Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Righteous Indignation, The Token Skeptic, Point of Inquiry, and The Skeptics Guide to the Universe

I was quite disappointed in this week's episode of Righteous Indignation.  I tuned in expecting a methodical  and sober discussion of various skeptical topics of the day complete with entertainment stopping footnotes between segments.  Instead, I was subjected to entertaining banter between three engaging people giving heartfelt and thoughtful opinions on timely skeptical topics.  How downright dreadful.  Why would anyone want to be absorbed with such prattle for an hour.  The episode lasted an hour; who has such reserves of attention these days?  What the Indignates need to be more like is Brian Dunning with his short fifteen minute shows of focused rational thought and leave everything else behind.

-Ok. I really can't support any of the above, but a listener from Virginia, U.S.A. did email the Indignates to bemoan they are not Skeptoid.  Which is crazy.  R.I. is R.I., an entirely different animal from Dunning's popular and extremely focus and polished Skeptoid which I generally enjoy a great deal.  The Virginian was complaining like a person tuning into Top Gear and complaining that it is not Motor Week.  Yes, they are both shows about automobiles, but one testdrives dodges and gives solid advice on how to care for your brakes, and the other pits a Mercedes against two guys taking a train and boat from England to Norway.  You do not compare them, you sit back and enjoy.  It's not that R.I. is perfect, but it is a darn fine podcast that is entertaining and quite thoughtful and thought provoking on its own terms.  From the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I apologize on behalf of the silly man from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

While we discuss what Marsh, Hayley, and Trystan do on a weekly basis, why not talk about a few aspects of this week's episode.  Sadly, the government of the United Kingdom has failed to heed the advice of Parliament's own committee on science and such and shall continue to pay for Homeopathy by the National Health.  What is even more daffy is that the government will also start a campaign to tell those it serves that while they can avail themselves of homeopathy, it (a-hem) likely does not work beyond placebo.  The government will continue to pay for magic medical modalities while also paying to tell people it does not work.  It is good to know that our Democracy is not the only one that does quite stupid stuff on a day to day basis.

The Indignates also discussed some tragic cases of people out ghost hunting while trespassing.  The trespassers unfortunately were found out in the middle of their investigation and in their haste to flee fell off a cliff.  They also traded other true horror stories of people being injured or killed during paranormal research, and Hayley was quite sad to add that some people boast of doing such illegal activities to each other, but the consequences can be dire.

The guest was Martin Poulter, a brave soul who gives a lecture “How to start your own cult, the scientology way.”  I always worry for the podcasters who cover any topic of scientology since if you raise the wrath of L. Ron Hubbard's religion, you just might get your ass sued off, which was a topic discussed on the episode.  Poulter covered some of the alleged tragic brainwashing techniques of the cult, and how it came to its current situation of having lots of money, and yet only a handful of followers world wide.  Interestingly, Poulter has a positive outlook for a declining future for scientology.  Poulter posits that the anonymous nature of internet criticism and information on the religion makes it difficult for Scientology's tactics of old to shut down such critics.  While I hope Poulter is correct, I also fear that the internet has just given Scientology a new outlet to reach out to a larger pool of marks to keep the church thriving.

Anyway, I enjoyed this episode even without Brian Dunning.  I suspect you will too.

Point of Inquiry this week featured an interview with Francesca Grifo by Chris Mooney on how well the Obama administration has been fairing in the realm of science since taking office.  I must admit I was somewhat disappointed by the episode.  I just did not enjoy the tone of the episode.  I generally try to avoid politics on this blog.  However, I thought the episode spent a great deal of time making excuses for the Obama administration's failure to get the Federal Government back on pre-Bush track when it comes to science.  It is not that I thought Bush was a good President, he was not.  Nor do I think Obama's track record is or at least is likely to be as full of oddities as Geo. W. Bush when it comes to science policy.  Yet, I cannot help but think (there is no way to test this short of a time machine) that if there was a President McCain with a similar slower than desired return to good science in government policy more condemnation would be expressed on the episode.

