Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Amateur Scientist Podcast, The Skeptic Zone, The Amateur Scientist Podcast



Ya Got Bible


Capital B that rhymes with L
and that stands for libel, that stands for libel
We've surely got Bible

Yes, this week Brian Thompson of the Amateur Scientist, sans the Inside the Amateur Studio voiceover, interviewed John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats about his new album "The Life of the World to Come," in which each track is named for a bible verse.  Thompson makes no bones about being a fan boy of The Mountain Goats, and the interview generally came across that way.  Not in a terrible "Tiger Beat" or "Teen Beat" fashion, or Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney way either.  What was missing was figuring out what are Darnielle's actual faith or religious views.  On the other hand, Darnielle had clearly done his religious homework in writing this record, and he had given the enterprise some real thought. I enjoyed his discussion on his views on "The New Atheist." He did write an album named after bible verses, but clearly he is not going to be a guest on the Church Channel.  In a way, I thought the whole enterprise sounded pretentious and then I remembered that I enjoy XTC and Radiohead, so  . . . glass houses and all.

Not to sound like a broken record and despite the bit of fan boy feel of the interview, once again Thompson showed himself to be a rather insightful and prepared interviewer.  I sometimes wonder if Thompson could not land bigger fish to interview if The Amateur Scientist was not based on dick jokes and having a quote supporting the blog and podcast attributed to Pol Pot.  Sure, Rebecca Watson has been a friend, and I expect to continue to be a good friend of AmSci, but what about a Neil deGrasse Tyson or Astronaut Rusty Schweickart?  That whole bawdy humor reputation could prevent Thompson from booking a guest and likely from landing a darn good interview.   There is a well known cable television personality that Thompson once tweeted that he wanted to get on his show, and I hope he does, but I thought why would "person X" risk going on a cult podcast and being associated with a "social pervert" who graphically describes intimate physical acts and is pro-gay marriage.  I can easily see "X's" manager staying away with a fifty mile pole.   On the other hand, Thompson's podcast is quite humorous and I'd hate to lose that too.  There is no easy solution.


Where it is warm and skeptical and upside down

This week, The Skeptic Zone had an interview by Kylie Sturgess of "The Jack of Kent" U.K. legal blog.  The main topic of discussion was the Simon Singh legal battle against the British Chiropractic Association.  Singh is being sued by Her Majesty's Chiropractors for calling chiropractic treatments "bogus."  The British libel laws seem to be from the bizarro world of law compared to the United States.  I am not sure what libel laws are like in code countries but both the U.S. and Britain are common law nations (along with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some other nations).  However, in the United States, libel (or defamation) requires a showing of both falsity (statement is absolutely not true) and fault or malice.  Basically, the person bringing the lawsuit in the U.S. must show that the person making the statement either knew the statement was false or made the statement without caring if it was true or false.  In contrast, in the U.K., it is up to the author to prove what s/he has written is true.  As many people have noted, U.K. libel laws are basically putting the defendant in a "guilty until proven innocent" position.  It is much easier for the British chiropractors to sit back and say, prove you are right versus the United States where the chiropractors would have to disprove whatever Singh said and show that he was acting recklessly when he said it.  The chilling effect this must have on journalists, columnists, editors, etc. in the U.K. is something that I am sure glad we do not have to worry nearly as much about in the States.  Apparently, from what I can gather from Jack's interview is that a higher court has taken an interlocutory appeal from the lower court to decide what constitutes fair comment and what constitutes factual statement.  (An interlocutory appeal is an appeal of specific issue decided upon by a lower to a higher court for disposition of that discreet ruling before the case continues at the lower court level. Decisions of an interlocutory appeal are not in themselves dispositive of the case as a whole, but depending on the ruling can have an immense impact on the case.)  I am glad the Zone covered this issue, which if left as is would cause a stifling of free commentary and opinion not just in the U.K. but given the internet on the nations of the world, skeptics, everyone.   If we cannot comment freely, then half of the "policing" of the world of woo is done for.

