Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Skepticality, fight'n Lady Vikings, and a new Skeptic Blog

The latest Skepticality, of September 16, 2014, features a panel discussion from the latest DragonCon entitled “Denying Evolution and Climate Science.” The panel actually dealt with broader topics and included anti-vaccine ideas too. The panel consisted of Dr. Steven Novella, Barbara Drescher, Matt Lowry, and David DiSalvo.  As would be expected from such a panel, the discussion was smart and thoughtful on just what motivates and drives some people from coming to terms with the scientific consensus.  Interestingly, the people who disagree with the consensus of man-made climate change or that evolution by means of natural selection is how life evolves still put faith in ‘science.’  The problem is that those who disagree with consensus see themselves disagreeing with particular scientists and not the idea of science itself for the most part. 

Actually, this is extremely frustrating.  The idea of beating the drum that science is good to the public won’t increase literacy.  Somehow the public has to be educated on how science works, what is consensus, what is the process of science, etc.  That is a lot harder to do, so sure people "fucking love science" but so what.  I would rather have people appreciate science and know a few basic fundamentals and leave the amorous feeling for other worthy things like one’s partner or cat. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Exposing PseudoAstronomy Podcast: Dr. Elizabeth Loftus

The Exposing PseudoAstronomy podcast was silent for the month of August.  Dr. Stuart Robbins has a lot going on in his personal and professional life and there was no time to produce new episodes. However, September 1st starts with a new episode that features an all too brief interview with Dr. Elizabeth Loftus.  The topic of the discussion is the intersection of memory, eye witness testimony, and UFOs.

However, what Drs. Robbins and Loftus discuss is applicable outside of the Unidentified Flying Object realm and is applicable to court testimony, reports of spying of Bigfoot, ghosts, and basically anything where human recall is implicated.  For me, one of the most important and often over-relied upon memories relied upon by proponents of whatever the proposition is the trained observer.  Alleged trained (or expert) observers of police, pilots, hunters, etc all have the same flawed, crummy memories of everyone else.  Another topic touched upon was the errors interviewers make when interviewing someone, and in the process accidentally corrupting the witness's recall.

The only negative about the episode was that it was an extremely short interview.  Everything was merely touched upon from alien abduction memories to the expert observer discussion.  I am certain Loftus is an exceedingly busy person, but the interview felt more like an extended teaser trailer for the movie rather than the movie itself.  I hope she can return as a guest in the future to focus on alleged memories of alien abductions, and other more UFO centered (if not specific) topics.  Loftus did give a very interesting talk at T.A.M., which I would recommend if one has a hour to spend to watch the video.

Unfortunately, more episodes in the next few months will likely be sparse as Robbins explains at the end of the episode he still has quite a busy schedule and podcast production is not a priority.  So enjoy this episode, perhaps take the 52 minutes to watch the above video, and wait it out for the next episode.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Paranormal Podcast interviews Ian Punnett

Coast to Coast AM is a popular late night talk show known for discussing topics of the paranormal, occult, conspiracy and other woo.  The show was started by the legendary Art Bell, and continues today with the main host, George Nory.  As the reader may be aware, I am a fan of Mr. Bell’s Coast to Coast AM.  Mr. Bell could be quite credulous, but he could also bring out insightful and interesting discussion with guests who were discussing all manner of questionable nonsense.  Unfortunately, Mr. Bell has not hosted Coast in quite some time and a comeback of Mr. Bell on Satellite radio did not work out for whatever reasons.  Another former weekend and fill-in host of the show was Ian Punnett who also had the knack for discussing the same woo topics with the right mix of credulousness, skepticism, and ability to get out of the guest an interesting discussion like Bell. 

Well, Mr. Punnett was recently a guest on Paranormal Podcast, and host Jim Harold did a fine half hour or so interview of Mr. Punnett.  The last time I listened to Harold’s podcast was when Sharon Hill of Doubtful News and recently the JREF was a guest.  That was a good interview, and once again Harold did an admirable job interviewing Punnett. 

Punnett discusses his thoughts on both Bell and Nory, and he is supportive of each and tries to avoid being in the Bell camp or Nory camp.  (There is a bit of a feud between the two, or at least between Bell and his fans and how Coast is being operated with Nory at the helm.)  Punnett shares that the reason he left Coast was due to his suffering of tinnitus.  I can empathize as I have the same buzz-ringing with my hearing, but Punnett’s tinnitus sounds more severe than mine.  Punnett gives his background as a DJ in various music stations before landing at Coast, and his life as a Episcopalian Deacon and hospital chaplain.  He shares his views on the intersection of faith, the paranormal, and his personal world view.  While I disagree with how he mixes it together, Punnett is not overbearing or dogmatic in sharing his thoughts, and if anything is a bit laid back in his approach.  I appreciated this, and it is this approach which I miss when he hosted Coast on the weekends. 

As fan of classic Coast and of Coast when Punnett ran the show on the weekends, I found this interview enjoyable and entertaining.  It felt like catching up with an old friend over lunch. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recent thoughts on Mr. Brian Dunning

Brian Dunning of the popular and generally well-regarded Skeptoid podcast has incurred some serious legal problems.  Dunning is a convicted felon for wire fraud, and now faces 15 months in Federal Prison as well as probation for a period of three years as punishment.  While I do not completely understand all the ins and outs of his conviction, he has plead guilty to wire fraud.  He is a criminal.  It is fraud; other felonies or misdemeanors are also bad to be sure some worse some not as bad, but a fraud conviction against a skeptic is extra-biting as skeptics as a whole pride themselves in ‘fighting the fakers.’ 

On the one hand, I enjoy Skeptoid a great deal.  The show is not perfect. Dunning makes some errors in facts, which he commendably corrects for the most part, from time to time.  His politics that apparently lean libertarian generally do not pervade his episodes. His show is more apolitical than other apolitical podcasts that more clearly lean center-left to left.  His political leanings do express themselves from time to time.  Still, he is a prominent skeptic with a podcast that has six figure downloads per episode.  He’s not some skeptical roadie who ran afoul of the law, but the guy on stage with the guitar and the spotlight. How can this not at least superficially affect the greater skeptical community.

How this will affect the production of his podcast, I do not know.  Will this end up spelling the end, or the beginning of the end of the podcast, I don’t know.  Dunning's conviction has been known for months, and I have continued to listen to his show.  For reasons I cannot explain, his conviction with a more than mere token incarceration drives the underlying conviction home . . . again.  I do think skeptics ought to face up to Dunning's current situation, and try not to make excuses for him, or about him.  He is convicted of a crime and is being punished via the rule of law.  It is how the justice system is supposed to function.

I did not think it was right to gloat when the cultural opposition falters or ceases to be an issue as when Sylvia Browne died.  I do not think it proper, or rational to gloat when a skeptic has faltered either.  I do not know what I will do if Skeptoid continues production, or begins production again after this period of incarceration.  I am still not exactly sure how I feel about this whole sordid mess.  For me, it is not something to crow about or excuse.  In the end, skeptics fight fraud, and Dunning to some extent made that job more of a challenge.  That's a shame.  Dunning overall produced some decent, easily accessible, popular content, and it'd be a shame to lose that too.  Fuck. 

*edit* evening of 8/6/14 EST
Mr. Dunning has released a statement.