Rebecca teaches a low mass star about skepticism

By Phil Plait | January 31, 2010 7:30 am

Well, I assume he’s a low mass star since he was in Red Dwarf. Anyway, Skepchick Rebecca Watson rides in a car with Robert Llewellyn and they talk skepticism and such. It’s an enjoyable video, with some NSFW language.


Comments (48)

  1. Zucchi

    Fantastic. Rebecca Watson is even more adorable on video than she is on the podcast. Didn’t know Robert Llewellyn was so cool.

  2. Caliber Clyde

    That was really fun. Loved Robert as Cryton in Red Dwarf. Still can’t help but see him there.

  3. Steve Ulven

    I went to the Skepchickon party. Rebecca is the the definition of NSFW. In fact, all the Skepchicks are. I think at this point it is redundant to mention any Skepchick being NSFW.

  4. I always liked him the best on Junkyard Wars. I can see him being a skeptic. Cool vid!

  5. Lars

    Making good edutainment based on the concept of filming yourself while driving around, half concentrating on talking, is challenging, to put it mildly. This video didn’t hit me at all. I guess I’m spoiled after seeing a 5 part video with neurologists and Bobby McFerrin discussing and playing music.

  6. Well, that was fun. Maybe Robert can be persuaded to join our ranks. He sounds like he would be able to start his story with, ” I was a skeptic all my life, I just never knew it.” Bet you never heard that one before 😉 .

  7. Keith (the first one)

    That was really good. I’ll be trying to watch some other carpool episodes now.

    And Lewis (4), it’s called Scrapheap Challenge.

  8. I love her. There, I said it.

  9. Is Rebecca sporting a Surlyramics piece? :)

  10. James

    Keith, here in the US it was called Junkyard Wars. And he was brilliant as the host. The guy they got to replace him just never measured up, in my opinion.

  11. Paul D

    Love Robert, didn’t really know Rebecca (sorry), but now following her blog. I’d highly recommend the other carpool’s if you haven’t already seen them! :)

  12. Stanley H. Tweedle

    He reminds me of Scrapheap Challenge!

  13. M B

    “If you don’t believe what your teachers are teaching, go out and prove them wrong…” unless they’re teaching the party-line, then shut up and sit down.

  14. Hal in Howell

    I’m interested in seeing Llewellyn’s other interviews (on the same site) with Patrick Stewart and Brian Cox.

  15. Mike

    Robert Llewellyn! Awesome. I really enjoyed Junkyard Wars early on. (He was the host for the american version for the first season or two).

  16. Joey Joe Joe

    I must admit to being pleasantly surprised seeing Rebecca promote skepticism, rather than herself, for a change. Now if only she can keep it up, she might begin justifying her elevated status in the skeptical community.

  17. Ian Regan


    Saucer of milk for Joey Joe Joe please…

  18. tacitus

    I just finished watching his Patrick Stewart interview. It’s very interesting and well worth watching.

  19. eddie

    “Keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.” Oh, yeah, I’m stealin’ that one …

  20. Thanks for the lead, wasn’t aware of this series until I saw this

  21. Gary Ansorge


    Just a tiny correction; JELLYFISH are 97-98 % water. Humans are only 70 % H2O.

    Love her voice. No stress, no fuss.

    GAry 7

  22. Bunk

    Awesome. WTG Rebecca!

  23. Jacob

    The post title should probably say “low mass star star” (i.e. A star of Red Dwarf)

  24. MadScientist

    It’s a pity Llewellyn has to concentrate so much on his driving (which seems to reduce his conversation to “yeah”, “uh-huh”, “right”); he’s far more entertaining when he can concentrate on the conversation.

  25. baryogenesis

    Agree with MS @25.
    Rebecca seems to shine even more elsewhere, esp on SGU. Maybe she’s nervous about his driving.

  26. You guys may think she’s the cat’s meow (sorry, I just watched “The Great Gatsby”) but she put me off right at the beginning when she said her dad worked for DuPont, a company that “makes chemicals that destroy the planet” and then she went on to apologize for him saying “he did IT for them and wasn’t involved in any of that.”

    Let’s see, some of the horrible, world destroying chemicals DuPont invented:

    1) Nylon
    2) Teflon
    3) Mylar
    4) Delrin – a self-lubricating plastic that makes all sorts of miniature machines possible at prices people can afford.

    5) Vespel – an engineering plastic used extensively in semiconductor plasma etch chambers that works from -275°C to +400°C in atmosphere and hard vacuum. You wouldn’t be reading this on a computer without it.

