Skepticism and Science, Hand in Hand – with Donald Prothero

There are productive scientists.  There are  skeptics, busy debunking cryptozoologists and ufologists. There are prolific authors of textbooks, popular science books and scientific reviews.  There are professors with heavy class schedules.  All of these are classes of professional true and stout of heart, no doubt.  Paleontologist Donald Prothero, PhD. combines all of those careers and hobbies into one person.  We suspected that he must have cloned himself and delegates at least a portion of his work to his doppelganger, but he denies this is so.

Science and Skepticism Work Together to Examine Bold Claims of Weird Phenomena


Donald Prothero
Donald Prothero

Don Prothero began his science career at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He is a paleontologist and geologist who has taught at Occidental College, CalTech, Columbia and other colleges throughout Southern California. He has written, and is in the process of writing, textbooks, articles and reviews. He has blogged and given many talks about skeptical topics and co-authored popular books on evolution, cryptozoology, UFO’sand other subjects. It was a great honor for us as podcasters to have to the opportunity to chat with Don for an hour or so.

The podcast covers quite a bit of ground (that’s a geology joke, sorry,) in which Prothero provides updates on books he is finishing, about to finish and a proposal for a new book in the works; his upcoming tour of England and Scotland where a group will visit landmarks as well as sites of geological and historical interest; the concept of periodicity of mass extinctions in earth’s geological history and the reasons that as an explanation for past mass extinctions on Earth it is no longer taken seriously.

The most interesting and fun part of this interview was the discussion of cryptozoology. The idea that there are undiscovered large mammals roaming the remote areas of the world doesn’t really pan out in an era with the ability to see such things from satellites in orbit and they just aren’t there. There really is so much left on Earth to discover, life that has never been cataloged scientifically. The problem is that the mysteries which remain are small, tiny, miscroscopic or deep underwater and perhaps not “sexy” enough for the ersatz deep woods Bigfoot hunters.

We hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed producing it!

Donald Prothero’s Home Page

Help support Ikonokast by purchasing Don’t books through these links!

Giants of the Lost World: Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Monsters of South America
Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters

There Was a Bang – Ethan Siegel convinces us that dark matter is real

“It turns out that sometimes the measurements and observations are problematic. Sometimes the theory has reached the end of its limits of its range of validity. But in all cases the scientific method is the same.”

From Neptune to Dark Matter

Something about Uranus did not make sense. Planet Mercury’s orbit was off kilter. Spiral blobs were spinning too fast. Most of the matter in the universe had not been detected.

To the rescue: science!

In this eposode of Ikonokast, Ethan Siegel brings us on a journy of scientific discovery through the Universe, from the inner solar system to the farthest reaches of space, and through time, from the very beginning (of time) to the invention of the Tardis.

Put on your headphones, start up the treadmill, and let Ethan convince you that Dark Matter is real, and discusses the narure of science.

Dr. Ethan Siegel is a theoretical physicist and a popular science writer and presenter. His blog “Starts With a Bang” has expanded to be a regular column at Forbes Magazine, along with a presence on and a page on Facebook. He makes regular television appearances in Portland Oregon and produces a podcast, which you will find at Soundcloud.

Ethan Siegel
Ethan Siegel

Ethan has a great deal of fun with presenting science and costumes as a wrestler or as X-Men’s Wolverine, or any of a number of characters sure to please and get your attention.


Beyond the Galaxy: How Humanity Looked Beyond Our Milky Way and Discovered the Entire Universe

Starts With a Bang on Medium

Starts With a Bang at Forbes

Starts With a Bang at ScienceBlogs

Starts With a Bang on SoundCloud

Curiosity About Mars with Emily Lakdawalla

NASA has been using remote automated vehicles to explore the surface of Mars since 2004. Run by remote control programs beamed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the rovers capture photographs, scoop and analyze soil samples and even snap selfies. Curiosity landed in 2012 and is a very successful mission for NASA.

How Do We Satisfy our Curiosity about Mars?  We Explore it, of course!

Emily Lakdawalla
Emily Lakdwalla is Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for the Planetary Society

Emily Lakdawalla is a Senior Editor working for the Planetary Society, communicating to her audience worldwide the events and doings of missions throught the solar system. We talked to Emily largely about the Rover Curiosity as it progresses through the Martian Landscape. How do the controllers on the Earth tell the robot where to go, what to do and how to avoid hazards? Considering that the Rover Spirit was doing great until it got stuck in soft soil and the engineers were not able to free it, hazard avoidance is a key to the mission.

