Transcript: Aug 12, 2008

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

As the Earth turns and meanders along its orbital path about the nuclear fireball in the center of our solar system, we find ourselves launched effortlessly into tomorrow after tomorrow.

A new morning, a new day, a new chance to get out and explore new possibilities. In no other territory of the world does this spirit of exploration offer greater opportunity for discovery than in the pursuit of science.

Each day, the exploration of the scientific territory bears new fruit, new tasty morsels of the universe explained, to feed the curiosity of our insatiable hunger for knowledge.

And while tasting the fruits of knowledge, like we do so often on the following hour of programming does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California Davis, KDVS or its sponsors, it is the main ingredient in the ambrosia of sciencey goodness that has been plucked from only the very latest developments in This Week In Science, coming up next.
Justin: Good morning, Kirsten.

Kirsten: Good morning Justin. How’s it going?

Justin: Good, good, good, good, good, good. More of This Week In Science, another week.

Kirsten: Yes, more of This Week In Science and we have a great, great show ahead. Today, we’ve got Dr. Michael Stebbins after the half hour. He’s going to be bringing the Weird from Washington as usual. And we’ve got tons of science news, right?

Justin: There’s a lot of stuff going on out there, for sure.

Kirsten: I had such a hard time deciding what we were going to talk about today. I was like, “There’s this story and this story is so neat. And this other story is so neat but…” I brought some stories. I brought stories about… we’ve got the Large Hadron Collider, got an invisibility cloak update.

Justin: That thing’s taken so long. Why do they announce stuff that’s so juicy and then wait like a year before they create…

Kirsten: And then wait for – I don’t know. Too bad. And in honor of the Olympics, I’ve got a story about displays that people make when they win and also Neanderthals, and then, other stuff.

Justin: Yes, actually I’ve brought back some stories from last week that I wanted to talk about but had no room because it was so big last week.

Kirsten: Oh, dear.

Justin: And I almost kicked them out this week because there was more new stuff but I’ve got this small stakes because it’s got a little addition. Feathery construction, cheerleading – what is this? – ooh, bicycle seats which is very close to my – it’s not quite close to my heart right now.

I went on a long bike ride in the Santa Cruz mountains this weekend. And I hadn’t been on a bike in 20 years. And it hurt me in places I didn’t expect. My legs are fine. It’s the other parts of my body, so there’s a little story on that.

Kirsten: Oh, dear.

Justin: Cicumsmishum…

Kirsten: Shmishum-shmashum.

Justin: Viruses having viruses.

Kirsten: Viruses having viruses. That’s an exciting story. I can’t wait to talk about that one. But first on last week’s show – among other things we talked about, solar powered hydrogen fuel cells, and also creating a parallel competitive sports league that allows – yes – allowing the use of any methods possible to enhance human performance.

Justin: We had. We had that league in – we had the baseball league. Major league baseball and I think football. We had football. Where I think that was – I don’t even know if they’re still regulating in those. Like I think football might still be one of those sports for where you can opt to tell people what you’ve been taking.

Kirsten: Yes. Do I tell, do I not?

Justin: It’s up to me.

Kirsten: Yes, it’s up to me. Well, two minions wrote in on the fuel cell front about my — I brought up the idea that water was an important resource that needed to be taken into account in the fuel cell issue.

And two minions said that that was a red herring. They said, “Why are you bringing up water? Why is this important?” Fuel cells recirculate their water. They don’t lose…it’s a closed system why does the water matter?

And so, to I guess explains a little bit more about I brought that up, directly related to the functioning of the fuel cell, it’s not an issue. Yes, you were correct.

Fuel cells internally recycle the water. There’s probably some amount of leeching that does take place through the material of the fuel cell overtime. I mean it’s not – it’s impossible to get a completely closed system, probably not a big deal.

But what I was bringing up is that water as a resource is something that’s been fairly ignored in conversations about alternative energy to-date. I mean there are people who are talking about it but it’s been pretty ignored on the main front.

And water is scarce in many areas of the world and it’s becoming more scarce with climate change, desertification. Things are changing in the world. So, this water does need to be considered as a factor in energy production scenarios and that’s all I was saying.

Justin: Yes there was like, there was though a sort of anti fuel cell argument that we’re saying that they wouldn’t work because they would use up all our natural water. This is an old argument that came from like the idea that we’re going to make hydrogen plants that would somehow destroy fresh water in production.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: But yes, it’s not anything goofy, the fuel cell.

Kirsten: No. No, no. And on the competitive sports front, one listener, (Ron Hardika) was extremely upset at my suggestion of creating two athletic systems. He implied that it would affect high school athletes and specifically female gymnasts. I don’t know why gymnasts would be more likely to do this stuff but to take advantage of this. But I never, ever once said that I condoned the use of drugs by youth. Or I…

Justin: No. No, no.

Kirsten: I never said that and I’m sorry if I didn’t lay out all the rules for my drug…

Justin: Well, hang on. Hang on.

Kirsten: …my using athletics program.

Justin: Here’s — I’m going to make an admission now.

Kirsten: But I do stand by my comments.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: If people want to experiment with the limits of the human body, they should be able to.

Justin: Absolutely.

Kirsten: And I said that they have to live with the consequences too.

Justin: I don’t think anybody should be forced to live with the consequences. They should be able to…

Kirsten: No. If – they should be aware of “Okay, I’m going to play in this alternative sports league and I’m going to do whatever I want. I’m going to use these performance enhancing drugs. I’m going to have body modifications. And, if something bad happens, I take full responsibility because it was my choice to follow this path.”

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: Personal responsibility.

Justin: I’m on a performance enhancing drug right now.

Kirsten: Yes. Coffee.

Justin: Yes. Seriously. This — I absolutely dope up on caffeine before doing a show. If I didn’t, I don’t know if my performance would be this good.

Kirsten: Yes. Well, he also said that I should create the Kirsten Sanford athletic league in order to give it a try.

Justin: Nice.

