Monday, July 26, 2010

The Skeptic Zone, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, Righteous Indignation, Point of Inquiry, and Quackcast

The after glow of the The Amazing Meeting 8 was still apparent in the podcasting world this week.  On The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe and the Skeptic Zone, TAM was discussed and parts of it were analyzed.  Interviews from TAM began to make their appearance.

On the SGU, all the Rogues were present, and TAM seemed to breathe fresh life into the gang.  The Rogues went through a series of topics, and most appreciated were two stories dealing with monkeys.  One was a straight science story regarding the finding of a fossil of a monkey ancestor pushing forward the date when monkey and apes split on the evolutionary trail.  The other dealt with a man who attempted to smuggle a lot of monkeys in his pants into the U.S. The other thing that was missing was comparing some type of monkey with some type of bird.  If Perry were still around, it would have happened.

Bob reported on a monster star which is far larger in mass than any previous star discovered thus far or even thought possible.  Governor Paterson of New York State, who is under a large amount of political fire as of late, has taken to wearing a Kabbalah bracelet.  The best part is apparently he is wearing it incorrectly so it is sucking in bad vibes or venting good Karma or whatever it is suppose to do, or not do as the case may be.  The U.S. Congress may be on the verge of passing a bill where U.S. Federal Courts do not have to enforce a judgement from a jurisdiction with libel laws inconsistent with the first amendment.  This has got to smart the mother country where we derive our common law.  Hopefully at some point soon Britain will change their libel laws if not legislatively then at least with common law itself. (Ed. note: Actually, one group of people who do not want to see libel laws changed in Britain are celebrities.  They have a much easier time suing The Daily Mirror or The Sun than they do US tabloids like the National Enquirer.  I wonder how much influence the entertainment industry will have on the status of British libel laws.)

The best part of the show was an interview of James Randi and probably his most impressive protege Banachek.  They did not discuss Project Alpha very much other than to discuss how Banachek and Randi first met, and how Randi sized up the young Banachek for his ability to help Randi in the future if the need should arise.  Instead, the bulk of the interview focused on when Randi with some assistance from Banachek busted Peter Popoff, the alleged faith healer and quite likely total fraud and huckster, during one of his faith healing shows.  Banachek noted that Popoff was wearing a hearing aid, and Randi with the help of a private eye/engineer was able to tune into Popoff's radio frequency.  Popoff's wife was feeding him information about his church goers/marks, and even worse was Popoff's wife was mocking the poor souls seeking help.

The dual interview, especially with two people who are obviously quite close to each other, was a highly engaging exercise.  The results were great, and I can't help but wonder if there are not nice bits left on the editing room floor.  The other refreshing aspect of the episode is I suspect most long term listeners would agree the Rogues did not discuss all manner of plans or ideas they had for the coming year which they hatched while at TAM.  This is not to say the Rogues have not acted upon their ideas such as video content.  However, there usually has not been much new stuff during the upcoming year.  I am all for innovation and new ideas, but I suspect the Rogues have learned from past experiences not to oversell what they wish to do.

Down under at the Skeptic Zone, we were treated to an interview by Eran Segev of Brian Keith Dalton who most people know as Mr. Deity on his YouTube series.  Mr. Deity is a hilarious, light hearted, yet incisive look at Christianity featuring Dalton as Mr. Deity - a petty, somewhat dim witted, and all too human "GOD."  The segment starts with Segev interviewing Dalton in character and then switches to an interesting but straight forward interview of Dalton.  Dalton is an engaging fellow.  I always find it interesting learning how people produce their content, which Segev and Dalton discuss in some detail during the interview.  Also of interest is Dalton's own religious background which is only tangentially discussed, but Dalton was once a practicing Mormon.  Also, the latest season of Mr. Deity takes place before the creation, which in Mormonism is a much bigger detail than in other christian sects.  It is an interesting choice.  What I thought is that Irreligiosophy might want to look into interviewing Dalton to get another ex-Mormon perspective on the show.  It is apparently that Dalton really does not approve of organized religion at all.  Segev as normal does quite a nice job.

