Skeptics with a K: Episode #036

Extended bumper episode! ¬†This episode of Skeptics with a K was streamed live over the Internet on Monday 13 December 2010. ¬†Featuring cold fusion, Toys “R” Us, hassidic diets, the Emo Buzz Lightyear, urine injections and the heaviest man in the world.

This episode was sponsored by the QED conference; for more information visit

Mike’s mysterious tweet can be found at:



  1. #1 by Michael on December 16, 2010 - 20:45

    There you go again Marsh. All data for nuclear reactions using non Monte Carlo based calculations (those which are deterministic and not based on Maxwell Boltzman statistical data for solving the neutron transport equation as if you didn’t know]) are supplied by the US Navy. Deterministic calculations and Monte Carlo codes for all nuclear radiation and shielding work is checked using the US Navy database. That is in the UK, USA, Japan, Europe and anywhere else building nuclear installations. You must remember that the US Navy were front runners in setting up and starting nuclear reactors for fuelling their steam raising plants. (Nuclear Powered Submarines). This data complies one of the largest databases in nuclear physics and engineering. I have used this data to check against computer modelling of nuclear site designs as it is basic cross checking data. Today certain deterministic codes are based on the US Navy nuclear cross sectional data libraries. Today it is relatively easy to run Monte Carlo codes on a PC and collide millions of neutrons using MB stats. In the 1950’s though the US Navy lead the way in calculating these by hand. There weren’t any computers beyond adding machines. So best not skit the US Navy as they probably know where you live! Polonium is still an element, by the way.

  2. #2 by Michael on December 16, 2010 - 21:19

    Oh. By the way I am here missing Haley’s talk as I had a late appointment and I wouldn’t have got there on time. However I could make Mike a ghost box if he wishes? I have a circuit diagram from EPE magazine. Odd thing was that this evening whilst waiting at the surgery I was scanning all the magazines to find something interesting. There were hundreds of Hello!, Woman and TV quick magazines but my patience paid off as I found a magazine for Radio Hams at the bottom of the pile. A very good read. I should have nicked it but there may be a radio ham fan who keeps the odd one there for when they are ill. Didn’t want to deprive the sad bastard.

  3. #3 by Lars on December 17, 2010 - 03:08

    First of all: Mike Adams is, in fact, an idiot.
    He has however stumbled on something of a half-truth in his cold fusion statement. There is such a thing as “low energy nuclear reactions”, in this case this refers to an enhancement of nuclear reactions compared to previously established theoretical estimates. These were extrapolations from high energies not taking into account how the behavior of surrounding electrons changes at low energies and influences the reaction rates:
    This does of course not mean cold fusion in the Fleischmann/Pons sense has been demonstrated, but that the laws of physics might not outright forbid it. Maybe.

  4. #4 by G.Shelley on December 17, 2010 - 18:25

    On the Mike Adams/Astrology issue, if a correlation between night/day length/season and personality proves astrology is true, wouldn’t this prove it doesn’t work in the southern hemisphere, where Capricorn is the middle of summer with long day lengths?

  5. #5 by Tom Morris on December 24, 2010 - 23:48

    Just a minor connection on the bit about the UKIP plonker who prattled on about ‘knowledge’.

    Philosophers have almost universally rejected the justified true belief account (for historical reasons, it tends to get called the ‘classical’ view, or just the ‘JTB’ account). Most epistemologists tend to think of the justified true belief account as a good first go, but not sufficient because of what are called Gettier cases.

    Gettier cases are a class of problems where one has a justified true belief but don’t seem to have knowledge. They are called Gettier cases after a short and influential paper in 1963 by Edmund Gettier.

    A stopped clock is a perfect example. You see an analogue clock on the wall that you know by prior experience to be reliable. You come to believe that the time is nine o’clock. The clock has actually stopped, but by chance you happen to look at it at nine o’clock. You form a belief that it is nine o’clock, and that belief is justified by the clock saying it is nine o’clock and the prior established reliability of the clock. You meet all the criteria of the JTB account: you believe it is nine o’clock, it is true that it is nine o’clock, and you have a justification for your belief.

    If you think that the person then has knowledge, the JTB account does the job. But most people seem to think that it is only pure luck that you happen to look at the clock at the right moment.

    There’s lots of different accounts of knowledge that have come about as a result of Gettier cases, and there’s huge disagreement about those different approaches. You can see some of this in any epistemology textbook (Keith Lehrer’s ‘Theory of Knowledge’, John Pollock’s ‘Contemporary Theories of Knowledge’, or the essays in ‘Epistemology: An Anthology’ etc.)

    Some of the purported answers to Gettier are listed here: (Section 2(d))

    Now, as for the UKIP plonker: he’s wrong for another reason. He thinks we have knowledge of “what we do”. Yes, but so what. The experiences we have may allow us to derive propositions which we can have truth values. I just had a lovely meal in a pub, and I can come up with some propositions about the meal like “Chocolate brownies and ice cream were on the menu.” This is true or false, and I have some knowledge about it. I have very good reason to believe it is true because I ordered and ate said item.

    There certainly was some non-propositional content to the experience of eating the chocolate brownies. It was warm and delicious and had a certain rich, chocolatey taste. Some certain something there may not be expressible in a proposition, and is not the sort of thing that one could put in an encyclopedia. We might give this some high-falutin’ name like non-propositional knowledge or subjective knowledge or qualia.

    “Anything that happens to you, you experience it, therefore you know it.”

    Not true. If someone stuck a sign on my back that said “KICK ME” or “I AM GAY” or something equally juvenile, I wouldn’t experience it or know it. There are plenty of things that happen to me that I don’t know about: I have pretty good reasons to believe that I have mental states which I am not consciously aware of because science gives me good reason to accept the induction from “I have dreams I can remember” to “I have dreams I can’t remember” because of experimental discoveries of certain phenomena happening to people while they are dreaming. If we see a whole family of physical and neurological states happening while someone is dreaming, and we see that repeated for all people, and we don’t see any difference between people who dream and remember it and people who dream and don’t remember it, we cannot simply say that “anything that happens to you” is knowledge.

    Faulty memories, forgetfulness, later reinterpretation (pattern finding is wrong a LOT as alternative medicine shows) or selective memories. Even things like illusions and hallucinations: I see bent stick in water but I don’t know that the stick is bent. In fact, I now know that when I see bent sticks in water that my eyes are not exactly telling me everything.

    A relationship between “knowledge” and “nothingness”? I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean.

    I listened to the RI show with Brian Kaplan the other day. He’s wrong on philosophy too. He pushed Larry Laudan’s pessimistic meta-induction argument way beyond its limits to basically questioning the whole edifice of scientific knowledge in a self-defeating way. Oh, one day, I’ll start a podcast called Bad Philosophy and just slam cranks and quacks for being as crap at philosophy as they are at, oh, medicine, physics, chemistry, logic and the rest.

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