Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Whole Mess of Podcasts.

My ears have received quite the workout over the past two days as I've listened to: Skeptoid #195, Scientific American 2/27/10, Irreligiosophy, Conspiracy Skeptic, and Monster Talk.  All this and I am only part way through Skepticality, which features a so far interesting interview of somewhat quirky Alex Gambis, who is a Franco-American scientist turned film maker turned film festival organizer.  Then what do I get, but a tweet that Token Skeptic has a new episode on homeopathy.  Plus, I somehow fit Mac Break Weekly in between all of this science and skepticism.  If numbers are a sign of health, podcasting is an Olympic athlete.

Rapid fire

This week's episode of Skeptoid featured Brain Dunning's recurring series of student question-devoted episodes.  A student leaves a voice message with a question and Dunning, in his concise and ably researched way, gives an answer.

One topic covered in the students' questions: Do electronic mosquito repellent devices work?  The short answer is no.  Another question asked by a student was Dunning's take on the report that 32,000 scientists refute Anthopogenic Climate Change as shown by a petition by the the aptly named Petition Project.  The answer is the whole exercise is misleading and really reveals nothing.  Best of all, Edwin Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, gets a nod.  Another question is how much should you worry if you sit near another student who has an active cold?  The answer is with precautions one can minimize the risks of catching the cold, but there is no way to insure that you will not get sick.  A student asked the hot button question of whether athletic prowess is connected to race.  Dunning's answer was that it does not have to do with race, but whether any groups of humans have a specific genetic makeup that are indicative of a good athlete.  Dunning used as a measure the height of a group of people as an indicator of athletic prowess.  Therefore, the bigger (taller) one is, the better athlete one should be, which is not race related metric.  It seems to me that Dunning's assumption that being bigger/taller equates to better athleticism ovesimplified the answer.  This could be a quibble, and a likely by-product of time constraints.  While I agree with Dunning's answer, it struck me that this question deserved a more in-depth answer given its sensitive nature.  The final question was asked on whether it was true Albert Einstein was so smart because he spent an extra month in his mother's womb.  The answer is no.

All this in 11 minutes and 55 seconds, which is rather impressive.  For the record, not once did Dunning speak in anything close to a bad or any other German accent.

A Panel Show Special!

Steve Mirsky, who likely has the best voice for podcasting I've heard, discussed in a panel type format highlights from the American Academy for the Advancement of Science Conference with Mark Fischetti and Robin Lloyd on Science Talk.   I enjoyed this episode more than most for as frequent readers of my blog know, I am a sucker for a panel discussion.  If I had my druthers, my wedding ceremony would have occurred around a table with pitchers of water in front of my bride and I, while the guests asked us questions such as "will you love your wife through good times and bad, and what is the true implication of this commitment  in modern parlance?"  Alas, the wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip did not have the facilities on site for such an event.  I digress.

There was an interesting talk by a professor having his students write papers on the physics of superheros such as calculating how strong was the gravity on Superman's home world of Krypton for him to have the ability to leap a thirty story building in a single bound on Earth?  From my days of physics classes in high school, I would have epically failed such a class, but it sure would have been fun to sit through the lectures.  Another topic discussed was how to communicate the need for and possible solution to climate change and the realistic time frame for educating the public on this notable topic.  The time frame discussed is decades, and not years.  This is a sobering thought to me, and do we have the luxury of such an amount of time to get widespread acceptance for new public policies.  Mirsky and company discussed new thoughts on combining biofuel-growing algae farms with coal plants in order to make algae an efficient fuel source in the future.  The group discussed how the internet will change language abilities and the general intelligence of future generations.

I enjoyed this episode, but if you are not a fan of the panel style show over a straight news report/ interview style show you might be disappointed.

Are Chuck and Leighton doomed?

Why are Chuck and Leighton doomed?  This week on Irreligiosophy the duo tackles Scientology, and as discussed on the show, if you go after Scientology the order 66 will be given by the head Scientologist and all the Jedi will die.  Or was that Star Wars: Episode III?  Whatever, Scientology allegedly has or had something similar related to the use of a .45 gun, in dealing with foes, which is discussed on the show.  Really, it sounds terribly wimpy of me, but I would be concerned about doing a show casting a negative light on Scientology, but Chuck and Leighton are braver than I.  That is why I am a sissy mouse with a blog and not a manly man with a podcast.

