It's Columbus Day. The day we celebrate Columbus discovering America, and for me it means spending most of the day sitting on the sofa and watching Top Gear with Ike and hopefully episode 2 of "Bad Universe." The good wife does not work for the government so she's off to work. (Yes. I know. Christopher Columbus did not discovery anything in the strictest sense. The natives were here for thousands of years, the Norseman bopped by about five hundred years earlier, and the Chinese might have discovered San Francisco Bay. However, Chris kicked off the whole colony thing which had some dreadful genocide and lots of slavery, which should not be condoned. However, it has ended up with me on my sofa watching Top Gear rather than . . . I dunno. Um-m-m. Something else.) James May is driving across Iceland as I type.
The Token Skeptic featured a panel discussion at this year's DragonCon on Skepticism and Education which was moderated by D.J. Grothe with such esteemed panelists as Barbara Drescher, Michael Blanford, Daniel Loxton, Pamela Gay, Matt Lowry, and naturally Kylie Sturgess. If there was one issue with the panel, it was that it had too many participants. Now similar to the Emperor in Amadeus who thought Wolfie had too many notes, but did not know which ones to cut, I do not know which participants I would cut. It was a bit confusing to a point, and unfortunately in a neighboring room to this panel there was a loud group singing, clapping which annoyed panelist and the listener alike. Nothing to do about it, and Sturgess cleaned up the sound rather well.
What I found interesting was the panelists could not agree on simple definitions of skepticism. Grothe asked the panel whether they were educators or skeptical educators. Daniel Loxton expressed that he thought skepticism was its own distinct realm of study, while the wonderful Dr. Pamela Gay thought that skepticism is a tool for teachers to give to their students. The panel discussed whether skepticism is useful in not just science, but also non-science courses. Sturgess shared that she found that critical thinking was useful in teaching English, which I took to mean English literature. I was a history major, and actually a good historian must be skeptical and rational as well. At the end of the day the area of history and the conclusions the historian draws must be based upon some sort of evidence. After all that is what good scholarship is based upon.
Naturally, the panel touched upon the R word: Religion. Dr. Gay, who is a notable skeptic and Christian defended her non-overlapping magisteria, while most of the rest of the panel who spoke on the topic thought it was ripe for scrutiny except for Loxton. It seems to me that Loxton just likes to avoid uncomfortable subjects, which I understand. Loxton wishes to concentrate on the "classic" skeptical fodder of aliens, bigfoot, and dowsing. In many ways, the crux of the discussion centered on Dr. Gay and Loxton. They did not always disagree, but they seemed to be the focal points of the panel.
My viewpoint on this issue is that religion is ripe for skeptics to discuss. However, it should not be the focus. Yes, this is for political reasons to not drive away excellent folks such as Dr. Gay. It is also practical. What point is it to drive out the faithful who can do great work in rest of skep-dom and lose their ideas and contributions?
It is well worth the listen. Just be prepared for annoying breaks in the discussion due to background noise from the room next door.
Righteous Indignation featured Trystan, Marsh, and not Hayley Stevens. Ms. Stevens was under the weather, and for a time lost her hearing. Luckily, she is on the mend according to the other Indignates. In her place was Colin Harris of Skeptics with a K podcast.
The Indignates and friend discussed a number of topics this week. It was all rather breezy. One story of note to us Americans was a study that reported that one in seven of us (Americans) have consulted a psychic. I was surprised it was only one in seven. I was thinking one in three is more like it. Perhaps the Northeast is psychic central, but I know a lot of people who have consulted such folk. Anyway, they were discussing various ideas in New York City and Warren, Michigan to have licensed psychic and fortune tellers. They would not be tested to see if they had powers, but more of a criminal background check. The problem as pointed out by the crew is that a licensed fortune teller has the imprimatur of the government backing their claims. To me it might give them the same sway as Chiropractors have gained by being licensed in all fifty states. At times when I go into my Chiropractic is crap speech someone pipes in with "but they are licensed." I think "damn" and "blast."
My guess for the push to license such psychics is not to lessen the conmen and conwomen in the world, but to collect the license fee money. We are in a recession. Times are tough, and governments need money. Brother, can you spare a dime?
The Indignates discussed methods the British Health service is undertaking to control Hospital Bibles as infectious disease vectors. Somehow this turned into a new R.I. Podcast contest to see which listener can hide (not harm or destroy) any Gideon Bible one finds while staying at a hotel. I know it is all in the name of fun, but I thought it was a bit silly even non-schoolmarm podcast that is R.I. (Ed. note - sounds like loads of fun to me!)
The panel discussed a listener's theory of secular Karma, which sounded a lot like "pay it forward" to me. While I agree with the Indignates that it really is not Karma if you make it a modified "golden rule," the listener was not being very original either.
Oh, yes. David Icke does not like being termed the "King of Bullshit." I am not sure if the Indignates have landed on the King's radar or not. It was a funny discussion.
Finally, Trystan and Marsh interviewed Mark Pilkington, author of the book Mirage Men. The book details how the U.S. military helped to propagate the U.F.O. notions of the 1950's and onward. I was all prepared to think Pilkington a wackadoo. He at least seemed reasonable on the episode. At least during the interview he put forth the general idea that the U.S. military used the U.F.O. question and culture to its own advantage during the cold war. He gave an example of the military using sightings of early U2 spy planes by the military to learn how noticeable a large black wide winged aircraft was to those on the ground. It was a reasonable enough discussion to cause me to inquire about purchasing his book. Unfortunately, it is not available for the Kindle or iBook. I likely will not be reading it. (God, I am turning into a paper print snob so quickly.)
The entire episode even without Ms. Stevens was a light and fun listen. Next week there will be no new show, and instead an "Unlucky Dip" episode of things they scrounged off the digital cutting room floor will be sent out while Trystan and Marsh attend TAM London.
I do not believe Sturgess is attending TAM London. It would be nice to hear a panel with Trystan, Marsh, Hayley, and Sturgess all skepping out with each other. Heck, I'd like to toss in Dr. Bennion and Gavin Schofield then people (not me) could complain of too many skeptics. A boy can dream.