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Corrections with Hat in Hands

Donate Some corrections to errors made in recent shows.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid Podcast #819
February 15, 2022
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Corrections with Hat in Hands

Another week of Skeptoid, and it's time for another episode dedicated to corrections. For those listeners new to these, believe it or not I do get some facts wrong sometimes. And when I do, it's necessary to correct them, not only in the interest of having Skeptoid be as good and accurate a resource as possible, but also in the interest of all of us working to always improve our knowledge — myself included, very much. We all carry decent databases inside these clunky skulls of ours, and not one among us couldn't benefit from a tuneup. And so here we are today to do just that.

We'll get started with a correction about using the right terminology for geological periods.

The Pleistocene Epoch

In episode #798 about the Bigs Cats of Britain, I mentioned how the Eurasian cave lion had gone extinct at the end of the Pleistocene Era. Paleontologist and Skeptoid guest host Ryan Haupt was quick to drop this truth bomb on me via Twitter:

Pleistocene is an epoch, not an era. Add it to the corrections! Part of the ongoing Cenozoic Era, for what it's worth

He is of course correct. The geological time scale is broken down into Eons, which are broken down into Eras, which are broken down into Periods, which are broken down into Epochs, which are broken down into Ages. We are currently enjoying the Holocene Epoch, and the Pleistocene Epoch is the one that preceded it, some 12-ish thousand years ago, ending with the last Ice Age. Both Epochs make up the Quaternary Period of our current Era, the Cenozoic. Anyone know what Eon the Cenozoic is part of? I didn't. It is the Phanerozoic Eon, during which abundant plant and animal life has existed on Earth.

In updating the transcript for that episode with the correction, I did a text search and found the same error in two other episodes. All are now in properly tidy condition.

Necromancy or Hydromancy?

In the conclusion of episode #791 on water dowsing, I casually referred to a practitioner of dowsing as a necromancer. Quickly I received the following Facebook comment from listener Dan:

As a long time listener, I usually agree with what you have to say. Imagine my shock and, to put it mildly, dismay at hearing such an egregious and, frankly, unforgivable error in this week's episode.

Water dowsing would be classified as "hydromancy" not "necromancy". As any native English speaker *should* know, the prefix "necro" refers to the dead or dying things (eg necropolis, necrosis). "Hydro" is the prefix referring to water (eg hydrological).

I will certainly have to reconsider just how reliable your information is. Perhaps there is something to the Illuminati after all, and you are the government shill people have accused you of being.

Well all of that may or may not be true — cannot confirm or deny — but Dan is correct, dowsing should not be filed under necromancy. I've updated the transcript not to hydromancer — since nobody will know what the heck that is — but to witch, as that's reasonably generic and still accurately encompasses the practice of dowsing.

How High Is Q?

Next we have a correction from listener Danielle to episode #738 on the QAnon conspiracy theory which asserts that prominent US democrats and other world leaders run an international child raping cartel. The anonymous Internet poster calling himself Q claimed to be an insider in the Trump administration, and posted frequent predictions of arrests of democrats, none of which ever came true. In explaining where the name Q came from, I said in the episode "the highest security clearance level at the US Department of Energy, equivalent to a Top Secret clearance at the Department of Defense." Danielle wrote:

...My understanding from my colleagues at Los Alamos National Lab is that the Q clearance is an entry level clearance and only grants access to the most basic level of secure information... [There is] a distinction between Q (which is "TS" or Top Secret) and SCI. These descriptions are consistent with my understanding that SCI is related to global security, it is much harder to obtain than Q, and gets access to "all" top secret info — rather than "need to know" that is standard with a Q.

...and she attached a link to the Personnel Security and Suitability Program Handbook (see Chapter 5 and pages 30-33 in Chapter 6). Sure enough, Q is the middle of three basic sensitivity levels. So, sorry QAnon, you are not nearly so special as someone led you to believe.

DNA, Genes, and Amino Acids

I got some important terminology wrong in episode #454 on myths about genetically engineered crops. The specific myth under discussion was the belief that when you eat some food crop, its genes get incorporated into your own. Obviously this is nonsensical. Digestion is not gene splicing. If it was, we'd all be walking around as human-banana hybrid monsters. In the discussion, I said "Genes that get digested are broken down into their constituent amino acids." Listener Alain wrote in and responded:

Genes are made of DNA. DNA is made of nucleotides. Nucleotides are made of the sugar 2-deoxyribose, phosphoric acid and a nitrogenous base (adenine, guanine, cytosine or thymine, depending on the nucleotide). No amino acids there. It is proteins that are broken down into amino acids... But the intent was correct. We don't incorporate genes from our food.

I've made this mistake before; apparently I always thought that those four DNA bases were proteins. I blame my high school biology teachers. Actually I should probably blame myself, because I don't think I did very well in high school biology. Regardless, it's correct now, and I've now finally been educated for the better.

