Sunday, August 22, 2010

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

This week on the "Skeptics' Guide to the Universe" the Rogues discussed the big skeptical news story of the week, which was a parent group in Canada asking the local school district to ban WiFi in the school.  Certain parents indicate that while their kids are in school they suffer from anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and a host of other nonspecific symptoms, while on the weekend the kids are fine.   Rebecca and Jay jumped to the conclusion I did when I first heard this story that the kids are knowingly or at least subconsciously playing this up to get out of school.  Steve was a bit more generous to the kids positing it may have more to due with sleep depravation than playing hooky.  The Rogues then discussed if there is a plausible mechanism for the WiFi to cause illness, and came to the conclusion that it is highly unlikely.

Bob discussed how binary star systems can cause stars which one would think would go "black hole" based upon their mass instead just turn into neutron stars, which as an astronomy geek I found enjoyable.  The Rogues also discussed futurist Ray Kurzweil's notion that in ten years we will have the ability to duplicate the brain in a computer.  Kurzweil's basis for this idea is that at that point we will have the computing power to duplicate the amount of information contained in our DNA that codes for the brain, and therefore, be able to mimic the mind in silicon.  The gang pointed out that this is actually only the starting point.  The DNA is only the packed tool box for the brain, but the brain function itself is exponentially greater in scope and information use than what Kurzweil was discussing.  I found this discussion quite interesting as the Rogues also delve into the tricky area of when a person is trying to be knowledgable in many field for a given purpose but an expert in none.  How this can trip up even the most well meaning and non-woo person such as Kurzweil

Rebecca discussed an Australia based story of a woman who had a dream of the location of a body of a missing child might be, and instead found the head and torso of a grown woman.  She found a dead body, just not the correct one.  The media has sold this as a psychic success story, when even the woman herself (the live one not the dead one) does not claim to be psychic.

The guest this week was Bruce Hood, who was interviewed right after his talk given at TAM 8.  According to Karl, who was there to hear it first hand, it was a fantastic lecture.  It was a highly interesting interview which was really more of a discussion between Dr. Novella and Hood.  They discussed how people can be fooled into what they believe they are seeing based upon how our brain works and what the mind comprehends.  This is all rather standard Hood stuff.  The most interesting part of the interview for me was the discussion on just how dangerous is Homeopathy, and if Homeopathy does go away are we going to regret that our wish has been granted.  Hood brings up that there is a placebo effect, and homeopathy is just water after all so its use in itself will not cause any harm.  Hood pointed out that for people with chronic disease processes it is much more cost effective to treat someone with water than spend untold sums chasing down something that cannot be fixed with expensive modern medical practice.  Dr. Novella pointed out that the placebo effect is quite limited, and there is a danger of people treating with homeopathy to their detriment when something in real medicine might be able to fix.  Dr. Novella also points out that Hood is skating close to Chairman Mao's idea to treat the masses with Chinese Medicine, which does not work, but it is something since they could not afford real medicine for everyone.  I have condensed and paraphrased a lot in the discussion and both Hood and Dr. Novella had a lot more nuanced position that is above.  Needless to say it was a fascinating interview and well worth the effort.

One small thing I have noticed lately is that it seems to me that Bob's sound quality has degraded in recent weeks.  I do not know if he has a new mic, or computer but something seems off lately.

"The Skeptic Zone" this week featured an interview of Banachek while at TAM 8.  I love Banachek interviews.  The guy is chock full of charisma with his British/South African/U.S. accent.  Banachek is now taking over the million dollar challenge at the JREF, and he hopes to have more actually challenges in the coming years.  He also discussed how when he was teaching himself metal bending based upon what he thought Uri Gellar is was doing, his own system was actually superior to what Gellar was able to pull off at the time.  For some reason this brought a big smile across my face as I walked Ike.

The show had a brief recorded bit of good will at a Canberra skeptics in the pub, which was a pleasant bit of filler.  This was followed by a Dr. Rachie reports on the latest fails of Meryl Dorey  and how she has been called out for her miss use of statistics by the government of Australia falsely indicating that vaccines do not work.

There was a full Think Tank (yeah a Think Tank) with Maynard, Saunders, Dr. Dunlop, Jo Benhamu, Jason and James.  All sorts of things were discussed including an alleged ghost sighting on some dark road where if you drive over 111mph at night you will see the ghost light of a motorcyclist who died a few years earlier.  The problem is that now people are driving 111mph on a dark road at night looking for ghosts which just is not safe unless you are James May or Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear.  (The coolest show on television as far as I am concerned.)  On a sadder note to a history geek like me, was that Maynard is the only one of the panel who knew what "The Flying Tigers were and what 'the hump' was during World War II.  These are both things that happened in their general area of the war in the Pacific Theater.  As a history buff I am crest fallen.  If I ever meet with the good folks of the Skeptic Zone I must sit them down and teach them some of the bigger points of world history.

The other thing I learned on the episode is that the "Token Skeptic" has promotional stickers.  Where can these stickers be found, and more importantly are there any promotional refrigerator magnets to grace my fridge.  I am a collector.

"Point of Inquiry" had Robert Price off for the week, so instead the episode featured Price's lecture given at C.F.I's student leadership conference entitled "Is the Bible Mein Kampf."  The gist of Price's talk was that the fundamentalist literalist view of the bible is clearly wrong, but atheists and free thinkers should not embrace this same incorrect view of the bible to vilify it.  As an example Price brought up if a group today decided that Greek mythology was the literal true word of the gods, while most free thinkers would clearly see they were wrong they would not vilify the mythology itself.  Instead it would be viewed a a moral and ethical backbone of western civilization.  Price basically makes the same case for the bible standing in for the mythology.  I see Price's point.  I also think he is shooting fish in a barrel.

Interestingly, one of the questions that made the edit was one asked by Jeremy Beahan of "Reasonable Doubts."  One thing that Beahan brought up in his question and sometthing he brought up in a recent RD was the idea that atheist/agnostic/free thinkers should not play gotcha when pointing out the inherent internal contradictions in the bible to a believer.  Price agreed.  I just do not understand this logic especially if you are debating a literalist person of faith who states categorically that the Bible is the divine inspired word of God and therefore is perfect and inerrant.  Why someone on the free thought side would not point out the obvious problems found within the text itself seems odd.  This is not to say it will carry the day or will convince anyone, but it is seems factually wrong not to bring it up.

I enjoy listening to Price a great deal.  I shall continue to enjoy hearing him on PI as well in other forums.  However, the more I do hear him, the more I think I have disagreement with him at times.      

Sent from my iPad

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