Journalist Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times talks about his book, Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country.
Journalist Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times talks about his book Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country.
Steve Mirsky: Welcome to Scientific American's Science Talk, posted on June 19, 2017. I'm Steve Mirsky. On this episode:
Craig Pittman: The famous one of course is the python, which has taken over the southern point of the Everglades, to the point where scientists have found that there's virtually no more small mammals out there. No more foxes, no more rabbits – all gone, all gobbled up by the python.
Mirsky: That's award-winning journalist Craig Pittman, a native Floridian who's a reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, where he's covered environmental issues since 1998. His latest book, his fourth, is Oh, Florida!, with an exclamation point, How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, from St. Martin's Press. And there's some weird science included. I spoke to Craig by phone. Scientific American and St. Martin's Press are both part of Macmillan.
Craig, we have a very modern relationship. This is the first time we've ever spoken, but we have been exchanging messages through the direct message function of Twitter for years now, and it's a pleasure to finally talk to you.
Pittman: Yes, indeed.
Mirsky: So you've written this book. I spend a fair amount of time in Florida. My parents moved there, to Boca Raton, which you talk about a fair amount in the book. They moved there in the –
Pittman: It's a fun word to say, too, Boca Raton.
Mirsky: Boca Raton, it trips off the tongue. They moved there in the late '80s, and I spent a lot of time. I really fell in love with the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, and I go down to the Everglades, and Shark Valley in the Everglades a lot, and have spent time at the preserves on the west coast. What I don't care for is [Laughter] what most people go to Florida for – the sprawl, the traffic, all the other people. And you've got a lot of that in the book, but the book is wide-ranging.
But there's a lot of science in the book, because a lot of science happens in Florida. For example – and I've been doing most of the talking so far; I'm gonna try to stop that.
Mirsky: For example, I used to go into the Everglades with rangers on what they called slough slogs, where you would walk from the hammocks, which are the little islands in the Everglades – from hammock to hammock. But in between you might be doing a couple of hundred yards waist-deep in the Everglades water. And there was a little concern about alligators, but alligators are pretty shy about people, and they go away. I won't do that anymore.
Mirsky: I ain't doing no more slough slogs with these 15-feet-long Burmese pythons that are now in the Everglades. So let's talk about the invasive species in Florida that you discuss in the book. There are lots of 'em, and they're very charismatic, but they're freaking me out, man.
Pittman: Well, that's the proper attitude to have, I think. Yeah, Florida has more invasive species than any other state, so that's something we can be proud of and put on our state flag and so forth. And, I mean, I think it's to the point where we might have like a little Statue of Liberty thing, "Bring me your icky, or your sticky and your slimy." Because that's what we're getting. The famous one of course is the python, which has taken over the southern part of the Everglades, to the point where scientists have found that there's virtually no more small mammals out there.
No more foxes, no more rabbits – all gone, all gobbled up by the python. But there are lots of others out there, too. Argentine tegus – I talked to a guy who actually said one had stalked him in his driveway when he went out to take his garbage out one morning.
Mirsky: Well, talk about – explain what a tegu is.
Pittman: It's a very vicious big lizard, and people like to get 'em when they're small, 'cause they think they're cute and make cute pets, and then they get big and mean, and people go, "Huh. Maybe I should just turn this loose in the back yard and say goodbye to it." So it runs free and goes out and starts gobbling up native tortoise eggs, and laying waste to the native species here. So the people who I know who watch invasive species say that's the next big one that Florida needs to worry about, the Argentine tegus.
We have iguanas that have shown up on both sides of the state, and their only enemy appears to be the cold, so that when we have a cold snap they tend to kinda freeze up and fall out of the trees. So that's something else you need to watch out for as you're walking around in Florida is if it's a cold day, you might get hit on the head with an iguana.
Mirsky: I was driving once from Boca to the Ft. Lauderdale airport. So I'm getting off of the turnpike onto 595, for your Florida fans, and there's an iguana running around on the on-ramp. I mean, they're every – I was – And the really impressive thing I saw was on the corner of Palmetto and 441 in West Boca, there were at least a half dozen iguana just wandering around in this really small patch of dirt and grass.
Pittman: Sure. They're everywhere. In fact, Sanibel, an island over on the Gulf coast, they actually passed an iguana tax, so that the people on Sanibel were paying a tax in order to hire a trapper to come out and capture and kill their iguanas. They had reached that level of annoyance with them there.
Mirsky: And these are five, six feet long.
