SoT 6: Frolicking Death Trap

Download hereHosts: Ed Brown, Penny Dumsday, Dr. Shayne Joseph and Lucas Randall

Topics covered:

Lucas Randall is an amateur astronomer, a skeptic and avid science lover. His Skeptic FAQ is one of the best summaries of scientific skepticism. He blogs at here and his Twitter handle is  c0denix.

Our theme music, Step On Up, kindly provided by The Upstanding Members.

Download here.

  • I’ve got a question about the language and evolution topic: When you talk about phoneme density, you don’t mean that we have any record of the languages at that time? I assume that would be impossible. And from my very scanty knowledge of ancient linguistics, I know that “languages” like Proto-Indo-European are merely hypothetical reconstructions that have been created by researchers back-tracking the (sometimes assumed) development of sounds. Bottom line: There’s a lot of guesswork involved. So, what proves phoneme density? How have we come by this information? If scientists/linguists have used the same process that they have to reconstruct Proto-IE, is it a stable basis for further speculation? I ask out of pure ignorance. It’s a really interesting topic and I’d love to know the answer.

    • Penny

      Hi locus!

      From what I understand from the article, the density of phonemes is based on languages that exist today, not the ancestral languages – you’re quite right, there are no records at all! Using an analogy with genetics, the researchers hypothesised that the languages with the deepest roots in a place will display the greatest diversity. The greatest genetic diversity between humans is between Africans, presumably because humans have been living there for a lot longer. The populations that left Africa had more limited gene pools (and this article suggests more limited phoneme pools as well).


  • And one more thing, a request. Could you do a segment on GM foods? I’ve been reading a bit about it recently and there seems to be a lot of furor, especially over GM soy. Is it really justified?

    Great show, guys!

    • Penny

      I think that’s a great idea! (Ed, Shayne…?) But there’s a danger it might turn into a multidirectional rant… GM is such a complex topic.

    • Ed Brown

      We’ve talked about doing some ‘specialist’ shows, and it will happen. But probably not for a while – we’ve only done six ‘regular’ episodes and we’re still getting the hang of it all. We’re probably going to do something special around June, about the US Space Shuttle program and the future of space exploration.

      There’s a LOT of good and bad science around GM foods, and it’s certainly one I’m keen to look into. In the meantime, this is a good article about some of the myths of ‘organic’ foods, and the Young Aus Skeptics tackled it here.

      Another podcast I recommend is Skeptoid, which analyses topics like GM foods in short 10 minute packages. You might want to read the transcript or listen to these episodes: Organic Food Myth and Genetically Modified Organisms: Jeopardy or Jackpot?.

      • Ed Brown

        Also I’d suggest following this blog, they come highly recommended by some friends of mine.