Politics and rational thought, while not oil and water, rarely make warm bedfellows.  Sadly, I think this episode bore this out.

The Token Skeptic this week featured an interview with Dr. Jesse Shore, a science communicator who currently works for Prismatic Sciences communication consulting company and formerly of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.  The interview was brief, under twenty minutes, and it was basically a quick view on how one moves into a science communicator job.  Shore knew he wanted to be a scientist at age 12 and after a few bumps, twists and turns, he has a dream job of communicating science and teaching people how to communicate science.  (I am bitter.  I wanted to be an astronaut and then a history professor and now I am an attorney.  drat.)  Anyway, Shore shares his opinion on the current and future opportunities for science outreach and necessity in the coming years.  This was not a must listen to episode, but it is Skeptoid short and an entertaining listen.  Where Sturgess bumps into all these folks and gets them on the record is quite impressive.  The only bad thing about the episode was during the last third of the interview you can hear somebody rocking out in the background.  It came through quite clearly with my ear buds.  I do not know it was so distinct if listened to on a speaker.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe had the temerity of lasting over an hour long, and like R.I., covering multiple topics while being interesting and without a lot of footnotes.  These New Englanders (and Londoner) had better wise up and get more like Skeptoid, or beware the wrath of a Virginian's email.

The Rogues also covered the epic fail of the British National Health Service in paying for Homeopathy against the weight of nearly all the good science, and they covered a recent study connecting meat eating with greater weight.  The Rogues pointed out some of the flaws in the study including the self reporting requirements, self estimation of calorie intake as well as the modest increased weight of the meat eating before one can draw any conclusion from this study.

The two stories I found most intriguing was one by Bob that another theory has arisen which does away with the requirement that the universe begin with a "big bang."  Instead, it replaces it with a space/light/time connection and the constants of gravity and light change with the age of the universe.  Now, I will not pretend to understand little to any of this, and I wish I had my old Astronomy Professor from undergrad, Dr. Marshall around to ask the cogent question "huh?"  The Rogues pointed out some problems with the theory such as it does not seem to explain the background microwave radiation, but I always find it fascinating that even theories as solid as the Big Bang could change or be altered.

The Rogues discussed a newly discovered lost ship the HMS Investigator in the cold arctic Canadian waters right where the archeologist thought it would be.  This brought up a discussion of ghost ships and the Flying Dutchman and all sorts of pleasant little discussed yet classic skeptical fodder.

The guest interviewee was Jim Underdown of the Center for Inquiry West.  Underdown discussed the challenges of getting a skeptical television show produced.  Underdown is starting a skeptical "interskept" making a skeptical wiki site for skeptic groups that can share and keep track of information.  As I follow it, if you are approved skeptic or skeptical group, you will be given a passcode to be allowed access.  It can be used to share information on believers who wish to prove some manner of odd ability, or note which believers are a danger to themselves or others.  It could also be used to funnel people to proper skeptical trained investigators for those who find they have an odd unexplained issue.  My only concern is that to non-skeptics and believers this could be seen as an obvious outlet for the reptilian illuminati jewish alien overlords as mechanism to block out the truth that John F. Kennedy was killed by a plasma bolt from space to hide the true meaning of crop circles.  (or at least something like this)

Despite the episode not being Skeptoid or even a Skeptics' Guide 5 x 5, I found it an entertaining episode.  Oh, the show was recorded on Dr. Novella's 46th birthday, so Happy Birthday to the white lab  coat wearing Novella.


  1. Yeah, sorry about that - it was at a dinner over a bar and they started their set around 7.30pm, and couldn't do much about it. :/ Thanks for listening though! :)

  2. Oh, what did you think of the one with 'Professor Funk'? :)

  3. Believe me there have been far worse audio problems. It was at worst an annoyance. Thanks for reading!

  4. Actually the bad part about it was that I could not figure out what were the lyrics. It was all fine. : )


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