Monday, February 8, 2010

The Skeptic Zone, a different take

Hi there, blogosphere! Nigel asked me, his wife, to listen to the Skeptic Zone this week and give my thoughts as an outsider, if you will. Here they are...the good, the bad, the irrelevant.

First, let me just note at the outset that I tend to zone out when listening to podcasts. If there is any truth to the whole "visual learner v. auditory learner" thing, then I am definitely a visual learner. I absolutely cannot listen to audiobooks because it would take me more than twice the time reading would take as I would constantly be rewinding to what I missed while my brain started to wander. So, fair warning...

WIth the above in mind, I have to admit that I zoned out during the interview portion. I'm sure it was a very nice interview with a very nice man, but it did not grab my attention at all. Possibly because I am not a big fan of the psychology field to begin with. Full my job in the legal field, it is always harder to fight a claim of psychological injury because you can't really do any simple objective testing as to whether a person is really having psych problems, such as an x-ray or MRI. Therefore, the very nature of psychology strikes me as an impossible to prove or disprove conundrum. But, I'm not a scientist in any way, I only speak as to my experience where medicine runs smack into the legal field. Digression over.

Anyway, Kylie Sturgess interviewed Professor Chris French, investigator of paranormal stuff. They discussed his research and then went into some of the Simon Singh stuff, which really didn't cover anything new in my opinion; they just were talking about it since Professor French is in the UK.

We were then given a recording of the Mystery Investigator show where Richard Saunders and Dr. Rachie and others present a program to schools to educate children on how to be better critical thinkers in essence. It sounds like great outreaach and a terrific program to stimulate critical thinking, but I didn't feel it was a great listening experience. First, I hate when a podcast has you listening to a recording where there is obviously a visual element involved! I feel it is a waste to me and other listeners, especially if you don't take the time to splice in some explanation for the stuff the listeners obviously cannot see. Therefore, I will never know how Richard Saunders debunked the bending spoon thing although I am sure I could google it. The show also had Richard Saunders prove by demonstrative evidence whether he can juggle three or five tennis balls. (It's three, in case you were wondering. Well done!) The show then did the astrology debunking by giving out horoscopes and asking whether they matched the person although it's a trick! Everyone got the same horoscope! I've heard of this before and think it is excellent in a school program, but again, a little boring for the home (and likely non-school age) listener.

There was a report from Kylie Sturgess from the frontlines of the 10:23 campaign. Look, here's my take for whatever it is worth. I don't know Boots, but I am assuming that they are something like we have here in the nature of a CVS or Rite Aid. That is, it is a convenience store, if you will. Although it has a pharmacy, it also has groceries, greeting cards, toileties, etc. To my mind, a store that is selling all this is NOT a place I am going to look to for serious answers about homeopathic products, because they are only looking for profits. However, I agree that it is right to go after Boots for the sheer fact that they sell the homeopathic products under their own label with full knowledge that they do not work. Unfortunately, I still think the message about the "overdose" may not be effective because there is a certain understandable logic in the homepathic argument that of course, it wouldn't hurt you, it's all natural, etc. Not that I agree with such logic but I can see how the average person could be persuaded by it. When Kylie was interwiewing the participants, I would have liked some more cooncrete information. Such as, one person said that they were not one bit sleepy...well, did they take a homeopathic sleep aid??? Just flesh out the scene for the simple home listener, that's all.

Next to Dr. Rachie Reports...(again, full disclosure, I kind of zoned out. Nothing against this show, just my brain's inability to concentrate on listening when doing other things, such as snow shoveling - 18 inches of snow in Hershey if you were curious). The big points below:
- What sounds like an extremely shady organization run by a whackjob "activist", The AVN (Australian Vaccination Network) seems likely to shut down unless the con woman running it give her an "injection" of cash. (Seriously, she used the word injection, much to Dr. Rachie's amusement). Let's hope no one gives this crazy woman running the AVN any money - one Jenny McCarthy is enough although I know there are more like her out there, sigh.
-Wow, Dr. Wakefield is crazy! He took blood samples from children at his son's birthday party and paid them off at 5 pounds each? Wow, if I were the parent of one of those kids, I would kick his a** and sue him. Anyway, this guy has been proven a crazy and the Lancet retracted his article, dealing a blow to the anti-vaccine movement which they will promptly ignore and rationalize in their own special way.

Well, in all, and after re-listening a second time, not a bad show although I was sorry that there was no Think Tank segment. I could go into a whole discussion comparing the SGU and Skeptic Zone from the eyes, or ears really, of a outsider, but I should probably listen to some more Zone podcasts to make it a fair comparison. So far though, I have to say I think the SGU is easier to get acclimated to and enjoy, but we'll revisit another time.


  1. I'd just like to contribute a bit more information about Boots & 10:23.

    1 - Boots is a trusted Pharmacy that have branched out into beauty products. They only sell medicine and beauty products.

    2 - A lot of 10:23 demonstrations went with Arsen. Alb. at 30C dilution, which is supposedly a sleep aid.


  2. Hello, 'Lady Whitehall'!

    "...they were just talking about it since Prof French was in the UK".

    Actually, Prof French is the co-editor of the UK Skeptic magazine and set up the Anomalistic Research Center (the, the center for Anomalistic Psychology.

    I inquire at the start how this particular field of Psychology is different from Parapsychology. You might like to look at both sites to see why they are very important to the UK skeptic-scene? I have contributed work to the UK Skeptic magazine in the past and there are many interviews that we conduct that are with people from the UK.

    The skeptics in the UK have been a lot more than just 'about the Simon Singh' campaign for quite some time - which is why we discuss the changes to the UK Skeptic magazine; the new contributing members and board, the "9 Lessons and Carols" show (which has featured on TV and you can find it online); the trend of openly skeptically-minded comedians coming out of the UK as well as his view of the 10:23 Campaign and whether Science Communication is playing a bigger role in promoting skeptical goals.

    There's also the matter of how Prof French and I are both writers on a rather under-researched topic - that of 9-11 conspiracy beliefs. In my case, a thesis will be out later this year.

    The audio from the 10:23 Campaign comes from two videos that both Richard Saunders and I shot, from the coordinating events we did. You can find them both on YouTube, by searching for "Sydney Skeptics 10:23" and "Perth Skeptics 10:23", which I believe are cities I mention in the segment.

    You'll probably find that they're much more 'fleshed out', in the visuals you say you prefer, by watching them online?

    Particularly if you didn't listen to the previously-recorded interview with Michael Marshall of the 10:23 Campaign that featured on an earlier episode.

    I hope you do listen to more episodes, since there appears to be some detail and contributing situations that have contributed to the review that needed clarification - we always enjoy reading perspectives on our show and hope to improve. :)


  3. Oh, nearly forgot to mention - Prof Chris French, as you may have heard, is heavily involved with the 'Skeptics in the Pub' scene in the UK and has been pretty much since it started.

    If you listen to Episode #7 on "Global Skepticism", you'll hear me read out Prof French's contribution to our discussion as to what is happening in the UK... a little after our panel is "gate-crashed" by a very nice, well-traveled man in the audience by the name of James Randi, who joins us on the stage for much of our show. :)


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