: Who cares?

Kirsten: Number two, how does anybody know that all of those emails are actually all of the emails? What if they’re chosen? What if choice emails have been chosen? What if they’ve been edited? How do we know that they haven’t been messed with somehow?

Finally, the people who have been contacting me and trying to tell me that these emails prove something beyond a doubt, I’m sorry but they do not. They actually just show the scientific process at work. And they show a bunch of scientists being kind of upset because they’re human. Being upset at being constantly barraged with the idiotic claims of people who really just don’t want to look at the science in the face.

Honestly, okay, there are things that scientists say they don’t know why certain things are happening. Yes, it is admitted over and over again because scientists don’t know everything. Okay? But the – I mean, the science beyond – almost 90%, 90% rate of certainty which is pretty darn good that humans – yes, we are responsible for producing excess carbon dioxide that is leading our atmosphere and our planet on a runaway greenhouse effect – 90% certainty. All right?

Yeah, somebody brought up in a comment on the website, he said, “Okay, 90% certainty. You’re saying that that’s not certain enough.” Well if you were standing in a road and it was 90% certain that you were going to get hit by a truck, would you still stand there and wait?

What would you do? You’d move out of the way. Yeah, okay, 90% certainty of anything, you’re going to do something to change it, right? Why don’t we stop bickering about faults and, you know, conspiracy theories and just start trying to do something to be good to our planet and to, yeah, if maybe the 10% okay, scientists will – maybe we didn’t get it all right.

But I mean, the chance is that maybe, probably we’re causing devastating effects to our planet. So why don’t we do something to fix it? Why don’t we invest money in technologies that are going to change the way that we exist on our planet? And make the way that we exist more sustainable and less damaging overall to ecosystems around the world.

Okay? All right? Bring the emails on. I’m waiting, I’m waiting. And the ten years, the date that people saying that the ten years of not warming is evidence that we don’t know what the heck is going on. There is variability. There is a general warming trend and every once in a while it stays the same or it goes down a little bit. But…

Justin: The hottest global was ’98 and then the next one is like 2005. But it’s a wiggly line that’s cracking.

Kirsten: Variation, up and down. It’s not a straight line.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: I want to bang my head against the wall…

Justin: No.

Kirsten: …because people hurt me.

Justin: Oh, Kirsten. First of all, if you read the emails there’s nothing in there actually even, whether if they faked them, they didn’t do their job because there’s nothing in there. It’s…

Kirsten: There’s nothing in there.

Justin: But what’s great is the headline that says, “Hoax found! Discovered – we looked at their emails!” And people like, “Oh, that’s it.” But if you actually read the headline…

Kirsten: Because you’ve read it. You’ve read the headline. .

Justin: No the headline says that but if you read into – actually there’s nothing in there that’s…

Kirsten: It’s a bunch of quotes taken out of context. Out of context of 13 years’ worth of communications. All right?

Justin: Even in the out of context there’s nothing really like brutal in there. So it’s kind of…

Kirsten: Yeah. Nothing, there’s nothing there.

Justin: Yeah. I don’t know if I want to follow at the story, though.

Kirsten: All right, so there was my rant. I don’t rant often but I am so tired, people.

Justin: Yeah. You’re not going to like this story at all.

Kirsten: I breathed, instead.

Justin: Yeah. Because I’m going to actually have the counter point here. I suppose…

Kirsten: Okay, bring it, bring it.

Justin: The end of the world is nice. Welcome, you got them people, we’ve got no chance. There’s no getting out alive.

Kirsten: We got nothing. We got nothing.

Justin: Don’t worry. Go ahead and put that…

Kirsten: The only thing true in life, certain in life is death.

Justin: …go ahead and put the – spend the money. Put the several hundred yards of Christmas lights all over the house. It’s not bad for the environment. It’s not going to matter. Wait, we got a caller. Maybe we should take our caller up.

Kirsten: Christmas lights, yeah, sure we got a call in.

Justin: Good morning, TWIS minion. You’re on the air with This Week in Science.

Bradley: Hi, good morning guys.

Justin: Good morning.

Kirsten: Good morning.

Bradley: TWIS minion (Bradley) calling from the Midwest.

Kirsten: Hi. Thanks for calling.

Bradley: Hi, how you doing this morning?

Kirsten: Great.

Bradley: You know, I just wanted to make a quick comment actually tying together two or three stories that were brought up over the last couple of weeks real quickly. Two in particular the one that you addressed about the mice with the golden ears that has been genetically engineered to explore the different facets of hearing loss whether it be mechano-cohclear or senso-neural hearing loss.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Bradley: As well as the hacking of pacemakers.

Kirsten: Wooh.

