Saturday, July 25, 2009

Skeptics Guide to the Universe 209

SGU 209

Interview of the Titans

Boy, oh boy was I fired up when I read the show notes that Dr. Novella and Rogues were interviewing D.J. Grothe of "Point of Inquiry." Two skeptical podcast giants on the same mic, was this history in the making? No. It was interesting.

However, it did get me thinking about the differences between the two shows.

First things first, D.J. stand for Daniel James. It was a very easy, but excellent question to ask.

What I found fascinating upon reflection is just from what different sides SGU and POI. From previous shows it seems that SGU was the brain child of the late Perry DeAngelis and Dr. Novella as another outlet for The New England Skeptical Society, the regional skeptic guide that Dr. Novella, Perry and a few others organized in the middle 1990's. (I just have a "gee kids let's put on a show to save grandma's house type image in my head.) SGU is clearly a ground up affair with a fairly relaxed coffee house chat feel, and while the production values have increased markedly since the first year, clearly the fact that the theme music is Theorum used by permission from Kineto reveals the echoes of the shows humble origins compared to POI. (Yes. "She blinded me with Science" by Thomas Dolby was the original Theme Song.) In contrast Point of Inquiry was a part of the Center for Inquiry, which was a part of Paul Kurtz's humanist, skeptical empire. (I have images of serious people wearing all natural organic fiber clothing meeting in earnest over a cups of Chi Tea in the boardroom/meditation nook.) The Center for Inquiry clearly comes at it as a traditional radio show, with theme music from Emmy award winning composer Michael Whalen, not some unknown musician. POI always has an ad tucked into it for "Free Inquiry" for six controversial issues. True, SGU has tied to the JREF and other home grown organization, Skepchick, but the ties that bind them together do not seemly nearly as tight.

My gut feeling listening to the interview was that Mr. Grothe and CSI, are clearly trying to figure out how they fit into the modern skeptical landscape. The interview seemed to have echoes of the discussion the Rogues had on SGU 207, regarding the place of print media, and other traditional media, in the age of the blogger, Youtube, and podcasts. Grothe belongs to an organization that was designed around a print magazine, and ten actual centers around the country, as well as positive efforts to organize efforts on college campuses. They have to raise funds, run an actual business, pay salaries, strategic plan, etc. Mr. Grothe is a Vice-President. The internet comes along, and out pops The NESS, which spawns SGU. Also, Skepticality, the Amateur Scientists, Conspiracy Skeptic, The Skeptic Zone, Skeptoid, and I am sure others appear on the scene. Most of these programs get along fine with minimal to no real support from any outside partners. (Yes, Skepticality is backed by Skeptic magazine to mixed results of success, but that is a different entry.) CSI/POI is an outgrowth of old school organization, while SGU/Skepchick/NESS is from the newer nimble, less expensive devil may care internet crew. I think Grothe/Kurtz and crew despite a lot of good they see arriving with the new gang in the field, must be a bit antagonistic or at least jealous of the new comers for their success without all the baggage and overhead.

I did not expect Maury Povich style theatrics during the interview, but I was wondering if their was going to be disagreement discussed between the SGU's stance regarding religion that "we avoid religion unless it treads on science's turf" vs. POI's "religion is fair game, and indeed event a prime target of its efforts."

I do not think Point of Inquiry or CSI is on the ropes, or would I want them to go away. It does seem to me that while SGU is riding a wave of the new media, POI is clearly dancing disco in the modern age.

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