Sunday, February 21, 2010

Conspiracy Skeptic, SGU, Quackcast, The Skeptic Zone, Point of Inquiry, and a Jackass

Losing my volcano 

This month's Conspiracy Skeptic podcast featured an interview of Ryan Davis by Karl Mamer.  Davis is a blogger, podcaster, political consultant, theatre director, and listener of numerous skeptical podcasts but not a self described skeptic.  Davis was picked out by the divine, mitten-covered hand of Mamer as a guest out of Mamer's masses of listeners.  The topic picked by Davis was the Satanic Panic of the 1980's and early 1990's.  When I read what the topic was on Mamer's site, I thought "hey, that's a pretty good topic."

Mamer and Davis describe the Satan Panic of the 80's...briefly in the 1980's, a lot of people including numerous religious fundamental types, the Phil Donahue clone talkshows, some in the general media, and paranoid teachers in central Pennsylvania all thought a percentage of the population worshipped satan to the extent of kidnapping and abusing young children in daycare centers, brainwashed teens into odd satan inspired sex acts, and sacrificing babies.  Yes, it reads as a vignette from the New England witchcraft trials of the 17th century or 14th century Germany.  No.  This is America in the 1980's.  I have a vague memory of our teachers, during our uncomfortable health class in middle school, saying not only "say no to drugs," but avoid the devil worshipers too.  I remember thinking at the time "what, really? devil worship?" then I was probably distracted by spying Tanya's bra strap or some such thing.

Mamer and Davis touched upon some of the starting points of the Satan Panic of the 1980's including the best selling book "Michelle Remembers, " which was the true tale of psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder having a patient of his work through her depression only to uncover her repressed history of being abused in satanic ritual abuse.  Also covered were the Kern County pedophile satanic sexual abuse of up to 60 children, many of the convictions were overturned in the 1990's.  Sadly, some of the convicted languished imprisoned until their death with their names never cleared.

The show also discussed how this hysteria could be perpetrated before the internet became popular, and how the press at first fanned the flames of panic and then turned against the flames in the earlier nineties as people finally started to stop and learned more about implanted memories, and the fantasy prone aspects of children.

I thought this was a very enjoyable and relatively short CS clocking under 60 minutes.  It was an interesting and sobering topic to cover, which due to the fact that some people still think satanic cults still exist could turn up again someday.

In sad news, Mars jilted Stuart Robbins of his possible discovery of a new volcano on Mars.  Robbins unfortunately learned that the volcano had been previously discovered but not placed on the Mars map or charts or whatever astronomer marks these type of things with on Mars.  Robbins lost his volcano, and I do feel for the guy.  It's sorta of like when Scott thought he was the first to the South Pole only to learn that Amundsen beat him by 35 days.  (Except that Scott died on the trip home and we hope Robbins live a long productive life.)

Computer death 

Richard Saunders started out the Skeptic Zone reporting that his computer died, and he had to revert back to his old Windows 2000 machine.  (That's like saying my Saturn died, I better break out my Edsel.)  I feel for him for this is my worst nightmare that my Mac would croak on me, or is it because then I could get an new 27" number with an iPad backup.  Anyway, because of this, it seems he had to mix the show on some outdated software, but really it sounded ok to me.

This week's episode featured a interview by Kylie Sturgess of Matthew Baxter of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society, but what he really is, is one of two types of people all male skeptics wish to be which is ultra-nerd smart of Drs. Novella or Dunlop, or ultra hip Baxter with skeptical cool that Rebecca Watson sometimes matches.

Baxter does it all - he investigates ghosts and haunts, has in the works two television shows, and battles probable crackpot Jeff Peckman.  Peckman has attempted to have the City of Denver, Colorado form a department or board or some government entity of extra-terrestrial affairs.  He is also the father of the famed alien peeking in the window video that he claims would cost millions to copy but Baxter showed could be done for $90.00.

Baxter's interview was followed by Dr. Stefan Sojka's fake ad Medicins san Medicine or "doctors without medicine" for a service that drops in the site of disasters such as war zones or Earthquakes and apply all manner of crap based medicine from homeopathy to reiki in the treatment of burns, wounds, and other serious physical injury.  I was in stitches the entire time.

Mad Man

Point of Inquiry this week featured an interview of Ian Rowland, author of Full Facts Book of Cold Reading.  The interview was done by Karen Stollznow, skepchick, columnist for Skeptical Inquirer Magazine, and co-host of Monster Talk among other notable accomplishments, and now POI host.  Rowland is considered the master of cold reading by none other than James Randi and Banacheck.  He has been on television shows with Prof. Richard Dawkins.  He has a mentalist act and gives talks on cold reading.

It is a very interesting discussion on not only what is cold reading, but what it is not and how skeptics get it wrong.  It is not about the number of hits vs misses in Rowland's opinion, but rather manipulating the conversation to make the conversation a success.  Rowland also discusses how cold reading can have a place outside of fortune telling and mentalist shows, and used to success in building a rapport in business relationships.