As the scientists look evidence of past (microbial) life, they are amazed at the feats the engineers perform so far away while the engineers are fascinated by the data that the scientists retrieve. According to Emily, the cooperation between engineers and scientists is more important than the tension over goals and

Wishing you were here.
So, why do robots take selfies? You’ll have to write your own punchline.


We talked about the process of taking selfies at the rover’s various stops. Why are selfies important? How did they first get the idea to do so? Is it a waste of time and transmission bandwidth? Emily explains the process and the justification.

NASA is conducting several missions in the Solar System. While most people are familiar with New Horizon’s flyby of Pluto in 2015, there is also the mission in our asteroid belt to another dwarf planet, Ceres. Ceres is much closer to home and after exploring and mapping Vesta, the Dawn mission is the first to orbit one object and then fly to another and set a new orbit. There are amazing feats that unmanned explorers are capable of completing.

We also talked about the future of solar system exploration and floated some ideas, but they are likely a bit too expensive. However, Mars 2020 is very promising for gathering soil samples.

This was another fun and informative interview on ikonokast and Greg and Mike encourage you to check out these links. Read about the Planetary Society, and support their goal to continue to push for more exploration of our solar system.

It’s our goal, too!

Emily Lakdwalla’s Planetary Society Blog is information central for the planetary missions and the planetary evangelizing work she does.

Additional materials related to this show:

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control which we talk about during the show.

Nancy Atkinson’s new book Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos

A great book for Kids about Discovering Mars Discovering Mars: The Amazing Story of the Red Planet by Berger, Melvin (1992) Paperback

Alfred McEwen’s This Is Mars

On the Biosphere Experiment: The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2

Andy Weir’s “Crowdsource Edited” novel The Martian – the basis for the movie: The Martian

The Vaccine Needs Help: Carina Storrs on Rotavirus Prevention in Developing Countries

Vaccines are effective at prompting our immune systems to produce antibodies to viral infections. When a virus for which we have been inoculated enters our bodies, the antibodies recognize their old enemy, their adversary from bygone days and attack and destroy the virus before it can do much harm to us. For the most part, vaccines are very effective at preventing viral disease. (See this recent book for pertinent information on vaccines.)

So Why Doesn’t the Vaccine Always Work?

Causes of Diarrhea
Leading Causes of Diarrhea

Imagine the stress, then, for a parent who has done as the doctors and clinicians recommend. Following a vaccination, the child becomes very ill from the rotavirus and suffers from diarrhea. So, they go back to the doctor for treatment and another dose of vaccine.

So, why is this happening in the case of the rotavirus? The vaccine for rotavirus is an oral application. The virus is attenuated, or weakened, and is intended to create a minor infection in the gut of the recipient. In fighting that minor infection, the antibodies form to fight off the infection. In the future, if the wild rotavirus makes its way into the child’s body the immune system will recognize it and fight it off.

In developed countries the vaccine is effective 98% of the time, but in India and Pakistan and Bangladesh the efficacy rate is as low as 43% and children take multiple doses. The question of what the factors are that make antibody production more difficult is a puzzle that researchers and doctors are working on.

Carina Storrs, PhD
Carina Storrs, PhD

There may be some clues leading them to the answers in the history of the oral polio vaccines in India. In a similar vein, three decades ago the oral vaccine for polio was less effective and a doctor in Vellore worked on finding solutions to prevent polio paralysis. Are there more than one answer, if so it is leading to a complex set of changes in India in order to give the vaccine some help.

Carina Storrs, PhD. is our guest for the fourth episode of Ikonokast. She has been working on this story and traveled to India on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to speak with doctors, scientists and parents of patients.

What Will Make Vaccines Work Better in Developing Countries?

Vaccines in Low-Income Countries: Reasons and Remedies for their Stunted Performance

Carina Storrs’ Published Articles

Rotavirus Information From the Mayo Clinic

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance


What About Water? Peter Gleick on the California Drought

The status of the California drought, and other matters

What is the current status of the California Drought? How does the California Drought compare to the drought in Syria? How does the drought affect agriculture and the economy in California, and how does climate change affect the food supply globally?

