Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe episode 243, The Skeptic Zone episode 73

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe

This week's episode of SGU was guest free.  All the Rogues were present and accounted for other than Evan showing up a bit late.  For some reason, this week's episode was recorded on a Thursday and not the normal Wednesday.

This was a very solid episode, but it was just there, perhaps because of the interesting guests they have had on lately along with the new guest Rogue idea.

The Rogues covered Jenny McCarthy writing in the Huffington Post that vaccines cause autism and Andrew Wakefield despite his history of questionable ethics and The Lancet pulling his article she still supports him.  McCarthy is one of those sad, misguided and unfortunately public souls who cannot fathom that they were once wrong, and rather than admit it keep going on with the charade to protect them self. (Or that's my made up pop psychology take.)  It is starting to get boring.   Although unfortunately still worthy story to cover.  Bob covered a story of a type of experimental 'paint' that with the use of a laser light and a matrix can be used to see through things.  Luckily, Jay was there and after Bob explained it in detail and I was thinking "huh" pointed out in a sentence what this see through technology really was.  Jay discussed how it appears at first blush that home schooled kids fare better overall in pre-college testing, but are also much more likely to believe creationist views over the theory of evolution.  The text books that are used by the a large number of home schoolers are religiously sourced.  I did not find this story surprising since almost everyone I have heard of in the bible belt area of Pennsylvania seem to be ultra-religious types.  You have to protect your young'n from that there devil.  In any case, Steve explained that home-schooled kids doing better may ultimately be the result of skewed data since there is no requirement for home-schoolers to take standardized tests or even report the results.  Rebecca relayed a story of a New Zealand company that has perfected a fan pack that works like the classic rocket jet pack to allow the user to fly around for about 30 minutes.  I thought the best part of the episode was Watson's idea to start a new fundraiser to procure the $70,000 for the SGU to have a fan pack to fly around.  I really like this idea.  There is just something compelling about the idea of Jay Novella flying over the Connecticut River and yelling "wahoo" that is fun.

Some emails were answered.  One email corrected the discussion from the last episode that Earthquakes are not noted on the Richter scale, and it has not been used in quite a bit.  A scale is used, but it is not the "Richter" one but a new one.  I was a bit stunned by this myself, and will now annoyingly chide friends, family, and co-workers when they say "Richter."  The Rogues followed up on the raining fish story in the Australian outback.  The periodical that covered the story apparently is a rag, and Dr. Novella brought up that he has yet to find any pictures of fish landing on the roofs of houses, which must happen if they fell from the sky.  The final email was one discussing the limits of studying 'inner space' as compared to outer space which was ably handled by Bob.

Overall it was a fine show.  This is not an episode to skip, but if you do miss it, you likely won't be kicking yourself.  However, if they do start a new drive to get a Rogues flying fan pack, I do think I'll contribute and so should you.

The Skeptic Zone

This week's episode of The Skeptic Zone featured an interview with Milton Mermikides, who is a renaissanceman.  His parents were scientists who worked at CERN.  He went to the prestigious London School of Economics, he then went to Berklee College of Music, and he is now working on his Ph.D. from the University of Surrey.  He is a musician whose work is influenced by science and skepticism.  He is also a leukemia survivor, and he speaks about it all just like a member of the Rolling Stones.  It has got to be the London School of Economics influence since Mick Jagger is also a graduate.  He's one of those really, really talented smart guys that I appreciate a great deal, and if I were as talented and smart I'd be far less humble.  How bad of a guy can he be when the first musical spark he received was from the Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Magical Mystery Tour LPs?*  I listened to some of his samples on his website, and at least the music on his site is very Depeche Mode with a sprinkle of Peter Gabriel era Genesis.  Mermikides was intviewed by Sturgess who purposefully steered away from his battle with Leukemia and focused on his music, his life story, and his upcoming endeavors.  What I found fascinating was he really seemed to have good grasp of the importance of science and reason, but also that generally people, including himself, do not act in a rational matter the majority of the time.  This is a nice insight that seems obvious except that I rarely think of myself or fellow skeptics in this light.  Needless to say, I rather enjoyed this interview.