Kirsten: And thanks for the idea, (Ron). I think it’s a fabulous idea. I’d love to hear any other comments about the Kirsten Sanford athletics league that any of you might have. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Why or why not? E-mail me at

Justin: Oh, my goodness. What a bunch of freaks that would be. Because sometimes isn’t there like some kind of mood swings involved with some of the steroids?

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: That might be a rough crowd. I don’t know if I (may).

Kirsten: There are. I mean sure, there are negatives.

You want to talk about viruses?

Justin: No, no, no. I got you – I got the other one.

Kirsten: Oh, Yes, Yes, Yes.

Justin: Give me a T.

Kirsten: T.

Justin: Give me a W.

Kirsten: W.

Justin: Give me an I.

Kirsten: I.

Justin: Give me a catastrophically disabling or even fatal injury in the name of team spirit. What?

Kirsten: What? Hold on a minute.

Justin: University of North Carolina Chapel Hill based National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research has released their annual report on high school and also college athletes.

The biggest statistical leap they have found like a stunt flyer tossed to the top of a pyramid, cheerleading in high school accounts for more than 65% of fatal, disabling or serious injuries recorded among female high school athletes over the last 25 years.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: 65%.

Kirsten: Cheerleading is dangerous. Oh, my goodness.

Justin: Yes, compare this to the runner up, gymnastics…

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: …which is less than 9% of the injuries, right, which previously, we did a story that compared the rate of injury in gymnastics…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …to being actually a little more dangerous than professional ice hockey.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: So – and that’s only – that came in at 9% versus 65% for cheerleading.

Kirsten: That’s kind of crazy.

Justin: It’s incredible. The center’s director, Frederick O. Mueller, PhD. professor in Exercise and Sports Science who authored the report since it was first published in 1982, says the major factor in increase has been the change in cheerleading activity which now involves more and more gymnastic type stunts.

If these cheerleading activities are not topped by a competent enough coach and keep increasing in difficulty, catastrophic injuries will continue to be a part of cheerleading. Wow! Yes.

So, it’s one of these things – again, when they do these numbers, 65% of the females are injured, who are injured are injured by cheerleading. They’re talking about really about a hundred or so of these very serious injuries over the last 25 years that they’ve recorded. And there are some nearly 100,000 females each year who are involved in cheerleading.

So it’s not like every place is really trying the really hard stuff for doing the tossing and the, they don’t all have stunt flyers who get thrown up into the air and caught by catchers and all this kind of crazy stuff.

But yes, more dangerous — that makes it about seven times more dangerous than ice hockey. I have new respect for the cheerleaders. That’s a tough crowd.

Kirsten: Those are some tough girls out there. That’s right. Respect the cheerleaders.

Justin: Respect the cheerleader, yes.

Kirsten: Respect. I was a cheerleader once upon a time.

Justin: And you did gymnastics? Wow!

Kirsten: I did gymnastics.

Justin: You’re lucky to be here.

Kirsten: I know.

Justin: My goodness.

Kirsten: Not in a complete body brace.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: All right. Everybody’s been waiting for this for 14 years.

Justin: Fourteen years in the making.

Kirsten: A date has been set for the firing up of the Large Hadron Collider in CERN. The giant particle collider, that may just destroy our universe.

Justin: No, no.

Kirsten: No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding.

Justin: What I’m actually…

Kirsten: I say that totally tongue in cheek.

Justin: I keep wondering if they can find a negative half spin particle. But that would mean that like a tacheon or something so that right before they turned on the machine that do the collision, the sensors would light up.

Kirsten: Oh, it take you back in time, yup.

Justin: No, the sensors would light up. They get like all the sensor data from after the collision before they actually launched it.

Kirsten: Time travel.

Justin: Create this great paradox whether or not they have to push the button once they’ve detected it like, “what?”

Kirsten: That would be great. That would be great. September 10th. September 10th is the date that it’s supposed to begin operation. But just this last weekend, they fired up part of the accelerator and actually spun some protons through a portion of the Collider.

And everything was successful. As far as I’m aware, things are going really well. They’re starting to train the magnets in how to guide particles around the Collider. It’s all getting – going.

It’s going to take a couple of months though, now that they’ve started to spin things up, couple of months after the September like fire-up date to get things going, do test experiments just to get rid of artifacts and make sure they know what they’re baseline is that they’re working with. And then they’re going to be going – going strong.

Justin: So just in time for Christmas.

Kirsten: Oh, that’s going to be a great Christmas present. Isn’t it?

Justin: It’s nice.

Kirsten: Data coming from the LHC. Rock on.

Justin: Super — oh, whoa.

Kirsten: And since we’re investigating the smallest things in the universe…

Justin: Like you really want the virus story, don’t you?

Kirsten: I think this virus story…

Justin: Very badly.

Kirsten: …is seriously one of the biggest stories of the week.

Justin: I’m sure it is. And if I can find it, it’ll be right here. Okay so, I don’t even really understand the debate here but apparently there is a very big debate about whether or not a virus is a living thing.

Kirsten: Yes, it’s huge question. Well it doesn’t have DNA. They are self-replicating viruses – well, viruses do not self replicate. They usually use other cellular materials so they invade a cell and use the machinery of a cell to help them replicate and that’s how they reproduce.

Justin: That’s kind of what we do. I mean we can’t self replicate.

Kirsten: Oh, yes we can’t.

Justin: I mean we don’t have – well, with other – I mean other people.

Kirsten: But there are many, many facets to viruses that make them so close to the border of what we define life as. But there a few things such as reproduction but they don’t necessarily do in a living way. Are they alive or they not?

Justin: But now, the discovery of a giant virus. That is itself- they found can fall ill from an infection of another virus. What?

Kirsten: Viruses can get sick?

Justin: They can get sick.

Kirsten: Oh, man!

Justin: Seems as though they just share at least one more trait with the living, seeing as how most inorganic non-biological material cannot get ill.

“There’s no doubt that this is a living organism” says the Journal Nature as told by professor Jean-Michael Claverie. This is being done by French people.

