Sunday, May 2, 2010

Skeptoid, The Amateur Scientist Podcast hits 100, The Skeptic Zone, and The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe hits 250

Host Brian Dunning on Skeptoid this week covers healing touch.  Where you heal someone by waving your arms over them, and adjust and hopefully fix the patient's energy field back to healthfulness.  Dunning, as always, does a masterful and pithy job of pointing out, based on physics and experimentation, why it is nonsense.  He also tossed in a nice concise history of healing touch.  Perhaps the most disturbing informative tidbit Dunning brought out was that this clear pseudoscience is being touched on in regular "real" medical nursing schools.  Now healing touch has the sheath of legitimacy of regular medicine.

A large part of the episode was relaying the celebrity (in skeptical circles) of young Emily Rosa who performed a study to find out if healing touch practitioners can feel the energy field of a fellow human being.  The study was performed so well that she became the youngest person so far to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The proponents of healing touch cried foul, and Dunning explained why the healing touchers were so wrong that a nine year old could debunk them.

It was a worthy episode.

-The above was written before the great Pip disappearance of 2010.  Needless to say our beloved family member who happens to be a cat, Pip, disappeared on Saturday afternoon.  Luckily, with a lot of searching including a posse made up of a half dozen of my block's eight to ten year old population our beloved Pip was found.  However, looking for a cat while listening for meows with ear buds and podcasts do not mix.  I became way behind in my podcast listening for my normal Saturday.  What follows is a condensed version of what I normally write.*  

In non-feline news, Brian Thompson of the Amateur Scientist Podcast celebrated his podcast's 100th episode.  Thompson celebrated his 100th episode with the legally required clips for all shows celebrating a milestone.  Thompson discussed the show starting with co-host Richard Peacock who, while apparently still active behind the scenes, stopped co-hosting long, long ago.  However, Peacock and Thompson did another Truth for Youth Spoof of a Christian moral comic book.  I was laughing my ass off, while my cat who soon thereafter was about to vanish for a few hours, napped at my side.  He awoke from my chuckling, and was annoyed.  Perhaps that's why he took off?

Anyway, Bob Teague, the show's second co-host who has since relocated to New York City, phoned in on his cell phone from a telephone booth in Manhattan. Teague left the show leaving Thompson on his own, but Teague seems to be making his mark on the New York Theater scene by not only acting but directing, writing, and producing something that sounds off, off, Broadway.  I've known people who've moved to the Big Apple and would have kill to be off, off, off Broadway so it was good to hear.

The show was peppered with antique radio/television ads "The Diner" style, which was a nice way to break up the show.  Yes, Audible is still sponsoring the show too.  Obviously, I am a fan of Thompson's podcast and his many blogging projects, and this show was an excellent showcase of his talents.

On the other side of the globe, where if cats get out the dingos might eat them (I have no idea if this is true), the Skeptic Zone had a two segment show, which is less than the normal three or four segments.  (There was a mini segment which was a brief tribute by Kylie Sturgess to the recently late Jef Clark.) The first segment was an interview of Brainduck, Gimpy, and Holfordwatch who are three bloggers that obviously go by pen names, and obviously means they can't be trusted.  Wait.  So do I.  Nevermind  go by pen names in order to make it more difficult for those unhappy with their opinions to sue them Simon Singh-style in the British Courts.  The three bloggers formed a bit of an alliance with Kylie Sturgess on a campaign about the true lack of effectiveness of Dore.  I have never heard of Dore before, but apparently it was a alternative medical approach to treat or perhaps even cure dyslexia and other learning disabilities by having the children undergo a rigorous treatment protocol which was quite expensive.  Unfortunately, the Dore system had little evidence to show efficacy.  It was a protocol that apparently had a component of juggling and exercising parts of the cerebellum.  Parents and children were expending a large amount of time and money on at best a placebo.  The whole group received a large boost when Ben Goldacre began to cover their efforts, and to draw attention and question the usefulness of the treatment.

Dore went bankrupt but apparently is back with the backing of Welsh rugby players, and a new charitable or non-profit structure.  The bloggers seemed to agree that the Dore proponents were not hucksters but genuinely concerned for kids health but just wrong on the science.  The one blogger, Brainduck, had technical difficulty so Sturgess read her IM'd responses.  It was an interesting interview even though dogged by some technical problems and at times poor sound quality.

The second segment, Grain of Salt with Eran Segev, was an interview of  David Aaronovitch, author of "Voodoo Histories," which is a book on the role of conspiracy theories throughout history.  I really found myself sucked into the interview with Aaronovitch.  Partially it is because I just enjoy a good conspiracy theory, after all co-author Karl "with a K" Mamer is the Conspiracy Skeptic.  Aaronovitch had obviously spent a lot of time thinking why people take the time and energy to believe in complex and bloated conspiracies over the highly more probable non-conspiracy world.  Segeve and Aaronovitch touched upon the JFK conspiracy and 9/11 Truther movement, and the moon hoax conspiracy.  The discussion of how sometimes a perfectly rational person who does not buy into bigfoot, or 9/11 movement, will get stuck on the JFK conspiracy.

