Monday, March 29, 2010

Quackcast, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, The Skeptic Zone

I have listened to three more podcasts, so I'll try and hit a few highlights in each of them.

Medical update

Dr. Mark Crislip has released a new episode Quackcast which is an update on the current literature on CAM therapies.    While it is a very informative episode, it is for the most part a rather dry episode.  Crislip covers placebo interventions on various conditions, arthritis bracelet pain controls vs. magnetic bracelet vs. over the counter magnetic bracelet vs. copper bracelet.  He reviews the latest on homeopathic vs conventional drugs for various ills, and acupuncture for depression in pregnant women.  I'll give you a spoiler right now.  Turns out nothing has really changed and it's all crap.  The studies that are the most positive are sadly the most crappy.

The best part of the episode is near the end when Crislip reads liberally from part one of a paper authored by William A. Tiller, Ph.D.  The paper entitled On Understanding the Very Different Science Premises Meaningful to CAM Versus Orthodox Medicine: Part I—The Fundamentals consists of Tiller's notions on the two forms of material, which I cannot even go into explaining because it all sounds made up by a bad SciFi script writer.  Normal physics has electromagnetism, Tiller says there is also magnoelectrism (I am not making this up) and particles that go faster than light, and on and on.  It is one of the most bizarre pseudo-science academic sounding ranting of gobbledeeguck I have heard in sometime.  The show is worth listening to if only for the last act.

Not even a modest electrical fire and stop the Rogues

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe suffered a tragic mini-fire on Dr. Steven Novella's computer's power supply.   Therefore, the show had to be bumped back causing Watson to miss the episode.  Another casualty of the great Skeptic Computer Malfunction of 2010 was that the interview with the great Dr. Eugenie Scott was delayed.  Presumably it will be aired on a future show, and hopefully not on a charred  non-backed up hard drive.  (Let this be a lesson kids, always back your stuff up.  I do.  Although I do not backup offsite which I should.)

The news stories covered were updates on "The Star Child," which likely is a malformed child's skull from a few hundred years ago and not a cross human/alien hybrid.  Very interesting was a story shared about the possibility of evidence of a fourth species of humans that was recently found in Siberia.   If this pans out, it adds another extinct branch on the human family bush.  The Rogues covered a story on how volcanic activity and the breaking apart of Pangaea helped cause the rise of the dinosaurs.

The Rogues answered an interesting email from a homeschooler/evangelical parents who listen to the show but are sometimes offended by the flip attitude the show gives to those of faith.  Dr. Novella and the rest of the Rogues defended that they attempt to challenge and go after the ideas, and the leaders of bad ideas, but not the followers in general.  They admit they were not 100% successful.  I found it interesting that the homeschool parents, who teach their kids for safety reasons and want to teach good science, say they cannot control what is in the homeschool texts, but also appear to be evangelical christians.  I do not doubt the writers of the email; I am sure they are truly sincere.  It just makes one wonder if they truly are aware of what are their motivations.  I also have no doubt that most who homeschool their kids are laudably dedicated to their children's well being.  In general, the Rogues are rather respective of most people.  If they tried too hard to not offend, it would be a politically correct madness, and likely sterile to the point of tedium.  What this drives home to me was my decision to author a blog geared to those already producing and consuming science/skeptical content was the correct one.  I enjoy preaching to the choir.  Trying to convert others, like the guy who stands at the center of Harrisburg in the summer preaching repent or to hell you'll go, is much too demanding.

Because Dr. Scott's interview was not available, an interview of George Hrab, musician, skeptic, and podcaster of the Geologic Podcast from TAM 7 was dusted off.  Hrab, as always, is an engaging, charismatic person.  Hrab discussed how and why he goes about doing his podcast (which has been covered in general by Karl Mamer in an earlier post.)  The Rogues discussed the need for more musician and artists to get involved in skepticism to show the more human/engaging side of science and rational thought.  While I do not think any new ground was reached in the interview, which may explain why it was not aired earlier, the obvious chemistry and camaraderie makes it a compelling listen.  I hate to admit this, but it makes me wish I enjoyed Hrab's music.  I do not deny Hrab's enormous talent(s).  I just do not find his original music compelling.  Therefore, send your hate mail to Puffin Watch.  (just kidding send it to me and not Karl.)

