Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Skeptics Zone #56

The Skeptic Zone had an interesting list of segments this week.  The first was an interview by Kylie Sturgess with Rikki Burns and Thomas Perry, who are two photographers/graphic design artists.  What followed was an interesting discussion of the role of media and advertising in the promotion of the woo.  There also a nice discussion on how skeptics can increase their exposure and point of view to the world at large.  My take, for what it is worth, is that a major advantage the woo peddlers have over the skeptics for the most part is the profit motive.   Peddlers of woo can sell their services, be it iridologist reading a victim's iris, selling a snake oil to cure a disease, communicating with your pet to find out their thoughts,  or selling books on the coming disaster of 2012.  Skeptics are not selling CT Scans while noting that iridology is crap based medicine, or 401(k)s while noting that the world is highly likely to still exist on 2013.  Yes, we have our non-profits such as the JREF and Brian Dunning does his best to pitch his books.  For the most part it is a lot easier and overall motivating when selling crap and in certain cases buying tv time to pitch it, than the self-selecting web connected skeptical crowd.  I am not saying we cannot do better, but it is always going to be difficult to match the woo crew.

I also thought it great that they pointed out that Burns designed the Skeptics Guide Logo.*  I have three or four shirts and a refrigerator magnet with that very same logo.  A golf shirt with one would make a swell Christmas present as well as a license plate holder.  (I'm just saying.)

The next segment found Richard Saunders and Joanne Benhamu at the Sydney Mind, Body, Spirit conference, and from what I could gather it is a bi-yearly woo fest that sounds a lot like the computer shows I perused in the 1990s.  But instead of home built PCs there is a lot of magical thinking crap for sale.  I really enjoy this type of segment.  The crew went into greater detail of the event during the Think Tank.  The SGU did a similar field trip a year or so ago in New England, I wish they could dig up the time to do more of them.  It really hits home for house bound trolls like myself, just what type of nonsense people are willing to pay hard enough money to take home.  To me, the most dangerous one they discussed was the cancer cell cure concoction that the hucksters said killed cancer cells but were careful to point out did not necessary mean it cured cancer.  Australian cranks have to dodge the disinterested arm of Johnny Law like American cranks.

I found the magic pendent water unnerving.  People actually buy a Quantum pendent (yes not any old pendent but the quantum variety) with the idea that after placing this pendent under a container of water turns the water into a sun screen.  To me, this has got to be one of easiest things to test, but I really don't feeling like placing some Copper Tone on my wife's one arm, and magic pendent water on the other, and then stick her on a Cancun beach to prove that Hermione's pale skinned water covered arm is a blistering mess.   However, I am certain if this was at all true, $100,000 in Skeptic Zone money is theirs for the taking.  How sunburned does someone have to become until they think "gee, pendent water is just water."

I have to get myself to some local woo sale.  The closest thing I have come to is the guy selling the infrared sauna at the Farm Show (it stops cellulite you know).  There has to be one coming to Philadelphia or Baltimore at sometime.  I am sure I would find it sickeningly fascinating.  I do enjoy these in the field segments.

Dunlop then did a nice interview with a real live scientist who is working on a hookworm vaccine.  Call me a softy but when I heard that hookworm is still a bit of a problem with our canine allies, my stomach knotted up.  If Bernie ever becomes hook worm infected, I don't know what I'd do.  It was a nice change of pace to go from magical woo fantasyland to a real scientist working on a real problem with a real possible solution.

The show finished with a nice Think Tank discussion of Saunders, in from Miami and jet lagged Dunlop, Ian Bryce, and Benhamu.  Alisa Goldberg sent the Tank Crew money to buy the drinks for the discussion.  Apparently, the Skeptic Zone drink of choice is champagne.  I always imagine skeptics drinking beer or downing Johnny Walker red.  Anyway, it was a nice recap of the Mind, Body, Spirit excursion,  and just how emotionally disturbing the whole thing is to rational folks.  As in the United States how the authorities are laying down on the job in prosecuting violators of the minimal regulations such woo purveyors are supposed to follow but fail to do, and it is indeed maddening.  The crew discussed how the Iraqi military is using dowsing rods to locate IEDs.  This makes quantum pendent water sunscreen look like child's play.  All I could think of is soldier or marine being wounded or killed due to a false sense of security after the area had been swept by some Iraqi troops with a pair of sticks.  It is beyond contemptible.

I enjoyed this week's episode a great deal.  All the segments seemed a lot more tied together than last week's episode which seemed a bit disjointed.  Upon reflection the number of segments last week was not the issue, it was that two of the segments last week were a bit quirky.  The poem and the talk from the 1980's were independently a nice change of pace, but together a bit much to digest.  I recommend current episode to the reader, but parts of it are just maddening to comprehend to a rationalist.

*Ms. Burns contacted me to correct me that she designed a shirt as modeled by Rebecca Watson in this picture and not the SGU logo.  My apologies.  -edit-


  1. Hi - quick correction - Rikki B in fact designed the popular shirt, not the logo? Can you correct that? Her site is, as mentioned at the end of the interview. You can see her design on the site. :)

  2. I have made an edit. Thank you for the clarification.


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