A Conversation with Peter Gleick of California’s Pacific Institute

The water in Arizona runs through canals in the desert to get to Phoenix. It travels in the summer through heat and sun, with temperatures often higher than 100 ° Fahrenheit. A large portion of that water must evaporate. This brings home the value of water to Arizonans.

The California drought is in its fourth year. Agriculture is having to adapt. Gardeners see the need to adapt to the new reality. The current El Niño event is not likely to make up for the deficit and reservoirs are running dry as the snow in the mountains is not going to make up for the shortage of rainfall.

Dr. Peter GleickDr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute is our guest for this show. We talked about how our society needs to reshape our policies and practices in order to meet the increasing demands for water. Dr. Gleick is a leading scientist, innovator and communicator on global water and climate issues. Elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2006, he is the author and editor of many published papers as well as ten books on the subject of water.

Among the topics covered in this episode are the role of drought in numerous conflicts around the world, the concept of virtual water, using local and state policy to fight climate change and whether or not saving water in Seattle is as important as it is in Sacramento.

Please take the opportunity to look through Peter’s books as listed on Amazon. Purchases that you make through these links help to support Ikonokast and, of course, Peter’s work at the Pacific Institute.

Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water

Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World’s Fresh Water Resources

Significant Figures on ScienceBlogs


Genetics and Food Security: Talking GMOs with Anastasia Bodnar

The population growth of humans on planet earth is accelerating. Very few people are taking the idea of Zero Population Growth as an imperative. Food insecurity is a serious problem for fifteen per cent of the global population. This means that 850 million people or more are chronically undernourished. Achieving a sustainable level of food security is a matter of increasing food production, attacking the economic conditions that are barriers, and will require improvements in food distribution. This second episode will review the role of production in working towards global food security. Our guest for this episode is Dr. Anastasia Bodnar.

Are GMOs good or bad?

When it comes to a complex issue like GMOs, we are not likely to have a simple answer to such a simple question.

Anastasia Bodnar at the White House
Dr. Anastasia Bodnar presenting, at the Whtie House in Washington, DC

The role of genetic engineering, GMOs, is hotly debated as a social and ethical issue. There are many people who are dubious as to both the need for and the safety of genetically modified organisms as they are developed for various reasons to enhance agricultural production. There are researchers working on tailoring crops towards drought resistance, adding carotene to poor children’s diets in the form of Golden Rice, resistance of plants to pests, enabling the specific use of herbicides, and for many other purposes. Dr. Bodnar has been working with genetically modified plants, mostly with corn, but she has also been studying the social debate over the use and potential dangers, if any, of GMO’s.

As a science advocacy podcast, Ikonokast will be talking to Anastasia about these issues and others related to food production. She is Policy Director of Biofortified, Inc; which is an 501(c)3 that fosters conversations about issues in food and agriculture. Anastasia refers to herself as just a crazy scientist who likes to talk about science.

Which, come to think of it, is perfect for the purpose of the Ikonokast Podcast.



For additional enlightenment, we encourage you to check out the following links:


Biofortified is an organization for outreach on the issues of agricultural technology.

Genetic Maize.  This is Anastasia Bodnar, PhD’s site, mentioned in the podcast.

Norman Borlaug; A billion lives saved.

Everything you need to know about CRISPR, the new tool that edits DNA; in Gizmodo.


Why Science?

Shawn Lawrence Otto
Shawn Lawrence Otto

This is the initial podcast of IkonoKast.  Our first guest is a writer who has done a great deal of work to support and encourage the advocacy of science for public policy.  Shawn Lawrence Otto is a screenwriter and novelist  His book Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America details the manner in which politicians have been attempting to ignore or diminish the role that science should play in the public discourse on policy.  He is a co-founder of ScienceDebate, which is the growing effort to engage candidates for the presidency of the United States in a debate for them to talk about science, specifically.

To introduce the show, Greg and Mike discuss science and what we want to achieve with the podcast.  What is science?  Why is it important?  How do interested parties who are not scientists discover which science is worth following and discard the pseudoscience when the media seem to report so poorly on topical issues of science?

Listen to the podcast, and please feel free to submit your feedback.

Shawn Otto adapted the screenplay for House Of Sand And Fog and recently published his first novel Sins of Our Fathers. Purchasing these products through the links helps to support Ikonokast.