Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Skeptic Zone, The Amateur Scientist, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe

The Skeptic Zone threw me for a loop at the start of my morning commute.  As I turned my iPod's wheel to start the Zone, I heard Brian Dunning’s voice introducing Skeptoid and thought I messed up.  I rechecked and re-entered The Skeptic Zone and again I hear Dunning’s voice and his California voice and not the hip Aussie accent.  I looked down at my iPod and thought "great, my three month old iPod is on the fritz."  No.  The joke was on me, I fell into Saunder’s trap.  Only modestly amused in my half conscious state, I headed off to the office with 20°F on the thermometer warning me that icy road conditions may exist.  Bur-r-r.

This week’s episode was a solid effort, but it lacked that flair that only something akin to a visit to replica Noah’s Ark can bring.  A listener cannot expect such a treat on a weekly basis.  

The show opened with a brief interview with Dr. Paul Willis of the ABC television show Catalyst (that’s the Australian Broadcast Channel owned by the Queen and not the American Broadcast Channel owned by Mickey Mouse.)  Paul discussed the beginning of his broadcast career on radio, and when he interviewed the James Randi.  He was at a conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and received permission to travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to interview Randi.  I know of a scheme when I hear one.  If I had choice between hanging out in the land of the Enlightenment, delicious cheese steaks, and Eagles fans or spending time in the sun drenched beaches of Florida, the choice is an easy one.  Of interest, Willis’ skeptical radio show segments from the 1990’s are all archived on the web, which would be interesting to see what were the items of the day a decade ago.  My guess is not much has changed. 

Dr. Rachel Dunlop interviewed and toured Adam Hamlin, Ph.D.’s laboratory at the Queensland Brain Institute where he does research on various aspects of Alzeimer’s disease.  I found his discussion intriguing on the various precautions used with animals in his experiments.  I was in an animal lab once during law school on a class field trip.  It was depressing.  I love animals.  I adore my dog, cat, gold fish and trusty turtle to no end.  I realize animal analogs are necessary to move science, it is just good to know controls are in place to make this unfortunate necessity somewhat less barbaric for the poor beasts. 

I also do enjoy the more geeky real science segments on the Zone.  It is not terribly enthralling, but it is grounding to know exactly what actual science does on a day to day basis.  It’s not some hit or miss wild eyed scientist who is mad, mad I tell you.  Rather, it is sober, somewhat boring, methodical research that moves science and society forward.  I would love to get an inside tour of the Discovery Institute’s alleged laboratory, or Generation Rescue, or the Creation Museum.  Oh, wait.  You have to do science to have a laboratory worth touring.  Oops. 

This week was the third in a row with a Think Tank segment. Australians, Finns, and the Dutch can all agree that the biggest booby prize goes to the anti-vaccination crowd.  Skeptical groups from all three countries picked a local vaccine "watch" group to get that prize that you just should not want to win.  The 9/11 truthers, moon landing hoaxers, and homeopaths have got to step up to the plate to beat this world wide sweep.  Do the illuminati and creationist really want to allow the anti-vaccination groups to become the New York Yankees of woo?  Come on Discovery Institute and show some intelligently designed backbone and try some really wacky stuff in 2010.  

The other interesting topic touched upon by the Think Tank was comparing their predictions to the psychic's predictions, and low and behold the skeptical prediction won at a ration of about 66% to 11%.  It is quite clear that the predictor of the year award should go to Rebecca Watson who through using her allegedly non-skeptical powers predicted the death of pop legend and creepy guy, Michael Jackson.  

Sadly, this is the last Think Tank for sometime to do commitments and scheduling conflicts in the upcoming weeks.  This was a very solid episode, and as always, the Think Tank was quite interesting.  If I can ever get myself to Sydney, it would be a hoot to join in the pre-Think Tank chinese dinner.  

Legs?  It's all about the boobs.

