Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe #227

The gang was all in on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. This week's episode did not feature any interviews, but focused mainly on news items.  The Large Hadron Collider finally began colliding atomic particles and so far the Earth/Universe has not been destroyed by a black hole.  My wife asked while Christmas shopping and listening to the show what would happen if the collider did indeed create a tiny black hole.  I explained that to the best of my knowledge if it did the black hole would be minute, and with a dramatic snap of my fingers, they would disappear.  She then spent the next ten minutes making jokes about my finger disappearing in the black hole where my finger snapped.  Yes.  The great state of Nevada says we are married.

There was a long and interesting discussion on the hot skeptical topic of the moment the Rom Houben story.  Houben was in a car crash 23 years ago, and lately it has been reported in the main stream media that he was not in a coma, but in a locked in state, and with the use of a helper (facilitative communicator) he could articulate in a great deal of obviously pent up thoughts, ideas, emotions.  Dr. Novella's knowledge as a Neurologist was quite handy in explaining that the physicians involved are dealing with some cutting edge medicine.  The line between a persistent vegetative state and a locked in state can be difficult to determine, and while some FMRI's indicate that Houben might have more brain function than was thought, there is as of yet a lack of supported clinical correlation to show he is conscious.  The sad thing is if Houben is in a locked in state as indicated by the passive tests, then the facilitative communicator is basically making stuff up, placing Houben in an even more tragic situation.  The video has the FC typing away at a rather dizzying rate.  What Dr. Novella pointed out is that Houben might be more aware than thought previously, his treating physicians might be correct that he is not in a coma, but that the FC may actually be hindering the true ability of Houben to communicate.  The FC might actually be hindering good medicine, which if so would be beyond terrible.

The Rogues then discussed climate-gate.  Dr. Novella started the discussion by indicating that the global warming "skeptics" are having an orgasm over the hacked email accounts of the climate research unit, of the University of East Anglia. Watson corrected Dr. Novella by stating that they were deniers and not skeptics.  I agree that many of those who disagree with the current climate concerns are having field day.  For example Mark Steyn who posts on the National Review Online has been having a field day as noted here, here, and here.  I hate to sound crude (Novella brought up orgasms) but Steyn as an example is having a spunk-fest over this issue.*

As I have noted elsewhere on this blog, my knee jerk reaction to climate change talk is to poo-poo it.  Yet, I am not a climatologist, and the majority of the field have a consensus that it is a real concern and happening to one degree or the other.  I accept it.  I also agree that a skeptical debate by a minority is healthy.  The problem with climate-gate is that this will give cover to the true deniers, and perhaps unearned status to real skeptics.  I have not read all of the emails by any stretch, but some of them at least in the context that I read are unfortunate in that they seemed more worried about outcomes than where the evidence is taking them.  Now, another party will have to recheck all the facts and figures to give confidence to work that has already been done, which will still not be remembered by those who have an agenda to see climate issues disappear.  Unfortunately, a bunch of hackers and some somewhat glib scientist have taken the debate down a political detour.

The Rogues discussed an email listener question about speaking in tongues.  I have only witnessed speaking in tongues once, and it was bizarre.  As I was raised in a family with Roman Catholic roots, normally if someone prayed in some language other than English it was Latin.  But the strange utterances  of tongue speaking was just plain silly.  How could people fall for this?  Yet, hundreds of thousands to millions of people see this as a normal part of worship.  The ability to speak in a language of former life struck me as odd, since having former lives is not really part of most christian let alone pentecostalist religions, and tongue speaking.  I just find the whole thing creepy.

All in all, I found it an enjoyable show.  (The Rogues also discussed Comfort and Cameron handing out copies of "On the Origin of Species," but I am sick of the story so I'll leave it.) It is always a nice change of pace to not have an interview so the Rogues can spend more quality time on each story.   I must admit, I may have been wrong with my doubts that Rebecca would continue to contribute faithfully to the show due to her new home in London and the time difference.

*I probably owe a royalty fee to Brian Thompson for this line.

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