Episode #2: Project Pigeon, MESSENGER around Mercury, and Steven Novella (again)

The second episode of Consilience is out! The mp3 is here (33.1mb / 1:01:47) and the file’s page on Archive.org is here.

Teaching Angela to Appreciate History:

B.F. Skinner, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, was born on March 20th, 1904. Skinner was a pioneer of behaviorism (specifically “radical behaviorism“) and operant conditioning.

  1. Superstition in the pigeon” is a classic study.
  2. Project Pigeon… in which Skinner attempted to create pigeon-piloted missiles.
  3. Noam Chomsky wrote an exceedingly influential review of Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior.


A couple of corrections and clarifications are in order following last week’s show. Firstly, Michael said that once the Square Kilometer Array is completed in 2021, it’ll produce more data in a day than all the data human beings had ever produced up until that point. That’s wrong – the actual figure is a week.

Secondly, Angela said radio telescopes ‘don’t look for light, but for radio waves.’ To clarify, both light and radio waves are different manifestations of the same fundamental force – electromagnetic radiation. For a lot more information, listen to Ep. 103 of Astronomy Cast.


The first dinosaur fossil has been discovered in Angola. The dinosaur in question, Angolatitan adamastor was found during an expedition of the PaleoAngola project. You can read the scientific paper describing the find here (pdf).

According to a new research paper (pdf) by Yale psychologist Laurie Santos and colleagues, in-group bias exists in monkeys. Adapting the preferential looking paradigm and the Implicit Association Test, they demonstrated (1) that the monkeys make in/out-group classifications and (2) that they associate in-group members with ‘good things’ (fruit) and out-group members with ‘bad things’ (spiders). There’s a video explaining this research here and you can take the human version of the IAT here. Other links: chimp warfare and monkeys prefer stereotypically “gender appropriate” toys.

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft has become the first probe to orbit Mercury. Launched in August 2004, it has finally completed a complicated set of maneuvers to reach it’s orbit around the Solar System’s innermost planet. MESSENGER has already discovered water in Mercury’s exosphere.

Michael Tellinger is South Africa’s own Ancient Astronauts nutter. News24’s “science and technology” reporter Duncan Alfreds decided to publish this ridiculous, credulous article on Tellinger’s views. Apparently, Tellinger has never heard of academic tenure. Also: he basis his theories on Zecharia Sitchin‘s incorrect translations of Sumerian tablets.


Dr. Steven Novella

In Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Steve Novella (of NeuroLogica and The Skeptics Guide to the Universe) we discussed his political opinions (you’ll be surprised!), the dark ages of the skeptical movement (before Web 2.0), and what good skeptical television is out there…  (The Michael Pollack article we referred to is here.)

About Michael Meadon

Michael Meadon is a graduate student in cognitive science at the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban, South Africa. When he's not procrastinating online or propitiating his wife, he investigates the effects of rapid & unreflective facial judgments on political elections. He expects to graduate any decade now. When he was an innocent undergrad Michael studied Politics, Philosophy & Economics at the University of Cape Town. Unfortunately, he had to find out for himself that "social" and "science" often don't go so well together.
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18 Responses to Episode #2: Project Pigeon, MESSENGER around Mercury, and Steven Novella (again)

  1. Pingback: Consilience Podcast Episode 2 « The Skeptic Detective

  2. Nobody says:

    What mic do you chaps use?

  3. James says:

    Very good episode. Well done.

    I can’t believe you haven’t heard of Jonathan Creek. It was on BBC Prime many years ago, but also the protagonist was played by Alan Davies. I’m sure you all know him from our favourite panel show: QI – Quite Interesting.

  4. benguela says:

    Nice show guys. I’d have been surprised if they din’t find water on mercury. Did you know they found water on the sun! https://consiliencecast.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/episode_02
    Now that is surprising.

  5. benguela says:

    Admittedly I was skeptical of the pidgeon in a missile so I researched to verify. wow.
    I also found that the soviets trained anti-tank dogs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-tank_dog
    and the americans tried bat bombs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bat_bomb

  6. Tracy McIntyre says:

    Enjoyed the first two shows. Dr. Novella’s politics is pretty typical of us New Englanders (I’m in Vermont) we tend to vote a mixed bag. Vermont has the only socialist in the US Senate (who is also a non-theist).

    Look forward to more episodes.

    Thanks for the podcast.

  7. Rallick says:

    Hi there from a Dutchman in Ireland! Good show folks, I enjoyed listening. I came here for the interview with Dr. Novella (I’m a fan, but don’t tell him!) but I have now subscribed to the show with iTunes. Thanks for taking the time to put together the podcast.

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