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Error Correction: Tokyo Drift

Donate Skeptoid corrects another round of errors sent in by listeners just like you.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid Podcast #746
September 22, 2020
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Error Correction: Tokyo Drift

Once again it's time to dip into the mailbag and fix some factual blunders in past Skeptoid shows that were caught and corrected by you, the Skeptoid listeners. Today we've got corrections that both excite and illuminate the mind, as they not only make our brains better but they're fun and cool. We're going to fix our episodes on Hollow Earth Theory, on the Erin Brockovich case, weather satellites and 5G Internet, the makeup of the core of the Earth, massacres during pandemics, a tidbit on the Mary Celeste, and — to round out the field — what episode would be complete without a discussion of ninjas?

The Hollow Earth and Gravity

We're going to get started with a very fun correction. It goes all the way back to Episode #343 on the Hollow Earth Theory, which was a series of beliefs held by a few outsiders at various points in history. There were a number of models espoused by various believers, but one of the most common held that the outer surface of the Earth where we all live is just as it actually is in reality, but that the Earth is a hollow shell and there's a whole other civilization living on that inside concave surface. Listener Paul (president of the Flemish Belgian Skeptics) recently wrote:

This reminded me of an exercise during my engineering studies. I remember we had to calculate gravitational attraction within a hollow sphere. The resulting force was zero, anywhere inside the sphere... This means you could not live on the interior surface — you would just float away. I've never seen this used as an argument against a hollow earth (which doesn't really require arguments, of course), so I'm wondering: did I remember my physics exercise of 45 years ago correctly?

Now if that's correct, it shows that the believers in this particular hollow Earth model were wrong, but that I was also wrong in not catching the physical impossibility. So I passed this along to my favorite physicist, currently a 4th year student in astrophysics, and she replied:

Hello, Paul! I'm Erika (Brian's daughter) and he checked with me on this subject since I am currently in my senior year studying physics. You remembered correctly! The resulting gravitational attraction within a hollow sphere of uniform density is equal to zero. It's an excellent physics exercise and wonderful practice for many students in derivations of formulas. I'm a TA this year for introductory physics, and I would really like to throw this at our students. Physics is really just the coolest.

So, wrong I was, and this very cool note has been added to that episode transcript on the website.

Erin Brockovich: Arbitration vs. Mediation

Recent episode #743 covered the famous Erin Brockovich case which became something of a poster child for ambulance-chasing lawyers who manufacture mega-dollar lawsuits against super-deep pockets like those of public utilities. Because the science in these cases is often shoddy, the plaintiffs tend to prefer to avoid going to court where they might be required to meet a standard of evidence, and the Erin Brockovich case was a classic example. This particular case went to arbitration instead, a process which I described as one in which the arbitrator has to craft a settlement that both parties agree to. Listener Wilko wrote:

Both parties have to agree in a mediation, not in arbitration. In arbitration, the arbitrator arbitrates, and the parties have to abide, and there is usually no right to appeal. I'm not a legal expert, but I'm familiar with mediation and arbitration through my work in Real Estate otherwise I wouldn't have noticed it.

...and he provided an authoritative supporting reference. I was erroneously describing mediation, not arbitration. It's been corrected on the transcript, and fortunately this error had no bearing on any of the episode's conclusions. Apologies to any mediators and arbitrators who may have been offended enough to consider suing me.

Weather Satellites and 5G

In another recent episode, #739, we talked about one science-based concern over the rollout of 5G cellphone data: interference with certain weather satellites. In short: one of the 5G frequency bands is very close to a band used by a couple of modern weather satellites to detect water vapor. So if the required tolerances aren't followed, a city covered by 5G towers could possibly look like a bank of moisture to a satellite so equipped. As these satellites have only been flying since 2011, I retorted to some of the claims that 5G would send weather forecasting back to the 1950s by stating that, at worst, weather forecasting would be sent back to 2011, not the 1950s. Listener Leonard wrote in:

This is simply not true. The ability to see water vapor from satellites goes back many decades. a quick google finds many links to support this.

...and he provided links to articles describing earlier water vapor detection satellites. There have been quite a few different technologies, flying on different satellites, going back (as he said) many decades. We traded quite a few emails — and he's a physicist so he knows his business — but working through all the references we dug up, we found no satellites flying prior to 1998 that used this particular frequency for water vapor detection.

So I've updated the transcript accordingly, but remain open to any further corrections, as this turned out to be a surprisingly complex case of frequencies and technologies and satellites. Regardless, looking back like this is a purely theoretical exercise: if we decided not to enforce the tolerances on 5G towers, what old historical weather satellites that are no longer used would have been impacted? It doesn't really matter, so it was kind of a goofy comparison for me to make.

What Is the Earth Made Of?

Episode #728 was about what would happen if the Earth's magnetic field flipped, claimed by many on the Internet to be the end of civilization. As part of my discussion on what exactly happens when the Earth's magnetic field flips, I said "the Earth's interior is mostly molten iron." Listener Sion, a geophysicist and volcanologist, was quick to pounce on that one:

The crust and mantle (1% & 84%) are both solid rock and the inner core (1%) is solid metal. Only the outer core (14%) is liquid. And it's partly nickel too.

...which is, of course, absolutely correct. My error was attributable to nothing less than pure laziness: "Oh, here's this thing that I think I know rattling around in the back of my head; I'll just spout it out uncritically as if it's fact." My son Andrew, a geologist, also rained hellfire upon me when he heard that, but Sion beat him to the punch so his is the correction I give today. The transcript has been corrected accordingly.