    6) Neoprene – synthetic rubber developed during WWII as a replacement for natural rubber when normal supplies were disrupted. One of the major factors in building the machines that won the war. All you divers out there know it as the material your wetsuits are made of.

    7) Nomex – an insulating, heat tolerant aramid fiber used in firefighter and rescue team outerwear. Also the fire resistant driving suits for race drivers that has saved many a driver from life threatening burns.

    ‘8) Kevlar – another aramid fiber used in bullet proof vests and also used to wind large solid rocket motor casings).

    9) Tyvek – a high strength polyethylene fiber that is used to make non-shedding disposable clean room suits that can’t be ripped. Also used extensively as a moisture barrier backing on building insulation.

    10) Freon – Maybe this is the horrible bugaboo that has RW’s knickers in a twist. We won’t talk about the major increase in the standard of living due to home refrigeration, or the millions of people who didn’t die of food poisoning because their food was properly stored. It should be pointed out that DuPont voluntarily gave up the manufacture of Freon (a billion dollar a year business) and developed its “eco-friendly” replacement.

    These are only a few examples off top of my head that I have experience with. There are hundreds more. Rebecca’s message is a good one, but she shouldn’t start off by attacking a company that 1) gave her father a livelihood, thus financing her education, and 2) she obviously knows little about. Her comments came across as some sort of greenie knee-jerk reaction to “the Freon company” as bad as if her dad built Hummers.

    – Jack

  27. Wow, thanks for all the awesome comments, everyone! And thanks Phil for posting. I was nervous as hell (I’m not a car person or a camera person) but it was a lot of fun.

    @Jack #28: Dupont has made many very nice products. I’m not sure what that has to do with the fact that they’ve not always been kind to the environment. Just a few years ago they were fined $16.5m for covering up the dangers of Teflon:

    Also, Dupont did not pay for my education. I worked hard, full-time all the way through college to pay for what education wasn’t covered by merit-based grants. So, you shouldn’t start off a post by attacking a person who 1) was right and 2) you obviously know little about.

  28. baryogenesis

    Jack #28, Thanks for the list. And I mean that. It’s just that I grew up in a different era and my mates at the time weren’t overly ecstatic about napalm and its use. I think Rebecca was honestly trying to explain her transition from her earlier “hippie” influences to her current understanding of a “skeptical” view of life. That being said, should we always accept everything DuPont does, or should we as individuals question some things corporations produce?

  29. eddie


    I think she was being cutesy and a bit facetious when she said that. Let’s grow a sense of humor here, OK? All the smart people on this planet are aware that we’ve harnessed chemicals for the good of mankind in many instances. I believe she was just setting up her later “hippie” comments.

    Just my opinion.

  30. MadScientist

    @Jack Hagerty: I’m sure Rebecca was joking, poking fun at the loons who claim that all large corporations (especially chemical and drug companies) are destroying the planet. Admittedly it’s not a good thing to say to a general audience. I depend a lot of numerous DuPont products too (and various derivatives). Perhaps one of the earliest I recall using is the nylon fishing line. (I’ve also used Delrin extensively although never for its friction properties.)

    The various freons haven’t been manufactured in substantial quantities in decades and all indications are that the “ozone hole” phenomenon is on the mend – just give it another 60 years. Besides, the freons (and halons) can hardly be said to have contributed to destroying the planet – how many refereed papers have you seen on the widespread evil consequences of the ozone hole (limited primarily to Antarctica with occasional excursions over Australia and New Zealand as the polar vortex dissipates). As far as I know the growing ozone hole was an undesirable worsening scenario that had been averted. The predictions of recovery were not so bad really; the future projections and recovery scenarios weren’t too far off the mark, suggesting that the atmospheric chemists did have a pretty good idea what they were doing.

  31. beriukay

    Perhaps she was saying it to illustrate a point, but her point about the moon’s gravity bothered my inner mathematician. Plus I was probably itching to do some physics number crunching. Anyway, I think Mr. Newton disagrees with Ms. Watson.

    F ~ (m1 x m2)/r^2

    Now, my first assumption is that the guy from Red Dwarf does not weigh much more than your average human. Thus, as a marker, I figured m1=68 kg, and m2= 54 kg. I choose to violate the rules of civility that involve guessing the weight of a female in order to simplify the math. I could just as easily have held one or both as variables and solved based on what we know of the moon, but I thought that would just be even more rude.
    I can never be certain with those European cars, but I also assume the distance between their center of masses is approximately 1 meter.