Those Elusive California State Marshals

Episode #675 was about a small-time UFO author named Frank Stranges who invented a mythology of a visitor from Venus named Valiant Thor. Stranges was notable for inventing all kinds of charitable and government institutions and claiming to have been a high-ranking official with them. One of his fictional titles was the Assistant Deputy Director of the California State Marshal Association. In the episode, I stated that there was no such organization, and that California has no state marshals, and never did.

This correction gets a little bit complicated. I heard from fellow podcaster Micah Hanks, who had also spent some time with his hands full debunking all of Frank Stranges' false claims about himself. Micah wrote:

I'm happy to offer some background on what I've found about this mysterious "California State Marshal's Association." Also, let me begin by saying that I bet your initial assessment of this organization is still probably very on point: while references to it do turn up with some additional archival research, I get the sense of it having been the law enforcement equivalent of the kinds of "diploma mills" that Stranges, et al, appeared to be involved with over the years...

The first reference I managed to locate was... a political ad for one Marshal Wayne Sala, which lists the California State Marshal's Association as one of the groups or organizations that endorsed him at the time. Similarly, an Orange County, CA campaign biography for Michael S. "Mike" Carona, then a candidate for Sheriff-Coroner, described him as a member of the California State Marshal's Association from 1976 to 1998.

And indeed, deeper searching does reveal a few more references to the association. I even found it listed as an appellant in a 1989 lawsuit, the only remotely concrete reference. However, I did a thorough search of the California business registry going back to 1980, the fictitious business name filings, and the registry of charitable trusts, and came up completely empty handed. It also has no Internet presence at all, neither current nor archived. So far as I can tell, this association has never existed as anything more than what Frank Stranges used it for: an impressive-sounding title to add to your resume, which would explain why the only other references to it have been in political candidates' advertisements.

But what is a California state marshal? So far as I could determine, there never has been any such thing. However, many county courts in California have their own small law enforcement departments for the court themselves, and many of these have been called marshals. A few still are, but the majority have been absorbed by that county's sheriff's department. Still, these would be county marshals or county court marshals; not state marshals.

So it remains a mystery at this point. I invite any historians of California law enforcement to enlighten me further — especially anyone who can better ID this apocryphal association. It's quite an odd little mystery.

Gluten in Alcohol

Here is a minor correction from episode #239 on gluten free diets. Speaking to those who choose to avoid gluten in their diets, I said that it would be pretty hard to do. I also said "Forget most alcoholic beverages." Well, my use of the word most was perhaps a bit hasty. Listener Chris wrote in with a link from the University of Chicago Medical Center that says:

Most alcoholic drinks, including wine, gluten-free beer and most spirits do not contain gluten.

Regular beer obviously does, but when I said most I was thinking of whiskey and other spirits made from wheat, rye, or barley. What I hadn't realized is something else the article said:

Liquors that are distilled from gluten-containing grains, such as rye or barley, are generally considered to be safe as well. The distillation process removes proteins, including gluten, from the liquor.

This was funky because I'm quite familiar with distilling whiskey, and if you are as well, you know that distilling just keeps vapor, and vapor doesn't include the proteins from the grain. My brain had just never happened to make that connection, and I'd always just stopped at the half-baked thought "Oh, whiskey made from rye, contains gluten." Nope. Thanks to Chris for reminding me that all of us know things that are wrong.

And just to be clear, no I do not avoid gluten, as I do not suffer from celiac disease and there is no reason to, and it's a great useful protein to include in the diet for all normal healthy people. Of course, even now that it's a few years after the whole gluten-free fad has mostly faded away, there are still healthy people who choose to avoid it for whatever reason they might have heard, and they are at liberty to do so.

And on that note, we'll put away our notebook of errors to be corrected for now. I'm always accumulating these, and so please feel free to always send them in. There's even a handy web page at to facilitate the submission of corrections. Next week we're back with a regular Skeptoid topic, so don't miss it; and listen carefully because there's just as likely an error in that one too!

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Corrections with Hat in Hands." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 15 Feb 2022. Web. 21 May 2024. <>


References & Further Reading

Brody, L. "Nucleotide." National Human Genome Research Institute. National Institutes of Health, 9 Jul. 2019. Web. 6 Feb. 2022. <>

GSA. Personnel Security and Suitability Program Handbook. Washington, DC: General Services Administration, 2019. 30-33.

Liddell, H., Scott, R. A Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940.

Stranges, J. "A Tribute to Dr. Frank E. Stranges." NICUFO. National Investigations Committee on Unidentified Flying Objects, 4 Aug. 2004. Web. 8 May. 2019. <>

U.S. Geological Survey Geologic Names Committee. "Divisions of Geologic Time - Major Chronostratigraphic and Geochronologic Units." US Geological Survey. US Department of the Interior, 20 Jul. 2010. Web. 6 Feb. 2022. <>

Welstead, L. "What alcohol is gluten-free?" UChicagoMedicine. University of Chicago Medicine, 13 Dec. 2018. Web. 6 Feb. 2022. <>


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