Student Questions: Marauding Mammoths and Queen Elizabeth the Man

Skeptoid answers another round of questions sent in by students all around the world.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid #312
May 29, 2012
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
 

Today Skeptoid answers another round of questions sent in by students all around the world. We're going to examine the value of Bikram yoga, the possibility of bringing extinct animals like the woolly mammoth back to life through cloning, the necessity of thawing chicken properly to avoid kitchen bacteriological warfare, whether Queen Elizabeth I was a man or a woman, whether the consumption of certain foods can influence dreams, and whether the popular medical practice of avoiding cholesterol is indeed a major factor in controlling coronary heart disease. Let's get started by stretching out in the heat:

Hi Brian, just wanted to get your thoughts on Bikram Yoga. It seems to be getting really popular here in australia and the idea that doing yoga in 40 degree heat with high humidity will help just seems a bit strange to me.

The greatest dangers of working out in very hot conditions are dehydration and risk of heat stroke. You're going to sweat a lot more in such conditions, so you will lose hydration very quickly. Unless you stay hydrated, you're going to lose more weight; but it's all water weight, and there's no physiological reason that Bikram yoga will produce better weight loss results than any other exercise that burns a similar number of calories. If you enjoy it and stay hydrated, great; it's probably not going to hurt you, and it's perfectly good exercise.

Some practitioners claim that the heat loosens your muscles, allowing better stretching; or that it produces benefits similar to applying a hot pack to a tired muscle. This is false. Hot packs (or ice packs) need to be placed directly against the skin. Hot (or cold) air alone does not conduct enough heat to significantly affect the temperature of your muscle tissue. If it did, and your body temperature actually did rise, then you would be in hyperthermia, which is a serious medical emergency. If a Bikram practitioner tells you that the heat is better for your muscles, they don't know what they're talking about and you should leave.

Hello, this is Madeleine from New Mexico. I have heard claims recently of science nearing the point at which it would be able to reanimate extinct species of animals, such as woolly mammoths, through the cloning of undamaged bone marrow cells found in fossils. Is this a possibility?

Yes, it's theoretically possible, but it's a really difficult problem. Getting DNA of high enough quality is only a part of the solution, even though it receives the most attention. When we discover a new frozen mammoth corpse, there's always excitement and speculation about recovering its DNA. And we have plenty of it, but that's just gets us across the starting line. The DNA has to be nearly perfect, and then molecular biologists must manually create the 50 to 60 different chromosomes that elephants have. That's a huge project. Once you have a cell nucleus containing all the chromosomes, you can then replace the contents of the nucleus of a living elephant embryo, but you'll probably have to do this about 100 times before one will survive.

Healthy clones are even harder to make. Most artificially cloned animals have died early. Scientists in Spain once cloned an extinct goat, using genetic material extracted while the last surviving specimen was still alive, which allowed them to skip much of the tedious work that awaits mammoth cloners. However, the goat died after only a few minutes.

It will probably be done sooner or later, but the smart money is on later.

Hello, Brian! My name is Erlend, and I recently graduated from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. I'm wondering how dangerous it actually is to let chicken thaw out at room temperature. Many say it's an outright death-wish to leave chicken thawing on the kitchen counter even for a few hours. Now, obviously warm and moist flesh encourages bacterial growth, but the cooking of the meat kills almost all bacteria. So, assuming one is hygienic when handling the raw meat, and there are no toxic bacterial waste products, this sounds like pure hysteria to me. Could you investigate the matter to see if this zero-tolerance for counter-thawing is based on facts? Thanks!

I have to give a "yes and no" answer to this. Yes, completely thorough and proper cooking will kill all of the myriad little bugs that can cause foodborne illness; but no, it's not just hysteria. Some of these bacteria are seriously dangerous, and they will multiply quickly once the temperature of the meat is above about 4°C/40°F. Having them on your food preparation surfaces where they may come into contact with other foods that will not be cooked is dangerous. Getting them on your hands or on your knives is dangerous. So properly thawing your meat is not just hysteria, it's very sound food safety.

Once the little beasties multiply they will begin to break down the tissues of the meat as they consume it, and this is what happens when meat "goes bad". It tastes terrible. You can indeed cook it to kill everything and eat it safely, but do you really want to?

