Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Righteous Indignation, For Good Reason, and history

Tonight I'll quickly cover two skeptical podcasts, and a non-skeptical favored podcast of mine.

Righteous Indignation featured an interview with Matthew Parker, mathematician and standup comic.  The discussion focused on the use of bad statistics for either shock power in a newspaper headline, or to push a cause using questionable facts.  The segment prior to the interview had Marsh discussing shocking statistics used by some to show that 25% of all women in Britain have been raped.  The actual number, or at least more likely figure, is 5%.  This is not to say rape is not a horrible problem and 5% is 5% too much of the British or any society to endure, but it is a lot better than 1 in 4 women.  Marsh does an able job of going through why the figures are just plain wrong.  I enjoyed the interview, but it was only about ten or so minutes.  I wished there were more of it, as I found Parker an entertaining fellow.

The Indignates also engaged in a discussion on how much blame for the current anti-vaccine hysteria can be blamed on Wakefield's shoddy study and how much can be placed upon the media and other actors.  To a certain extent, these type of arguments are moderately meaningless and remind me of the debates I would have in undergrad regarding did the North win the War of the Rebellion or did the South lose.  Well, it really is a bit of both, but for the record I would defend the North winning over the South losing.  In the same vein, if pushed I would have to lay the most blame on the editors of the Lancet that allowed this crappy study to be published.  It's the imprimatur of publication that The Lancet imparted upon his was in such an internationally respected journal that gave credence to the media and public that something must be up with the MMR causing autism.  Further, when the majority of the co-authors withdrew their names from the study, but the Lancet did not pull the article, only added some fuel to the fire.  Shame on you naughty Lancet people.

Oh yes, the Indignates also bring the light of reason to the claim that rhubarb cures cancer.  It likely does not.  This is good.  Rhubarb is gross. bleck.

Luckily for me, I've never been wrong . . .

But Carol Tavis was interviewed on For Good Reason by D.J. Grothe on why people, who are wrong, find it so hard to admit a mistake sometimes against the weight of a lot of excellent evidence.  There is an interesting discussion on how outright frauds in the psychic community can live with themselves, and why folks who are anti-vaccine proponents continue with a perhaps once valid thought against the exceedingly contrary weight of evidence, etc.  (This same theme is also taken up by Jamy Ian Swiss' commentary at the end of the show.)

What is also interesting is how this mechanism of getting locked into an opinion despite other evidence can be helpful to one's sanity.  It keeps people moving forward and not always second guessing a decision once made.  As Tavis notes, it's not good to buy a car and then spend sleepless night after night wondering if you had made the correct decision.  The other interesting realm discussed by Tavis is not being caught in the same single minded trap while being a skeptic.  I have alway wondered what it would take for me to be convinced ghosts exist, or homeopathy works, or UFOs are alien visitors.  If convincing evidence to a truly open mind existed, would I just blow it off as more hum-bug?  On the one hand, I hope I would not.  As I have noted in earlier posts, I am no longer a global warming skeptic.  It did take me a bit to come around and accept that indeed the weight of scientific evidence shows climate change is happening and it is highly, highly likely caused by man.  Yet, perhaps that is not my sacred cow, and ghosts or tarot cards are my sacred cow.

Tavis also discussed with Grothe some good and less effective approaches are trying to convince people their belief or world view is incorrect.  I will not go into detail, it is not "what, are you stupid?  You think Sylvia Brown talks to dead people?  Don't be an idiot."

Another non-skeptical podcast

I enjoy My History Can Beat up Your Politics podcast a great deal.  It is a podcast researched, produced, and hosted by Bruce Carlton.  Carlton is a history buff, but not a professional historian by trade.  Carlton typically takes a historical topic, and breaks down how it occurred and uses the actual unfolding of an event as compared to how modern politicians and people view it.  He has a podcast about how Martin Luther King Day came about in the United States, and it is surprising to learn how it is actually as much a celebration as a labor day as it is a civil rights day.  He has had discussions on the various successes and failures of Presidents' second year in office, and another on how George Washington handled his first year in office.  He has had discussions on biased media in the 19th century and how financial panics were handled prior to the Great Depression.  Carlton, to his credit, tries to maintain an apolitical stance on his show.  If I had to guess, he is a center left type of voter, but I could be wrong.  The writing of the shows can be uneven.  He'll have a run of two or three episodes that are fantastically interesting, and follow it by one or two shows that are poorly constructed and thought out.  Also, Carlton's production and editing do leave a lot to be desired.  At times, he will edit in a repeated phrase or paragraph twice in a row, or have a ten or twenty second pause which caused me to wonder if I mistakenly turned off my iPod.  The show is extremely American centric.  All in all, if you enjoy U.S. history a great deal, and want to hear it told by a gifted and motivated amateur, this is a show you should try.


  1. I wonder how many times D.J. Groethe accidentally has referred to his new show as 'Point of Inquiry' while recording and had to edit the sound file. 'For Good Reason' is exactly the same show, even down to details such as D.J. pausing to note that listeners can order the book of whomever he is interviewing through their site.

    Not complaining though. D.J. is one of the better interviewers out in podcast land. I wonder if he'll interview people with views controversial to skeptics (such as Michael Behe) on the new show. Those were some of his best podcasts at Point of Inquiry.

  2. Grothe is very good and polished. I am hoping that POI and FGR do become a bit more differentiated as time goes on. I suspect POI with three hosts may actually make a bigger change, while FGR stays a second generation copy of POI.