Chuck and Leighton provide a brief biography of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, including his history as a moderately successful science fiction author, his career in the Navy during the Second World War, his dabblings with psychology with Dianetics, and finally his founding of the Church of Scientology.  Interspersed throughout the episode are clips of a very creepy sounding Tom Cruise discussing aspects of the Church of Scientology with "Mission Impossible" style music playing in the background.  It is effective but we-e-i-i-r-rd.  C and L discuss the rocky founding of the church, and its battles against the IRS in at first gaining, then losing, and then gaining again the IRS church exempt tax status.  Also covered are raids upon Scientology HQ in 1977 which revealed alleged plots for Scientology to infiltrate various levels of the Federal government of the United States, along with the various operations that were planned such as Snow White and Tricycle.  Scientology is chock full of code names and abbreviations.  Is this a religion or a military operation?

Anyway, the whole episode leads up to C and L discussing their recent visit to the local Scientology Church.  While I found it interesting, I also found it a bit of a let down.  Perhaps my expectations were built up too much with visions of Leighton being dragged out the back door, while Chuck ran the other way.  Instead, it was both of them taking a two hundred question personality test.  Chuck not watching a boring Scientology propaganda film, while quizzing the Scientologist about some cosmology discussed by Hubbard, and Leighton cajoling his Scientologist to give him a free try to have an e-meter used on him.  (The e-meter is used to audit would be Scientologists to see what type of amount of engrams they have in their mind, or spirit, or whatnot.)  They frustrated the Scientologist on duty, and it was educational.  I just expected the show to build up to a bit more.  Perhaps, I am just desperate for the entertainment that I missing with Conan off the air.

I enjoyed the first two thirds of this episode the most, while the last bit about their visit to the local church was fine.  If the batteries are dying on your iPod or you Zune people out there, and you miss the last twenty minutes, you should not lose any sleep over it.

Conspiracy Skeptic North Korean Special by those who like long skinny legs

Karl Mamer's guest on this month's episode of Conspiracy Skeptic was Stafford Lumnsden, he teaches in South Korea but hails from New Zealand.  This makes him a Kiwi, which makes as much sense as calling someone, like my godson or Dr. Novella, a Nutmegger because they are residents of Connecticut.  I digress already.  Lumnsden is actually quite a charming fellow, and he and Karl hit it off quite well with their mutual knowledge of South Korea.  He is also a podcaster, has a blog, and is into technology and seems to like Apple products.  He could never be all bad.  However, this week's episode focused on North Korean conspiracies.

I get the feeling the conspiracy Karl thought they would focus on was the alleged counterfeiting of $100.00 U.S. bills run by or at least sponsored by the North Korean government.  If this sounds familiar to you, it might be because the North Koreans obviously lifted from a British Television series Private Schultz, which I watched faithfully as a kid with my mom during its run on Masterpiece Theatre.  While Karl and Stafford did indeed discuss this topic, it was as much a discussion of the cultural eccentricities of Korea as a culture, the interplay between the U.S., Japan, China, and the Koreas.

Let's face it, North Korea is weird.  Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea (a communist country), is basically a Tsar Autocrat of North Korea since his dad was the last leader of North Korea.  Lenin would probably have a fit if he was not a dead wax figure in the Kremlin.  Kim has cut off his country from the rest of the world.  The economy is almost nonexistent.  Everything they do is on a cash and carry basis, and Kim is dying to getting the attention of the world and especially his hate (genius love?) of the United States.  All the while, this is in the face of the South having its own love/hate relationship with the North and the United States.  While the South has prospered becoming an economic powerhouse with electronic companies competing toe to toe with the best in the world, cars that currently are besting Toyota and Honda, and a population that is literally growing stronger and taller than their puny Northern kin, the North, if I understand correctly, has an industry subsisting on crystal-meth, military rockets, nuclear engineering of 1946 era atom bombs, and plight.  They also print Benjamin's from a bank based out of Macau, China, that they sell for fifty cents on the dollar.  Like everything else North Korea does even these counterfeit dollars are not quite up to the challenge.  Yes.  They are very good dupes.  Yes, the North Koreans bought the same high tech printing press, and promptly defaulted on the payments, to make the notes.  However, while the notes are good enough to fool a machine and have been used in Las Vegas slot machines, they are not good enough to fool a decently aware human.

