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Slips and Goofs

Skeptoid corrects another round of errors found in previous episodes.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid Podcast #285
November 22, 2011
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As is the tradition here at Skeptoid, mistakes and misinformation are corrected whenever they are found. A nicer tradition would be to not make them in the first place; but like we always say, getting the right answers is not as important as using the right methodology to find them. No matter how hard I work, I'll only find the right answers most of the time; and it would be unscrupulous of me to promise otherwise. So let's dig right into the most recent batch of errors that have been pointed out to me and verified. Let's start with one that resulted in a popular uprising of Scots who nearly had me drowned in my favorite Islay whisky:

The episode about the Monster of Glamis is centered on Glamis Castle in Scotland. However, in my opening paragraph, I said it's in England. I've since received, literally, hundreds of emails correcting the error; many containing helpful analogies to guide me through my haze of ignorance, such as saying Glamis Castle is in England is like saying the Statue of Liberty is in Canada. However, give me a chance to explain. What I meant to say is simply that the castle is in the United Kingdom, I didn't intentionally place it within England as opposed to Scotland. Now, many Americans honestly have no idea what the difference is between England, Britain, and the United Kingdom. The less cultured among us often use any of the three terms interchangeably, lumping all the parts of the British Isles together into one hazily-named monarchy. This is, of course, wrong; but it's common in the United States. And, it's what I meant when I said England: Glamis Castle is in the UK. I do know where in the UK Glamis Castle is, and I do know that that part of the UK is Scotland. It was perhaps lazily disrespectful to proud Scots to place Glamis generally in the UK, and it was wrong (though colloquial) to refer to the UK as England. So I was wrong — though in a different way than what you thought — and I hereby apologize to all. There is a town in Scotland called Dunning, and I hope this episode will not affect my rights to reassert and reclaim my lordship.

In the exact same way, I mistitled the Queen Mother of the United Kingdom, calling her the Queen Mother of England. While we're at it, I apologize for mispronouncing Derby, which is properly pronounced like Darby, and it was only by the skin of my teeth that I didn't pronounce Glamis the way it's spelled. Episodes in the UK are just too complicated for me.

In my episode about the Haitian zombies, I pointed out that a sufficient dose of tetrodotoxin, the poison in pufferfish, will cause paralysis of the muscles, including the heart and lungs, resulting in death. The effect does wear off, but unfortunately the victim is dead by then. I stated that there is no antidote or treatment. Well, it's true that there is no antidote, but it's not true that there is no treatment. Tetrodotoxin poisoning is most common among aficionados of fugu, the famous sushi that has to be cut just right. A number of these victims have been kept alive by CPR, long enough for the tetrodotoxin to wear off. Thus, the brain damage caused by zombie powder can in fact be treated, if you get to the victim quickly enough and he can be placed on life support.

Here's one from the hair-splitting department. While discussing some of the earlier historical solutions offered to Zeno's paradoxes of movement, I made reference to the Planck length, which can be fairly described as a quantum of distance. I called it the "the smallest possible unit of length within the Planck system", which is based on universal physical constants, such as the speed of light and the gravitational constant. The hair-splitter correctly informed me that it is not the "smallest" unit of length in the Planck system; it is the only unit of length in the Planck system. Fine. I stand quantified.

In my episode examining the health risk from radio frequencies as proposed by some fringe opponents of WiFi and smart meters, I pointed out that some 10% of the static on an empty radio station is leftover background radiation from the Big Bang. I misspoke, this number is closer to 1%. How do we know this? It's a measurement of the volume of radio signal that's constantly coming from all directions out in space, at a wavelength of 7.3 cm, or about 4 GHz. It consists of photons that filled the universe as it inflated from the initial bang. Neat stuff.

In a student questions episode, we talked about gold being hawked on television infomercials as an investment. Typically, these are just high-interest loans from financial services companies; and all they want from you is the interest on the loan they sell you. They don't really care whether you buy gold or put the money up your nose. Gold, I pointed out, is rarely a growth investment; it's renowned for its stability in times of financial crisis. However, ever since that episode came out in July 2010, the world financial crisis sent investors scrambling for gold to stabilize their portfolios, and gold went from about $1,200/oz to about $1,700/oz. That's a tremendous gain. Gold has been on a sharp rise since about 2006, which I failed to check. Prior to that, what I said held true: gold had been stuck under $500/oz for decades, doing exactly what it's supposed to do: be stable. Expect it to do so again.

