Monday, January 4, 2010

The Skeptic Zone, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe

Sorry this post is a tad late, but it's the holidays, and a visit to Ikea, (insert other excuses here.)

It's summer . . . somewhere!

The Skeptic Zone featured some past recorded bits from over the years to fill in the Yuletime gap, but never fear, it was still an interesting show.  (They call it the summer series.  For me in North America where it was 11 degrees Fahrenheit, I only wish.)

The first segment was a panel discussion moderated by Kylie Sturgess recorded at Dragon Con regarding psychology skepticism in the classroom.   I will refrain from going into details on the discussion other than to say it was an interesting discussion with panelist discussion on how they deal with students and hot button "woo" issues, and teaching critical thinking in the classroom and on the campus.  What I did find interesting was what is the definition of skepticism and where does it apply.  One definition that struck a chord with me is the use of rational thought upon paranormal topics.  This is basically how I look at skepticism.  I could quibble and say paranormal and pseudo-science, but I think this works since if you consider skepticism to be rational thought applied to everything it becomes so broad a catch-all term to be meaningless.  I think many skeptics apply rational thought to politics and social questions and come out at far different ends.  Just from looking at the SGU forums and comments on skeptical sites, it appears to me that there is a disproportionate share of libertarians and progressive (liberals) participating.  These are two different world views for government intervention in our daily lives by people presumably using rational thought to reach their differing conclusions.  The use of rational thought within the skeptical movement needs bounds, and those bounds are things that are not supported by evidence, but not moral, ethical, or most policy decisions.

The last two segments of the show dealt with crystal power.  The first was a lecture by Dr. David Wheeler on what are crystals, and how actual energy does and does not react with crystals especially in the manner New Agers claim.  This was followed by a rousing debate between Prof. Ian Pimer and Magda Palmer.  As much as I was cheering on Prof. Pimer, and enjoyed him calling crystal powers gobbledegook, I am not sure how effective he was in the debate.  Clearly, Palmer was not used to be challenged and dodged Prof. Pimer's question, but Pimer, to me, was almost too strident and emotional to be effective.  It is not that Prof. Pimer was wrong, but his style probably would not endear himself to the audience.

Next week's show will be an all new show and not in the summer series with a possibility of the Think Tank! segment.  Let's see if they can round up everyone for one.

It's winter in the States.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe had a full panel including Mike Lacelle and frequent guest and mini-Rogue Phil Plait for the year and decade in review.  Way too much was covered for a brief overview, but I will hit a few highlights for me.

The listeners picked Phil Plait as skeptic of the year, which was the reason for his appearance on the show.  I thoroughly respect Plait, and indeed he is a top notch skeptic.  However, I still stand by Simon Singh for my money as someone who is standing up to suit libel monkeys and might actually have a positive change in a major nation's laws when just a retraction would save him a lot of time, money, and effort, which is just hard to top.

Another segment I found interesting was the discussion of winners and losers of the last decade.  All the Rogues agreed that the anti-vaccination movement went from a blip on the screen to full blown presence dropping vaccination rates in parts of the world enough to start up mini-epidemics, and alternative medicine has made strides getting deeper into the public awareness.  Ghosts and ghost hunters have had a major resurgence thanks to reality television shows focused on watching grown adults scaring themselves and looking like an asses.

Dr. Novella acted as if the 9/11 truther movement was going away.  I think it is less visible, but I fear it is going into the JFK realm of a stubborn percentage of society will just assume it was an inside job or a conspiracy to cover up the real events on September 11th.  I think the skeptical movement has done a great deal to contain it, but I fear it is here to stay.

The very interesting topic discussed was climate change advocates and disbelievers/deniers.  I think this area is a bit different than the rest in that at the start of the decade one could still strongly question the existence of manmade climate change and not be a crank.  However, the science has moved forward with enough support that to question it now would be a crank thing to do.  I do think general acknowledgment of manmade global warmingt is far greater now than it was in 2000, and overall the climate change skeptics are circling their wagons.  This is not to say those who question climate change will not influence the policy debate, but if success is measured by overall awareness and agreement, then I think the manmade climate change crowd is carrying the day.

A lot more was discussed on the show and it was all interesting.  I suppose the same as last year next week's show will deal with past predictions on 2009, and predications for the coming year and perhaps decade.  My wife was a bit upset the show's listener-ship numbers were not discussed as in previous years, although I suspect it is because they have plateaued.

All in all, both SGU and the Zone from this week were well worth the listen.  I cannot wait to hear them together in TAM Australia.

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