Aaronovitch also touched upon what it means to be a skeptic, and how one goes about being or doing skepticism.  It is not finding all the evidence and making a decision.  There is too much information and too many topics to do it all.  However, a skeptic takes a reasonable amount of time and looks at the best sources and makes a rational determination.  I cannot go to Dealey Plaza and go into the bowels of the Book Depository building, but I can read a lot of books and watch documentaries and make an independent determination.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable interview performed by Segev.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe noted that it was the show's 250th episode, but did not really do a celebration.  Next week is the show's five year anniversary, so perhaps the cake and ice cream will be next week.

The interview segment this week was with radio staple Dr. Deen Edell, who has been fighting medical nonsense and dishing out good medical advice for over thirty years.  Edell and Dr. Novella truly seem to hit it off during the interview, and Jay made some very good points as well.  The gist of the conversation was that there is all this good medicine out there, but people keep turning to all this crap.  What the hell?  Naturally, it was more deeply thought out than the above, but it was one of the most energetic interviews in a bit for the show.  If you had to listen to only two interviews this week, choose this one and Segev's with Aaronvitch.  Just my suggestions.

The show also had a question from a likely jackass from Sweden, who in the first line of his email dropped that he has an IQ of 140.  The question basically asked do you have to be smart to understand and use the scientific method.  (The first part of the email was about conservation of momentum or something or the other.  The show did not address it.  We need someone with a 150+ IQ to figure it out.)  The panel basically tackled the question by noting it is a lot of nature versus nurture and different people have different talents.  Basically, you do not have to be crazy smart to understand the scientific method.

The panel covered the boob-quake experiment where the Blag Hag, Jen McCreight, thought of an idea to test an Iranian Cleric's opinion that Earthquakes were caused by god's dislike of the immodest dress of women.  McCreight put the idea to the test to have women around the world don tight or bosom-revealing apparel to see if it causes an uptick in quake activity.  The answer so far seems to be no.  The story became so big that it made the "Colbet Report."  The story led into a discussion of whether this gives a poor view of what a typical Iranian thinks and their culture, and how foreigners see Americans etc.  It was a fun story.

The panel also discussed Stephan Hawking's idea that we should probably not draw attention to ourselves to aliens.  The aliens are bound to be far superior to us in technology and resources and just wipe us out without a second thought.  There has been a lot of push back to Hawking on this topic.  Dr. Phil Plait contends that aliens are likely to not arrive in person but show up in the form of robot probes to steal all our resources and then wipe us out.  Prof. PZ Myers contends that we should be shooting our biology into space to compete with the biology from other living critters in the Universe or at least the galaxy.  In a sense, I tend to take a bleak view on all this and think that intelligent life on Earth is rather rare, and we might be alone or nearly alone at this time in the universe.  This is Dr. Plait's rough idea.  (I may not agree with him on NASA, but I do in this area.  Plait is a good guy.)  I would hate to say this about Prof. Hawking, but I think he is a tad out to lunch on this one.

The panel covered the story of evangelical Chinese and Turkish mountain climbers alleging they found Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey.  Now there is an inter-evangelical battle over whether they found evidence for the Ark, or if it is a hoax.  It appears that Noah's Ark has yet to be found, and the photos are a hoax of the local guides to the find the ark community.

It was a rather upbeat show, and the Rogues were hitting on all counts.  The show ended with Dr. Novella indicating that to pay the bills they will have to start placing Audible ads to pay for their bandwidth.  I am surprised the show with such popularity has not had to do this earlier, and Audible makes a good product.  I cannot complain.  (Now when they start pitching de-tox footpads or Zunes, I might complain.)

Finally, I have yet to listen to the latest Token Skeptic.  I'll keep blaming my poor innocent cat.  The Token Skeptic's logo is a cat, and Sturgess is a friend of the feline.  For Pip, Ms. Sturgess, I apologize.  I'll do my best to listen to it soon, and write a commentary.

*-Yes.  We now know that cats return at some point for food, and then you've got'm.


  1. I'm some what disturbed by SGU's Libsyn fees. I don't begrudge them any kind of ad revenue. But I'm just like "100,000 downloads per show? Whoa!" If my podcast did that no clue how I'd ever afford it.

  2. Karl,

    Just start selling "stock" in CS, or some kind of Canadian joy juice in a pyramid scheme. I've run across a few Libsyn tweets over the past few days. Libsyn must be changing their policies in general.

  3. Reminds me a bit of The Office where Michael Scott stole a lot of paper business by charging really low rates and then he realized "oh, I lose money" so he went back to all his clients and asked them if they could pay more. Wonder if Libsyn has realize "oh wow we can't actually sell bandwidth at next to nothing! Hey guys can we have more money now?"

  4. I think the explosion of bandwidth use has taken a lot the tech sector by surprise. I am sure their contract and business plan was not set up to deal with 100,000 audio downloads alone. Success I guess can suck. I wonder if skepchick has issues too?


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