There is a brief segment of Saunders on an Australian radio show discussing dreams, and basically that they really cannot be "read" or be viewed as prophecy or other such paranormal tripe.  And then (play the horns) it was time for Think Tank episode with Sanders, Drs. Dunlop and Wilson, Segev, and Benhamu.  The group rolled past a large number of topics, but they did briefly bring up one of the topics du jour from TAM and that was the atheist/skeptic debate.  It does seem to be that the whole 'new atheist' label is starting to take on quite a negative connotation.  It's not that Hitchens or Harris' names are mud, but it seems a lot of those who apparently take a hardline view that religion is the number one target of rational thought might be a bit too zealous for many's (including me) comfort.

The group also discussed how Meryl Dorey and her AVN anti-vaccine agenda is finally being called out on the carpet in Australia.  Attendance at her talks appears to have ticked downward and her ability to get on mainstream media is beginning to wane.  When she is on television, journalists are asking some tough questions.  Hopefully, it will soon be clear, at least in Australia, that the skeptics won a round against those who believe in anti-scientific medicine.

A few brief bits on some other podcasts:

Dr. Mark Crislip did a podcast treatment of his Science Based Medicine blog post on whether big Pharma ought to pay for continuing legal education on Quackcast.  Dr. Crislip is quite proud in that he does not take anything from pharmaceutical companies...not a pen, not a trip, not a piece of pizza.  Dr. Crislip breaks down and refutes a post by Jessica Parker on  While Parker defends big pharma-paid continuing education, Dr. Crislip notes that studies have shown such "free lunches" have an adverse affect on patient care.  Sadly, I suspect Crislip has a point.  While I agree that physicians ought to take responsibility on providing for their own education, I suspect the best that can be hoped is lesser influence rather than no influence.  Even sadder is that one of the coolest experiences of my life was related to a big pharma paid junket.*

Tom Quinn was interviewed on Point of Inquiry by Robert Price.  Quinn is a documentary producer and author of the book What Do You Do With a Chocolate Jesus? An Irreverent History of Christianity.  The discussion for the most part did not really focus on the book itself, but was a pleasant enough discussion regarding the lack of evidence for the majority of christian claims or notions.  It's not that I disagreed with very much of it.  I just thought there was nothing new in it either, and was somewhat boring.  Quinn seemed to be an interesting enough fellow, and Price was his normal personable self.  There just seemed to be a lack of much thought provoking material.  Don't delete it from your iPod list, but in a few weeks when you are on the long boring trip down to the Outer Banks and you've blown through all the past episodes of Amateur Scientist and Dogma Free America it will be worth saving.

Finally, the Indignates faced some technical difficulties with the latest episode of Righteous Indignation.  Instead of putting up a Indian Test Pattern and calling it a week, the Indignates or at least Hayley rose to the challenge and put up Unlucky Dip #5 of oddities and outtakes from previous episodes.  Once again, a practice that I wish more podcasts would do.  Anyway, this episode shared interesting bits from Ben Radford, Paul Vella, comedian Ed Byrne, and best of all Guy Lyon Playfair.

The Indignates shared a long part of the interview with Playfair where he began by discussing telepathy between twins and ended with the evidence for reincarnation.  Here's the thing, the Indignates did not get testy or mocking or even terse.  They just let him talk and talk and contradict himself and make illogical statements.  Twins apparently do quite well with ganzfeld procedure unless you are Swedish then not so much.  (I am not making this up.  Listen to the episode.)  I really enjoyed this episode.  These "dead letter office episodes" are great.  I cannot wait for the regular scheduled episode, but this was good stuff.

*How did a pharma junket affect me, a non-doctor?  On a Sunday morning the summer after I graduated from law school, I went with a close family member who is a physician to a brief slideshow on some medical creme or whatnot with fresh blintz breakfast followed by a test drive of Porches!  Oh yeah.  It is the only time I drove a Porcshe.  Not just one Porche but two, a 911 and a Boxster around the backlot of the then posh VW, Audi, and Porcshe dealer.  What a piece of machinery.  Sure, it's no Corvette with those weird high strung European engines, but still it was awesome.  I remember thinking wow these clutches are tricky, those blintzes were good, I ought to be studying for the Pennsylvania bar exam, but not how unethical the whole thing just might be.  Anyway, I drove a Porsche once.  

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