QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames.


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 269 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2021. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Series S recorded.
Series R, Episode 5 is repeated on Dave today at 9pm.

Series I, Episode 9 - Illness

Further details


- XL: The panel are asked to fill out the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, which is a questionnaire asking how likely you are to fall asleep in certain situations and thus if you have a healthy sleep cycle. They are asked a series of questions to which the panel rank a score of zero to three. A score of zero means: "No chance of dozing", one means: "Slight chance of dozing", two means: "Moderate chance of dozing" and three means: "High chance of dozing". The results are revealed just before General Ignorance (see below).

- You would swallow a pill made from a poisonous metalloid as it worked as a morning-after pill. During the medieval period, people swallowed pills made from antimony as a morning after pill and also used it as a suppository for constipation. As it was made of metal you could reuse the same pill again, so after you used it you would rummage through your "leavings", take the pill out and use it again. The same pill would also be past on from generation to generation as antimony is a rare metal. Andy claims that this pill is the first example of a repeat prescription. People also made antimony cups filled with wine that were left overnight, which would make people vomit instantly, so it was used as an emetic after a long night drinking.

- Tangent: There is a mnemonic for remembering laxatives which is that they are: "bulkers, lubricants, irritants, softeners and explosives". Ben claims that explosives work like cholera. It is a really strong enema.

- Tangent: In Ancient Egypt there was a doctor who specialised in giving enemas to the pharaoh known as the "neru phuyt", which means, "shepherd of the anus".

- Tangent: Humans are the only beings to insert liquids up anuses. John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of cornflakes, gave patients at his sanatorium yogurt enemas, administrated by the "Rear Admiral".

- Tangent: A man attempted to kill a Middle-Eastern prince by packing his own anus with explosives. The man planned to shake the prince by the hand and then trigger the explosion. However his anus managed to absorb the explosion so much that all that happened was that he jumped a bit in the air and then fell on his knees.

- Nobody Knows: Nobody knows how placebo sugar pills work, but they definitely do work, even when you tell the patient that it is a placebo. It is also shown that the more pills you take the better the condition gets and a fake injection is better than taking the pills. Andy gets the bonus.

- Tangent: Pacemakers start working before they are switched on. Knee surgery also tends to work even when nothing has been done to the actual knee - you have just been cut open and sown back up again.

- XL Tangent: Alan knew someone who was recommended to take arnica for a Caesarean scar, so she went to her obstetrician and asked if it would help. The obstetrician told her that with homoeopathic medicine there are no proper medical trials. However, arnica is one of the things that has been tested and it has been shown to have no effect at all.

- XL Tangent: Ben explains that the trials for homoeopathic medicine are crudely rigged, either because the trial has been done poorly or the results have been cherry-picked so the best results are displayed. Ben claims that the pharmaceutical industry is even worse than the quacks when it comes to this. There are no rules or laws to stop people from hiding trial data. Ben thinks any news report that mentions a study should include a link to it so that people can read about it themselves.

- The condition that astronauts suffer from which is measured on the Garn scale is seasickness. It is the most common illness that astronauts suffer from in space. 47% of all the medication used by shuttle astronauts is to combat it. The Garn scale is named after Senator Jake Garn, who was also an astronaut who suffered from it terribly in 1985. A score of one Garn means that you are completely incapacitated. Seasickness is caused by the disconnection of visual and balance information. It is recommended to avoid going below deck, read books, look at a compass, doing detailed work or stare at one point. Instead you should stay in the fresh air, drink plenty of water and avoid fatty and spicy foods, but Stephen complains and says that is what doctors always say.

- Intelligent falling is a parody of intelligent design. Some schools, especially in America, believe that they should teach intelligent design (the belief that the universe was created by a designer which may be God, and thus most people claim is just Creationism under a different name) along side the theory of evolution because no-one is certain about evolution. However, this is a misunderstanding of the scientific definition of a theory. The OED defines it as: "A statement of what are held to be general laws, principles or causes of something known or observed." Thus it is not a guess, but something that can be proven. Intelligent falling is a parody with people saying that Newton had a theory on gravity which was overturned by Einstein, so people can suggest their own theory.

- XL: The symptoms of drapetomania and dysesthesia aethiopica tend to involve wanting your freedom and running away from your master, as these are conditions invented by white American doctors in the 1850s as reasons why black slaves wanted to escape. Dr. Samuel Cartwright defined drapetomania as a mental disorder for slaves who wanted to run away and he claimed this was caused by giving slaves too much authority and freedom, the cure being to beat it out of them. Dysesthesia aethiopica was defined as an aversion to slave labour, with other symptoms being rascality and not taking care of property, the cure being to put the slave to some hard work in the sunshine.

- XL Tangent: In Russia and China they had political mania, which was a disorder which involved convincing the need for political change. In China the symptoms listed included carrying banners, shouting slogans, and expressing views on important domestic and international political matters. In the 1960s and 70s the Russians turned the psychology backwards with paranoia being defined as a yearning for truth and justice. The common quote is: "Truth and justice are commonly found in the personality of the paranoid delusional."

- XL Tangent: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is a book listing all kinds of mental disorders, some of which are rather trivial. People submit their idea for a disorder in the hope it will be included, sometimes because they can use it to sue their employer. Possible candidates for the fifth edition coming up in 2013 include sluggish cognitive tempo disorder (laziness), relational disorder (not getting on with people), negativistic personality disorder (whining) and intermittent explosive disorder (adult tantrums).

