More Disturbing Discoveries In 2020 (extinct fish, angry whales, and cancer causing viruses)
We are back with more recent discoveries that hope to deliver on their promise of a bleak future. First, the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences in Wuhan, …
As much as the writers love telling you about
horrible things that happened in the past,
sometimes they like to explore more recent
New discoveries are made every day, and most
of them provide convincing evidence for the
hopeless nature of our existence.
But there is no point in being depressed about
Why is that you ask?
Well, if your existence is pointless then
your feelings are meaningless as well.
So enjoy yourself.
It just doesn’t matter.
But here’s the good news.
With that little nugget of existential dread
planted into your brain, all of our normally
depressing stories might now seem uplifting.
Let’s start with the cheerful story of the
first animal to go extinct in 2020.
The Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences in
Wuhan, China recently reported that the Chinese
paddlefish no longer exists.
It most likely went extinct sometime between
2005 and 2010.
Although it went extinct in the past, the
timing of this announcement makes the paddlefish
the first official extinction event documented
in the year 2020.
And when they say it’s gone, they mean it’s
really gone forever.
There are no members of the species in captivity.
And nobody kept any tissue samples either.
Every last cell that ever existed of this
species is most likely gone.
The paddlefish was one of the largest freshwater
fish, when it was still around.
Larger specimens could reach lengths of 23
They were regularly caught in the Yangtze
river until the late 1970s.
The reason the species went into decline is
because a dam was built on the river.
It split the paddlefish population in two,
preventing one half from returning to their
The fish was listed as endangered in 1989,
but nothing was done.
The last time anybody saw one alive was 2003.
The scientists placed nets over various rivers
throughout China and documented the species
that were caught.
That’s how they concluded the paddlefish
must be extinct.
Researchers hope this will provide motivation
to act before other species become extinct.
Several, such as the Chinese Alligator, are
endangered and could disappear soon.
We certainly hope China saves its endangered
Hopefully their conservation efforts are more
successful than their virus containment strategies.
Speaking of violence and political unrest,
what if someone was able to predict when these
events might happen?
Would it make a difference?
A mathematician in 2012 might have done just
And, spoiler alert, it didn’t make a difference
In 2012, mathematician Peter Turchin predicted
that the United States would see a lot of
violence in 2020.
He analyzed riots, lynching, terrorism, and
other forms of political violence from the
years 1780 to 2010.
Turchin found two patterns from the results
of his research.
The first was a longer pattern that played
out over a 200 to 300 year time frame, and
consisted of a long period of peace followed
by increasingly violent events.
The other was a cycle that appeared to happen
every 50 years where there was peace followed
He found this matched with the years 1870,
1920, and 1970 which were years where violence
Given this pattern, 2020 seemed to be when
the next peak should occur.
Peter Turchin has suggested that the 50 year
cycle is no coincidence.
The period of peace is usually about 20 to
30 years, which is about how long it takes
for the next generation to become adults.
The problems that plagued the previous generation
return, and the cycle begins anew.
Basically, the lessons the previous generation
learned through violence are completely ignored
by the next generation.
And it happens all over again.
Critics of Turchin’s analysis have claimed
that 230 years of US history isn’t enough
to draw conclusions about repeating patterns.
Also, one of the years that should fit Turchin’s
pattern is 1820.
But that year didn’t have any serious upheavals.
Turchin’s opinion is 2020 is going to get
worse before it gets better.
The Bad Things in History writers think Peter
Turchin is a lot like Nostradamus.
He can tell you what’s going to happen.
But not in enough detail that you can do anything
And it might not happen anyway.
If you want predictions to make a difference,
it helps to be more specific.
It also helps if you have watched our previous
episodes, because it’s time for a history
Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate
States Of America.
Which former United States President considered
Davis to be a great friend?
Was it Warren Harding?
Perhaps Abraham Lincoln?
What about Franklin Pierce?
The correct answer is Franklin Pierce.
Pierce left office a few years before the
Civil War began.
During the war, he frequently spoke against
When the Confederacy was defeated, and Jefferson
Davis was captured, they also found numerous
letters from Pierce.
