Skeptics with a K: Episode #166

Old MacDonald, field archery, vets, and homeopathy. Plus Zika virus, hectares, the Spice Girls, and listener questions. Dismissed by a peer of the realm, it’s Skeptics with a K.

Sign the petition to blacklist homeopathy for animal care at

  1. #1 by astrotimer on February 11, 2016 - 14:07

    and acre is about 0.4 hectares, or 2.5 acre in hectare. A hectare is metric it is 100 m * 100 m.

  2. #2 by astrotimer on February 11, 2016 - 14:08

    and it typed before they could say it,

  3. #3 by Cai on February 12, 2016 - 11:42

    Do you think it would be possible to get a transcript or… I don’t know, key points and references from the talk by the guy warning against vaping? I live literally one billion miles away so there is little chance of attending. But I really want to know what he has to say and what he is basing it on.
    I don’t know if such a thing exists (the key points and notes and such) but I figured it was worth an ask.

  4. #4 by Chris on February 12, 2016 - 19:53

  5. #5 by Ned on February 13, 2016 - 09:04

    Been listening to this podcast for years and I feel like this is your best episode ever. Alice telling Marsh to “fuck off” is great, I feel like she has really come into her own. Marsh is the best but sometimes I think he needs a good “fuck off”. Anyway, great podcast chemistry… More of this!

    Cheers from Sydney,

  6. #6 by HJ Hornbeck on February 14, 2016 - 04:51

    Love the podcast, long-time listener, but I have a nit to pick.

    At 49:40, Marsh* says that a p-value of 0.05 is the same as a one in twenty chance of getting a false result, but stumbles and says he’s not sure. He’s right, but probably not in the way he intended; a few studies have put that figure somewhere between one in three and one in two, depending on how the study was carried out.[1][2]

    The p-value is not the odds of a false positive. It cannot be, as it’s the odds of getting a result more extreme than the observed one, if we assume the null hypothesis is true and repeat our tests an infinite number of times on data similar to what we observed. It doesn’t test the alternative hypothesis, the one you want to prove, so it can’t tell you how likely it is; it also can’t tell you the odds of the null being true, as it assumes it is true.[3]

    The confusion is understandable; most scientists can’t tell you what a p-value is, after all, and even people who teach statistics get it wrong more often than not.[4][5] So this is less of a “you screwed up” note, than a “you should probably know about this” one.

    Because it really does change your view of science, I can tell you. :/

    * Well OK, I’m confident Marsh was speaking to p < 0.05.

    [1] Berger, James O., and Thomas Sellke. "Testing a point null hypothesis: the irreconcilability of P values and evidence." Journal of the American statistical Association 82.397 (1987): 112-122.

    [2] Colquhoun, David. “An Investigation of the False Discovery Rate and the Misinterpretation of P-Values.” Royal Society Open Science 1, no. 3 (November 1, 2014): 140216. doi:10.1098/rsos.140216.

    [3] Goodman, Steven. “A Dirty Dozen: Twelve P-Value Misconceptions.” In Seminars in Hematology, 45:135–40. Elsevier, 2008.


    [5] Huberty, Carl J. “Historical Origins of Statistical Testing Practices: The Treatment of Fisher versus Neyman-Pearson Views in Textbooks.” The Journal of Experimental Education 61, no. 4 (1993): 317–33.

  7. #7 by Ian on February 14, 2016 - 22:32

    Very disappointed with Marsh’s comments about Australian’s blaming Aborigines when discussing the outbreak of the Zitta Virus. While I appreciate that It his comment was meant to be tongue in cheek, it was still very offensive to label an entire country as racist. Australia, like every country, has it’s fair share of backwards thinkers, but not all of us are like that.

  8. #8 by Andrew May on February 15, 2016 - 22:01

    I guess I’m one of the few listeners that has a crossover interest between farming and skepticism. I grew up in a farming family and although the tradition has been pretty much lost with my grandfather’s passing it’s still something very close to my heart. I don’t listen to “farming today” as it’s on at 5.45am(!) but you’ve got me wanting to listen to it on podcast format…..

    Woo nonsense is just as rife in rural communities as anywhere else I’m afraid. Marsh, you’ve got my email address if you want any help.