Hi Brian! My name is Tiffany Delligatti and I am a graduate student at the University of Connecticut. Recently, my art history professor has made an unusual claim; she says that there is strong evidence to suggest that Queen Elizabeth I of England was in fact, a man. This sounded incredibly dubious, but she points out the following as evidence: balding head, heavy make-up to cover a five 'o clock shadow, and dresses that would be impossible for a woman with hips to fit. What do you think? Is it possible that she wasn't in fact a woman? Thanks!

Anything's possible but that doesn't give it credibility. Contrary to what your professor says, there's no evidence whatsoever that she was a man, nor any sound reasons to suspect such a thing. This has to do with confusion over what the word "evidence" means. Queen Elizabeth never married and had no children, but this is not evidence that she was a man, it's merely consistent with the suggestion. She's usually depicted with a high hairline and wearing a collar that would hide an Adam's apple; but this is also not evidence, it's just consistent with the suggestion. I could just as easily suggest that she was from Mars, and point to her pale skin color, and call that evidence.

Nothing about Elizabeth's appearance as depicted in paintings is outside the normal range of women's features. None of the many suitors she had over her lifetime ever noticed anything worth mentioning. None of her attendants or servants ever raised the alarm. Outside of a few crank pseudohistorians, no real academics in the field have ever found cause to take this suggestion seriously, no more than they would take my suggestion that she was from Mars.

Hi Brian, this is Mike at the US Army JFK Special Warfare Center and School. Is there any truth to the claims about various foods such as popcorn and cheese improving or altering one's dreams? Thanks!

There is probably no biochemical connection between the food you eat and the type of dreams you have. That would require far more intricate signalling between your digestive system and the cognitive centers of your brain, and our bodies simply don't work that way. Nutrients make it into your bloodstream in a very gradual and prescribed manner, and by the time that blood is processed and brings oxygen to the brain, no significant information remains about what specific ingredients were in the food.

Smells, however, have been found to creep into dreams. If someone's cooking bacon for breakfast you're more likely to dream about bacon. Similarly, if you ate something especially pungent before bed, or the taste of which is still in your mouth, that lingering smell or flavor can intrude into your dream as well. Smells also trigger memories, and memories absolutely influence your dreams. In cases like this, everyone's individual experiences may match certain foods to certain remembered events. This type of connection between foods and dreams is experiential, not biochemical.

Some people point to things like blood sugar affecting adrenaline and this causing an exciting dream, but these are all really just speculations and not supported by proper research. The experiential component is probably the most significant driver.

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This is Niko from Northern Illinois University. I have a question about fat, and, does it actually cause heart problems? A lot of people think that it doesn't, and this is based off of the Ancel Keys' Seven Country Study, and they believe that this study was actually flawed, because a lot of the countries were removed--I believe they actually studied twenty-one instead of seven, and then he only actually used seven--and so a lot of people believe that fat leads to heart problems, when, well according to some other people, it's actually sugar that and carbohydrates that lead to heart problems and not fat. They have some pretty good arguments and some good scientific evidence to show this. [So] I was wondering if you could comment on this, and let people know if this is actually a real thing to be concerned about, or if it's just another alternative scheme to, I guess, show people why the mainstream food and drug industry is flawed.

What you're referring to is cholesterol denial, a trend among alternative medicine practitioners who are critical of mainstream medicine's use of statin drugs to treat high cholesterol levels. Ancel Keys and his Seven Countries Study, which studied correlations between dietary cholesterol and heart disease, ran for 50 years, and was largely responsible for the unpopularity of saturated fats. Cholesterol buildup in the coronary arteries is a major cause of heart disease. It can be treated any number of ways, including diet and surgery, but also with statin drugs. Many alternative medicine practitioners reject the findings of science-based medicine, particularly the use of medications; and perhaps as a result, many have embraced the fringe claims that statin drugs are useless in their imaginary world where cholesterol is not correlated with coronary heart disease. They direct their focus instead on other causes, which is a textbook example of cognitive dissonance. They embrace what they should know is bad science because it happens to fit nicely with their ideology. In this case, the ideology is usually distrust of the pharmaceutical industry.

