Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Trying to be objective about the subjective (Righteous Indignation too)

Another one of my failed blog projects was an idea to review the iTunes reviews of popular podcasts. I started to read the voluminous amounts reviews for the SGU. A combination of Apple deeming it forbidden to allow cutting and pasting of reviews, my short attention span, and that so many of the reviews were so subjective in nature I shelved the project. (i.e. Dr. Novella or Rebecca Watson is annoying, so I do not listen to the SGU. What can I say other than I disagree. Watson is a skeptical monarch, duh.)

Skeptics, almost by definition, like to think of ourselves as a rational and sober (at least in thought process and not tea toddler sense) lot. I try to think of myself in this light, but there are times when some things are just plain subjective, and something does not take my fancy for reasons that I cannot quite comprehend. This struck me this weekend listening to "Point of Inquiry" with host Karen Stolznow's interview of Brian Brushwood. Brushwood is a magician, skeptic, tech pundit and YouTube staple with his "Scam School" series of videos. By any objective sense I ought to be a big fan of Brushwood and his work to bring skeptical thought to college students and other youths throughout the land, or at least have great amount of respect and admiration for his work as I do for Brain Dunning. Instead, I always groan a little bit when Brushwood is the guest whether on a skeptical/science podcast or on a tech podcast such as TWiT. I call refer to it as the Richard Gere effect, which is when I see Richard Gere I immediately get creeped out and must advert my eyes from the screen. While Brushwood does not creep me out, I do go hum-m-m.

I have never met Brushwood, and I do not doubt that he is a nice guy and likely a more than satisfactory husband, father, friend, mentor, etc. I even found myself nodding in agreement with what he had to say about the use of certain currently growing politically incorrect term "woo" during the episode. I even sort of get why people like and respect what he has to say. Yet, I just do not enjoy hearing him talk skepticism, tech, or much else. I just think sales pitch when I hear him. I am sure the vast majority of readers will think me crazy, but the "pitchman" vibe never is put outside my mind. It spoils the whole thing for me.

This above caused me to ponder the opposite. What I would refer to as the Steve McQueen effect. There are skeptics that I am just naturally drawn to like a moth to an incandescent light bulb, or an adolescent 38 year old to a rugged man's man who sadly died in a quack cancer treatment center. To readers of my blog this list of folks is likely to be no surprise: the Indignates (Trystan, Hayley, & Marsh), Karl Mamer, Dr. Mark Crislip, and Kylie Sturgess are the ones that come most readily to mind. If any of them did a podcast just discussing the local weather for thirty minutes or reading from the phonebook I could listen in delight. I have no idea what the common thread is between them all. I would say they are all subjects of her Majesty the Queen, but Crislip is State side. This is not to diminish their underlying work, which I think stands on their own merits, but I just like listening to what the above people have to say.

Then there is basically everyone else. This sounds terrible for mediocre, but I enjoy the Rogues on the SGU a great deal, but thirty minutes Bob Novella talking about the weather or reading from the phonebook would be a bit much. I would put as another example Brian Dunning in this category. I listen to the podcasts that I do because I enjoy them, and obviously enjoy the host(s) of the shows. They do quality work on their bad days, and excellent work the rest of the time. To a large extent what I enjoy in all my podcasts that I listen to on a regular and semi-regular basis is just purely subjective and not amenable to debate or an evidence based discussion.  This is the case with everyone whether you take to blogging about it, or just listen in your spare time.  To an extent at least a portion of some of the debate between skeptics when it comes to allowing those of faith in or out, or those who wish to take a more mocking versus gentle tone is subjective. Not in total, but in large part.

We have choice. I can choose not to listen to Mr. Bushwood be interviewed or I can deal since Stoltznow is quite good at what she does.*  I think it is important to reflect that not everything skeptics do can be evidence based. Sometimes it is just a gut reflex and that is all.  Sometimes we have to agree to disagree.

In more typical SkepReview fashion "Righteous Indignation" this week feature an interview with the only man in the United Kingdom to be arrested for criminal damage in the act of crop circle formation, Matthew Williams. It was an interesting interview in hearing from one who has regularly done what "corpus"** say cannot be done by man alone in creating intricate designs in amber waves of grain. Williams claims to be retired from crop circle creating days scared straight by Johnny Law, although I think he might be strongly hinting his errand ways continue.

I found the interview rather enjoyable. Sadly, Hayley was not with Marsh and Trystan for this episode, but her place was filled by Dr. Janis Bennion of "Just Skeptics" fame, and her work with "Ladies who do skepticism" blog. Truth be told Bennion is quickly becoming a McQueen in my opinion and is far from a Gere. If for no other reason than she is a William Shatner fan, and was aware of William Shatner's over the top and dramatic "Raw Nerve" talk show. (There are plenty of other more grounded reasons to find Bennion impressive.) If you only watch one episode of "Raw Nerve" then watch the one with Rush Limbaugh. Who is the bigger ham? It is subjective question, but the porcine earnestness is priceless. Anyway, Bennion shared that Shatner is starting a new show which is going to have a skeptical bent. Bennion is also a devoted Trekkie, while Trystan will have none of it.

The episode also contained an earnest plug for the Q.E.D. conference this winter in Manchester, England. If England was not a plan ride away, I would attend myself. Perhaps next year's Q.E.D. conference can be held at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center with M.C. Brian Brushwood so the weekend could be filled with lots of uncomfortable moments for yours truly. Since Hershey is out of the way for nearly every skeptic except myself, Lady, and maybe George Hrab, I doubt it could ever occur.
Sent from my iPad

* *Edit* I left out that some of these general notions of choice I gleaned from some posts of Brian Thompson.  However, I do not wish to confuse or say that in anything that I have written I speak for Mr. Thompson.  Thompson could read this and think me just daft.  He would likely be correct.  I just do not wish at the same time to be accused of cribbing from someone else.  

**cropees (it's that old devil spell check, sorry)


  1. Funny I was just watching a couple scam school videos over lunch. As the junior partner in this blog, let me counter balance by saying I love Brushwood! To me he's a skeptic that's coming in from a new approach and I always find what he has to say on podcasts as interesting and refreshing. But some people like dark beer, some people don't. No one can argue a dark beer hater into a dark beer lover.

    My own skeleton: I really don't like The Skeptic Zone podcast. Now don't get me wrong. Richard Saunders I highly admire. I met him at TAM8. I ate his Tim Tams. Sure I was making some serious time with Desiree Schell and he just swept her away from me but I don't hold a grudge. The better man won. But there's just some undefinable quality about The Skeptic Zone that makes me kind of pass over it. I don't know what's my damage.

  2. It's pistols at dawn then. You defending Mr. Brushwood's honor, and I defending Dr. Dunlop's honor. We'll meet at Niagra falls. (No. You can't borrow a firearm. It's my Yankee advantage.) : )

  3. Richard did that to you?? As a member of a podcast that you don't listen to (erm, what do you think of Token Skeptic...?) - I shall kick him in the ankle next time I see him! >:(

  4. Thank you, Podblack. Just tell him Desiree was my life!