Melissa Chow interviews Dr Karl (and reviews his show).
With added online content!
Last Tuesday night, the much loved duo Dr Karl and Adam Spencer of Sleek Geeks graced Manning Bar with a night of raw data: unplugged and unplanned to a crowd of scientifically inclined individuals and some not so scientifically inclined friends. It was basically a room of people who wanted to hear how science and mathematics could be used for stupidity or perhaps just a higher meaning I don’t really understand.
Here are the things I gleaned from Dr Karl’s bright mind, asking the high brow questions I deemed all of USyd needed to know exclusively.
HS: You’re on Sleek Geek, you’re on radio—do you see yourself more as a scientist or a communicator?
Dr Karl: Communicator for the good. I at one stage used to be a medical doctor working at a kids’ hospital and as it turned out, that was in retrospect the best job I ever had in my life. But because of people saying bad things about vaccinations, we end up with, after a 20 year gap, no babies [dying] from whooping cough, a baby [dead] from whooping cough. And I thought I could do more good for society by going into the media. So do I see myself as a scientist no, I see myself as a communicator trying to bring enlightenment. So for example in America—40% do not accept the theory of evolution, do not accept that carbon dating works, do not accept the science of climate change, 8% do not accept DNA exists, 15% do not accept the efficacy of child vaccination, 25% do not accept that the earth goes around the sun. So I see myself as trying to be a source of enlightenment.
HS: There’s been a lot of re-emerging infectious disease to date, so there was Bird flu and Ebola recently. Do you have any possible predictions for the next outbreak—a zoonotic kind or something from climate change?
Dr Karl: Yes, both. In regards to bees, we thought that the reason the beehives were vanishing were the so called CCD—colony collapse disorder. We thought this was due to neonicotinoids [an insecticide], we now know it’s both neonicotinoids and climate change reducing their range. Zoonotic diseases, diseases which jump from animals to humans, will come and get us at some stage. In late 2008-09, I forget which, the reason why we did not have that terrible bird influenza sweep the world—the Hong Kong government was absolutely ruthless and in one night killed every chicken in Hong Kong and that saved the world. The price is either dead chickens or dead humans. Pick one. So yes we will find them coming, the problem is vaccines take a while to make. That’s going to change though with the advent of 3D printers where we can print a vaccine rather than wait for 6 months—but that’s still 5 to 10 years down the line.
HS: My friend wants to know why when they eat mocha buns, why their urine will smell like the mocha flavouring?
Dr Karl: That’s interesting physiology. With regard to asparagus, the way that it works, there is some people who can turn asparagus juice into something smelly that comes out in the urine and there is some who cannot. And separately there is some people who can detect that odour and some people who cannot. With regard to [your friend], there must be some sort of chemical that stops it from being broken down and carries through the kidneys. That’s interesting, that could be a nice paper that could win them an Ignoble Prize, there’s some serious science there.
HS: Is there anything they could eat to have their urine smell like peaches and cream?
Dr Karl: We have found – I talk about this in my next book—if you have strawberry milk, if you’re a woman, the breast milk will smell like strawberries. There’s no short answer, unexplored territory here but yes there’s something going on.
If you want more of Dr Karl and Adam Spencer, they have a podcast under the title Sleek Geeks. They’ve also published several books and will be popping back during National Science Week.
BONUS: Video Highlights
The venue was booked out but I managed to get in by scaling the brown bricks of Manning bar, dazzling security and slipping in among the possibly already intoxicated throng*. While the whole show was recorded and is on their YouTube channel, I can give you a highly useful commentary so you can pick and choose where to start and skip in the two hour long video as well as a short interview Dr Karl generously gave me at the end of the night.
00:00 – 23:20 The artic appears on the projector and penguins roam the tundra, looking lost. On the live stream however, there is just some groovy playlist.
23:20 The Dean of the Faculty of Science makes an appearance that seems very unplanned. He has printed out an A4 script and is reading it like a first year at their first group presentation. His poor flustering may be worth the watch. (6.5/10, poor eye contact).
23:52 Dr Karl and Adam Spencer burst out from the shadows! Do you fight or run away?
24:45 It’s a map of the Internet in 1969, the origin story of the Nigerian Scam and the bits of the world the UK never made it to.
28:22 thesaurus.com is being taken to limits it should never be taken to and sinister buttocks proves the point.
31:34 Dr Karl is in a rainbow scarf paired with a red jacket, very dashing.
36:51 Cleo Loi narrates perfectly what the Radio Astronomer’s Nightmare is.
41:00 I’m sorely disappointed at the lack of “Loi tubes! Loi tubes! Loi tubes!”
42:00 Dr Karl debuts as a dancing DJ.
42:16 Adam answers how many men/women we must date before we can accurately find ‘the one’.
47:52 Dr Karl tells us why chewing gum might make us less motion sick.
50:08 Wendy Zukerman throws out the existential question of which we should root for when polar bears start eating dolphins and reveals the shapeshifting nature of frogs.
56:50 Wendy invites friends for croissants and pornos on a Sunday morning. She also wins pun of the night when she went in unprotected and got malware on her laptop.
58:49 The Sleek Geeks dig into the science behind Alcohol.
59:24 Some real science here kids: How to gate crash ‘Dicky’ Branson’s party.
1:00:13 How to Get Drunker With Coke and Rum 101 – D is for Drunker. D is also for diet.
1:03:13 Beer goggles are not a myth!
1:06:18 Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder and homeopathy and acupuncture suffer some burns.
1:08:20 WTF?! Chocolate milk beat protein powders??
1:10:08 So it turns out you can’t outrun a muffin. Shit.
1:16:14 In the game of artificial intelligence versus mankind the result is: Watch out for your Xboxes.
1:22:16 Eat food, make faeces, do stuff on computers.
1:22:27 A man challenges the dating formula, he sounds like he gets around.
1:24:46 Who loves you more: your dog or your cat? I’m hearing this answer as – cats love you more.
1:28:53 Wil Anderson has somehow gained a professorship, the circumstances seem vague but is now surprising the bar with his highly sophisticated opinions proving his professorship well deserved. He also sounds like he means business from the way he is swinging his two beverages in the air.
1:34:00 The night is reaching a sentimental point, ‘Prof’ Wil discusses the ideal amount of partners to find the one.
1:35:35 Dr Karl and ‘Prof’ Wil have now engaged in a tussle.
1:36:38 ‘Prof’ Wil in his great wisdom predicts who will play the frogs in XMen, why farts and protein shakes go hand in hand and may kill all the unvaccinated children.
1:39:26 ‘Prof’ Wil drops mic.
1:40:07 Adam breaks down secret mathematical rules that may help you be the next hacker or something of the sort.
1:43:16 People are clapping, but is this because they were so wowed by the brain power now charging the bar’s electricity or are they clapping to the magnificence that is Adam Spencer’s brain cradled by his wonderfully reflective head?
1: 44:08 Another man from the audience asks about pheromones released through female’s hair. Man there is some thirst in this room.
1:48:45 ‘Prof’ Wil gives us the truth behind why the polar bear really ate the dolphin.