Kirsten: French. The French love viruses. I think it’s the French who have been working with the retrovirus stuff that, create the Franken-virus.

Justin: In the DNA one?

Kirsten: Yes, Yes.

Justin: Yes, Yes.

Kirsten: The French have been doing all – they’ve been doing some really cool viral work. Yes.

Justin: They like the virus. When the giant virus infects a host cell, an amoeba, they create a huge structure within the host like a transit cell that makes more viruses. That sounds like reproduction.

Kirsten: Yes, it does.

Justin: It kind of does. I mean in the parasitic version.

Kirsten: Right, exactly.

Justin: But that’s still…

Kirsten: They don’t do it themselves.

Justin: Yes, that’s still – I mean I couldn’t have made…

Kirsten: They don’t…

Justin: I couldn’t have made my kids myself. I need help.

Kirsten: Viruses don’t support – don’t have a metabolism. They don’t support. They don’t have structures that support their own metabolism.

Justin: What are they?

Kirsten: They rely on living cells to support them.

Justin: But they’re somehow a genetic material.

Kirsten: That’s the question. What are they? What are they?

Justin: Anyways, well, that’s pretty much the story. They…

Kirsten: I like the name though. So there’s the – there’s this old kind of virus that’s been around. It’s called the Mimivirus. Well, it’s one of the largest viruses out there, the Mimivirus. And now, they have the Mamavirus. The Mimivirus and the Mamavirus. And the Mamavirus gets hijacked by this virus’ virus.

Justin: Virus’ virus. It’s the virus’ virus, it’s called – they named it sputnik. In Russian that is a meaning for a traveling companion.

Kirsten: We got a phone call. We take this opportunity to remind you, you’re listening to This Week In Science with Kirsten and Justin.

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

Man: Good morning, good morning.

Kirsten: Good morning.

Man: You guys were talking about the hydrogen fuel at the beginning of the show.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Man: And I’d like to point out, you were talking about, we don’t have enough water?

Justin: Well, last week, that’s what the comment got slipped out there that, not that we – I didn’t say we didn’t have enough water. No, no, no.

Kirsten: It’s just that water…

Justin: I was saying that the argument against fuel cells at one point would be that it would use up too much fresh water.

Kirsten: Right.

Man: Okay.

Kirsten: That was an older argument.

Man: Well, yes because the whole thing is that I got some information off the internet on how to build – how to modify an engine, how to build a hydrogen engine to modify it.

And what – let’s see, what are the figures? – the figure is like 1 liter of tap water turns into 1800 liters of fuel.

Kirsten: That’s pretty awesome.

Justin: Wow.

Man: So I mean that’s way better than gas.

Kirsten: Yes.

Man: Way better than gas.

Kirsten: Yes. It’s absolutely better than gas.

Man: The only thing that I’m wondering and I’ve always been wondering about this for years because I was thinking about building an engine like this for years ago. The thing I’m wondering and maybe you could do some research and, follow it up on the…

Justin: Oh, there’s people listening right now who probably have the answer.

Kirsten: I know.

Man: The thing is is that one of the – I think one of the hydrogen molecules gets taken out or is it one of the oxygen molecules? Anyway, but if one of those molecules gets taken out, won’t we have a bunch of air that is not H20?

Kirsten: Well it’s not — yes you have a vapor molecule. So when because of hydrolysis, you have the splitting of the water molecule into hydrogen. And hydroxide, so an H and an OH. So you have…

Man: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And so, the hydrogen becomes hydrogen gas and then you have the hydroxide. And that’s – and the hydroxide is a reactive molecule…

Man: Right.

Kirsten: …that can react with other molecules and lead to different reactions.

Man: Right.

Kirsten: And because the oxygen wants to grab on to other electrons and make itself whole.

Man: Okay. So basically what comes out of like the tailpipe is the same thing that went into the engine in the beginning.

Kirsten: Pretty much because, the hydroxide ions will continue to mix and mingle and they’re going to end up creating more water so water is going to come out and there’s going to be oxygen molecule — oxygen molecules, O2 and then there’s going to be hydroxide. There’s going to be hydrogen. It’s a nice mix of stuff.

But there’s nothing that comes out that is… I guess you get a little bit less reactive if you actually don’t recycle it all within the system.

Man: Right.

Kirsten: But the idea is that within the fuel cell itself everything gets recycled back into water.

Man: Oh, okay. Well, excellent.

Kirsten: That’s the idea.

Man: Yes. I called I guess about a month ago or so and I’ve been checking out the entire archives and yes, Justin mentioned though that was pre-Justin times and…

Kirsten: Pre-Justin times.

Man: It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. Yes, he brings a lot to the show.

Justin: Oh, good. Good, good.

Man: Compared to some of the other people you had on before.

Justin: Bunch of yahoos.

Kirsten: Wonderful.

Man: Yes, bunch of yahoos.

Justin: Yes, bunch of yahoos. Good friends of mine still but bunch of yahoos.

Man: So you’ve been on since 2005.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: That’s it.

Man: Oh, okay. All right, Justin has been on. Okay.

Justin: Oh, I know you had it backwards. Oh, no!

Man: Oh no. No, no, no. Anyway, I just – I appreciate you guys a lot.

Justin: Awesome.

Kirsten: Thanks for calling.

Justin: Thanks for checking in.

Man: Keep it up.

Kirsten: Keep on researching those fuel cells.

Man: Yes. I will.

Kirsten: All right.

Man: I’m going to be starting to work on pretty soon here.

Kirsten: Awesome.

Man: Well, anyway.

Justin: This is…

Kirsten: Bye.

Justin: Bye-bye.

Man: Excellent.

Justin: …the next wave of the fuel cell revolution could be [unintelligible], Kirs. I mean this is going to be an excess of the technology going forward.

Kirsten: Yes, the whole idea that he’s like looking up how to build a fuel cell on the internet, aren’t they still trying to figure how to just make fuel cells like, what? This is great.

Justin: If I had the money to invest – I would create – you know how they have like all the, I mean I would create hydrogen shack. That would be my new business.

