Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Amateur Scientist Podcast, The Token Skeptic Podcast

I have a backlog of shows to cover.  I was hoping to make this my first post that was drafted on my new iPad, but instead it is on my wife's MacBook because according to FedEx my new device (some say magical) is in Newark, New Jersey.

I would just like to mention briefly but with profounds thanks to Karl Mamer, The Conspiracy Skeptic, for allowing me to appear on his show once again.  I had a blast.  I believe most people will enjoy not so much for the incredibly bizarre conspiracy we discuss than two grown men discussing a rather interesting event that occurred in their youth.  I must thank Brian Thompson of The Amateur Scientist Podcast for authoring a post on the show.  (Times running out to donate to his celebrathon fundraiser.  Don't take my word or Karl's word.  As I will get to, Rebecca Watson seems to support the show.)

The Token Skeptic

Kylie Sturgess this past week has released a trio of new episodes.  Sturgess interviews Warren Bonett of Embiggen Books.  They have a store in Queensland Australia, which for me to get to is even a bit farther than Philadelphia.  I need a map.  Luckily, they are also an online bookseller as well.  (I wonder if they are going to get a book reading app?)  Bonett and Sturgess discussed the beings of Embiggen books, and its focus on science and rational literature to counter the throngs of self help and pseudo-scientific nonsense that chokes the shelves of the big box store booksellers.

They discussed two books in particular: Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms The Planet and Threatens Our Lives, and  Supernormal Stimuli – How Primal Urges Overan Their Evolutionary Purpose.  They are authored by Michael Specter and Deirdree Barrett respectively.  I enjoyed the discussion how these are both good books that cause the reader to think and reflect.  Denialism is especially cogent during a time of increasing complexity of the world around us and our impact upon the planet itself that fewer and fewer people have an appreciation for how science works.   The interview convinced me that this a book I hope to download as soon as possible, and if not perhaps even read it the old fashioned dead tree way.  (If I do read it the old way, I wonder if they ship from Australia?)

The other book, Supernormal Stimuli, was discussed on the JREF's For Good Reason recently.  Barrett posits that creatures are drawn toward things and objects that stimulate their senses in an exaggerated manner.  In the book, an experiment occurs where an exaggerated attractive looking egg (to the bird) causes the bird to nest on a wonderfully blue speckled egg instead of the real egg with it's real young inside of it.  The author goes on to show how man is so controlling of its environment that we can routinely make reality to give us an exaggerated stimuli.  Barrett points out that this can override logic and reasoning for a bad result.  Porn is used as an example in the book that instead of wanting to be sexual with a real live person some prefer the exaggerated beauty of a naked person on a flat screen monitor, and our desire to eat lots of fatty foods which causes us to have a gut and buy a larger pair of parts.

Sturgess and Bonnett discuss how Barrett might take her theory a bit too far on how such things affect decisions that scientistists and policy makers come to in spending their time and effort in creating new energy sources, etc.  I tend to remember during the FGR interview thinking Barrett was on to something, but it was not as all encompassing as it seemed on the show.

I enjoyed the discussion on each book.  Sturgess indicated that she hopes to make this a recurring book review segment on her show.  I hope she does.  Surprisingly, there is not a lot of scientific book coverage on the list of podcasts that I cover.  I am glad to see someone fill it.

The next two episodes were part one and two of a lecture given by A.C. Grayling which was given in Perth (which is still a lot farther away than Philadelphia or even Atlantic City from my sofa here in Hershey).  The lecture is geared toward high school students.  Part one of the lecture was on truth, realism, and non-realism, and part two was on rights.   Part two was quite an enjoyable discussion on what are rights and how rights even came to be known.  Grayling discusses that the ancient Greeks would have no clue what you meant by a "right."  The lecture covers how things became to change during the Enlightenment that rights between the various branches of government began to be discussed and finally in the 18th century the rights of the individuals.  I found this lecture enjoyable and thought provoking.

Part one on realism and truth would take me about three or so times to comprehend what Grayling was discussing.  Unfortunately, I have only listened to the interview once, so I am clueless.  If high school students today can hear and digest what Grayling was discussing after one pass then either I am a moron (very well could be true), or kids today are exceeding brilliant.  It's not that it was not thought provoking, or interesting.  I found myself after every two or three sentences thinking hum-m-m that was interesting, but then a minute later think "what?"  Part of it very well be that the West Shore School District (go Colts!) did not give us a basic classical or philosophical education all. I would suggest to the listener to not walk your dog while listening to this particular episode and plan on listening to it twice to understand it all.

I would suggest to the reader to listen to the Embiggen Interview first, and then take Grayling's lectures starting with part two and warming up to part one.

The Amateur Scientist Podcast

Brian Thompson on his Amateur Scientist Podcast is continuing with his Celebrathon fun house of odd humor with a rationalist bent.  But since I have to make breakfast soon, I'll cut past a lot of my typical praise for most of Thompson's bits with a smattering of questioning others.

Rebecca Watson, yes that Rebecca Watson of Skepchick, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, Curiosity Aroused, and a zillion other skeptical activities, was Thompson's guest this week.  I do not want to go into great detail, but they in engaged in a humorous discussion of mustaches.  Yes.  They discussed mustaches and for me it worked wonderfully because they discussed in a serious sober tone good mustaches, bad mustaches, and creepy mustaches.  I believe what made it work was that they never let on what they were discussing was absolute silly.  (Ok.  Nobody should grow a Hitler style mustache ever again.)  I also think it worked since you would expect someone of such high skeptical regard to pitch some skeptical cause or thought.  She did not.  It was all above the lip facial hair.  It was enjoyable.

The other bit that kicks off the show with Thompson's interview of a deceased creature that has been "demoted" from dinosaur status to mere reptile status was bizarre in a funny way.  It even includes some bad accordion playing.

I'm off to do some chores and whatnot.  I'll try and post about the latest SGU and The Skeptic Zone soon.

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