Pittman: Oh, yeah. They're big. The ones I saw – I went to Sanibel in the mid '80s, writing a story about it, and they were running around on their hind legs like little Godzillas.
Pittman: It was quite a sight. It was crazy, just running across the road. And turning up everywhere. One guy told me he had that had burrowed in – He had a stillhouse, it had burrowed into the insulation under the house, so that at night when he was trying to go to sleep, he could hear it under there, crunching-crunching-crunching, keeping him awake.
Mirsky: Oh – Charming.
Pittman: One lady I talked to had one that turned up in her toilet, which of course freaked her out, 'cause she was trying to sit down at the time. So –
Mirsky: Yes, the animals in the toilet stories are always a little shocking.
Pittman: Oh, yes. Oh, yeah. Those are popular. And just recently we actually had a story where a plumber got called because an iguana was clogging the toilet, and he [laughter] had to pull it out and get it out there.
Mirsky: And these all happened – They're brought in by people as pets, and then they just let 'em loose.
Pittman: A lot of 'em, yeah. A lot of 'em. The pythons, they think that's certainly the way that it happened, is there was an Adam python and an Eve python that got [laughter] turned loose by their owners and began procreating wildly out in the Eden-like wilderness of the Everglades.
Mirsky: And what's the – ?
Pittman: It didn't help that when Hurricane Andrew it freed quite a few from pet stores, too.
Mirsky: Uh-huh. And Andrew was what, '92?
Mirsky: Right. So they've had decades now just to have their way. And what's – do you have any idea what the current estimate of the python population in Florida is?
Pittman: One estimate is 5,000 to 10,000, but nobody knows, 'cause they're ambush hunters. They lay in wait for their prey, and they're perfectly still. And even when they have tracking devices on the pythons that they have captured and turned back looks again, and they're standing right on top of 'em, they can't see 'em. So they're very, very stealthy. And also, I don't know if you saw this, but they're turning up in the Keys now. They've actually –
They had found them swimming over there, but now they're actually procreating in the Keys as well, which is very nerve-racking for the folks there.
Mirsky: That's right, everybody, they can swim.
Pittman: Yep. [Chuckling] Yes, they can.
Mirsky: And there have been these organized hunts to try to get rid of a lot of the pythons, but they just take a small fraction.
Pittman: Yeah, and it's – I think, as with many things in Florida, there was some false advertising involved there, in that that was never a serious attempt to get rid of a big chunk of the pythons, 'cause you just can't. A lot of the folks who turned up for those hunts were reality show wannabes who wound up dazed and sunburned and dehydrated out in the wilderness. But for the scientists, it was a tremendous boon, 'cause all at once they get 60, 70 pythons turned in from different points.
And they can say, "Okay, here's the GIS point where that one was captured. Here are the stomach contents." And for them it's a tremendous source of new information about where the pythons are, what they're eating, what they're doing, that kinda thing.
Mirsky: So there's a small silver lining in this dark cloud of pythons.
Pittman: Yes [chuckling].
Mirsky: But then again, if – We didn't want them there in the first place –
Mirsky: – so it's hard to say that there's any good that's coming out of it. But hopefully they'll get a handle on it. But I –
Pittman: I think it makes – I think the other thing, though, is it makes people appreciate the alligators more, 'cause the gators are fighting back. [Laughter] We've had several instances where people snap pictures of alligators battling the pythons. And sometimes the pythons win. There's a picture in my book of three US Geological Survey employees holding up a python that has a six-foot alligator inside of it. And then sometimes the alligators win.
There was a picture just recently of an alligator swimming along, had a big python clenched in its mouth, sort of a toothy, triumphant smile on its face, so –
Mirsky: And then there was the famous photo from, what, about eight years ago, where the python –
Pittman: 2005, yeah.
Mirsky: – yeah, 2005, where the alligator worked his way out.
Pittman: Yeah, he had clawed – he had – While he was being swallowed by the python, he had clawed the python from the inside, so it exploded. So they both died, but that python won't be eating any more 'gators.
Mirsky: Right. "If I'm gonna go, you're going with me."
Pittman: That's right. "I'm taking you down with me."
Mirsky: Right. And so you have a section in the book on the invasive species, but later in the book, in your section on some of the odd religion things that go on there, you talk about another invasive –
Pittman: My favorite.
Mirsky: – the giant African land snail?