Kirsten: Hydrogen shack.

Justin: You can come in and get all your components for your make it yourself hydrogen fuel systems.

Kirsten: The invisibility cloak may be one step closer, or, maybe not.

Justin: Could be not.

Kirsten: Yes, maybe, maybe not. Some researchers in Berkley I think at University of California Berkley, they’ve published in Nature and they’ve also published in Science — there’s publishing papers all over the place — about some meta-materials that they have created where they have taken insulating magnesium fluoride and conducting silver on a court’s substrate.

Drilled a whole bunch of holes in it so it looks like a waffle. And, it refracts light in a way such that the light is bent in a negative direction. So its kind of bent back towards the direction that it came from.

This negative refraction is important for – to bend light. The idea in the invisibility cloak is that light will get bent around an object. It will be able to be shuttled through the material to an exit point on the opposite side so that what you see looks as though you’re just looking right through it so whatever light just passes directly — what appears to be directly through the material but it’s really like…

I actually saw on the news last night, I was actually very excited to see this reported in the nightly news and they did a really good job of describing it. They said it kind of in the way that a rock in a stream – sitting in a stream the water will flow past it, split on the back side of the rock and then come back together in front. And so, that’s kind of what they’re going for in this light bending idea.

So they’ve got this material that is able to bend visible lights near infrared light. The visible light, however, is only within the red spectrum so it’s only a particular wave length of light that they’re able to negatively refract. So that’s still relatively limiting because the visible spectrum is fairly broad…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: …when it comes down to it. So there’s a long way to go in terms of the invisibility cloak. Unfortunately, it’s not just going to come to us tomorrow.

Justin: Thank goodness.

Kirsten: It’s going to take awhile.

Justin: I’m not looking forward to the day when people are running around invisible.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Just the car accidents alone, hitting people in the crosswalk, because I didn’t see him.

Kirsten: But this is the way – what they’re doing…the way this material could improve optics and lenses to make very – it basically can improve the way that a material can focus light to a point.

Justin: Very cool.

Kirsten: So could make lenses a little bit better.

Justin: Could be doing some neat stuff or – yes.

Kirsten: Improve that HD kind of stuff. I don’t know.

Justin: And then have better than blue right? Do we need that?

Kirsten: What?

Justin: I don’t even know if that’s necessary at this point.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: World’s smallest snake discovery opens can of worms over the meaning of discovery.

Kirsten: Or snake, no.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: Kidding.

Justin: Blair Hedges, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State, described the new snake’s addition to the tree of life as being under four inches long, thin as a noodle and perhaps being the minimum possible size for a snake to survive.

Kirsten: Little, tiniest size possible. What is the minimum possible size for a snake to survive.

Justin: It’s – well, because the baby. How small the baby is. Although, in relation to the adult, the baby is ginormous. It’s only like lays one egg. Most snakes will lay lots and lots and lots of eggs.

Kirsten: Hey, a whole bunch.

Justin: And how a bunch of tiny babies come out.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: This one lays just one egg and it’s very large. The baby snake is very large in comparison relative to the size of the adult. And the reason they think is because is if it was any smaller than that, it couldn’t eat the food that it’s designed for, which is like, ant larva or something.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: It’s really tiny. So…

Kirsten: That’s fascinating too that the — I mean it’s just fascinating to think that the snake would lay only one egg.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: And I mean, to me, that’s just like, what?

Justin: For it to be any – they think because if it was any more viable of an offspring, it would require, it to have enough eggs that would just be the size of its own body. So it’s just kind of …

So Hedges determined that this Barbados species, which is a type of thread snake, is new to science on the basis of its genetic differences from other snake species and its unique color patterns, scales.

He also determined that some old museum specimens that dated back to 1889 and 1963 had been misidentified by other scientists and actually belong to this new species.

Hedges named it Leptotyphlops Carla, after his wife, who must be Greek.

Kirsten: Carla.

Justin: Who must be Greek.

Kirsten: She must be.

Justin: The controversy over the story arrives when local Barbadians, Barbadanese, Barbadushians, — I don’t even know what to call them. When the people already living in the region complained bitterly that the snake wasn’t a new find… they had already known about it for years. It already had a name. Very upset that somebody would come along and name their snake.

It seems locals who referred to the snake, simply as the “thread snake”… great oh, really, that’s her name, were offended that an outsider would claim to discover a creature that had lived in their own background…

Kirsten: That they’ve known about forever and…

Justin: …as though they were too ignorant to discover it themselves and needed the outside help. Right? They’re all bent out of shape.

This has of course shed light on the ignorance on the part of some of these Barbadonians as to the scientific definition of discovery, being when you genetically compare and classify something in the laboratory to what is known in the record.

Hedges has discovered and described more than 65 new species of amphibians and reptiles – wow! — throughout the Caribbean in the course of his genetic and evolutionary studies which opened up a further controversy when his wife realized how many species he’s discovered in the past and only just now got around to naming one after her.

Kirsten: Ooh.

Justin: Ooh, that’s the real controversy.

Kirsten: Ouch.

Justin: Barbadonian, Barbadonese, I don’t know. Maybe we should come up with a scientific name for them.

Kirsten: Barbadosians?

Justin: That would really tick them off, wouldn’t it?

Kirsten: That would be funny.

We’ve all been watching Michael Phelps raising his arms, certainly not all of us but…

Justin: I do not own a television.

Kirsten: …I have been fascinated by the Olympics this year. I don’t know. Four years ago, I wasn’t so excited. This year, I’m all about it. I’m watching them all the time. Michael Phelps, he’s like, “Yes, I win again. Suckers, I’m a winner.”

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Anyway…

Justin: In your face at the Olympics up there on the booth, huh?

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: Strutting it! Yes, I don’t…

Kirsten: He’s strutting it!

So, some researchers at San Francisco State University and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver have been taking photos not of these winning Olympic champions but of blind athletes that were winning or losing various games in the Para Olympics back in 2004.