    Thus the force of gravity between the two humans in that car would be proportional to:

    3672 kg^2 / m^2.

    On the other hand, from my very own personal think tank (wikipedia), I have decided that the force of gravity between the moon and the lighter person would be proportional to no less than:

    ((7.3477 * 10^22 kg) * 54 kg)/ (405,696 km + 12,742km)= 22,661,201.9 kg^2 / m^2

    (Assuming the moon is at its farthest from earth, and on the opposite side of the planet from England at the moment they say what they say. This is obviously an overstatement. For instance, I would be off by at least 6000km if the apogee is measured based on the center of the earth instead of the closest point, as I had assumed. )

    By my calculations, at its very least influence, the moon-on-person would have over 6000x the gravitational force as Robert and Rebecca would on one another. Please note, I will refrain from sexual jokes about decreasing the distance between them to make the gravitational force approach infinity out of respect, but will note my courtesy out of immaturity.

    I look forward to corrections if I am wrong. But in conclusion, the force of a punch to the nose of a lunatic (insert canned laughter) is much greater than the force of the moon’s gravity on their tenuous grip on reality.

  32. Jerry W.

    Yeah, the DuPont thing struck me as less than skeptical. It is right that they have produced many good and useful products. They have also done a very poor job of cleaning up after manufacturing nuclear weapons in the US. One point she made was that you should examine each claim or action on it’s own merits. This is a wise thing to do.

  33. JJ

    I really liked that last part about accepting labels. I’ve been talking about that recently with my family and friends in light of the political polarization that seems to be sweeping the nation since the latter Bush years. I’ve noticed many people around me taking to partisan views on topics and becoming mindless drones, sort of speak. It’s very disheartening to see so many people not think for themselves. My view is that if Washington was to do away with the 2 party system, where people are elected based on their views of specific issues, we would have a much more honest political scene. It would also force people to look at the issues instead of the little (D) or (R) next to someone’s name in the voting booth. It seems to me that political party tends to trump real progress and often forces us to take steps in the wrong direction. Washington should adopt the unicameral legislative structure used by Nebraska.

    Racial discrimination is also another fault of labeling. For example, why do people label themselves as “(African, Italian, Mexican…) American”. Doing so, in my opinion, only contributes to greater polarization and stereotyping of ethnic groups. Why can’t we all simply be Americans? The media and pop culture doesn’t help the situation either. For example, kids becoming thugs because they want to act like some famous rapper. Then, when people try to set them straight, they would consider it acting “white”. The polarization here is an extreme example, but it’s also an oxymoron because the “white” people are the one’s often labeled as racist, while many of these minorities are the real racists and give themselves a bad reputation by acting like a thug rapper. The dangers of labeling are clear in this extreme case, but it does happen in urban areas on a regular basis. Such labeling often leads to a life of gang related crimes, drugs, and jail time. It’s a terrible cycle of brainwashing.

  34. MartinM

    I look forward to corrections if I am wrong.

    You’ve done the calculations correctly, though you haven’t copied them here quite right; you left off the square on the distance. One could argue, however, that it’s the tidal forces which are important, which fall off with r^3.

  35. FYI Dupont was also heavily involved in leaded gasoline, one of the environmental disasters of the 20th century. In 1923 it formed, along with General Motors and Standard Oil of New Jersey, the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation. “Scientists” working for Ethyl denied the ill effects of lead on human health for decades after studies showed its damaging effects and longevity in the body (not sure if that’s the best way to say it stays in your body for a very long time. One of the tactics used to fight against reality entailed highly publicizing hair and urine tests which showed no lead. Because lead stays in the bloodstream for very long periods it appears in hair and urine in only minute amounts – thus modern tests for lead are blood tests). For the record, Dupont divested itself of Ethyl in 1962.

    Also, Rebecca was great on the carpool program (I discovered her recently on YouTube) and I never knew before that Robert Llewellyn had that show (It’s now bookmarked). I don’t get the catty comments above. What am I missing? I’m just sitting her whining and depressed about how I’m too old for her.

  36. 29. Rebecca Watson Says: “@Jack #28: DuPont has made many very nice products. I’m not sure what that has to do with the fact that they’ve not always been kind to the environment. Just a few years ago they were fined $16.5m for covering up the dangers of Teflon”

    OK, let’s not get off on the wrong foot here, we’re both on the same side.