Stuffed with goodness from start to finish

The Skeptic Zone podcast was chock full of good stuff this week.  First, a longer version of Kylie Sturgess' interview of Julian Morrow of the Chasers' War on Everything, which she sneak previewed, on her last Token Skeptic episode.  A lot of it is the same, but there are enough interesting new bits to make it worth a second listen.  Turns out that Morrow once practiced law, and disliked it so much he went into comedy. (I completely follow  him.  As a lawyer, I can say that anecdotally speaking probably 70% of lawyers wish they did something else, and 20% lie about liking the law and actually wish they were doing something else.  Why?  It sucks, especially when you live with a person who forms the 10% who truly likes the law.)  Sturgess was the MC of the global atheist convention, which is some impressive stuff.  She is rather humble about the whole thing, but I think she ought to chain herself to the podium and not let go for the next convention.

Dr. Dunlop in the Dr. Rachie Reports segment interviewed Mark Carter who lives in the middle of nowhere, Australia giving ecology tours, but more interestingly lives near the little town where it allegedly rained fish.  Carter theorized that the fish rain was either fish that were left behind after a flash flood post torrential downpour, or fish lifted out of a local fish filled water hole and dump only a hundred or so yards away.  He explained that the fish, unlike some frogs, cannot go into a hibernation deep into the ground.  (This was postulated on an earlier Skeptics' Guide to the Universe as a possible cause.)  It was an interesting follow up to an alleged strange occurrence.

In the Grain of Salt segment, Eran Segev did a self-described "Dr. Rachie Reports" segment on hair loss.  In particular, Segev did an excellent review of the latest thing science has determined to be the cause of baldness and what the only two currently approved treatments are for it.  He then went to describe a laser  and chemical/shampoo/scrub regime that cost $1,310 (about $1,200US) for six weeks.  Segev delved deep into the provided literature that support Leimo's contention that this helps prevent male pattern baldness.  Basically, the support is thin to non-existent but the methodical approach Segev brings makes it easy to understand why it is bunk.  It makes one think that Segev really ought to get more time on the show.  He must have spent some time making the segment understandable and yet brief.

The final segment was a Think Tank! (Oh happy day.)  Joining the think tank were a bunch of twitter followers who go by various pen names.  None of which has the same flair as Nigel and Lady St.Whitehall in my self serving opinion, and Professor P.Z. Myers.  Pronounced "Pee Zed" down under, but "Pee Zee" with Prof. Myers literally in the room.  Myers discussed the almost obligatory need to wear one's religious heart on your sleeve to run for high office in the United States, where for the most part this would be shunned in Australia.  Myers explained how he'd like there to be a secular party in the U.S. where the religious affiliation of the candidate would be irrelevant.  Myers is working on a atheist genre book of his own which he is hoping to get out this summer.  Dr. Dunlop, being the polite person that she is, also thanked Myers for all his help getting his Pharyngula blog readers to help catapult her to her Shorty Award.

All in all, each of the above podcast is worth a listen.  If you can only listen to one, I'd go with The Skeptic Zone.  Really, you should also make the time to listen to SGU especially for the interesting evidence for a fourth line of humans, let alone the Logical Fallacy they discussed and I have failed to mention.

Update: Kylie Sturgess, who is kind enough to read this blog, has noted an earlier post regarding web design and difficulty to find the audio feed to podcasts.  Sturgess is in the middle of a website revamp that she promises will make listening to her podcast, The Token Skeptic, easier.  She is also going to launch a new logo.  (The simplest method I find to receive all my podcasts is with iTunes.  I know for some this is not an option.  I like Darth Vader have given into the quick and easy path.)

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