Pittman: Yes, that's actually my favorite invasive species in Florida, 'cause it's got such a great origin story. And the way that we're combating it is so bizarre and unusual, too. The origin story being these things were brought in by a religious cult that believed that drinking their mucus – drinking the mucus of these snails that are as big as your hand – could give you health. And of course, it has the [laughter] opposite effect. People came down with hepatitis and stuff like that, and they had to go to the hospital.
One of the people who was bringing 'em in, this lady, she actually put several of these giant snails up under her dress and got on board a plane in Nigeria, and flew to the United States. And I picture the guy sitting in the seat next to her looking over, going, "Ma'am, did you know your dress is very slowly undulating back and forth?" [Laughter] And so these things are just a holy terror. They're all over Miami-Dade County, they're spreading up into Broward County, and they eat 500 different kinds of fruits and vegetables, some of 'em commercially very valuable.
They're hermaphrodites, so they just breed wildly. They produce lots more snails all the time. And they will actually eat the stucco off the side of your house, if necessary. And so the Florida Department of Agriculture, in trying to combat this horrible, slow-moving menace, has acquired some dogs that it has trained to sniff out snail mucus, so they can track them down and kill them. And so I think Florida should capitalize on that, and make that one of our state advertising slogans. "Come to Florida, the only state that has snail-sniffing dogs."
Mirsky: Exactly. And these snails are bigger than your hand, bigger than a fist.
Pittman: Yes, they're gigantic. I went to a lab down in Miami, on the Deering Estate, where the state folks – they are maintaining some of them alive for the purposes of training the dogs and giving the dogs a sense of the rather overwhelming smell of these things. And so I got to see one held. The scientist who held it up for me, it was as big as her hand. Little eye stalks popping up in back. And so it was pretty gross.
But they keep 'em under lock and key, because she said, "I know any getaway would be a very, very slow getaway, but these things are so dangerous, our rules say we have to keep 'em locked up."
Mirsky: And an invasive that we didn't talk about – We mentioned that the pythons can swim. The monkeys can swim, too.
Pittman: Yes. In about 1930, there was a guy who ran a jungle cruise through the Silver Spring area in central Florida, and he thought he would spice up his jungle cruise by bringing in some Rhesus macaques and turning 'em loose on an island there in the river, in the Silver River. And he was very surprised to discover that the monkeys could swim. So they didn't stay put, they started spreading, and outlasted the jungle cruise, 'cause they are still out there. There's about a hundred of 'em now in the colony.
Several scientists have gone in and studied their society and how they communicate with each other, and how they get along and so forth, which is kind of interesting. The state parks people would love to get rid of 'em. I don't wanna go into a lot of details, but let me just mention the magical phrase "Rhesus feces," which is probably the worst candy flavor ever. And – But the tourists love them. The tourists absolutely adore seeing these monkeys cavorting through the trees, and they love to take pictures of 'em, and they just think it's wonderful.
So the state has left 'em there. And one of them actually was, I think, shunned by the main group and had to leave for some unknown reason, and came over to our area, the Tampa Bay area, and became known as the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay, and roamed around for about three years before anybody was able to catch it. And it became such a celebrity that prior to the 2012 Republican national convention, the New York Times sent someone here and actually did a profile of the monkey.
Mirsky: [Laughter] What did that have to do with the convention?
Pittman: I have no idea.
It was just a great story. [Laughter]
Mirsky: Yeah, I mean, we were getting updates in the media about the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay regularly for a couple of years there.
Pittman: We were all pretty sad when it was captured, as journalists, because it was just a great – it was a great subject to write about. And it was showing up in people's back yards and exhibiting signs of actually being kind of lonely. And there was one great picture, and the guy who took it let me use it in the book, of the monkey staring at this back yard art instillation. It has a mirror on it, so it's like he's looking at himself in the mirror going, "What are you doing with your life, man?"
Mirsky: Let's –
Pittman: But he's now in captivity, he has mated, and so to that extent, his life has improved. But ours, of course, is a little poorer for not having that element of the unexpected popping up. But, I mean, we still have other people who own exotic wildlife that get out from time to time. I've mentioned in the book about the guy whose llama escaped up in Tallahassee, and the Leon County sheriff's office used their Tasers to subdue it, because, y'know, what else do you use [laughter] as a police officer on a llama?
Mirsky: A lasso? Yeah.
Pittman: Yeah. And –
Mirsky: And what was the story about the guy with the – "Hey, do I need a permit for these?"