    I wasn’t talking about “nice,” I was listing fundamental, life saving, civilization advancing materials. Just to make sure I wasn’t missing something, I went back and watched the entire program again. There wasn’t any equivocation in your statement, it was a very declarative statement about destroying the planet. If I wasn’t familiar with you and your blog, I would have stopped watching right there and missed your message (with was very good, BTW and well delivered).

    No company, especially the second largest chemical company in the world (after BASF) is going to have a spotless record. That wonderful Krups coffeemaker on your counter? Made by the same company that built the ovens at Auschwitz and Majdanek (Krupswerke). In my opinion (which you are free to disagree with) the positive effects of DuPont research far, far outweigh the negatives so there’s no need for preemptive apologies.

    > Also, DuPont did not pay for my education. I worked hard, full-time all the
    > way through college to pay for what education wasn’t covered by merit-based
    > grants. So, you shouldn’t start off a post by attacking a person who 1) was right
    > and 2) you obviously know little about.

    Touche about the “attack” phraseology, but I don’t agree with 1) as shown above, and as for 2) I know more about you than you do about me since I read your blog occasionally (but not with the consistency of Phil’s). Incidentally, we share a common problem with mothers. I was raised Catholic, and the only disappointment I’ve been to my mom is my leaving religion (not just Catholicism, but religion in general). About once a year she’ll start up a conversation about helping me get “my faith back.”

    – Jack

    PS – I own a Krups coffeemaker.

  37. 30. baryogenesis Says: “Jack #28, Thanks for the list. And I mean that.”

    You’re welcome. And I mean that, too!

    > I think Rebecca was honestly trying to explain her transition from her
    > earlier “hippie” influences to her current understanding of a “skeptical” view
    > of life. That being said, should we always accept everything DuPont does, or
    > should we as individuals question some things corporations produce?

    Question by all means. But I didn’t see anything in her statement that indicated skepticism. It was introduced almost like it was their company slogan: “DuPont, the company that makes chemicals that destroy the planet.” (Didn’t it used to be, “Better living through chemistry”?)

    I say this for clarification, but I don’t want it to go on any further since I don’t want RW to think I hate her or something. I actually respect what she’s doing, especially since she comes from a non-technical background.

    – Jack

  38. 31. eddie Says: “Let’s grow a sense of humor here, OK?”

    You obviously don’t know me very well. Of course, how could you based on my posts here, which tend to be either historical or technical.

    In person, I’m always the one making the occasional weird comment in a meeting that takes everyone a few seconds to realize is a joke. I had one reviewer describe “Spaceship Handbook” as the “funniest textbook I’ve ever read” because of the embedded jokes. Of course, I never thought of it as a textbook, but there you go.

    – Jack

  39. Joey Joe Joe


    You wrote a book? 😉

    (Actually, it looks interesting and right up my alley. I might have to order a copy.)

  40. Joey –

    Whoa, the meme is starting to spread.

    Yeah, sort of:

    and also:

    If Phil will allow me a brief commercial message:

    Just for you (and any other BA Blog Readers) I give 15% off of anything in my store (click on my name in any post). Just enter “BABR” in the discount code book at checkout.

    – Jack

  41. 33. beriukay Says: “I can never be certain with those European cars, but I also assume the distance between their center of masses is approximately 1 meter.”

    Actually, that’s a 2010 Prius. If you couldn’t tell from the flying buttress center console, he uses a graphic of the nose in the opening credits.

    – Jack

  42. Jeeves

    33. beriukay You might not need to guess their mass as long as you assume they’re spherical.

    Wait, maybe that’s worse…

  43. Jack Hagerty – here’s a suggestion, develop a sense of humor. Rebecca’s comment is part of what’s known as conversational humor. I don’t think her point was to announce a treatise on the evils of Dupont, it was to break the ice a bit.

  44. 45. PatricktheRogue Says: “Jack Hagerty – here’s a suggestion, develop a sense of humor.”

    PatricktheRogue – here’s a suggestion, read all the posts (specifically #40) before replying.

    – Jack

  45. Joey Joe Joe


    Thanks for the discount offer! Unfortunately, in my case (I’m in Australia), the shipping was much more affordable through Amazon. I appreciate the offer, though, and look forward to reading it :)

  46. I feel your pain, Joey. Australia is the most expensive shipping in the world, except for Japan. I have no idea why, plus anything over 2 Kg goes Priority as cheapest method. I have suggestions, though, on how they can reduce their shipping.

    We should take this off line after this post…e-mail me through the store site.

    – Jack


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