The Best Show You’re Probably Not Watching

by Max Sirak

(Audio version for your earballs!)

TV gets a bum rap. Tv

Like any tool or technology – it's neutral. Television is neither good nor bad, healthy nor un-. We, the users of such tools and technologies are the lucky pronouncers of such designations and definitions, based upon their use.

Binge-watching, albeit easy, certainly isn't evil. Excessive? Sure. Bad for the retention and recall? Probably. All I can say for certain is, after watching 12 seasons of the CW's Supernatural over the span of a couple months, the details of all the Winchester's exploits are a bit foggy.

My guess is the fuzziness has to do with the way memory functions. Sleep plays a big part in the consolidation memory. So, the more episodes you watch in a row between sleeps, the blurrier the particulars become.

Anyway – back to the point.

TV is what you make it. And, while it certainly seem like the air waves have never been fuller of monster-hunting melodrama, ridiculous "reality", negative news, and polarity politics, there are beacons of lucid light.

TruTv To the Rescue

Adam Ruins Everything is my everything.

Now, just wrapping up its second season, the College-Humor-web-feature-turned-network-program is a breath of cool, crisp scientific air. The comedian/host, Adam Conover, spends his 22 minutes of airtime dispelling popular misconceptions about all sorts of things and cites his sources.

Here are some things I learned last week binge-watching the first 15 episodes of season two.

S2:E1 – Babies And Stuff

– Most of what we think we know about women's biological clocks comes from a rural French census survey in the 1600s. Crazy, right? What with the advances of modern medicine in the last 400 years….

– The average fertility rate of a healthy 27-year-old woman is 88%. A healthy 37-year-old woman's is 82%. That's a six point drop. However, fertility rates do indeed decline more quickly after 40.

– The egg freezing industry preys on fear, is expensive ($20K), and is anything but a safe bet (only 2-12% of eggs become babies).

– Talking to a therapist is one of the best cures for postpartum depression.

– The whole idea of falling immediately in love with your newborn is a modern narrative. Back in the day, on account of the much higher infant mortality rates, parents were cautioned to "not get too attached too soon."

S2:E2 – Sugar – The OG White Powdered Drug

– Sugar is more addictive than cocaine.

– It, not fat, is the cause of the steep rise in the rates of obesity and heart disease. Excess sugars the liver can't process are converted into fat the body stores.

– The reason we think fat is the enemy is because of Ancel Keys, a celebrity scientist from the 1950s. Big Sugar funded his research. In addition to cherrypicking his data to make his benefactors happy, he also used ad-hominem to discredit his rival, John Yudkin, who was, in fact, right. Fat wasn't the enemy. Sugar was.

– The worst part – during the "low-fat" craze the 1980s, when fats were taken out of foods – it was sugar that took its place.

S2:E3 – US Healthcare

– Healthcare in the US is the most expensive per person, not the best.

– Part of the reason are Chargemaster documents. These came about around the same time as health insurance companies and they're the inflated price list each hospital uses. 770% markup for a neck brace? No problem. 13,700% for an IV bag? Seems reasonable.

– The Healthcare lobby spends more than the Oil and Defense lobbies combined to keep it this way.

– Until the early 1900s getting any infection was practically a death sentence.

– The over-prescription of antibiotics could foreseeably lead to the end of all surgery.

S2:E4 – Dating

– No dating site's algorithm has been peer reviewed or scientifically verified. Their matches are no better than random chance.

– The idea of an "alpha male" is bunk. The scientist, L.D. Mech, who popularized the concept, said so himself.

– Bonobos, not chimps, are our closest genetic relatives and they live in a matriarchal society where attentiveness and kindness ensure male survival more than aggression.

S2:E5 – Fine Art Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_presumed_self-portrait_-_WGA12798

– Leonardo Da Vinci wasn't considered a "master" until 1911. The heist of the Mona Lisa coupled with the Mere Exposure Effect helped changed his reputation.

– "Originality" is overrated. Michelangelo got his start counterfeiting, selling his forgeries to the Church. Van Gogh copied Millet; Manet, who copied Titian, inspired Monet. Shakespeare adapted Romeo and Juliet from an epic poem called Romeus and Juliet. Mozart sampled an Austrian opera in The Magic Flute.

S2:E6 – Lies We Learned In Elementary School

– Christopher Columbus was an idiot who was bad at math and thought the Earth was pear-shaped. No one cared about him until Washington Irving wrote a fluff piece to appeal to Italian American immigrants.

– The only reason we think King Tut was historically relevant is because his tomb was found intact. Which means, he wasn't even important enough to graverob.

– There're no "rules" of grammar. Only popular preference. "Ain't" used to be an upperclass word until the 1800s and "literally" has been used to mean "figuratively" for hundreds of years.