Bradley: The way these two are linked in the example I’m going to give you, I, myself had in the last two years become 95% senso-neural deaf. And am now, currently reliant upon wi-fi controllable, bluetooth streamable hearing implants that allow me to not only stream the internet in this very shelling conversation, to wirelessly lead directly to my ears.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Bradley: But it also allows me to bypass this type of neural hearing loss that I have. And in regard to the story about being able to hack pacemakers, it has come to my attention in the last year due to experimenting with my own equipment that the technology that is currently considered to be state-of-the-art is in fact hackable. I can in fact hack my hearing implants…

Justin: Oh, wow.

Bradley: …and snoop in fact on my audio conversations from another wi-fi or bluetooth at your phone.

Justin: Oh, my goodness. That’s wild.

Bradley: Which is a very scary thing if you think about it.

Justin: Yeah.

Bradley: Yeah. So, you know, it’s amazing and I think, you know, a lot of companies really aren’t stopping to consider the potential ramifications of privacy. And not only privacy but safety with regard to pacemakers when they’re advancing in this technology and not putting, you know, some sort of a protocol in place to ensure their safety and privacy.

So, I just wanted to add that a little bit today.

Justin: That’s brilliant. Thank you.

Kirsten: That’s great. Thank you.

Justin: Yeah, the ramifications of, it’s almost as, though – it’s almost as though somebody were going through and being able to check out what books you’re reading at the library if they’re getting to eavesdrop on what it is you listen to for entertainment or what have you. That’s a pretty big invasion of privacy that’s possible with that.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Bradley: My significant other has been able to literally hack into my phone through various technologies and listen to my conversations. And if she can do it, anybody can do it. It’s awesome.

Kirsten: That’s fascinating.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: That yeah, we need to – there maybe – there needs to be some security considerations there.

Bradley: Well, it’s a real problem. What it really boils down to is a lot of these technologies are relying upon bluetooth technologies and protocols that are in some cases three to five years old and encryption, lack of encryption. The wi-fi that is – that lacks encryption. These are all, you know…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Bradley: …the technologies needs to be brought up to speed to ensure that and I think that’s an issue that’s really going to be – become hotly debated especially in light of the pacemaker issue, you know.

Kirsten: Yup. Well, thank you so much for your call. We really appreciate it.

Bradley: Thanks, guys. Have a nice day.

Kirsten: You too. Bye, (Bradley).

Bradley: Bye.

Kirsten: Really interesting link. That’s cool.

Justin: Wow. And a nice buffer that may prevent me from getting kicked in the shin. It’s like this distance.

Kirsten: Yeah, he allowed me to take – take a deep breath and get interested in something else.

Justin: So, where were we? Oh, yes.

Kirsten: Christmas lights are not going to destroy the world.

Justin: The end of the world is inevitable. Provocative new study from University of Utah, associate professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Tim Garrett is arguing that rising carbon dioxide emissions won’t stabilize unless the global economy collapses completely.

It’s where – we’re working on that. We’re working on that cure right now.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Or we build the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant every day.

Kirsten: You know, well, that’s something that’s been calculated previously that we do have the need for – we need to have the power…

Justin: Yeah. I see.

Kirsten: …that needs to come from somewhere, nuclear power plants…

Justin: So this study is based on…

Kirsten: …that’s not going to happen.

Justin: …is a physics view of economy and in carbons. It’s a really interesting idea. It’s used to – okay, it conservation – that physics can be used to characterize the evolution of our civilizations as well. And it indicates that energy conservation or efficiency in our, you know, energy consuming items, does not really save energy. But, instead has the effect of spurring economic growth which thereby accelerates energy consumption by creating more outlets for using energy.

Which actually makes too much sense. It’s just – like one thing I’ve noticed like over the years of having in the past life being an appliance sales person, is that every time they make something more efficient, it also gets bigger.

Same thing in cars, every time they figure out a new or more efficient engine that gets better gas mileage, the vehicle gets larger. So, there is no actually efficiency that takes place…

Kirsten: There’s no change, yeah.

Justin: …but by this – by this model they’re also sort of referring back to where is this – a 17th century or 19th century study? Nineteenth century study on coal – oh, where is it here, that basically there was a calculation – yeah, it was in 1965. There was a book called “The Coal Question” by William Stanley Jevons, who noted that coal prices fell and coal consumption itself soared after the improvements and invent of steam engine efficiency.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, that all of a sudden because all the trains didn’t have to burn as much coal with any, you know, or the – it made the price of coal fall and so more people were using it to heat their homes more because it was cheaper.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: And the end result was that we actually started using much more coal.

Kirsten: Mm hmm. Yup.

Justin: So, throughout history, a simple physical constant, an unchanging mathematical value has linked global energy use to the world’s accumulated economic productivity. That’s even adjusted for inflation.

So it isn’t necessary to consider population growth, standards of living to predict society’s future energy consumption and the resulting carbon dioxide emissions.

Stabilization also of carbon dioxide emissions at current rates would require approximately 300 gigawatts of new carbon dioxide free power production capability every year which works out to about a nuclear power plant every day.

Kirsten: China is doing that for coal plants.