In my episode discussing the reasons for the various scary-sounding vaccine ingredients, I dismissed the claim that vaccines contain aborted fetal tissue as made up. It's true that they don't contain any, but the antivaxxers didn't simply make this one up. More likely, they misinterpreted it. Some vaccines must contain weakened viruses, not dead viruses. Growing the weakened viruses means they have to have living cells which they can invade in order to multiply, and these living cells are specific lines that can divide and multiply predictably over a period of many years. Some of these are animal cells, and some are human cells. These cultures are continually reproducing, self-perpetuating lines that are the same generation after generation. The human cells used for this purpose all come from two healthy 3-month-old fetuses aborted in the 1960s by choice. One line, MRC-5, was created in 1966. The other, WI-38, was created in 1962. These two cell lines are used for all the vaccines currently in production worldwide that depend on human cell culture. The cells themselves are not part of the vaccine; just the weakened viruses grown within them.

When we pointed the skeptical eye at the various rumors claiming Shakespeare's works were written by somebody else, we wrapped up with computational stylistics. This is the use of computer software to do much more thorough comparative analysis of writing than is possible to do manually. Through computational stylistics, we establish what's called a "literary fingerprint" for a given author. This makes it a relatively simple matter to learn the author of any given anonymous work, provided that author has a known library of works and has a fingerprint established. Interestingly, this technique can also do things like identify collaborations between multiple authors, and even determine whether a given work was influenced by earlier works from other authors, or influenced later works.

In the episode, I referenced some specific research, and stated that it conclusively proved that Shakespeare, and Shakespeare alone, was the author of all the works attributed to him. This is not quite right on two levels. First, it doesn't "conclusively prove" it; it merely establishes it with an extremely high level of probability. Also, all it really shows is that one man wrote the works, who was stylistically different from all the other men whom some name as the true Shakespeare. The results don't prove that that one author's name was Shakespeare. But since all the other candidates are eliminated to a high probability, there remains no plausible reason to doubt that Shakespeare was just as history records him.

When we looked into brainwashing and deprogramming, I mentioned what's called the Frye standard. The Frye standard comes from the court decision that rendered lie detector tests inadmissible in the United States, and it was also used throughout the 1970s and 1980s when it was popular for defendants to claim they'd been brainwashed into committing their particular crime. The Frye standard states that expert testimony in court must be based on a scientific standard that is generally accepted by the majority of researchers in the relevant field. Lie detectors were not, and brainwashing was also not accepted as a real phenomenon by the majority of psychologists. Thus, they became inadmissible.

A number of lawyers contacted me to inform me that the Frye standard, which comes from 1923, has now largely been superseded by more modern standards. A number of U.S. states, notably including California where many of the brainwashing defenses were attempted, still use the Frye standard; but federal courts and most other states now follow the stricter standard of Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence which is based on a 1993 case that established the Daubert standard. Daubert incorporates general acceptance like Frye, but it also requires the judge to take a pragmatic look at the science to be sure it satisfies scientific standards for testing and validation, that it incorporates and has passed rigorous peer review, and that it has a known or discoverable error rate.

And if I can be permitted to head off a future criticism at the pass, Daubert is indeed pronounced DAW-bert, not dough-BEAR, according to the Daubert family who filed the case and are the namesakes of the standard.

Please continue to keep me on the straight and narrow. If you find any other errors in any Skeptoid episodes, don't hesitate to let me know. You can email me from the contact page of My work is fallible, but it is usually well researched; and if you want to show me where I was wrong you'll need to present some good citations. You can't learn anything if you already know everything, so I look forward to hearing from you.

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Slips and Goofs." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 22 Nov 2011. Web. 19 Jan 2017. <>


References & Further Reading

Baez, J. "The Planck Length." John Baez. University of California, Riverside, 9 Feb. 2001. Web. 8 Jul. 2011. <> "All Data, Gold Price in USD/oz." Gold Price., 2 Dec. 2003. Web. 20 Feb. 2011. <>

Kinney, A., Craig, H. Shakespeare, Computers, and the Mystery of Authorship. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

LII. "Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals (92-102), 509 U.S. 579 (1993)." Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School, 7 Feb. 2006. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <> "Vaccines, Abortion & Fetal Tissue." Life Notes. Right to Life of Michigan, 19 Jun. 2009. Web. 19 Nov. 2011. <>

Strathmore Estates. "Angus 5-Star Visitor Attraction in Scotland." Glamis Castle. Strathmore Estates, 23 Feb. 2001. Web. 20 Feb. 2011. <>

Yasumoto, T., Kao, C. "Tetrodotoxin and the Haitian Zombie." Toxicon. 1 Jan. 1986, Volume 24, Issue 8: 747-749.


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