Sturgess gave a nice list of skeptical books to give as gifts over the Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanza season and one of the them is Richard Wiseman's 59 Seconds which for some stupid reason will not be release in the States until December 29th.  (How long can it take to change all the "sceptics" to "skeptics" and "defence" to "defense" and remove the "u" from colour?)  However, 59 Seconds as a Martin Luther King Day gift would be quite thoughtful.

Dr. Rachael Dunlop covered the topic of Thermography as a screening tool that doctors won't tell you about for breast cancer.  I have only vaguely heard of thermography as a screening test.  On the surface, it makes some sense.  A tumor might give off enough of a heat signature to reveal itself, and it is a passive test, no x-rays or radiation are being passed through tissue to uncover a tumor as in mammography.  So far, as Dr. Dunlop explains, the conditions to take a properly controlled test are quite delicate, the test is not as sensitive to tumors of a small size, and often does not pick up tumors diagnosed by other means.  However, given all the turmoil caused by the recent guidelines put out by the U.S. preventative services task force, I could easily see women looking for an alternative being drawn in by thermography.  As it stands now thermography in the screening for breast cancer is not a viable option.

The show ended with Richard Saunders and Dr. Dunlop on their "fortnightly" appearance on a Sydney radioshow.  (I wish people in the U.S. used the term fortnight more often.  When you do, you get blank stares and your lunch money taken away from you.)  Saunders and Dunlop discussed the Bent Spoon award, the delusional rants of the anti-vaccination avocates, and took a question regarding a ghost story told by the radio host's father of seeing his late wife in the living room.  Saunders and Dunlop handled it beautifully without being condescending or dismissive.  I wish their bits were rebroadcast on satellite radio.  There is probably a way to hear them on the net, but I'm in my car a lot and it would make for interesting listening.

Oh, Dr. Dunlop listed all of the travels and activities of the Australian Skeptics at the Christmas Skeptical lunch, and all I have to say is they do put on the air miles.  Appearances by some of the Skeptic Zone crew were in Atlanta for DragonCon, New York for the NECSS conference, Las Vegas for the TAM, Boston for the Boston Skeptics, New Zealand, Britain, etc.  My god, they are impressive travelers.  Someone has to make an appearance in Philadelphia if not wonderful Hershey, Pennsylvania someday.  The chances of that are unfortunately much greater than Hermione and I getting ourselves to Sydney.  Maybe if I get big enough in the blogging world, I can host a chocolate-covered skepticism event someday at the Hershey Lodge, but more likely is skeptics in the backyard drinking beer, eating hot dogs, and chasing the dog skeptically.

I found this episode quite an enjoyable listen.  The episode had lots of separate bits, but they all flowed without seeming choppy or jarring.  (It also kept me occupied in the holiday traffic I endured while listening.)


Amateur Scientist, again.

As I was about to publish, I checked my Google Reader to find that Thompson had posted another show, so I listened to it.   The problem is that now I am exhausted for shoveling (for a third time today) out from under an early snow storm South Central Pennsylvania, and I just want to make some dinner and drink something fermented.  Also, a friend sent me a link to a 70 minute critique of Star Wars Episode I that looks pretty intriguing so I'll will keep this commentary short and hopefully sweet.  Thompson uses his biblical wiles to figure out the source of the swine flu.  We learn a lot, maybe too much, about Thompson's childhood and obvious abandonment issues.  There are some funny jokes about Twilight, the cultural phenomenon that just keeps on giving until it hurts, Thompson makes some interesting observation about the sexually under active in light of new information on the blue boobie (the bird), and lots of other stuff too.   None of it is family friendly.  It's funny.  It'll make you laugh.  You might shed a tear or two, but it is all worth a good listen.



1 comment:

  1. Hi! Actually, some of us were planning on being on the East Coast prior to Dragon*con in 2010? If possible, we could be in Philadelphia (I have been in the airport for about two hours, before heading to NYC) and could possibly arrange something. :) Do keep in touch with us via the 'zone' RSS comments or our emails! :)

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