Justin: Every day?

Kirsten: They’re doing a new coal plant everyday.

Justin: When was the last one that came on line at all?

Kirsten: Yup. Yup.

Justin: So we are – I mean, there are billions of dollars going to solar and actually the overall number doesn’t look too darned intimidating. We need to increase our energy production in a non-carbon rate of 2.1% per year which there’s a lot of wind and solar going in which can put a, you know, a big dent in that 2.1% if not handle it. But…

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah. There are two researchers, Davis and Stanford Universities, Southern California aggie today an article where they have written a paper that they’ve outlined a plan for taking care of the entire world’s energy problems dealing – by using alternative forms of energy.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: They have a plan people. Scientists are figuring it out. We can do something.

Justin: So, yeah, the really interesting part of that theory, though, is that conserving energy does not reduce our energy use.

Kirsten: Yeah. No.

Justin: Globally.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: It just means that the energy goes somewhere else where it wasn’t going before because it was not affordable or as affordable and now becomes cheaper because everybody is conserving.

Kirsten: And cheaper makes it more plentiful.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: So it makes easier to access, reduces the barrier to entry. Yeah.

Justin: So this statement is pretty brutal. It’s really – it’s not really possible to conserve energy in a meaningful way. And this is coming from somebody who rides a bike to work, line dries the family clothing and uses a push lawn mower. He is not out there attempting to excuse himself from the situation. But when he did the math and looked at it, he said, “Gosh, it doesn’t really seem to matter.”

Kirsten: And people don’t really, I mean, people will conserve a little bit but people really aren’t willing to impact their lifestyles significantly. So what it all comes down to is not changing people. And people are tired of hearing about climate problems and how they have to conserve and, you know, put their life on hold.

Let’s just build the technologies that can take care of it. Okay.

Justin: Yeah. And the thing is also with conserving that this doesn’t point out but I think is indicated by this, this study. If you haven’t spent your money on your energy bill, if you cut all your energy bills in half, you’ve freed up money. What are you going do? “Oh, I’m going to buy something. I’m going to go buy my kids some toys…”

Kirsten: And we’ll go buy something.

Justin: “…that are made out of plastic that came from an oil refinery, they came from,” you know, I mean, it ends up going back.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: It’s the money that equals energy.

Kirsten: Yeah. And we’re at the end of our show. I didn’t get to a few stories but I just want to rattle off the headlines, looking at a massive star in the form of – the process of forming. They’ve found that magnetic fields might have something to do with the way that stars form. Justin?

Justin: Yes?

Kirsten: There are bacteria in your cigarettes.

Justin: I’m not afraid of bacteria.

Kirsten: Lots of bacteria in your cigarettes. One problem that smokers have is getting bacterial lung infections. And it turns out that some of those respiratory illnesses might come from the bacteria in your cigarettes.

Justin: Aha. So, if I sterilize filters, I will be cancer-free. What?

Kirsten: Other researchers of the I-STEM Institute have – using human embryonic stem cells have formed, have created complete skin epidermal layers.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Complete epidermis. So, this could help with the treatment of burn victims.

Justin: Sweet.

Kirsten: Yeah. And finally the LHC is back online. Hasn’t destroyed the earth yet but it also hasn’t found the Higgs boson either.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: We’re there.

Justin: They predict that’s going to take like five years before they get the right nano Higgs and the things to get down to the energy levels.

Kirsten: We’re getting there. Scientists at Lockheed, they’re looking into planning a mission to send humans to an asteroid using their Orion rocket. So, they’re, you know, after the movies, whatever that movie was where they went to outer space and landed on the asteroid that didn’t go so well.

Justin: Apollo 13? Was that 11?

Kirsten: No. Whichever – that movie, they’re going to try and do it for real. Shoutouts to Philip Fujiyoshi who sent in a really interesting story about frogs that change their shape when attacked by larval salamanders making them difficult to swallow. And this leads the salamaders to eat their own kind – induced cannibalism.

Justin: Wow, that’s brilliant.

Kirsten: Nature’s crazy. On next week’s show, we have lots more science. We thank you. It’s Thanksgiving time, peeps.

Justin: It is Thanksgiving. If you enjoyed the show, we invite you to check out our website, where you can find more information about getting us via podcast.

Kirsten: Yeah. And for more information on anything else you’ve heard here today, you can find the show notes compiled by our lovely intern Ali on our website, and we want to hear from you, so email us at or

Justin: Yes, but be sure to put TWIS somewhere in the subject line or you’ll be immediately spam filtered.

Kirsten: Into oblivion.

Justin: Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed the show. What else is there? What else we got?

Kirsten: We’ll be back here next week.

Justin: We are? Oh yes.

Kirsten: Yes, 8:30 am, Pacific time. We love being here at KDVS. We hope you will join us again for more great science news.

Justin: And if you’ve learned anything from today’s show, remember…

Kirsten: It’s all in your head.