Rowland also indicates that most skeptics with a few exceptions such as Richard Wiseman are just not effective in getting their skeptical message out to the public.  You cannot convince someone rationally of a belief that is irrational to begin.  Rowland makes a fair point, but I do think people such as Dawkins or Hitchens have a place in preaching to the choir to motivate and educate, and also to plant seeds of doubt on those on the fence about some irrational based belief.

The one thing that was interesting with Rowland is that he does not consider himself in the skeptical movement and rather shies away from such a label.  He almost has a live and let live, or I do what I do, and the skeptics do what they do, and the proponents of the paranormal do what they do and so be it.  It strikes me as a Don Draper type attitude.  He has information, he has insight, but he just wants to keep some distance from everyone.  I wonder if Rowland was ever know as Dick Whitman  . . .

It was a highly interesting interview, and I recommend it to any reader.

American or not 

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe did not feature an interview, or guest Rogue, or even a brief pop-in by Dr. Phil Plait.  Instead, it was Thomas Paine debate time.  Was Paine, the American War of Independence revolutionary thinker, author, and arguable proto-skeptic an American or not when he authored Common Sense in 1776 after only being in the Colonies for a little over a year from the mother country.  As a history geek, I enjoyed the discussion.  On a certain level I was thinking it was 1776, the whole point of the war was to stop being subjects of the Crown and be our own nation.  In the end, the Rogues decided Paine was an "American," and was a darn good and influential thinker.

Bob covered yet another possible breakthrough for solar energy that may increase the efficient use of silicon.  I am all for energy breakthroughs and efforts, but even Dr. Novella seemed a bit burned out by another story by another lab being just so close to making solar energy a more viable energy solution.  While I do not put these stories in the same league as the ever so close, but yet so far away tales of cold fusion or even hot fusion, I don't get all that excited either.  I am not planning to stick solar cells on my roof anytime soon.

Dr. Novella revisited a story from last week about a company pitching turning the carbon dioxide from coal power plants into gasoline.  The long and the short of it is that to Novella it only makes sense if you are plumb out of fossil fuels and you still need gasoline or jet fuel to power certain modes of transportation.  The doctor goes into greater detail on the show and his blog about it, but that's the skinny.

The good doctor did explain knocking someone out cold in television and movies with a swift "judo chop."  Basically, you can get knocked unconscious with a swift blow.  However, if you are knocked out, you just won't rub your head and move on to save the world.  There are complications: memory loss, headaches, or worse.  The longer you are out, the more likely the brain injury is to be permanent.   This was my favorite part of this week's show.  This, and that there is apparently another Novella brother Joe who is rarely spoken about for shame of his non-skepticism? Just speculation.

The other interesting news story was on Rom Houben, the unfortunate Belgian who has been in a comatose state to one extent or the other for over a decade.  His physician, Steven Laurey, reported that with the help of a facilitative communicator he was actually able to communicate.  Dr. Novella reported that he was interviewed by National Public Radio, and that a recent test by Laurey set up by Belgian skeptics had strong evidence that the facilitative communicator was not really communicating for Houben.  It is unfortunate, but not a big surprise.  While it is good that Laurey reported this negative result, he is apparently still holding out hope that with other patients this type of communication is actually effective.  Jay was a bit more critical of Laurey than his brother, thinking that Laurey should now disregard all FC.  While I hope Laurey comes around in the near future, I think it is a bit much to ask a well meaning and obviously intelligent person to completely let go in an instant a process that he took as real and staked some of his reputation upon.

As always it was an entertaining episode, and it is always nice to hear the entire gang skeping it up.


Dr. Crislip has a new Quackcast out on the efficacy of Tamiflu in the face of recent news stories, and in particular the Atlantic, that tamiflu may not work, is a waste of money, and could be dangerous.  Listen to the show as Crislip eviscerates the Atlantic story with facts, logic, and biting humor with a lovely glass of wine or a full bodied beer.

Finally, Mike Adams, editor of the Natural News, has outdone his blind rage anti-vaccine self by posting a cartoon of a doctor with a vaccine gun that is looks like an assault rifle with which he is gunning down school children Columbine-style.  It is a disgrace, repugnant, and likely reveals gratuitous demons that lurk inside the man's mind.  There is an excellent blog post by The Skeptic Detective along with a copy of the cartoon.  It is all quite telling.


  1. Yay! Believe it or not, I had a very fallacy-filled complaint by someone because I linked to Baxter's website on Facebook? Apparently featuring a picture of an EMF detector on his website meant he was a bad skeptic or something odd. Urghh.

    Anyway, having interviewed Baxter twice by that time (since he kindly allowed me to redo the interview after the computer wiped it, as I briefly mentioned at the start of the show - Richard hasn't been the only one with technical issues, as you'll hear by the latest Token Skeptic!) - you'll have clearly heard for yourself how much time, effort and work both he and his team in Denver have put into being community-minded and proficient investigators. Certainly a standard to aspire to. :)

    Thannks again for the reviews - there's a 'hat-tip' in the most recent Token Skeptic episode. :)

  2. I am truly humbled for the quote. Thank you.

    Google Docs had an error I fail to catch on saving my initial draft of this week's commentary on the Skeptic Zone. I lost a couple paragraphs on Baxter's interview. There must be a curse on the skeptics this week.

    Thanks for reading.


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