This week's episode featured an extra long Think Tank with Saunders, Dr. Dunlop, Segev, Benhamu, and Daine at the back of a chinese restaurant that also announces bus schedules.  (Australia seems to be teaming with bus announcements, or the Zoners are drawn to them.)

It was a full Tank so I will refrain from covering it blow by blow.  However, Saunders did bring up that the Rogues on SGU requested him and Dr. Dunlop to investigate the fish falling from the sky story.  They pointed out that such an investigation would require two day drive into the outback, so such an trip was unlikely.  (Having been to Connecticut a few times, your sense of travel is on a smaller scale.  For example if you live in Hartford you can travel to Boston in two hours, New York City in one hour, and Philadelphia in three hours, everything seems so close.)  Dr. Dunlop was recently interviewed on television regarding vaccine safety, and they discussed Prof. Richard Dawkins panel discussion on television with Senator Steven Fielding and Dawkins obtaining Fieldings admission that he is a young Earth creationist.  In the States, I would guess there are at least thirty or so such YEC in  Congress, about a dozen in the Pennsylvania legislature.  I did not find this stunning, but I suppose in other countries it is a bit more unusual.  (Low and behold, I can watch it online.  I plan to do so tonight.)  They discussed latest public negative Australian media discusion about Scientology.   They also discussed David Gillespie's book Sweet Poison which is how fructose is killing people by making them fat.  The crux of the discussion was that Gillespie wrote the book as a lawyer making an argument for his position, and cherry picking facts and studies that support his "case."  Gillespie apparently does not look kindly upon those questioning his ideas.  They discussed Shawn David Moore, who is a "prophet" for "profit," and claims that he was trained by Nepalese monks to time travel (I am not making this up) and see into the future.  Moore has been found to be running a fraudulent investment scheme.  The gang discussed Dr. Karryn Phelps, former head of the Australian Medical Associates, and unfortunately a purveyor of quackery.  Dr. Phelps contends that because science does not support the efficacy of homeopathy the science is wrong.  I hate these type of stories because one) it lends credence to homeopaths that their crap based medicine works, and two) shows that medical doctors are not scientists.  Some M.D.s are scientists, but most doctors merely treat with modalities that science has found.  However, they do not necessarily internalize how the science worked to support a certain treatment.

I found this Think Tank, as almost always, entertaining and thought provoking.  Between the interesting interview with Mermikides and the Think Tank covering a large numbers of interesting topics, I would recommend this week's Skeptic Zone over (gasp) this week's Skeptics' Guide to the Universe should you schedule dictate listening to only one of the shows.

As a side note, I had been planning to do a post immediately after the live internet broadcast of The Amateur Scientist from Atlanta.  However, personal plans conflicted, and the flash based video player with the show would not work on my Blackberry, so the commentary will have to wait.  All I have to say is I cannot wait until HTML5 becomes the standard and Flash goes away or becomes less of a computer hog.

*For the record, the first music I ever took an interest were the Beatles.  My first album to call my very own was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and believe you me when I was in third grade or today it always knocks me for a loop.  I might be biased.


  1. "Mermikides was intviewed by Sturgess who purposefully steered away from his battle with Leukemia and focused on his music, his life story, and his upcoming endeavors." Yes, because the Geologic Podcast ( scooped me on my planned interview with him! :)

    I think they did a much better interview than I could have done on that aspect, so I chose to look at his music and how he is inspired by science. Best of all, he edited in his music to the episode, so you can hear the range of Milton's work. Wonderful stuff, I was very fortunate to have that included so I'm glad you liked listening to it! :)

  2. I've been listening to the Skeptic's Guide for a LONG LONG time now - and frankly I've unsubscribed. It gets sooo boring, and has been going down hill since Rebbecca got bored with it... and since Perry died.

    It's like there's no antagonist, and you end up with these boring droning super-rational science/medicine voices of absolute and unavoidable agreement.

    No entertainment there. No mimetic attraction.

  3. Flickbowt,

    I think you make some valid points. The show has matured and Perry has never quite been compensated for in the show's balance. I'd like to write more but it's late. I do still find the show enjoyable in a 1980's "Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson" type of way.

    Thanks for reading.


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