Pittman: Yeah. I was hanging out at the Fish and Wildlife Service office at the Miami airport, and a guy comes up to the window. He has his blond hair tied up in a red do-rag, and he's trying to be cool. He tells the officer on duty, "Hey, I just bought a tiger off a guy, and he didn't have any papers on it. Is that gonna be a problem?" [Laughter] And she said, "Well, sir, first let's talk about where tigers live. It's not Florida." [Laughter]
Mirsky: Wow. And –
Pittman: And the conversation kinda went downhill from there. [Laughter]
Mirsky: _____ _____. So humans, to some extent, are also an invasive species. The population of Florida has just erupted. I don't know what's the word – blossomed, exploded over –
Pittman: I think all those are accurate. [Laughter]
Mirsky: And of course a famous segment of the Florida population is the senior citizens. And you had a stat in the book I had never seen before. And I've driven in Florida, so this – The numbers are astounding, but not surprising, let me put it that way. Of people who are between 91 and 100, there are 65,000 with driver's licenses in Florida, and there are 455 – these are 2012 stats – 455 licensed drivers 100 years old or older.
Pittman: Right. And they're all in front of you right now with their turn signal on, by the way. [Laughter]
Mirsky: That's right. They're doing 35 in the left lane, and they're signaling for a left. And –
Pittman: Yeah. And then they're gonna turn right. [Laughter] In about three miles.
Mirsky: Y'know, the roads aren't the most dangerous place. As I'm sure you know the most dangerous place is the Publix parking lot.
Pittman: [Laughter] Oh, yeah. And not just 'cause the manager's having a fight with his wife and his girlfriend in front of the deli counter. [Laughter]
Mirsky: Right. That's the big supermarket chain in Florida, for people who don't know.
Pittman: Well, and you probably saw that in 2012, so many people rammed into post offices in Florida that the postal service started running public service ads playing, "Please stop. We don't need a drive-thru. Please stop hitting our postal facilities." [Laughter]
Mirsky: And that's because they're hitting the accelerator when they mean to be hitting the brake.
Pittman: Yes, yes, yes. A condition I have heard referred to as "sudden elderly acceleration syndrome." Something that I'm sure will afflict all of us someday, so –
Mirsky: Nice. And Florida was the testing ground for DDT.
Pittman: Yes. The scientists believed that the tropical atmosphere here was perfect for testing that out, so they were spraying it willy-nilly everywhere they could. And the good news of course was that it killed lots of mosquitos and other bugs. And the bad news was it was also killing ducks and everything else. So way before Rachel Carson was writing about it, we were seeing firsthand what DDT could do.
Mirsky: And the modern air conditioning that we all take for granted, and which makes Florida survivable, owes its origin to a Dr. John Gorrie, who –
Pittman: Yes. Dr. John Gorrie, a visionary who we treated as a crackpot, of course. He was trying to cool down his patients, so he came up with a way to convey air over some ice and create a sort of a refrigerated breeze for them. Of course, it was the Carrier folks who eventually were able to commercialize it and make it a success. But so he died penniless, but now he's one of our two statues that Florida has in Statuary Hall in Washington, DC –
the other being a Confederate general who we're now eagerly trying to replace with somebody else. [Laughter]
Mirsky: And what's also interesting is back in the middle of the 19th century, when he patented his creation, his invention, yellow fever and malaria was still common in the south.
Pittman: Yes, and a lot of people thought you could treat yellow fever epidemics by shooting off cannons. I'm not sure I understand how the – what the connection is, but that was what they would do. There were a lot of people fell ill of yellow fever; they would just start shooting off cannons in Tampa. That was the Rx. [Laughter]
Mirsky: It would scare the –
Pittman: Scare the miasma, or something like that. [Laughter]
Mirsky: Right, exactly. And I'm afraid you're not number one in plastic surgery. You're only number three of all the 50 states.
Pittman: I know. We tried so hard. I'm so disappointed. [Laughter]
Mirsky: But I think that you're going to surpass the leaders, which are the District of Columbia and Maryland, and roar into the number one spot any day.
Pittman: Yeah, probably so, especially if they include using Fix-a-Flat on people's buttocks. I think if they add that in, we might surpass them now.
Mirsky: Which is – You're not kidding around. People are doing that.
Pittman: Yeah, oh, yeah. Yeah, that's a major problem here. They _____ –
Mirsky: Unlicensed – yeah.
Pittman: – quite a few people – Yes. Unlicensed buttock enhancement is a major industry here, and a major source of news and court proceedings here, my favorite one being the person who was doing lots of those illegal injections and had actually treated himself to the point where he had a rather enormous posterior. And during one of his hearings, he actually told the judge that he was tired of everything, and he said, "I just wanna put it all behind me."