What they wanted to do was to find out whether or not the behavioral demonstrations that these athletes did were something that is hard wired so when we…

Justin: Got you. The fist pump at the end…

Kirsten: The fist pump, the arms in the air.

Justin: If you haven’t seen it, you can still do that.

Kirsten: If you haven’t seen it, if you haven’t been able to learn it, right.

Justin: I would say no. I would guess no.

Kirsten: Yes. Yes, so that the behaviors were completely generate so people who were blind from birth were doing the same arm gestures as people who have been sighted from birth, but never had the opportunity to see, visually learn these behaviors at all.

Justin: Do you think somebody told them about it though?

Kirsten: Well that’s the question. Is this something that maybe when you’re little your parent grab your hands and “Go yey!” and lift your hands in the air. And so, maybe it’s something that is learned culturally even though it’s not naturally transmitted.

Justin: More like the coach is like, “Hey, if you win. Put your – pump your fist up in the air, celebrate like this.” I don’t know. Who knows?

Kirsten: Right. This could be something that is a behavioral harkening to our primate ancestors. Is this something that goes back to, chest pounding and arm raising?

Justin: You know what I always thought it was?

Kirsten: For the win. FTW.

Justin: I thought people were pretending to be a boxer because at the end of a boxing match, the referee raises your glove.

Kirsten: Raises your hand.

Justin: So whenever I saw the fist pump, I was like, you’re pretending that your glove has been raised and that you’re the winner. That’s what I always thought it was, people pretending to be boxers.

Kirsten: Yes. Well, we’re at 9 o’clock. We’re at 9 o’clock.

Justin: Wait. There’s still – oh, chicken feathers. When are we going to get to the chicken feathers?

Kirsten: Maybe after Michael Stebbins if Michael Stebbins goes quickly but we like talking to Mike Stebbins.

Justin: Oh, yes. He’s the guy.

Kirsten: Yes. And Neanderthals finally have a complete mitochondrial genome. They got a complete genome out of the Neanderthals, it’s exciting. But…

Justin: Circumcision, bike seats, oh my goodness, there’s a lot!

Kirsten: There is a lot. But we’ll be back after this break. You’re listening to This Week In Science. Stay tuned for more.

Justin: And we are back with more of This Week In Science.

Kirsten: Yes, welcome back on the line. We have Dr. Michael Stebbins bringing us the Weird from Washington as usual. Shall I bring him on the air? Do we want to talk to him today?

Justin: Yes, let’s do it. Let’s talk to him.

Kirsten: All right. The Weird…

Justin: With Dr. Michael Stebbins. Are you there? Are you there?

Michael Stebbins: Good morning.

Justin: Good morning.

Kirsten: Good morning. How’s it going today, dear sir?

Michael: I’m doing well. I actually started to set my alarm clock to theme music like that.

Kirsten: I think that’s a great idea.

Justin: Hey, I would strut all over town with it, man. You got to have your tunes going, your backdrop.

Michael: I’m rolling in the Mini Cooper so I can have the tunes rolling up with me.

Justin: You got a Mini Cooper? Really?

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: He did.

Michael: Yes, Yes. Yup.

Justin: Wow! Fancy.

Kirsten: It’s got airbags.

Justin: Yes, see, it’s safe. It’s a safe car.

Michael: Yes it is. And I barely fit in it which is great. So I’m like 6’4” so like the Mini Cooper is not really built for me but actually its comfortable enough, so.

Kirsten: It’s like the smart car. A friend of mine, he’s probably like 6ft, dear God. I don’t know. Six foot, dear God, you’re tall.

Justin: God is way up there. I don’t know how tall that is but…

Kirsten: He’s got a smart car. And it’s like a clown car. It’s wonderful and hilarious every time he drives that.

Michael: They’re like hot wheels.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So you went from like a 1984 . Toyota Corolla to a Mini Cooper? That’s quite a jump in ride, man.

Michael: It was a ‘91 Corolla and yes, it was a jump in ride in order of magnitude.

Justin: So there you go.

Kirsten: Got any good news?

Michael: I’ve got good news.

Kirsten: Do want to start on it?

Michael: Do you want to start with good or do you want a pepper in it?

Justin: Let’s pepper it.

Kirsten: Oh, let’s pepper. I like it peppery. Yes, yes, spicy. Spice it up.

Michael: Okay. We’ll start with some good news.

Kirsten: Okay.

Michael: The US Department of Defense has announced that they have neutralized 1269 tons of VX gas at the Newport Indiana Facility and they are finished with the task after 39 months.

Justin: Nice.

Michael: That is huge. Our total stockpile in the United States was 31,500 tons which makes us of course the world leader in chemical weapons. So we’ve eliminated about 17,000 tons of it, total.

So we’re moving forward but there’s pretty much no way we’re going to make the 2012 deadline for eliminating all of our chemical weapons as laid out in the chemical weapons convention.

And so we’ll be asking for a little bit of an extension on that because several of the facilities we have not actually started to work on. But it’s still good to say that we’re moving forward even though that we have made cuts in the chemical weapons demilitarization programs.

The president came in and said all this…

Kirsten: It’s like I started my homework.

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: Can I have an extension on that paper?

Justin: I’d say…

Michael: I can have that homework to you after graduation.

Justin: I’d say we put it all on a rocket and launch it deep into space. I’m sure that won’t end badly. I’m sure it’d be fine. We could beat the deadline, right?

Michael: That’s been proposed.

Justin: Yes, no doubt.

Michael: As it turns out, not so popular with the kids.

Justin: Put it in there with the nuclear waste and we got a win-win. We get rid of both of them at the same time.

Michael: There you go. Yes. You got to write that proposal up.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: It’s – Yes.

Michael: You do realize that when you hand that proposal in you should be wearing the tinfoil hat though.

Justin: I will be. It’d be written on the back of a Denny’s napkin and like just be a picture of rocket with an arrow, that’s space, where the arrow is going.

Michael: I often get letters from people who are trying to tell me about how I should be wearing a tinfoil hat as well because it’s been working for them in making the voices go away.

Justin: Oh, really? It does?

