Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, The Skeptic Zone, Just Skeptics, Righteous Indignation, Quackcast

This week featured a number of interesting interviews but in particular the interviews with Simon Singh and Massimo Pigliucci on the "Skeptics' Guide to the Universe" and "The Skeptic Zone," respectively, were particularly enlightening.

Singh was interviewed at TAM, which seemed to be lead by Jay Novella. The hippest Novella did an admirable job. Singh once again was asked about the whole UK libel law travail, but while I first groaned over a possible rehash of events that have been picked over (and over) in recent months, I was wrong to have such a reaction. As I am sure the reader knows, Singh was sued in England by the British Chiropractic Association for libel by stating that their treatments were bogus. The Brit Chiros argued that this meant they were knowingly doling out treatment they knew did not work, while Singh argued that he meant no such thing. Rather, he meant to say they were providing treatment that did not work, period. He did not say anything on the state of mind of the Chiros. Unlike the colonies, er...States where the burden of proof is on the one bringing the suit, in Britain the burden of proof is on the one being sued. What was fascinating from an American perspective is how not only how the law itself is rather anti-freedom of expression and speech, but how the legal compensation system in Britain also punishes the loser in litigation.

The most interesting aspect above is just how decent Singh is after losing, by his own account, 18 months of his career defending this suit, his reputation, and the great financial drain it cost him. Singh at one point noted how he felt sorry for the Chiropractors for actually winning the first round legal wrangling since the initial win on the definition of "bogus" actually hurt them financially by impelling them to continue with the litigation. I know it is easier to be magnanimous in victory, but if it were me, I suspect I would be telling the BCA to 'suck it' at some point at every interview. This is why Mr. Singh is who he is, and why I am who I am. Now here's to hoping the British reform their libel laws soon so this all is not in vain.


While on the Zone, Richard Saunders interviewed Dr. Massimo Pigliucci mostly regarding his book "Nonsense on Stilts," which for the record I downloaded to my iPad shortly after I listened to this episode. The discussion was a vibrant one with Saunders and Pigliucci discussing why the Zone does not typically cover certain topics and in particular global warming. Pigliucci humbly revealed why he is made of awesome, and a few flecks of brilliance as well. For me, Pigliucci's position on what skeptics, in general, should tackle and what should be done more is quite reasonable, at least to me. Pigliucci subscribes that skeptics ought to investigate and examine the traditional skeptical topics (UFOs, Bigfoot, ghosts, ESP) as science, and working scientists rarely bring their talents and skills to bear in these realms. However, in the area of cutting edge and/or controversial science such as global warming and evolution, the skeptic should more or less be a follower of the scientific consensus. I have written about this before on my own change of views about climate change, and how I basically decided while I did not like the idea of global warming, I was in no position to question the vast majority of climatologists in this regard. Hopefully, after I read Pigliucci's book, I will do a bit of a book report on it.

The Think Tank (yes, one was included on this week's show) included Dr. Dunlop, Saunders, and Maynard. My favorite part of the Tank was Dr. Dunlop discussing her thoughts on what fields the Australian Skeptics ought to focus upon and in particular what she thinks is most import to focus upon at the moment. Dr. Dunlop used as an example that while Prof. Richard Dawkins believes skeptics should target religion as the great evil to rid society of at this time, Dr. Dunlop thinks alternative medicine and in particular the dropping vaccination rate is the more potent and immediate danger. Dunlop in contrast to Dawkins is not suggesting this should be the general focus of skeptics international but it is unnecessary to try to herd skeptics into one general target. There are topics, interests, and area aplenty to go around.

On "Just Skeptics," Dr. Bennion was not on this show this week, so I really could care less about this episode.

No. I jest. While Dr. Bennion was not co-hosting, the show was good despite it. It was a very Brit-centric episode discussing businesses that are paid to solicit donations for charities. The guest skeptic was Dr. Aust who is a crazy scientist with apparently mad hair and a lab coat, and yes he is a stereotype. However, he is a good stereotype and a dry witted one to boot. His rant while not ground breaking was a wonder condemnation of alternative medicine worth of the master himself Dr. Mark Crislip.
"Righteous Indignation" this week interviewed Paul Rowland who invented a device using LCD lights to attempt to communicate with extraterrestrials. Rowland posits that perhaps one reason more traditional methods of looking for ETs such as with S.E.T.I. is that their scope of search is too narrow. Rowland indicated that perhaps the aliens communicate with light and not radio waves and therefore we are calling them on the wrong line. Therefore, he has invented a device that apparently converts sound whether the spoken word or music into light pulses which aims into the night sky sort of a tricked out uldess lamp.

After his first experiment, which failed to draw any UFOs at the moment of the test, it is alleged that a UFO was sighted in the vicinity of the broadcast a few hours later. This has impelled Rowland to further his experiments as this first test might have actually had a hit. Except I think the physics works against this hypothesis for a number of reasons, but assuming the UFOs showed up eight hours after the test this would mean the light signal had four hours to race out into space be spotted by the aliens and for the aliens to race to the spot of the transmission. For simplicity, let's say the aliens saw this beacon four hours after the event. This would place the aliens at the distance of Neptune from the Earth. I would tend to think aliens around the neighborhood of Neptune in spacecraft of an advanced nature might notice a lot of other bright spots emanating from Earth such as Paris' lights, or London, or Tokyo, etc. Why those would not draw attention, but this LCD light would is a bit of a stretch.

The guest seemed quite sincere. I do salute his pluck. However, I suspect this plan was not the most thought out. I did enjoy the interview.

The Indignates also discussed last week's interview with crystal healer Wilkins which is something they rarely do. They found the interview disturbing. I found it a bit depressing. The Indignates were a bit surprised by Wilkins apparently lack of thinking through what she is doing in the alternative medical realm. Granted, I do not have the same experiences of the Indignates in dealing with folks, but very often, in my limited experience most such folks do not think it through. You get in a comfort zone and you stick with it, and do not upset your mental apple cart.

While I rarely discuss the show's weekly "Quackery Quote" segment at the end of most shows, where one of the panel give a quote and the others have to guess the author from a list of four or five, this week was notable because they took your humble blogger's suggested quote. Wow, so desperate for quotes they turn to my lame suggestions. They clearly need new writers and research staff. I suggest the listeners do a little legwork and send in a quote to the Indignates for them to guess. It'll help them out. It's also a request made by Trystan at the end of the episode too.
Finally, Dr. Mark Crislip posted another episode of "Quackcast" this time covering Reflexology, and don't call it a foot massage or the foot quacks will become rather cross at you. The episode is a brief affair of approximately twenty minutes. Really, how much time is necessary to point out the illogic that all manner of disorder can not only be diagnosed by feeling up someone's foot, but also treated? Dr. Crislip manages to share a brief history of the modality, give the history of studies regarding its efficacy, bemoan the waste of time and money on its research, and rip it to shreds all in the time it takes for me to pull out of the garage and end up at the work parking lot. Is he being a dick? No question about it. Is it brilliant and entertaining? Absolutely, no doubt.

Sent from my iPad

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