There was so much more discussed on the show from Cheerleaders sent to work camps, why some South Koreans want the North to have "the bomb," to South Koreans having an Olympic spat with Australia over ice skating or some other sport I do not pay attention to other than every four years.  As always, I enjoyed the show a great deal, and Karl in his humble manner manages to share a ton of information without seemingly breaking a sweat.

At the start of the podcast, Stafford indicates he is trying to get a three month teaching gig in the North, since New Zealand and North Korea have diplomatic relations and it might be a good way to lose weight.  However, if the authorities in Korea hear this podcast, he hasn't a chance.

Also, Karl likes leggy South Koreans a whole lot.

Do Skeptics Dream of Electric Sheep? 

Blake Smith, co-host of Monster Talk, might be my new hero.  Why?  The first question he asks the show's guest-some unknown Nuttmegger, Dr. Steven Novella-is the screening question during the VK test on Leon at the start Bladerunner about finding a tortoise in the desert. Unfortunately, Dr. Novella did not quite get the reference, but I thought it was fantastic.  (I am a big fan of Bladerunner.)

Anyway, the topic of this episode and of the next few episodes will be about ghosts, spirits, and hauntings.  The show opened with a discussion between my new hero, Ben Radford, and Dr. Karen Stollznow on what exactly is the definition of a ghost vs a spirit.  The consensus appeared to be the spirit was the surviving consciousness of a person with a living brain, a ghost could be the manifestation of that spirit on Earth, or it could be just the left over energy of an event, or whatever else the person wants it to be.  Basically, the believers make up whatever terms they want for a given need.  They then discussed how many believe the dead are watching over us and yet still do things such as masterbate.  If you think about it, your lost and beloved auntie or best friend can peep you while you are enjoying some high quality alone time.

They then interviewed Dr. Novella, who is the President of the New England Skeptical Society, host of the SGU, writes for at least four blogs, is a dad, a husband, a super geek gamer, and in his spare time is a Neurologist at some safety school called Yale.

Dr. Novella shared some of the highlights of when the NESS went on about a dozen or so ghost hunts with actual believer ghost hunters.  The long and the short of it is that the ghost hunters really have quite sad evidence to base their beliefs upon.  He discussed his dealings with Connecticut ghost and demon experts Lorraine and the late Ed Warren.  Needless to say, he was not impressed with them.  Dr. Novella also shared how ghost hunters can have a harmful effect in that some who thought they were being haunted are actually medically delusional and the ghost hunters do the worst thing possible for them, which is to reinforce the delusion.  Dr. Novella also discussed how science is more and more reinforcing that there is no mind or consciousness without the brain.  He discusses the various lines of evidence that support this proposition, and in particular discussed the evidence that the mind is the antenna to pick up the radio signal of the mind.  (This was discussed on SGU episdoe 238 with Simon Conway Morris.)  Then they went into all sorts of way over my head inside baseball talk about table top gaming.  I have nothing against gamers, my closest pal is a gamer.  Wow.  Dr. Novella sure loves gaming as does Smith.

I enjoyed the show, and cannot wait to hear the upcoming installments on ghost, ghouls, spooks, and specters.  I am really getting into Monster Talk.


  1. I do enjoy the leggy Korean women. They never much enjoyed me, however.

    My bitterness aside, the two Koreas are a great example of the importance of trade vs self reliance. Stafford quipped he would have to go on the juche diet. Juche is NK's almost state religion. It basically means self reliance. They want to do everything. As the econ talk host always says, self reliance is the best way to create a subsistence society. Which is exactly what North Korea is. The South (which was actually economically poorer than the North post-war) pursued a policy of international trade. Now it's a major world economy, its people are taller (and leggier), they live long healthy lives, they're getting fat like us, and so on.

  2. It's been ten years since I've visited Vietnam. I wonder how much plumper they have become with decade western econimic trade.


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