Michael: Yes. And for me, my advice to them is always well, while I’m sporting a Chrome Dome, I really don’t necessarily want the foil. But if it’s working for them, then they should continue doing it.

Justin: You could get silence in there?

Michael: Yes.

Justin: I’m going to have to try it.

Michael: It’s an echo.

Justin: So anyhow. The – we’re now on week three of the Republican protest on the house floor. Have you heard about this? A handful of a house Republicans have refused to recess, so, and refused to go on vacation so they’ve been standing on the floor and having mock sessions of the House.

Justin: Sounds like fun.

Michael: It could be one mode on drilling, offshore drilling. And sounds like speaker Pelosi is probably going to go for it. But at the same time, when they’re doing that, one wonders what House leadership is doing.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: And so John Baner, basically, he’s the minority leader of the house. He has been saying over and over again for at least the next two weeks right up to the start of Democratic Convention on August 25th that he will be – he and Conservatives plan to protest on the floor of the house.

And that quote that “Republicans will not rest until we have an honest upper down vote on the American energy act”, which is the offshore drilling thing.

Kirsten: So that’s the whole protest? Is that they feel that we need to…

Michael: So what have they been doing?

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: As it turns out, during one of those protests, Baner was filmed golfing, at least twice during that week.

Kirsten: Well, you have to have “Me time”.

Michael: No rest for the wicked. Yup, exactly.

Justin: I think I would love that.

Michael: So it’s quite a protest.

Justin: Anytime there…

Michael: And it’s sort of like rah, rah, rah for — Yes…

Justin: Yes. Anytime that the house was not in session, I think I would be in there playing, pretending. That’d be odd.

Michael: I’m wondering where John Baner was during, the last, I don’t know, 15 years and why he is choosing now. But it’s probably not an election stunt. I mean that wouldn’t be it at all.

Kirsten: No. Have you looked into his voting record at all? Like how many votes he’s missed…

Michael: We certainly have.

Kirsten: …and how often he’s there versus not there and…

Michael: It’s pretty remarkable. John Baner gets a very low score when rated by League of Conservation voters. I know that will be shocking to a lot of people. But it’s true. He is voted anti-environment on many, many issues. So, but I mean golfing is good for some. I guess not me.

Justin: It’s good for ducks. It creates many wetland preserves and sometimes urban blighted areas where they have nowhere else to go.

Michael: Mm hmm. Now…

Kirsten: Save the ducks.

Michael: In, about two years ago, with a lot of fanfare, President Bush declared that there’s a remote chain of Hawaiian islands to be the biggest most environmentally protected area of the ocean in the world.

Kirsten: Whoa.

Michael: And is – but it hasn’t worked out that way, he did that. The cleanup efforts have slowed, the garbage is still piling up on these islands and Bush has cut the budget request for cleanup of those islands by 80%. This is a 140,000 square mile chain in northwestern Hawaiian islands. And the name of it that I cannot pronounce, that’s Papahanaumoku Ki’ina islands…

Kirsten: Good try.

Michael: …which of course everyone wants to go on their vacation. But it’s piled with garbage. In fact some of the pictures of it are really grotesque. So, but it has about 7,000 rare species on it including some sensitive coral reefs.

Now, as it turns out, since he’s declared this a protected zone, the cleanup efforts have gotten about $400,000 a year. Before he declared it as on that zone, it was $2.1 million a year.

Justin: What?

Michael: So he actually declared it protected and then spent less money protecting it than was being spent before.

Justin: Interesting.

Michael: Does that make sense?

Justin: Yes, it does.

Kirsten: Yes, so it’s kind of like we got it in there and so now, we’re going to slack off.

Michael: Yes, so there’s an estimated 57 tons of garbage and discarded fishing gear on the ten islands and the water surrounding them each year.

Justin: Wow!

Michael: And so, they’re a…

Kirsten: So there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done and the money must mean…

Michael: Well, essentially, they cut the funding.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: They declared it protected and then cut the funding for protecting it. Yey!

Kirsten: Oh, well.

Michael: Yes.

Justin: Say one thing. You get credit for what you say apparently now not for doing. Doing doesn’t seem to come into the equation very much anymore.

Michael: Exactly. And I felt bad about that because when he actually highlighted, I think I talked about it on the show, on point and so this is a great thing and as it turns out, it was worse for the island. The number of hours, and well, the number of days at the exhibitions – the clean up exhibitions they’re spending has actually been cut dramatically less than half of the time that was being spent previously to do this.

Yup. But on a good note, a handful of senators have called for EPA Administrator, Stephen Johnson’s resignation now. The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, Chairman, Barbara Boxer, your senator…

Justin: My favorite.

Michael: …and committee members are Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, Amy Knoblock from Minnesota and Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey. They all called for the resignation Stephen Johnson and charged him with giving them misleading testimony, refusing to cooperate with congressional oversight and based agency decision making on political considerations rather on scientific evidence, or the rule of law.

Justin: Wow, both.

Michael: So, they introduced a Senate resolution, a sense of the senate, that’s what it is. This doesn’t have any umph behind it but it basically asks for him to leave. So there’s that…

Justin: Wow.

Michael: …which is good.

Justin: That is, that is. Who do we have in the wings to fill in though? That’s the only…

Michael: Well that’s a good point. And a lot of people have basically said that, whoever we put in there isn’t going to change anything in the next couple months. It’s sort of a hold on and pray that the administration doesn’t do anything god-awful.

But as it turns out, they’re trying to do some things that are really quite nasty in their last couple (days)…

Justin: (Their learned hour).

Michael: This is not do-nothing president by any means.

Kirsten: Right.

Michael: For example Bush wants some endangered species rules to be eliminated. This is just months before he leaves office. His administration is antagonizing environmentalists by proposing changes that would allow federal agencies to decide for themselves whether subdivisions, dams, highways and other projects have the potential to harm endangered animals and plants. Now, this is…

Kirsten: Wait. Will you say that again? Let who decide for themselves?

Justin: Like what federal agencies?

Michael: The agencies without having to consult their scientists.