It turned out the two were great friends.
If you want to learn more Presidential facts,
we suggest you watch our previous episode
The Top 5 Worst Presidents.
Have you had enough bad news yet?
I hope not, because there is more to come.
Surely you have heard enough about the ongoing
But what about the other virus that is spreading?
In 2014, a strange illness that resembled
It is called acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM
It spiked in the summer and fall of 2014,
2016, and 2018.
Health officials expect another outbreak in
The most likely cause, or so the CDC thinks,
is an enterovirus.
The viruses that cause polio also belong to
The specific strain causing recent illnesses
was first identified in California in 1962.
Children are most often infected and the symptoms
are mild to severe respiratory illness.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said recent
social distancing measures that are in place
might stop the spread of this disease.
Then he confessed that really he doesn’t
So, basically, now you have one more thing
to worry about.
You know what’s worse than a deadly virus?
And guess what can cause cancer?
That’s right, viruses!
In a previous Disturbing Discoveries episode
we discussed how samples of the Epstein-Barr
virus, which causes “mono”, were found
in ancient chewing gum.
Well, it turns out the fun doesn’t stop
The Epstein-Barr virus is actually a type
of herpes virus.
It can apparently latch onto genetic material
in infected cells, and turn on genes that
The good news is that only 1.5% of people
infected with the virus will develop cancer.
Those unlucky few can develop cancer of the
nose or throat, lymphoma, and stomach cancer.
Just in case you are curious, here are a few
other things that can cause cancer:
Inhaling smoke from a grill
Is a cancer free life a life worth living?
Only you can decide.
Humanity is really good at killing animals.
They are disappearing so fast we’ll probably
all be living off kale in the near future.
But sometimes animals strike back.
We covered bear attacks in a previous episode,
and those are not really unexpected.
If you see a bear, then being eaten is a definite
But you rarely hear about whales attacking
In Western Australia, a group of snorkelers
went on a whale watching tour.
It was a guided tour where they entered the
water to observe Humpback Whales.
A mother and her calf were swimming by the
group, and apparently the mother whale became
The 50 foot long animal swam directly at the
snorkelers and was flipping her tail back
One unlucky woman was hit by the tail, which
broke her ribs and caused internal bleeding.
Another woman was hit by the smaller pectoral
fin, which tore her hamstring.
Nobody died, probably because the whale wasn’t
These chartered tours are part of a trial
program in Australia that’s been going on
for the past seven years.
Normally swimmers are not allowed within 330
feet of whales.
For some reason, tourists in the chartered
tour are exempt from this.
If people want to sacrifice themselves to
angry whales, who are we to complain?
As we fight numerous diseases making their
way around the world this year, there is no
shortage of bad ideas.
But, that doesn’t stop scientists from testing
whether bad ideas really are bad.
Ten years ago, researchers took sediment samples
from the ocean floor.
They first reached 20,000 feet down into the
Pacific Ocean, then drilled another 300 feet
The sample was from a region of the Pacific
Ocean that is known to have very few nutrients
and low oxygen.
Researchers wanted to find out how microbes
survived at all.
They found microbes in the sediment that were
deposited 101 million years ago.
Next, they wanted to know if the cells would
come back to life if given nutrients.
To try and make sure contamination wasn’t
an issue, the sediment was opened in a sterile
Nutrients were also given directly to the
microbes with a tiny tube to make sure nothing
else got in.
Imagine their surprise when 99% of the microbes
came back to life.
The amount of them in the sediment quadrupled
in just 68 days
We trust the scientists to not unleash a plague
from the distant past upon us.
How about you?
Whether it’s viruses, predictions of violence,
angry whales, or ancient death waiting to
be released, there is no shortage of new discoveries.
No matter how bad things are, scientists from
around the world stand ready to let us know
how much worse it can get.
What else will go wrong this year?
We certainly don’t know.
If we were good at predictions, we wouldn’t
keep making content about the past.
But whatever bad things do happen, we will
gladly tell you all about it.
After the fact of course.
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Thank you for watching Bad Things In History.