S2:E7 – College

– The story of the dropout billionaire is a tempting one to believe. Who doesn't like the idea of foregoing expensive schooling to earn a fortune? But, statistically speaking, you're four times more likely to be killed at the Grand Canyon than you are to quit school and make boatloads of money.

– The dropout billionaire narrative is a great example of Survivor Bias. We only hear the stories about the exceptional few (Gates, Zuckerburg, etc.) not the overwhelming majority (who dropped out and fail).

– You're 71% more likely to be unemployed without a university degree.

S2:E8 – Corrections

This one is all about correcting the information the show got wrong in previous episodes. Talk about scientific dedication…

– IQ tests were originally designed in 1904, France as kindergarten entrance exams. They also happen to be very biased, used to defend racisms, and in no way measure all the components of "intelligence."

– US Air Marshals don't stop terrorism. They cost the tax payers about $200,000,000 per arrest, most of which are for drunk and disorderly passengers.

– Facts don't change people's minds because of Identity Protective Cognition.

(Fun aside – in this episode they also cover the Backfire Effect – which itself hasn't been able to be replicated by scientists since the initial finding. More here.)

S2:E9 – Vacation Destinations

– The United States illegally annexed the sovereign nation of Hawaii and then systematically used racist policies to disenfranchise the natives.

– Mt. Rushmore stands in violation of a treaty the government made with the Sioux nation, which it broke because gold was discovered on the land.

– The only reason Teddy Roosevelt is featured on Mt. Rushmore is because the sculptor who made it was a fanboy.

– Slot machines aren't gambling. They're engineered addiction devices responsible for 85% of casino earnings designed to prey on human cognitive glitches in order to create gambling addicts.

S2:E10 – The Suburbs

– The fixation of having a green lawn is ludicrous. Each day, 9 billion gallons of water and countless herbicides and pesticides are used in attempts to keep foreign plant species (most the grasses in States were imported from Asia and Africa) alive.

– Suburban development policies originated in racism and have served to promote institutional poverty.

– Schools in the United States have never been more segregated than they are today.

S2:E11 – The Economy

– The DOW, GDP, and unemployment rate are all very specific metrics that in no way accurately measure the health of an entire economy.

– The tax preparation industry is massive. It actively spends millions of dollars each year to lobby against legislation to simplify the way taxes are done.

– Taxes, in the US, are a backward transaction. Can you think of any other bill you, the consumer, prepares then pays? In all other customer exchanges the people you owe money to tell you how much you owe, you don't have to do all the math. They do.

S2:E12 – Conspiracy Theories Apollo_15_flag _rover _LM _Irwin

– Given the cinematographic technology of the 1960s, it was cheaper to physically send people to the moon than it would have been to develop all the lights necessary to fake the moon landing.

– Due to an array of cognitive biases, some of which are contradictory, we're all disposed to believing conspiracy theories.

S2:E13 – Wellness

– "Toxins" aren't sweat out. Or even real. No "toxin" has ever been found in a lab, but many things can be "toxic" in high dosage.

– MSG is safe. It was developed by a scientist in 1908 to isolate the umami flavor. Lab tests have never been able to link MSG to any of the symptoms it's said to cause. The reason people don't like it has more to do with xenophobia than health. People think MSG affects them because they believe it does. Speaking of which…

– Placebos are real, powerful, confusing, and not "bad."

S2:E14 – Halloween

– The "mass hysteria" caused by Orson Wells reading War of the Worlds over the radio probably never happened. The story itself was the clickbait of the times, published by the print industry to discredit its new competition (radio) by showing how dangerous it was.

– The story of a kid finding a razor blade in his or her candy is an urban legend. The only child that ever died from eating Halloween candy was poisoned by his father for insurance money.

– Strangers aren't dangerous and they don't likely mean you harm. You're 99% more likely to be adducted by someone you know than someone you don't.

S2:E15 – Science

– Lab tests on rodents in order to find solutions for humans problems are largely useless. The "mouse model" fails 80% of the time.

– The rigor of our science is deteriorating. Reproducibility and deliberate careful progress, two foundational pillars of science, have been replaced by excitement and hype. Cuts in funding and shifts in who's footing the bill mean there are fewer jobs and increased pressure to produce headlines and buzz, not comb through colleagues findings.

– The 3quarksdaily family is good people and I'm proud to be a part of it. One of the featured experts on this episode was Dr. Azra Raza. A badass oncologist curing cancer who's also an editor at 3qd. No big deal.

I spent a lot of hours using a tool last week.

My tool of choice was TV.

And, because of how I used it, I learned a lot.

Hmmm…now I wonder what Sam and Dean are up to…


Max helps other people write their books and talks to his friends


Sources – (Having a Baby to Science)


Photo Credits

2) By Leonardo da Vinci – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain,

3) By Astronaut David R. Scott, Apollo 15 commander. –, Public Domain,