  9. #9 by Rodney on February 16, 2016 - 07:23

    Please tell me I misheard. Did Marsh (I think) say that if there’d been an outbreak of Zika virus in Australia and it moved to another town, we (Australians) would have just “…blamed it on the Aborigines. It’s fine.”

    WTF !?!?!

    I wanted to include a few choice words to express my displeasure at the comment but it probably wouldn’t get past the abuse filters on the web site.

  10. #10 by Marsh on February 16, 2016 - 14:59

    A quick note on the Zika comment – it was a throwaway aside which wasn’t in the script, so it was pretty clumsy, but there was a tiny bit of extra context in that I did actually follow it up with words to the effect of “which, to be honest, is probably our fault in the first place”, highlighting the UK’s role in all of this and labeling our own country as just as essentially racist. Unfortunately, during that line I knocked the microphone with my hand, which made it sound odd and led Mike to cut the line out, leaving the initial throwaway comment in isolation and therefore making it a bit more jarring than it was intended or than it appeared in conversation. I think with that line left in, it might have been clear that I was as much making a casual, clumsy critique of the awful actions of Britain during all of history too.

  11. #11 by Chris on February 17, 2016 - 01:12

    ” highlighting the UK’s role in all of this and labeling our own country as just as essentially racist.”

    I know it is confirmation bias, but I have recently been encountering references to the origin of “Blood Libel.” First it was in a book about the plague (The Great Mortality) and a bit Eve Siebert did on Skeptacality. In short a “reason” in England to murder Jews:

    There are probably not many countries that do not have similar black histories. I have a few in mind, but I need to run off to our local skeptics at the pizza place.

  12. #12 by Sara on February 17, 2016 - 14:56

    I was wondering if you guys could link us to the story Mike was talking about – some publication addressed this theory about the Zika virus?

  13. #13 by Tom Williamson on February 17, 2016 - 18:31


    But seriously, Marsh and Alice did remind me of this very early PhD Comic!

  14. #14 by Chris on February 17, 2016 - 19:41

    Mike said is was an article in The Mirror. I googled it, glanced at it and decided I did not want to kill anymore of my brain cells.

    There have been a few good articles on the several conspiracy theories at the ScienceBasedMedicine blog, and Respectful Insolence. There have been several news stories over the past several years on trying to deal with the mozzies that spread dengue fever (which infects and kills many times what Zika does). Genetically modifying is just one approach.

  15. #15 by Chris on February 17, 2016 - 19:50

    Now the links for the discussion of Zika virus that are better than The Mirror: (blogger virologist at Columbia University in New York City)
    And this is a podcast discussion by someone who does work with mosquitoes, who has some pointed opinions near the end of the segment:

    Since I caught dengue fever while living in Venezuela, and know from personal painful experience why it is called bone break fever: I agree with the researcher on that podcast.

  16. #16 by Chris on February 17, 2016 - 20:14

    Sara, I just found another really good article on the Zika conspiracy theories:

  17. #17 by Sara on February 18, 2016 - 19:36

    Thanks, Chris! I actually meant an article that he had praised, though – someone who’d gotten it right. But I appreciate all these links, it’s a fascinating topic. I’ll dig in.

  18. #18 by Chris on February 19, 2016 - 14:56

    Sorry for misunderstanding. I started to listen to it and the terrible articles were mentioned first.

  19. #19 by Ian on February 23, 2016 - 04:29

    Marsh :
    “which, to be honest, is probably our fault in the first place”, highlighting the UK’s role in all of this and labeling our own country as just as essentially racist.”

    Just as essentially racist?? Not a good excuse for portraying a stereotype that is not accurate in the least. Makes it an even more feeble excuse when that statement was edited out! Very disappointed in SWAK and in Marsh.

  20. #20 by ExMachina on February 23, 2016 - 21:47

    It’s great to see all these Australian Aborigines jumping in here to defend their white neighbours against allegations of racism! Glad everything is so hunky dory for you down there!

    That is what I’m seeing here, right?

  21. #21 by AshamedOfMyself on February 24, 2016 - 16:30

    Coming here to confess that in the zika discussion about contracting the virus during pregnancy, when Alice said, “Can you get rid of the …” my brain offered the word “baby” before Alice had time to say “virus”. I am clearly not a pro-lifer :-/

(will not be published)