Mirsky: That's just terrible.
Pittman: Yes, it is. [Chuckling]
Mirsky: Now, sinkholes are really popular in Florida.
Pittman: I wouldn't say popular, but they're common. [Laughter]
Pittman: They happen a lot. It's part of the whole deal where Florida's trying to kill us. We're the sinkhole capital of America, we get hit by more hurricanes than any other place, we have more lightning strikes here in Florida than anywhere else in the United States. And we have a clown college down in Sarasota, too. And yet we tell people this is paradise and they should move down there, and they do.
Mirsky: Yes, they do. It's a rite of passage among New Yorkers to move to Florida, or at least spend the winter there.
Pittman: Yeah. [Laughter]
Mirsky: But what goes on with the sinkholes? Why are they especially common in Florida?
Pittman: Well, much of our geology is what they call karst, which is this sort of swiss cheese made out of limestone, with lots of caverns that can crumble easily because of the water that's in them, and flowing back and forth in them. We have cave divers who go down and shoot these marvelous videos and photos of what it looks like down there where we're getting our water from, our drinking water from. But when the karst starts to collapse, then a sinkhole opens up, and whatever was on top comes tumbling in.
It's a great example of conspicuous consumption, 'cause it'll swallow pools, urban sprawl, car dealerships. And it can cause major problems. We had a sinkhole last month where it swallowed about 215 million gallons of contaminated water from a phosphate processing plant, and in basically close to the same spot where the exact same thing happened in 1994, but nobody thought it was a good idea to close the plant, because, "Gee, what if the – That couldn't possibly happen twice in the same place, could it?" [Laughter] Well, it did.
Mirsky: The 1994 incident is in your book, right?
Pittman: Yes. Yes, it is.
Mirsky: Yeah, but the other one –
Pittman: Where wags were calling it the new Disney ride Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Mirsky: [Laughter] But the new one obviously is not in the book, 'cause the book came out –
Pittman: No. It just happened. It just happened.
Pittman: And then the company that owned the phosphate plant, Mosaic, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection knew this was going on, and didn't tell anybody about it for three weeks. And then, once it got out, then everybody was like, "Why didn't you tell us?" And the DEP said, "We weren't legally required to, as long as the contamination wasn't detected off site." [Laughter] So they were saying, "We went above and beyond what the law requires in even telling you anything about it."
Mirsky: Amazing. So –
Pittman: Mosaic has now apologized for that, and Governor of Florida Rick Scott, who is not exactly a Sierra Club member, came out and said, "Y'know what? That law is stupid, and we should change it."
Mirsky: So the contaminated water goes down into the sinkhole and then goes right into the aquifer, right?
Pittman: Yes, that's correct. Think of it as flavoring for our drinking water.
Mirsky: Lovely. So you mentioned the Sierra Club. One of the things I learned reading your book was the relationship between John Muir, who you always think of as being a westerner, and the Muir Woods out in California, and the national parks –
Pittman: _____ with Teddy Roosevelt, yep.
Mirsky: Right. But it turns out John Muir has this very intimate Florida connection.
Pittman: Right. He did this thousand-mile walk to the Gulf that he wrote about. And his goal, remember, was to get to Cedar Key, and then from there go to Cuba by boat. And so he's nearing the end of his American – the American leg of his journey, and for one thing finding the Florida woods are a little too tough for him to get through, because we've got these plants – these Spanish bayonets that poke at you, and sawgrass that will cut you up.
And, good Lord, he was really scared of the alligators, so he avoided them at all costs. But he gets to a certain point near Cedar Key and is felled by a mosquito. A mosquito bites him, and he swoons from a fever, and he is laid low for quite some time. And so while he is in Cedar Key recovering, he has this epiphany that maybe not everything in nature is intended to benefit man. Maybe there are things in nature that are actually hostile to man –
like alligators and mosquitos, and maybe those things exist for their own purposes. And that sort of begins to shape his thinking on the environment and on nature, and that sort of sets him on the course of creating the American environmental movement.
Mirsky: Yeah, that's pretty amazing. I just remembered – I think it was in the late '90s I accompanied a couple of researchers into the Everglades. No, it was actually up near Loxahatchee, which is the historic Everglades ecosystem, but not Everglades National Park. And I went with them at about 4:00 in the morning to set up their research, which they had to do at sunrise. They were putting in bird decoys to see if the birds flying overhead would stop where they already saw birds, or would keep going and had their own regular places where they would go visit for their morning meals.