Yes, that is the one thing I learned listening to this week's episode of the Amateur Scientist Podcast; science has shown that long, long legs are not the preferred anatomy on opposite sex by men.  Like porridge that most like not too hot and not too cold, men like legs that are not too short or not too tall that are just right for the young and the old.  Thompson shared his theory that it is not the buttocks, legs, or arms, no for most men it is all about the chest.  He might be onto something.  I think he needs a grant. (There ought to be a grant for what women find attractive in men.  My guess is the elbow.)

As is the new normal, Thompson did the show solo.  He is starting to do the show with more skits and less news stories than when Teague was on the show.  This week featured an audio short from Thompson's pornographic audio play, and a statement from Susan Joanna Langhorn Williams and episode of an incident of anti-white racism she sustained at the Taco Hut.  I thought both segments worked.  I fear the stereotypical white middle class harpie portrayed in the Taco Hut bit was a word for word transcript of a real life event.  I have heard conversations not too far from the skit parody in real life.  

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe came out a few hours late, but compared to most other podcasts, and this blog, it was a picture of timeliness.  This week Dr. Phil Plait, and unofficial junior Rogue, or senior guest, was on to discuss the spiral Norwegian lights, how Uranus flipped on its side, and possible evidence of microbial flatulence on Mars.  Plait was an interesting guest as always.  The television project Plait is working upon is not "The Skeptologist" television show spearheaded by Brian Dunning, but another project.  Plait and Dr. Novella both indicated that "The Skeptologist" is not dead, but that Dunning is still endeavoring to make the show a reality.  Although I assume that as time passes since the pilot was recorded that the chances of it being picked up are likely diminishing.  

Other topics touched upon was an apparent repeat of the Miracle of Fatima in Ireland.  This time Joe Coleman predict the appearance of the Virgin Mary at the Knock shrine in Co. Mayo, and when approximately 10,000 arrived and starting staring at the Sun what resulted was a predictable but abnormally high number of cases of sun damaged retinopathy in Ireland.   Without knocking on anyone's religion, how incredibly thick headed does one have to be to stare directly at the sun for any appreciable amount of time?  Their faith has blinded them, and no evidence that the BVM actually appeared unless you call vision loss a miracle.   

Dr. Novella reported on a bird species that historically migrated from what I think was Northwest Europe to Spain, and now has a branch of the species which migrates to Great Britain to feast upon Her Majesty's bird feeders.  At this point, there definitely is a growing genetic split between the English and Spanish centric birds, and all in only thirty or so generations.  While this is obvious evidence in support of speciation by means of natural selection, I cannot wait to read of the intelligent design/creationist groups spinning this to be a distinction without a difference or just micro evolution.  However, given that the time for even this "micro" evolution is about 50 years, it is a pretty amazing observation.        

Just a few remaining thoughts on the podcasts I've heard.  I've wondered what would happen if Dunlop and Thompson ever interviewed each other on one of their podcasts.  Would Dunlop laugh and tell Thompson that he is a skeptical comedic genius, or open a can of whoop-ass upon him from which he would never recover.  Would it not be wonderful if we heard a podcast from Australia in which the Dunlop, Saunder, etc., the SGU Rogues, and Dunning all had a super-cast?  Maybe they'll swing by Mysterious Universe's Ben Grundy's place and toilet paper it.  Who knows?  We may not know unless all the Rogues can afford the airfare to crash on Segav's and Sturgis' couch.   Therefore, dig deep into your pocket, pay pal account, or debit card and send a few bucks towards a good cause.  


  1. The Skeptic Zone podcast have had Geo from Geologic appear on our show, at the last Dragon*Con? There's quite a few videos I've shot that you can find on my YouTube account, showing the SZ mob hanging out with Brian (he took Rachael, Richard and I to a lovely dinner on the first night) and there's footage I took of SGU-guys chatting with me when I was working the Skeptic table selling merchandise. Just 'Google' for podblackcat and Dragon*Con 2009 on YouTube? There's about five videos I shot this year (and a few more from 2008).

    Psst - it's 'Sturgess' and 'Segev'. ;)


  2. Opps about the spelling errors. Those vowels get me everytime. sorry.

    -So Mr. Thompson is a winer and diner -- he's a smooth one from Louisiana. : )

    Thanks for the lead on the videos, and the spell check.


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