Sunday, May 30, 2010

On Her Majesty's Podcasting Service

Okay, I can appreciate that Mr St Whitehall lives in the States, the home of the skeptical podcast. He really doesn't need to look too far beyond his front porch for entertainment and enlightenment, especially when the US churns out high quality shows such as the SGU, Amateur Scientist and Skeptoid. I also understand that there are only twenty four hours in a day to listen to all of those downloads. Thing is, us Brits are feeling a bit left out from these fine pages.

I shouldn't complain as Righteous Indignation, the show I'm linked to, is the exception to the rule. But at a time when skeptical podcasts are coming thick and fast out of the UK I thought I would do what us Brits always do on the world stage: jump up and down and cry out for attention. Plead relevance and attempt to justify our place at the top table. You see, whilst we have been downloading Skepticality and SGU for years it is only very recently that the skeptical people of the UK have been donning headsets and getting to grips with Skype and Adobe Audition. The one exception is Little Atoms, our longest running skeptical show. Although available as a podcast its genuine home is the unlikely setting of Resonance FM, a London based arts radio station.

Since the Spring of 2009 there has been something of an explosion of independent creativity. Righteous Indignation has been followed by numerous others including Skeptics With A K, InKredulous, Skeptic Pod and The Pod Delusion. The content, quality and format of these shows vary but each has something to offer in its own right. Over the coming days and weeks I'm going to put some sample episodes on the table from across the range of shows. They're yours to taste, chew, digest and, if you like what you are hearing, subscribe to. Then you'll be shot of me. I promise.

Just Skeptics

So many Righteous Indignation listeners have been wondering what has happened to our regular guest host Gavin Schofield. Has he retired? Is he dead? Well, good news for his creditors is that he's back with Just Skeptics, a new podcast from the Greater Manchester Skeptics. For the second and most recent episode Gav is joined by fellow society members Alex Dennerley, Janis Bennion and Rick Owen to take a light hearted look at the week's skeptical news.

Those receding Icelandic ash clouds are top of the agenda as it appears they have become the woo mongers' wettest dream. Who would have thought that an obscure volcano could have done such a fine job in grounding transatlantic and European flights? Ignoring the absurdity of Norse gods fighting giants, the usual conspiracy suspects have been blaming the US government for either creating the eruption with HAARP or exploiting empty skies to rehearse a false flag terror attack. Only slightly more off kilter was the Nostradamus aficionado who made tenuous links to the old seer's writing. It would seem that amidst Nostradamus' vague ramblings exists a quatrain in which he envisions a poisonous cloud killing two thirds of the European population. If true the law of truly large numbers suggests I would have encountered a few dead relatives in the past week, but needless to say they're all still alive. Such stories are classic skeptical fayre and the quartet waste no time or breath in a blunt but amusing dissection of the conspiracies.

More sober is the coverage given to the hottest skeptical issue in Britain at the moment: the price of TAM London tickets. It's something that we cover in depth in the new episode of RI so I won't dwell on it too much here. Janis and Gavin are both of the opinion that a top fund raising conference can justifiably make itself 'prohibitively expensive'. They're right as somebody somewhere will be prepared to pay the ticket prices; such are the joys of skepticism coming face to face with globalisation.

The episode ends with a piece on gambling and how the entertainment industry exploits poor public understanding of mathematical probability. From lottery winning strategies to those game shows that rely on nothing but chance disguised as skill, Rick dismantles the misconceptions, explaining the gambler's fallacy in clear and understandable terms. It's a neat conclusion to a promising show and the core team of Alex, Janis and Gav have enough chemistry, knowledge and humour to warrant further listening.

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