Unfortunately, the whole subject is a missed opportunity for science-based and alternative practitioners to find common ground. Both state that a good diet, low in saturated fats and sugar, plus exercise, is the healthiest lifestyle. It's unfortunate that at that point, they diverge into an ideological disagreement that does not serve a single patient's interest.

Brian Dunning

© 2012 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Choi, C. "Woolly Mammoths Could Be Cloned Someday, Scientist Says." Live Science. Tech Media Network, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 23 May. 2012. <http://www.livescience.com/17386-woolly-mammoth-clone.html>

Eakins, L. "Elizabeth I: Queen of England." The Tudor Monarchs. Lara E. Eakins, 17 Aug. 2000. Web. 23 May. 2012. <http://tudorhistory.org/elizabeth/>

Hall, H. "Cholesterol Skeptics Strike Again." Science-Based Medicine. Science-Based Medicine, 9 Oct. 2008. Web. 23 May. 2012. <http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/cholesterol-skeptics-strike-again/>

ORNL. "Cloning Fact Sheet." Human Genome Project Information. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 11 May 2009. Web. 23 May. 2012. <http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/cloning.shtml>

USDA. "The Big Thaw: Safe Defrosting Methods for Consumers." Fact Sheets: Safe Food Handling. United States Department of Agriculture, 17 Aug. 2010. Web. 23 May. 2012. <http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Big_Thaw/>

Van Sunder, T. "Bikram Yoga: Not All It Is Claimed To Be." BeingHealthy.tv. Flying Squirrel Media, 8 Mar. 2012. Web. 24 May. 2012. <http://www.beinghealthy.tv/archives/bikram-yoga/>

Webber, R. "How Does Food Affect Your Dreams?" Chow. CBS Interactive, 9 Oct. 2009. Web. 24 May. 2012. <http://www.chow.com/food-news/55306/how-does-food-affect-your-dreams/>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Student Questions: Marauding Mammoths and Queen Elizabeth the Man." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 29 May 2012. Web. 21 Dec 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4312>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 80 comments

Bob, Michael would love to cook for you..

I am glad you do not work in food standards so as to convey your utter garble.

The gargle you posted starts at "above::" and finishes with "rats".

It sound good Bob, but please, give me the opportunity of cooking for you and whiteboarding this out.

Of course there is a legal form for you to sign and then...gustation...so to speak.

Sure proteins denature, sure proteins have denaturation temperatures. Proteins are associated with thousands of little properties we assign to their behaviours.

Guess what? Cooking doesnt. Cooking does not assume that the food proteinaceoas conten is thoroughly denatures and..from time to time perfectly good food (as Bob put it) actually has a proteinaceous toxin load.

Bob posits a pefectly good reason for ignoring the applied culinary sciences with respect to their chemistries.

Bob, cook for yourself, if your approach to food is so blaze, I am eating vegemite on toast.

By the way what the hell is a post apocalyptic world??? An apocalypse is a revelation. Are you intending on living in a scenario where you have found out about something by only eating cans?

Too much hollywood Bob, to little cooking.

Mud, sin city, NSW, OZ
October 7, 2012 2:55am

Its really one of those posts that I wanted contested as there are a number of enzymes that do not denature on cooking as e do normally for a few bugs that we commonly cally pathogens, just by their very designs.

There are a few cooking methods that do not denature proteins from spoiled food, and many tha do not diminish the toxicity of bacterial/cellular break down products.

In fact, most western countries have standards for handling food (and I am sorry that Brian has to read me mention the words standards or quality for the millionth..exaggeration..

Just check your food standards, your codes nd of course the codices your national food standard are tied to.

The most popular form of food "intolerance" is done by the home cook. Its recognised that certain foods had risks and others will have risks.

Relying on the rule of thumb "70 degrees C" will get nearly all of us to a ripe old age.

But then I have repeat mashed from sparged mashes just to prove a point (and get kudos from my beer friends).

Folks, food is a necessity and a comfort, a luxury and a bait for the opposite sex. A partner is garnered through epicurean attraction before all the fun and games!

Surely we dont need to factor in diahorre because Bob has forgotten differential protein deconformation and good kitchen practice amongst every other irritating biochemical that can interfere with a good nights entertainment.

Bob, chemistry is chemistry, you just brought up a "sort of" one.