So they had all these pink flamingos that they painted white. And once you get a few feet away, they look like egrets, so – especially in the low light of dawn. So it's 4:00 in the morning, and we're waist-deep in the water, and I'm wearing waders and netting, because the most dangerous animal out there is not the rattlesnake, is not the alligator. I didn't know about the pythons then. It is the encephalitis-ridden mosquitos.
Pittman: Yes. And of course now they're carrying Zika, too.
Mirsky: Right. Which is a really big deal. That's an ongoing news story for you in Florida is the Zika.
Pittman: Right. Right.
Mirsky: So mosquitos were the big concern. Now, let's talk about the weather a little bit. I worked in Miami one summer, and it's a cookie-cutter weather forecast: it's gonna be hot, humid, sunny, and at about 4:00 PM you're gonna have a tremendous thunderstorm.
Pittman: Right. [Chuckling] Like clockwork. And that's our afternoon light show, with all the lightning, too.
Mirsky: So why are there more – ? I think in the book you say it's the lightning capital of the western hemisphere. Only Rwanda, for some reason, has more lightning than Florida.
Pittman: Right. Aren't we lucky? I think we're pretty lucky in that regard. And I don't know if you saw the part where I mentioned that University of Florida researchers discovered that in the wake of some of our lightning strikes, they've actually detected rogue antimatter in the atmosphere.
Pittman: Which I think explains an awful lot about Florida, really [laughter], right there.
Mirsky: You think it's affecting people's thoughts.
Pittman: I think so. [Laughter]
Mirsky: So any idea why there's so much lightning?
Pittman: It's the – It's just our geography. We're this peninsula that sticks out between the Atlantic, with the Gulf Stream, and then the Gulf of Mexico. And the conflicting air masses that come in from both clash inevitably, over and over again, and we get the benefit of it.
Mirsky: And one of the other things because of the turbulence in the atmosphere – You talk about this one incident, but these things happen in various places. But this was the first time I ever heard of the golf ball rain.
Pittman: Ah, yes. In Punta Gorda, what was it? '69, I think?
Mirsky: Labor Day, 1969, yeah.
Pittman: Yes, where people in Punta Gorda were shocked to see that their regular afternoon thunderstorm was carrying something a little heavier than rain. It was carrying a whole bunch of Titleists also. [Laughter]
Mirsky: These were golf balls the size of hail?
Pittman: Yes, that's a good way to put it. Oh, I wish I'd thought of that line.
Pittman: Yeah, and the theory is that a water spout had somehow sucked up the contents of a golf course water hazard and then dropped 'em back down in the middle of downtown Punta Gorda.
Mirsky: [Laughter] That's just unbelievable. These things – You got fish falling out of the sky sometimes, or frogs. And this is typically how it happens. You get this incredible low pressure system or a water spout, and it just picks up a bunch of stuff and dumps it over there.
Mirsky: Yeah, that's pretty –
Pittman: That's sort of the principle behind Sharknado, too, I think.
Mirsky: Yes, I think so. I have yet to see any –
Pittman: A highly scientific show, by the way. [Laughter]
Mirsky: I have yet to see any of the Sharknado – I think there are four now.
Pittman: There are four now. So the third one is the best one, though, because that's the only one that takes place in Florida. Which is the only place it really should take place, since we are the shark bite capital of the world, so – [Laughter]
Mirsky: There you go. So there's a lot of science in the book, and there's also a lot of stuff that's just fascinating and doesn't have anything to do with science. So there's a couple of lines I just wanna read from the book. There've been so many land speculation rip-offs down there, but you have this great line where a farmer said that he had bought land by the acre and land by the foot, but this was the first time he'd ever bought land by the gallon, which was great.
Mirsky: And one of my favorite writers, Somerset Maugham, apparently called Florida "a sunny place for shady people."
Pittman: Well, technically he was not referring to Florida. I just stole that line.
Mirsky: Oh, okay.
Pittman: It's the – He was talking about, I think, the Riviera. But it just seemed far more appropriate for Florida.
Mirsky: That's it for this episode. Get your science news at our website, www.scientificamerican.com, where you can watch the nature video about how African wildcats, some 9,000 years ago, took the first steps to become the domesticated kitties on your couch today – if you can call them domesticated. And follow us on Twitter, where you'll get a tweet whenever a new item hits the website.
Our Twitter name is @sciam. For Scientific American's Science Talk, I'm Steve Mirsky. Thanks for clicking on us.
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