Pandemic Massacres

In episode #722 on pandemic-related conspiracy theories, we talked about some of the horrible massacres that have taken place throughout history whenever there's been a pandemic. Some group always blames some other group (Jews, more often than not), and has sometimes massacred them in retaliation for the pandemic. In the episode, I listed a bunch of massacres of Jews including one called the Flanders Massacre, and gave the years 1348 and 1349 as the time they happened, which was during the Black Death. Listener Bruno wrote in:

Concerning the Flanders Massacre, do you have a source? Mostly the Flanders Massacre is used for the throuncing French knights got from Flemish peasants and porters, but that was in 1302. There is a Brussels Massacre (Brussels was at that point NOT in Flanders), but that one was from 1370. Maybe that is the one you meant?

Bruno is correct: the Flanders Massacre is a name given to an unrelated event. There was a massacre of Jews in Flanders during the Black Death in 1349, but it is (so far as I could find) not a specifically named event. My error, and the transcript has been clarified.

It often gives me a moment of pause when I come across something like this: historical massacres of Jews were so common that we get their names and years confused.

The Mary Celeste

Now we're going to go way, way back, to episode #289 about the Mary Celeste, the ship that was found sailing all by itself with no crew aboard back in 1872. I'll cut to the chase, as the explanation is a bit long, but the mystery had to do with its cargo of alcohol, stored in barrels made of white oak — except for nine which were accidentally in red oak. Catch the episode if you want the full details. One of my primary sources for the episode stated that the cargo was grain alcohol, which was being imported to Genoa for the purpose of fortifying cheap Italian wine. Listener Philip wrote:

It probably has no bearing on the mystery, but the cargo was denatured alcohol.

No way, I thought, as the records are pretty thoroughly documented. This episode was nine years ago, so I had to go back to whatever references I listed for the episode. And in not one of them could I find a reference to grain alcohol. So I started over and went to Wikipedia in order to get links to some of the latest and greatest authoritative references on the Mary Celeste, and guess what? Every one that mentioned the type of alcohol gave it as denatured alcohol, which has been rendered poisonous and not suitable for fortifying wine. Today, denatured alcohol often has methanol in it, so you wouldn't want to drink it.

Without being able to verify whatever my original primary reference was, and without being able to say what passed for denatured alcohol in 1872, I'm not prepared to say for sure that my original primary source was wrong and that the cargo was not for fortifying Italian wine. But I am prepared to say that what I reported in the episode is at odds with today's primary sources, so this has been noted on the transcript. If you have additional information that can clear this up, please send it my way.

Ninjas Wearing Black?

Episode #509 was about ninjas, what they really were, what they did, and what their purpose and techniques actually were. Turns out to have had little to do with today's pop culture representation. I used their depiction in the 1967 James Bond movie You Only Live Twice as a major influence on today's pop-culture version of ninjas, almost every detail of which is wrong. I said:

Everything about the ninja depicted in this scene is accurate, except for a few details: Real ninja didn't wear black, they didn't fight in open battle, they didn't work in large teams, they weren't trained in any special fighting techniques, and they weren't called ninja. Other than that, it was spot on.

Well, listener Richard caught me in an error. Although virtually every other ninja on television or in the movies wore black, the ones in You Only Live Twice wore gray!

In You Only Live Twice, the ninjas wear grey. The rest is as realistic as any Bond movie — for example, the cast are bipedal.

And as always, the transcript has been updated with the correction.

Graham Hancock

One final quick one: in episode #693 on the age of the Great Sphinx in Egypt, I mentioned alternative historian Graham Hancock and incorrectly identified him as an ancient alien theorist. Several of my colleagues pointed out to me that Hancock's pseudoscientific ideas of an ancient advanced civilization do not include any alien origin, and that's he's more accurately described as an ancient advanced civilization theorist or alternative Atlantis theorist. My apologies to Mr. Hancock, and the correction has been noted on the transcript page.

So, listeners, keep those corrections coming! No matter how hard I work at making Skeptoid as accurate as it can be, there's always that conflict between the point of diminishing returns and the need to meet a weekly production schedule. So I'll always get something wrong, and all I can do is hope that it's something pretty minor. Your corrections are what keep the show as factual as it can be. Just come to with any errors you find.

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Error Correction: Tokyo Drift." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 22 Sep 2020. Web. 28 May 2024. <>


References & Further Reading

CIMSS. "A Brief History of Remote Sensing of Water Vapor from Meteorological Satellites." Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 25 Jul. 1997. Web. 10 Sep. 2020. <>

Editors. "Mediation vs. Arbitration vs. Litigation: What's the Difference?" FindLaw. Thomson Reuters, 12 Nov. 2019. Web. 10 Sep. 2020. <>

Gottfried, R. The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe. New York: The Free Press, 1983. 52, 74.

NASA. "Gravitation Inside A Uniform Hollow Sphere." Glenn Research Center. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 5 Jul. 2002. Web. 11 Sep. 2020. <>

Sharp, T. "Earth's Layers: What Is Earth Made Of?" Future US, Inc., 14 Nov. 2017. Web. 10 Sep. 2020. <>

Wengert, G. "Red Oak, White Oak, Black Oak, and More." WoodWeb. WOODWEB Inc., 20 Jun. 2005. Web. 17 Dec. 2011. <>


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