Kirsten: Yes, that’s sounds great.

Michael: In other words, you can make a political – they’re actually proposing that you do not have to go through a scientific process to determine this, that the agencies could just make those decisions on their own without their own scientists.

Kirsten: Got it.

Justin: Scorched earth policy. That’s what it sounds like.

Michael: Yup. If approved, the changes would represent the biggest overhaul of endangered species regulations since 1986. And accomplished the rules of what conservative Republicans have been unable to achieve in congress namely ending some environmental reviews that developers or other federal agencies blame for delays and cost increases on many projects.

So now, the changes were unveiled Monday, would apply to any project a federal agency would fund, build or authorize that the agency itself determines it’s unlikely — if the agency determines it’s unlikely to harm endangered wildlife and their habitat, they can approve it.

Government wildlife experts currently participate in tens of thousands of such reviews each year. They would not have to be in those reviews. Yes.

Kirsten: Yes. There could be a lot more stuff going on.

Michael: So basically it’s throwing it out.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Yes. The initial – the review usually results in accommodations that better protect the 1,353 animals and plants on the endangered species list right now and they would be, but essentially thrown out so that scientists would not really make those decisions. It would be based on probably political decisions in a lot of cases.

Kirsten: Right. Based on how — based more on like economics and…

Justin: Payola.

Kirsten: …policies.

Justin: Isn’t that stuff all reversible? Isn’t that the great thing about this country is that you can wait a few months or a few years and then somebody else is in the office and they go, “Oh, really? That’s what the last administration did? Yes. We’re not going to stick with that.” Can’t they just reverse that at some point?

Michael: Yes. That’s exactly what this president did.

Justin: Yes. I mean, that’s – well no, that’s the thing. It’s kind of…

Michael: So, you basically – and people, are tired of hearing all the bad stuff they’re doing but they’re ramping up the bad stuff. This rule proposal that they’re putting through is absolutely extraordinary. It’s the kind of stuff that where people – it’s very easy to get excited about the elections and even the Olympics for some people. And say “Oh we’ve heard all those stories before.” But you haven’t. This story is huge. This is the giant thing. This is basically undermining the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Michael: And we can go through — there’s tons and tons of examples of these. Now, it’s really, just making my blood boil to see it over and over and over and over again. But there you go.

Kirsten: They’re trying to push all this stuff through though but I mean, there’s going to be a lot of resistance against any of this making it through.

Michael: Yes except that if it’s an executive order, they can put it through without… with no problem. Of course it will be challenged in court.

Kirsten: Right. Yes. Interesting.

Michael: But that doesn’t mean that they’re not trying. So…

Michael: Very interesting. Now, I’ll give you two choices for the last story.

Kirsten: Okay.

Michael: Is the Army Corps of Engineers undermining the Clean Water Act? Or should the next president be internet savvy?

Justin: Wow. That’s a tough one.

Michael: Oh, come now.

Justin: I’m going to go with the Army Corps of Engineers – how could they possibly be – I don’t know. That doesn’t make sense. They seem like – they’re engineers, right?

Michael: Yup. Last week, Representative Henry Waxman and James Oberstar, who’s the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructures, sent a letter to the Assistant Secretary for the Army, John Paul Woodley, inquiring about the process used by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine whether the Santa Cruz and Los Angeles rivers are or not traditional navigable of waters and basically subject to the Clean Water Act.

Kirsten: Right.

Michael: They had made that decision that certain sections of it should not be subject to the act. But as it turns out, those decisions seemed to have been politicized. So, and they’re using very, very strange criteria including a Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899.

Justin: Reaching.

Michael: Rather than the – Yes, exactly. That’s reaching back. Rather than just using, I don’t know, the Clean Water Act restrictions and guidance. So they’re actually going further back to an old law which seems to be against the law and…

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: …so, Yes. And it’s already been dealt with in a Supreme Court case before but as it turns out, that…

Kirsten: Let’s just try it again.

Michael: Yup. They’re going to keep pushing and pushing and pushing. So and this of course is… all this decision making seemed to fall in line with some letters that were sent out by the National Association of Homebuilders criticizing the Santa Cruz river determination and asserting that the scope of the determination was using the Clean Water Act should be limited.

So anyhow…

Justin: So were they trying to get jet skis out there or like…?

Michael: I guess, maybe tubing, beers on the river.

Justin: That would be kind of nice. Yes, maybe I’m actually – Yes, I’m with the Army Corp of Engineers, string up a couple of inner tubes, get a keg in the middle of them…

Kirsten: You buy a house on the river and you think that you’ll be able to set your boat on it but then…

Michael: Now, I do want to remind you that about – and listeners about the questions that scientists are asking Congress and the presidential candidates. Science Debate 2008 came up with 14 questions for the presidential candidates. I have some authority to say that the Obama campaign should be releasing their script relatively soon. We haven’t heard anything from the McCain campaign.

But the congressional candidates is what’s interesting. 73 of them have already answered the questions.

Justin: Nice.

Michael: And you can see those on Scientist & Engineers for America’s website, the Sharp Network. And if your congressman or candidate has not answered the questions yet, you can actually send a letter right from there to your congressman. So…

Justin: I’ll just call Barbara Boxer. She’s not on that list. I get her on my…

Kirsten: On your speed dial?

Justin: Not just speed dial. She’s in my celly, you know. She’s one of my MySpace too. She’s one of my homies.

Michael: Oh, that’s great. You friended her. Great.

Kirsten: I friend her on Facebook.

Justin: That or it’s her – it could be any number of political aides that actually answer her e-mails. I have no idea.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Michael: Well, they do but 73 have already answered and there’s more rolling in every single day. So if you haven’t – if you check out the network and yours has not answered, send them a letter right then and there. It takes seconds.

Justin: Cool, cool.

Kirsten: Great. Well, thank you so much for…

Michael: Thank you.

Kirsten: …another week of the weirdness. It’s always, always exciting and spicy, the news that you bring. Have a great couple of weeks and we’ll be talking to you again.

