Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Amateur Scientist Podcast, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, The Skeptic Zone, Irreligiosophy

Here, there, and everywhere

This week many skeptical podcasts came out within a two day period, and at the same time Christmas time chores have hit such as gift shopping, finding and cutting down a Christmas tree, and decorating.  Therefore, I am going to mention highlights from a number of podcasts in a single post.  If it is a bit scattershot, I apologize to the loyal reader.

First, I will start with the last podcast I heard, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.  I tossed on my iPod, and Bernie and I headed off for a walk during the first snowfall of the year in Hershey.  Unfortunately, instead of the show's discussion matching the lovely landscape, I get ticked.  Rebecca Watson reports that the Age of Autism folks have posted a photoshopped Thanksgiving Day dinner picture with many pro-science, pro-vaccine people eating a human baby including SGU's host Dr. Steven Novella.  While listening about this exceedingly childish and boorish behavior by some of the anti-vaccination people, my initial response in my mind was to blog that these idiots can fudge off. (Except not fudge, but another word that starts with 'f' and rhymes with duck.) Then Watson indicated that we in the pro-science sphere should not lower ourselves to their base level, so I won't write fudge off.  However, I do believe this shows that a movement that may have had some legitimate concerns a decade ago about the safety of vaccines are now well on their way to not just being incorrect on the reality of the medicine, but on the same bus of the illuminati, JFK conspiracy assassination, moon landing hoaxers, 9/11 truthers, etc.  The science has not supported a one time legitimate concern, so instead of saying "shew-w-w, glad our fears were unfounded", they continue to perpetuate them and in their echo chamber of the grim until dreck about many a good person is sullied in an abominable manner  --Shame on them.

In the Southern hemisphere on the Skeptic Zone, the annual "Bent Spoon Award" was bestowed upon Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination Network for her hard work in spreading inaccurate information on the safety of vaccines to the Australian public.  Interestingly, she quickly put out a press release damning the awarders as essentially purveyors of lies, who never change, and trying to stop those in the scientific pursuit of the truth.  If it was not such serious business, it would be a laugh.  What those who peddle in pseudo-science never grasp about modern science (dare I say "Western" medicine) is that medicine changes constantly.  The standard of care for an obstetrician delivering a baby today is different from ten years ago, and another age from thirty years ago.  Medicine is constantly changing as new methods, treatments, drugs are taken in and out of the appropriate standard of the day.  Pharmaceuticals are pulled (yes, actually made illegal) when found to have risky bad effects over desired effects such as Vioxx, an anti-inflammtory pain killer drug a few years ago.  The system to pull medication where the risks outweigh the benefits is not perfect but medications are pulled.  Medicine changes, but the pseudo-science, pseudo-medical people do not change.  Whatever the latest study notes that does go against their position they will wiggle the facts, or change the goal posts to keep their cause alive.  Shame on the Australian anti-vaccination groups too.

From anti-vaccination to the climate change debate: The Rogues on SGU spent a fair amount of time defending and reiterating what they discussed last week in regard to Climate-gate, and the hacked emails from the CPU of East Anglia, England.  Dr. Novella indicated that a great deal of email feedback was received by the Rogues castigating them for their harsh stance against those who question climate change.  Dr. Novella and Watson defended what was said last week noting that they did not indicate that everyone who questioned climate change/global warming is a denier, although some are deniers.  I listened back to that segment and I think it is a fair representation of last's week's discussion.

On The Amateur Scientist Podcast, Brian Thompson, had a humorous and illustrative piece by Christian Walters giving an explanation of how much weight should be given to the hacked emails.  Basically, the gist of it, done in funny voices, is that there is misunderstood terminology that climate change opponents are latching onto along the same vein of "since evolution is only a theory" it should not be given much deference.  It is also noted that the climate change information being questioned has apparently already been scrutinized by other learned institutions so that it is verified valid research.*

The one thing the climate change debate has me thinking about recently is what is a skeptic to do when an area in question is clearly highly technical, cutting edge, confusing, or all three?  What started me thinking on this issue is my discussion of Dr. Mueller's book on medicine and evolution in my post on November 30th. Mueller is discussing medical issues in depth, which I have only rudimentary knowledge.  Mueller's ideas seemed reasonable, yet they seemed too pat for me to be comfortable.  Then I read Dr. Harriet Hall's review of his book, and saw that I had reason for questioning the soundness of some of his suggestions.  Further, on Skeptic Zone during the Think Tank segment (yes, it was back this week, hurrah!), a presenter at Briskepticon 2009 present his work on the alleged evils of high fructose corn syrup, if I followed the discussion correctly. They lamented how none of the panel, and possibly nobody in the hall had the knowledge base to really question the author's ideas.  They felt at a loss, and thought the organizers erred in having this author give a talk without also having a known expert in the field to intelligently discuss the topic.

