Episode #28: Death by number, proto-feathers and Pluto’s ocean

Possible proto-feathers (in amber)

The 28th episode of Consilience is out! You can download the mp3 here (26.6mb) and the file’s page on Archive.org is here.

Teaching Angela to appreciate History

On September 17th, 1976, the first Space Shuttle was unveiled by NASA. Enterprise was hamstrung by a lack of engines and heat shields so she never actually went into orbit, but she did some pretty high-tech gliding.

Listener Feedback

Pablo sent us an update about brewing beer in space.


The Nigerian Communication Commission had to release a statement assuring people that they would not die when receiving a call from a specific number, and that only really gullible people believe that kind of stuff anyway. This is not the first time this particular hoax has caused widespread panic.

King Mswati III of Swaziland has been outed as superstitious and “not-a-reader” whose policy decisions are heavily influenced by shamans. This revelation was brought to us by Wikileaks.

Scientists have found fossilized dinosaur proto-feathers in shards of amber. Now all we need is some amphibian DNA and dodgy science!

The Cronin Group may have taken the first steps towards engineering metal-based life forms.

Pluto might have a sub-surface ocean.

Feature: Skeptical Toolbox

Post hoc ergo propter hoc



  • SpeaktoaScientist on September 29th
  • SITP Joburg, 5th October @ Keg & Spitfire in Blackheath
  • Group Visit to the Cradle of Humankind / Postponed to after the Rugby World Cup

Cape Town:


“What does God need with a starship?” – CAPT James T. Kirk, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

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5 Responses to Episode #28: Death by number, proto-feathers and Pluto’s ocean

  1. (Anti) Tom Maydon says:

    Hi guys

    Just seen these 2 pearlers on everyone’s favourite, News24:
    International UFO conference for SA.
    Neutrinos faster than light:

    Tune in to the SGU24 science, skepticism and sgu quiz this Sunday – I’ll confirm times shortly.


  2. James says:

    Hi guys, I just quickly wanted to correct one point that was made in passing. It’s not clear to me if Owen was being sarcastic when he said that glass is an extremely viscous liquid. It isn’t a liquid.

    In physics, the standard definition of a glass (or vitreous solid) is a solid formed by rapid melt quenching.


    There is a wide-spread idea that glass is liquid because glass in old buildings (for example; cathedrals) is thicker at the bottom than at the top. However, these glass panes were that way when they were installed.

    The notion that glass flows to an appreciable extent over extended periods of time is not supported by empirical research or theoretical analysis.


    The advent of perfectly smooth and regular glass panes is a more recent technological acheivement in the history of glass making. These days we float liquid glass (hot glass) on liquid tin. The tin and silicate glass don’t blend and because the vat of liquid tin is perfectly “flat” or parallel to the horizon (due to being a liquid) the floating glass is perfectly flat and of equal thickness. But before the advent of this technique, glass-makers would spin hot glass on a rotating table to flatten the blob of hot glass and more of the glass would be at the end of the table than at the centre. When they installed these panes, the more stable way to install them would be to put the thick end at the bottom.

  3. Chris Sham says:

    One minor point: Enterprise won’t be at the Udvar-Hazy Center for long, as it’s being replaced there by the more illustrious Discovery. Enterprise will then be moved to New York. I had heard it would be going to the Intrepid Museum, but now Wikipedia tells me “the exact location is still tentative.” The move schedule isn’t definite yet either, but I imagine it’ll happen in 2012, maybe 2013.

  4. Pingback: Episode #30: The Beijing Anomaly, UKZN’s homeopathy fail and the Nobels | Consilience: An African Science Podcast

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