Michael: Around the convention.

Kirsten: Yes, that’ll be great. I hope you have…

Michael: The DNC Convention, yup.

Kirsten: I hope you have some good news.

Michael: Hopefully, Yes.

Kirsten: Hopefully. All right.

Justin: All right, Stebbins. Until next time.

Kirsten: Take care, we’ll talk to you soon.

Michael: Au revoir.

Justin: It’s been the Weird from Washington with Dr. Michael Stebbins.

Kirsten: And I’d like to remind you, you are listening to This Week In Science with Dr. Kirsten Sanford and Justin Jackson on every Tuesday.

Justin: Isn’t it Dr. Justin? Can’t I be Dr. Justin? No.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: I guess not.

Kirsten: Not unless you buy one of those PhDs off of the internet. (Unintelligible).

Justin: I know. I’m saving. I’m saving up. I’m saving up. Hopefully, by the end of next year, I’ll be the Dr. Something.

Kirsten: That’s right. Kangaroo meat for climate change. This is my This Week in Australia bashing. I know it’s — we don’t usually do the Australia bashing. But it was…

Justin: I banned it. I banned it. I’m a big Australian fan.

Kirsten: I love Australia. I’d love to visit Australia someday. But there’s a researcher in Australia of the Australian Wildlife Services who’s urging that we begin farming more kangaroos instead of sheep and cows because sheep and cows produce more carbon dioxide and methane which is damaging to the atmosphere and the environment and all that kind of stuff.

Justin: I haven’t tried a kangaroo.

Kirsten: I haven’t tried kangaroo either. Oh, I’m vegetarian. But supposedly, sheep and cattle account for 11% of the carbon footprint from Australia.

Justin: Wow. That’s a lot of the…

Kirsten: So that’s a whole bunch. And I did not realize this but Australia already produces several million tons of kangaroo meat.

Justin: Oh, they’re always (putting the bruise on the Barbie) and all that kind of junk. Yes.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: It’s — I don’t know. They kind of look like a giant rat to me. And it’s – I would try it. I would try any kind of – I’d try to eat just about any kind of creature one time.

Kirsten: Yes. Other news we can use, the Perseids. Perseid meteor shower happening right now. Actually last night was — last night and tonight is the peak.

Justin: They say it’s tonight is the very best time because then it’s not too late for the (Googling it).

Kirsten: Yes not too late. But yes, check it out. Go outside in the middle of the night, late, late at night or right before dawn. Before the light starts to come up, you should be able to catch some stellar displays.

Justin: I’ve got Professor Fiddles with fabrication of Philippine foul feathers finds formula to foil infestations, lighten landfills and function less flamably too. Yes, research into a new composite building board made of chicken feathers is being done at the University of the Philippines by Professor Menandro Acda.

Professor Acda said the material made of compressed cement and chicken feathers could be lightly used for housing replacing boards now made with woodchips which are easily ruined by hungry insects. They probably have armies of termites and wood boring creatures in that part of the world.

Kirsten: I just wonder if this is going to be become applied fairly readily. I mean it sounds like a great idea but I, a few years ago there was another group who are suggesting using chicken feathers instead of silicon for microchips and silicon, the boards that go in your computer, mother boards and stuff because it does have conducting properties as well that been made in a certain way. But I haven’t heard anything about it ever again. It’s like, where did that go?

Justin: Well, they’re looking to do something with anything with chicken feathers. Apparently, it’s a significant problem in the Philippines. They have 2.4 million tons of feathers produced each year by their poultry industry.

Kirsten: Yes, chicken feathers are a problem. On next week’s show, we’re going to be interviewing Sean Carroll. He’s a physicist at Caltech with many interests in cosmology, gravitation and field theory. And we’re going to be talking to him about the arrow of time.

Justin: Time’s arrow.

Kirsten: Yes. Shout outs to (Frankie Light), he sent in a sleep story that I didn’t get to this week but thanks for sending it in. (Kalidasa), thanks for all of your submissions. (Pat O’Doul), (Dough D.), (Richard Jellicoe), (Tony Steel) and (Glenn) in Vancouver.

Thanks for all the stories, comments, et cetera and good bye to (Emilio De Lis). He couldn’t take my singing or Justin’s politics anymore and e-mailed to let me know.

Justin: Yes, I don’t really like my politics either. I think I’m done.

Kirsten: And…

Justin: What?

Kirsten: Do you have your…?

Justin: Oh, yes, if you learned anything…

No, there’s more. I forgot the – what am I doing. Wait, wait, wait, wait. Oh, so, but now, I don’t want to send people to the website. I banned the website too, remember?

Kirsten: Yes, but we’re working on it.

Justin: We’re working it. Don’t go to the website if you’re under 18.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: No, don’t go right now. There’s all these links to all these like dirty websites right now.

Kirsten: Are there?

Justin: Yes, we’re getting (spam-a-rama).

Kirsten: All right, I’ll fix it.

Justin: We need better security. We need somebody standing at the door. Wait. But you can listen to our show. If you go to what is it? and click right there on the front page, you can listen to all of our lovely stories going back into the archives.

Kirsten: Right. Well, if you click on to subscribe to the TWIS science podcast. It’ll give you information on how to subscribe or you can adjust search for This Week In Science in iTunes because we’re also available as a podcast. Thanks for listening.

For more information on anything you’ve heard here today, show notes will be available on our website, We also want to hear it from you. So e-mail us at or

Justin: Put TWIS in the subject somewhere or we’ll automatically get spam bounced…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …into oblivion.

Kirsten: Yes. Thank you to every one who has e-mailed with questions, comments or stories. We’d love your feedback. If there’s a topic you would like us to cover or address or a suggestion for an interview, please let us know. Our audio podcast will post the iTunes later today. We’ll be back here on KDVS next Tuesday at 8:30 am Pacific Time. We hope you’ll join us again for more great science news.

Thanks to all the musicians who helped us out for music.

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

Justin: It’s all in your head.

To listen to the podcast:

(Thanks to Paul V for doing the final edits)