Sunday, April 11, 2010

Token Skeptic, Amateur Scientist, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe

As has been my recent habit, it was a busy week so I will quickly hit the high points of some of the podcasts I have listened to this weekend.  Summer, and the coming of it, changes everything.  Hopefully, when the mid-summer humidity forces everyone into air conditioned comfort, things will improve.

The third and final installment of Token Skeptic featured a lecture at the global atheist convention given by Bangladeshi ex-patriot, Taslima Nasrin, a woman who was forced to flee her homeland of Bangladesh for her progressive thoughts and atheistic views.  As Kylie Sturgess indicated, most people have not heard of her and of her struggles to live a non-religious life without the threat of death.  Her story is a sad and stirring tale of a person who from a young age questioned Allah and the norms of Islam, which led her to a path of a person without a home, and not being able to to be with her parents when they were near death.

I found it interesting that she went from questioning Islam directly to atheism, without the possible middle step of being "spiritual but not religious," and her answer to the question on her thoughts on outlawing the burqa in some Western nations.  I do not think she actually answered the burqa question other than saying it is a terrible sign of oppression.  I cannot argue with her on this point.  Yet, I hate the idea of outlawing someone's religious garb, it smacks head into the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Anyway, Nasrin is a moving and sobering listen about what dogmatic thought and practices mean to the individual, and why such things ought to be checked.

On the way home from dinner, I started the Amateur Scientist podcast to which my wife replied "oh-h-h potty jokes."  Let me get one thing straight, I am not married to a nine year old girl.  There were potty jokes, sort of.  I do not recall host Brian Thompson making any jokes about defecation.  There was as always Thompson's bawdy humor including whether Hitler and his Nazis were after the shroud of Turin, why North Korea is planning 2012 to be a great year and not the end of the world, and a Urologist who threatened not to treat people who supported President Obama or the recent health care legislation.

Still missing from the show were any call in confessions or listener feedback.  Either nobody is calling in with confessions, they all stink, or he's saving them for future use.  As always, I was laughing most of the time through the show.  If you have thirty minutes or so, you ought to listen to the show, and after you're done go to audible and download a book with the Amateur Scientist promo code.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe was interview free this week with all the Rogues in attendance.  They covered some ex aging civilian staff of Area 51 breaking their silence and revealing they worked on spy planes and not UFOs.  Rebecca had a nice time not so subtly mocking the Novella boys for trying to precisely recall the top speed of one particular spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird.  Dr. Novella told of how he and other members of the Science Based Medicine blog were summoned before Dr. Josephine Briggs, the director of the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine at NIH.  It sounded to me, and in a very opened minded and nice way, that Dr. Briggs had the SBM crew there for a political chess play.  Dr. Briggs dodged questions on things the NCCAM had been doing before she arrived at the helm two years ago, and dodged answering for other questionable activity NCCAM had farmed out to other wings of NIH.  Dr. Briggs even asked for the SBM crew's help and input in future projects.  Now, I may be a bit cynical when it comes to politics.  I am sure Dr. Briggs is highly qualified, intelligent, and is truly trying to make a positive difference.  I also would not be surprised if she is trying to keep close those who have been arguing to have her entire department shut down by "bringing them into the fold."  It was a nice bit of intrigue.

The Rogues answered an email comment from a reader correcting an offhand comment Bob Novella made the previous week that there are more people alive today than have ever existed in years past.   Actually, of all the people who have ever lived only about 7% of that total number are now alive.  It is an urban legend, and Bob stood corrected.  The Rogues also stood corrected on the psychic past life regression story that they discussed about the Dutch prison system last week.  Apparently, it was the psychic pushing this exaggerated story, and not a Dutch governmental program gone looney.  I guess Google translator needs more work.

At one point on the show, they discussed the Jesus, Copper, Magnet bracelet that has a trifecta of woo to placebo away what ailes you.  This is fine, but then Dr. Novella used it as an excuse to go into detail about what common metals are magnetic and then discussed some rare metals that are magnetic, and why they are magnetic.  I enjoy science a great deal.  I like learning about things.  I am a geek like the next skeptic, but this whole tangent just seemed a bit too much even for me.  I felt like I was back in high school junior year chemistry again.  It was times like these I think Perry might have reigned things in just a smidge.

I'll try and touch upon The Skeptic Zone later this week.  I'll just say, I enjoyed it a great deal overall especially the first person history from Tim Mendham on the early days for the Australian Skeptics and Skeptic Magazine.  Dr. Rachie reports was very good discussing the latest doing of the AVN and Homeopathy plus.  Grain of Salt featured an interview of Wendy Whelan by Eran Segev for her work in having a 100% vaccine compliance rating her small town.  I live in a small town of 12,000ish or so; Nurse Whelan lives in a town of 2,000.  I found this segment a bit dry.  The final segment was an interview of Crispian Jago who is best known for doing his Simpsons-style cards of famous skeptics.

Out of all of the above podcasts, you should make the effort to listen to Token Skeptic.  Nasrin's story and lecture is really something unusual and sobering.

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