I feel the same way with the climate change debate.  It is highly technical.  There are an extremely large number of variables, lots of information to input which interact and which models are constructed to make predictions about future climate change.  I cannot even fathom how the mechanics of the climate functions, or what it all means.  I doubt Vice President Gore can, or Mark Steyn.  To me, whether it is a new question regarding high fructose syrup, climate change, or new idea on how medicine should think, the best thing a lay skeptic can do in a particular topic is to learn what is the scientific consensus and follow it.  If taken too far, it could be seen as an appeal to authority.  It is a balancing act.  Ultimately, when someone is questioning the efficacy of vaccines and I argue that the vaccine/autism connection is bunk, I base my stance not on the studies I have performed, or a deep and thorough review of the scientific literature, it is because I have learned that the medical consensus is that there is no connection.   As the consensus changes so too should the rationalist mind change and not be bogged down in what was the consensus of the past or what they wish it to be.

All in all the Amateur Scientist Podcast, The SGU, and the Skeptic Zone were all very worth the listen this week.  I would like to briefly mention that Brian Thompson was on his own again this week and it appears Bob Teague's departure may be something permanent.  Actually, while I would like to have Teague back, Thompson's solo work is quite good.  In some ways, it is a much cleaner, less rambling effort.  Thompson's bit pretending to be a homeopath in a phone call to some alternative medicine shop to sell his H1N1 homeopathic remedy was funny and effective.  I normally dislike these crank call gags, but this one worked.

Also, the Skeptic Zone also gave away the first Fred Thornett award for positive skeptical works, and the acceptance speech was quite moving.  As bit of a crossover the Skeptic Zone announced the dates for TAM Australia on November 26-28, 2010 in Sydney, Australia, and asked for listener to go the Skeptics's Guide to the Universe Website and donate to help defray the cost of the trip from England and New England to Australia.

Now for something completely different . . .

Irreligiosophy continued to review its fellow nominees in the Religion Inspirational category for the Podcast Awards, and this week they commented on Reasonable Doubts.    Reasonable Doubts is a podcast which is covered by this blog, and Chuck and Leighton were not very charitable toward their cousin skeptical religious podcasts.  They basically thought the Doubtcasters were boring, nerdy, and the commentary snarky.  Chuck and Leighton can be quite snarky as well, but interestingly after listening to Reasonable Doubts' snarkiness, Chuck and Leighton have decided to retired their ANN news commentary episodes for being just as snarky.  The one thing Chuck and Leighton pointed out, which upon reflection I agree, is that the Doubtcasters, who are all college professors, present their show as if it were a rambling college class lecture rather than a more focused podcast discussion.  In a way, Irreligiosophy and Reasonable Doubts are two sides of the same religious skeptical coin.  The difference is where Chuck and Leighton are irreverent, bawdy, and at times shockingly politically incorrect; Jeremy, Luke, and David can be stereotypically academically pretentious and at times painfully politically correct.  If Irreligiosoophy is the beer of the religious skeptical world, then Reasonable Doubts is the tofu.

*edit* - For a thorough discussion of the current science on the climate change debate Scientific American podcast had an excellent discussion without funny voices.


  1. My take on Irreligiosoophy's most recent podcast is they were just trying to make a point. The stuff they made fun of in the believer podcasts they didn't give the fellow traveler podcasts a pass. They gave them equal mocking time, including their own podcast.

    Leighton I suspect doesn't have much time or patience for any podcast, even his own.

    I hope people don't take them too seriously in their reviews of DFA, RD, etc. They were just trying to be equal opportunity haters.

  2. While I agree they were exaggerating to make a point, and they did spend a good amount of time at the end to make fun of their own show, I do think it is interesting that they are ending their ANN segments. On some level they must find silimar things on other shows annoying.
    I also enjoy the entire exercise as just making fun of the actual award. (It all seems a bit silly to me, but then again I am not nominated for any award.) I enjoy both Irreligiosophy and RD, but for completely different reasons. I like RD for the same reason I enjoy C-Span's booktv, and C & L for a lot of the same cutting humor as AmSCi.