Mud (Dr Syd), sin seetee, Oz
November 15, 2012 7:48am

Gee Mud thanks for your correction (which, I am sure, is completely legible if you hail from "down unda") to my quick factoid. I was wondering if you could post an example of a classic bacterial toxin that is resistant to heat denaturation since I was kind enough to very specifically mention botulism toxin from Clostridium botulinum. I am always interested to learn about new bacterial factors what with being a microbiologist and all. Note, prions do not count (they are not bacterial in origin nor are they classical toxins) neither does LPS (not a protein). Thanks!

Bob Gaultney, Grand Forks, ND
December 11, 2012 2:59pm

Sorry I missed that Bob.

Mud, Sin City, Oz
March 20, 2013 11:32pm

I'm perfectly happy to accept Bob's explanation which, although it flies in the face of what I had been previously taught, nevertheless appears to be based on sound evidence and research (always assuming he is, of course, a microbiologist as he claims). Having said that, I would still urge all cooks, professional or otherwise, to proceed in this instance as if I were 'right' and he were 'wrong', and not rely on cooking to keep your food safe.

Michael Sheridan, Australia
June 17, 2013 4:26pm

According to Thomas Dekker's 'The Wonderful Yeere' (1603), Queen Elizabeth's surgeon announced, after her post-mortem examination, that 'her private part hath a membrana which maketh her incapable of a man' - which both suggests a reason for her celibacy (beyond concerns of State, which was the main purpose of her maintained virginity) and rather suggests that, if she was a man, she at least had female genitals.

Rob Horne, Colombo, SL
June 21, 2013 3:19am

Michael, having a reasonable understanding of microbiologists and their science I agree with Bob in the sense that heating and holding your food till all risk of any microbiological activity ceases would indeed reduce all risk.

yet we do not autoclave our food and no, we dont even cook our food to Bob's standards. We do minimise risk in the preparation of food. Please look to your local food standards and HACCP.

Bob is aware of his national standards and should look to these.
He may be aghast at the laxity involved in the preparation of food or he may realise that his comment
may just apply to pharmaceuticals and not his delicious blue steak.

Pharmaceuticals being terminally sterilised till have to meet preparation standards and so does food. Food isnt sterilised and safe preparation (which doesnt always include cooking) is inherent.

Yes I can (and so can Bob) give you a very nasty food poisoning cooking spoiled ingredients.

Bobs reference to a proteins alone analogy is misdirection.

Magnanamous Dinoflagellate, sin city, Oz
June 21, 2013 3:59am

Brian, I just discovered Skeptoid on iTunes a few weeks ago. Love your work. Thanks so much.
I am visiting your website to point out a major error in Skeptoid #312 that needs to be addressed. It's more of a philosophical or rhetorical error than a factual error. I'm talking about your offhand remark in #312, "anything's possible". I'm calling you out on that one.
I have plenty of friends who are apathetic about science, and several friends who believe in nearly every conspiracy that comes down the pike. Both of these groups of people are the type who live by the concept "anything is possible". It's not usually worth arguing with someone who believes in every UFO story that comes along. And I also don't argue with 9/11 "truthers" very much. But, I will speak up when someone says, "anything is possible". Because anything is most assuredly NOT possible.
When it comes to someone like you who espouses and promotes the scientific method along with a healthy skeptical and curious attitude, I have to urge you to avoid that expression.
The Scientific Method is primarily about finding what is possible and what isn't possible. To say "anything's possible" is about the most anti-science words you can utter. The most fundamental scientific principle is that any thing or idea we can imagine is not necessarily possible.
I suggest you do a show to correct this saying. With very little effort, you could list dozens of things that are not possible. It would be fun to hear your list.

Rick Doogie, Allegan, Mi
August 12, 2013 6:59am

I understand that Elizabeth 1 had a child sired by her father when she was young.

James McArthur, Grecia Costa Rica
April 29, 2014 3:27pm

Further to the Queen Elizabeth thing. Elizabeth was forced to act in a very masculine ways simply because there was quite a lot of resistance to the idea of a Queen rather than a king. When she took over the throne her position was by no means secure. So she made that speech about how she had the body of woman but the spirit of a man sort of thing, and she touched for scrofula, which was something done almost exclusively by Kings et cetera.

BobM, NZ
April 29, 2014 9:59pm

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