- The last British monarch to be deliberately killed was George V in 1936 at Sandringham. On the 15th January the king retired to his bedroom. On the 20th January he was comatose and clearly dying. The King's doctor, Lord Dawson, was of the opinion that the world at large would be better served by hearing about the death of the King in the morning papers rather than living a bit longer and it being reported in the "evening journals". So Dawson wrote a bulletin on the back of a menu card which he telephone to the BBC saying: "The life of the King is moving peacefully to its close." Dawson went up to the bedroom and according to his diary: "I therefore decided to determine the end and injected morphia, three-quarters of a grain, and shortly afterwards with cocaine, one grain, into the distended jugular vein. I did it myself because it was obvious that Sister B, the King's nurse, was disturbed by the procedure." The method used to kill the King was thus similar to a speedball which is what killed John Belushi. Lord Dawson later spoke against a euthanasia debate in the House of Lords as he was of the belief that it should be due to the decision of doctors and no-one else.

- You would call a man that eats literally anything a polyphagist, also known as pica. Suffers will eat anything, including metal and soil. It also occurs in animals such as horses were it is known as a depraved appetite. The most extreme example of pica is probably the late 18th century Frenchman Tarrate. He was abandoned by his family as a child because they could not afford the food that he ate. He then worked as a street performed eating stones and live animals. Then he joined the army where his appetite was tested by him eating a meal for 15 people in a single sitting. He tore apart and ate without chewing, live cats, snakes, lizards and puppies. His commanders thought that his appetite may be useful for spying, but Tarrate was caught on his first mission. He was put in a military hospital, where he would escape and scavenge for offal in gutters and rubbish heaps outside butcher's shops. Tarrate would also attempt to drink the blood of other patients and eat corpses in the hospital morgue. He was thrown out of the hospital on suspicion of eating a toddler. When he died his autopsy showed that his belly was so loose that you could wrap the folds of skin around his waist, as well as having an enlarged liver, an enlarged gall bladder, and his enormous stomach was covered in ulcers and oozing puss. He sweated constantly, he stank to such a degree that he could not be endured within a distance of 20 paces. At table his eyes became bloodshot and a visible vapour would rise from his body while he ate. Despite eating so much he never gained weight. (Forfeit: Michael Winner)

- Tangent: One popular method of weight loss was to swallow a pill containing a tapeworm egg.

- XL: The results of the Epworth Sleepiness Scale are handed in. The questions asked are how like you are to doze off during the following situations: "Sitting and reading", "Watching TV", "Sitting inactive in a public place, e.g. theatre or meeting", "Travelling as a passenger in a car for an hour", "Lying down to rest in the afternoon", "Sitting and talking to someone", "Sitting quietly after a lunch without alcohol" and "In a car while stopped in traffic". The average is 7-8, and Ben is closest to it with 6. A score of 6 or less means you are getting sufficient sleep. Jo scores zero. Andy scores 14 and Alan scores 19, having answered 3 to everything except "Sitting and talking to someone". Anything above 9 means that you should see a sleep specialist without delay.

General Ignorance

- You should not sleep with your dog because dogs carry illnesses, including bubonic plague. The illnesses you get from animals are often worse than the ones you get from people.

- If you are having a panic attack the best thing to do is capnometry-assisted respiratory training or CART, which encourages the sufferer to take shallow breathes rather than deep ones. Breathing into a paper bag or holding your breath are not recommended. You want to avoid blowing out too much carbon dioxide. (Forfeit: Breathe into a paper bag)

- XL: If you are feeling angry the best thing to do is to try and relax, perhaps bottle up your anger. You should not let it all out by punching something, because that makes you more aggressive. The hypothesis is that blowing off steam may reduce stress in the short term, but it later acts as a reward mechanism reinforcing aggressive behaviour. According to psychologists at the University of California Santa Barbara it is best to make decisions when angry.

- If you want to wash the bacteria off your hands the water would have to be at around 80 degrees centigrade. The temperature of the water is not what gets rid of bacteria, but the vigorousness of the washing. It is actually recommended to wear short sleeves shirts to help fight of infections even more.

- Each country in the world has their own idea of how many portions of fruit and veg you should eat every day. The reason it is five in Britain is because doctors are of the belief that you cannot persuade the public to eat more than that. In Japan they recommend eating nine portions of fruit and veg, in Denmark it is six, in France it is ten, in Canada it is between five and ten.

- The thing that burns when you set light to your farts is hydrogen. Only a third of people produce methane in their farts. On average you produce three pints of farts a day, releasing it between 10-15 times a day. The practice of setting fire to your farts is called "pyro-flatulence". A study at Arizona University in 2009 showed that fat people fart more. Most of what makes a fart does not smell. The smelly bit is made out of skatole, indole and hydrogen sulphide. (Forfeit: Methane)

- Tangent: During the Great Plague of London doctors recommended that patients should store their farts in jars, and if they felt unwell they should smell the fart to make themselves feel better.


- Andy Hamilton: 8 points
- Ben Goldacre: 5 points
- Alan Davies: -7 points
- Jo Brand: -24 points

Broadcast details

Friday 4th November 2011
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jo Brand Guest
Andy Hamilton Guest
Ben Goldacre Guest
Writing team
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Justin Pollard Question Writer
James Harkin Question Writer
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
David Morley (as Dave Morley) Executive Producer
Ruby Kuraishe Executive Producer


Euthanasing George V

The panel are asked who was the last British monarch to be deliberately killed.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Jo Brand, Andy Hamilton, Ben Goldacre.


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