Thursday, February 11, 2010
The Skeptic Zone
Let me start off by noting that I loved the homeopathy debate on the Skeptic Zone this week. It was a homeopath vs Vicki Hyde on New Zealand TV. I found it incredible that the homeopath admitted she had no idea how it worked, but it does and it is safe and it is wonderful. How do you stand by something that you cannot describe the mechanism of how it even works? Later in the debate, she indicated that it works by matching the preparation based upon the individual patient using a database. Now, if you do not know how something functions and it must be matched individually based upon some mysterious database, it seems to me to be based on a bunch of guesswork. How can a rational-minded person actually consider this an effective system of anything? What I further found interesting is that she noted that people should not treat with one mode of medicine. Treat with science/evidence-based medicine and homeopathy and when you get better, the homeopaths can take credit. I think some credit should go to the interviewer who was a stark contrast to the interview Michael Marsh has to endure on Irish talk radio, where the host was basically ambushing him and not letting him, Marsh, make any points. In this case, the interviewer even brought up that homeopathy sounded like magic. To me, it goes to show if you give a homeopath enough rope, they will hang themselves.
The show opened with an interview of Richard Saunders with Philip Escoffey, who is a rising star in the world of mentalism. At least during this interview, he was clearly a skeptic and was not offering that he had any psychic or paranormal powers. However, he did seem to admit that he was a bit coy in this regard to his audience. To be very clear, I have never seen this gentleman's act and never heard of him before the interview. While he did indicate that he makes it rather clear he does not have special powers during the course of the act, he also seemed rather clear that he never explicitly points outs in a Jamy Ian Swiss manner that he is an honest liar. While I hate to sound like a kill joy, I am coming around to the viewpoint that all mentalists who are not "psychic," should be explicit about their lack of "special powers." It is too easy for someone to miss the hints and go to work and tell their co-workers they saw this "dude with way cool psychic powers." While it might take away from the illusion of the show, I think being even a bit too coy can have ripple effects. Escoffey sounds like a perfectly reasonable person, but he might be causing a bit more confusion than is necessary for his act.
The show had a nice long Think Tank to round out the show. As I've noted in previous posts, I really do enjoy the Think Tank. It is a nice way to tie all the other various segments of an episode into a cohesive whole. I understand that because the segment is done as a true round table and not on a VOIP call it is difficult for the gang to gather on a weekly basis. The positive to this system is that, unlike VOIP conversations on most podcasts, the flow of the conversation is much more natural. Nobody is speaking over each other, while VOIP conversations alway are a bit stiff since the speakers are not naturally interacting. (co-author Karl has pointed this out in one of his excellent posts) It is a shame though that it cannot be a weekly segment due to the need to gather in one central location. Perhaps they could have Think Tanks like they do now, but then when they are not in the same room together have a segment that is a more typical VOIP podcast discussion. I am well aware it is easy for some schlep in Pennsylvania behind his Mac to make such a suggestion, but a lot more difficult to actually pull off.
Some highlights of the Think Tank include that this was the first Think Tank for Dr. Krissy Wilson of the University of Tasmania School of Psychology. Also discussed is that Homeopathy plus which was found to be giving out incorrect and illegal information about vaccines and homeopathy on its website still (as of the date of the recording) has not placed a retraction on its website. So while reason won a round, there is no ref to enforce the call. In better news, it is possible the Australian Vaccination Network might be going belly up. Apparently, Meryl Dorey has been going around asking for a benefactor or benefactors to help shore up her finances to ensure the network's survival for the next three years. Now, I do not know if the word is out that an organization that wins the bent spoon award should not be supported, or if it is just a poorly run organization. Either way, it would be nice for one less woo outlet to be out there spewing bad advice to the unsuspecting. However, the AVN will likely find a way to survive just hopefully not thrive. Saunders pointed out while Dorey's organization is short of money, Bill Gates has donated $10,000,000,000 towards vaccination in impoverished parts of the world. So while Gates' company cannot seem to make a properly working OS, at least he's doing very good works with his years of tidy profits. If 2009 was the year to crusade against antivaccination advocates, this year might be the year to crusade against the homeopathic advocates. There has already been the 10:23 campaign, and now in Australia, there just might be a push to force the consumer protection agency to enforce its regulations that the homeopaths are violating.
One final thing struck me as an American as odd about this Think Tank. Saunders indicated that he was wrong during the Think Tube that Australia did not have American type separation of Church and State. In fact, the Australia Constitution does have a rather potent religious freedom clause in their Commonwealth's Constitution. How can he not know that? In the states, it's drilled into our heads that we have religious freedom and the religious and secular state should not mix. Yes, I know there are advocates who argue that the United States is a christian nation. The free exercise and establishment clause is a rather prominent feature of our lives in part due to the controversy. It must be a uniquely American thing that such a clause is so prominent in our daily lives, that I would assume it would be in other countries as well.
Anyway, I enjoyed the show a great deal. The Think Tank is always a wonderful segment.
I am not sure if I will be able to post again for a few days. No. I am not jetting off to Florida again. I wish I could. Instead, the Skeptical Review office will be undergoing a thorough painting as Hermione and I keep improving upon our hundred year old home. Also, it's Valentine's Day, so the good wife and I must make some time to at least have a nice meal to celebrate.
*Please note this is draft #2. I started writing this post at my snowbird parents' house, as they are away in Florida and their place needs tending, on their new ultra-fast quad core, loads of memory, 27" HD screen, Windows 7 OS beauty that I hate. Why? The damn thing decided to just reboot at the worst moment, and deleted a large chunk of my post with it. I am not saying this is just another reason to pay the Apple Tax and go Mac since you could go super-geek Ubuntu. Mac haters never fear, Karl Mamer is an MS guy so we're balanced. We're taking applications for the Ubuntu positions.