Monday, January 17, 2011

Some Token Skeptic, The Skeptic Zone & Year end round ups

Many podcasts this time of year feature the past year in review.  Simon Singh appears to be the skeptic of the year after his legal combat with the British Chiropractor Association, which ended in the BCA backing down, and ultimately paying some of Singh's legal costs.  I cannot disagree with this assessment.  Singh risked his reputation and fortune against difficult odds, which after a questionable ruling by the initial court on the definition of the word "bogus" appeared to make his defense all that much more difficult.  Instead of backing down, Singh was a rallying point for skeptical support and libel law reform in the mother country. I doubt anyone would have blamed or thought less of Singh if he published a retraction given what was at stake.  He did not.  He persevered and the world is a better place for it.

The folks at Righteous Indignation did their year in review show with their favorite lists of guests and events throughout the year that was 2010.  I will not ruin the episode by running down who Trystan, Hayley, and the Irishman picked.  The only thing that struck me as a bit odd was the candidate for skeptic of the year.  Her pick was an American school-aged boy who refused to recite "The Pledge of Allegiance" at school as a protest in support of gay rights.  It's not the act that bothers me in the least.  (I did not attend my high school baccalaureate as the whole thing offended my strong desire to see a more perfect church and state separation.  I do in a modest sense understand the situation.)  I just am not sure this is a skeptical or rationalist act.  It seems to be more a political act.  Yes, I know politics and skepticism overlap such as Singh's fight against the BCA, and keeping Creationism out of the science lab.  Still, it just struck me as a tad off, but this is mere nitpicking.  The episode also reminded me just how many "believers" have been interviewed on the show.  It is an impressive track record.  I cannot wait to hear what unfolding for RI during the coming year.

Skepticality handled the year in review by farming it out to Tim Farley.  It was a brief episode with Derek and Swoopy giving a brief intro and exit discussion with Farley giving a quite concise and dense year in review in only a few minutes.  If you desire a quick review of the year and do not have time to listen to the SGU or Righteous Indignation, then this episode is your best bet.  I did not look at the amount of the time of the episode, so I was expecting Derek and Swoopy to enjoy some manner of discussion or analysis. However, it just wrapped up.  I was a bit disappointed.

Over and down to Australia, where Kylie Sturgess kept the skepitcal pump primed as she interviewed a Belgium skeptic who currently resides in Japan where he teaches English and hosts a French language podcast that somewhat focuses on UFOs, Michel Abrassart - guest on Episode 48 of The Token Skeptic Podcast.  I found the interview interesting for a number of things pointed out by M. Abrassart during the course of the interview including the Japanese view of religion, how communication is quite influenced as much by culture attitude as it is by pure language skills, and the popular "beliefs" in Japanese society as well as his view of the skeptical/religion debate within rational circles.  I found Abrassart's own interest in UFOs interesting as this was also one of my own interests and gateways into skeptical outlook. What I found interesting was Abrassart's opinion that the current boom in skepticism in the English speaking world is not matched in the French speaking world of France, Belgium, and Quebec.  I had been wondering about was the current skeptical growth limited to the English language world a few weeks ago, and now I have at last some word about the French speaking world.  Perhaps Kylie can nab a German speaker and get a wider European view.  Abrassart's hope with his show is to help spark a wider growth in French language-based skepticism.

I found myself wishing I understood French to listen to Abrassart's podcast, but unfortunately I only speak English, and sorta kinda can read German if pressed.  I thought it was an interesting interview.  I thought the way it was edited was a bit odd as it seemed to me that not all the questions were kept in the mix, but that Abrassart would just answer a question and the listener had to infer the question.  It was not overly jarring, but just a bit odd.

Sturgess also has recently released a brief episode (this time I noticed the count down on my iPhone) giving an update to her upcoming events which include an appearance at the soon to be held Q.E.D. conference and played a list of skeptical children's names.  It was fun.  The listener also gets to hear Kylie cooking breakfast at midnight with a cat.  This woman gives and gives so much to skepticism and rationalism that she has to record while cooking.  This is why someone who does so much deserves to have a little money donated her way.  Sturgess has installed a donate button on her website.  Given that Sturgess has made trips to American TAMs in the past, traveled across her Continent from Perth to Sydney to attend TAM Australia, and is traveling to Manchester, England in a few weeks to attend Q.E.D., all this activity clearly can take a toll on the personal bank account.  Sometimes the best support to give a fellow skeptic is a few dollars, so they can attend, accomplish, or do something without which we'd all be a little bit poorer.

While writing things Australian, The Skeptic Zone is a podcast I have not featured in far, far too long.  This week's episode was actually quite good, but a long one clocking in at over 130 minutes.  It featured the return of Skeptic Zone King Pin, Richard Saunders, as well as the return of Eran Segev's "Grain of Salt" segment.

Segev discussed the pros and cons of mandatory helmet wearing for all bicyclists.  In Pennsylvania, it is mandatory for all kids to wear a bicycle helmet, but not for adults.  Actually, at one time, it was mandatory for motorcyclist to wear a helmet until that law was repelled.  Anecdotally speaking, I grew up with ATVs and my helmet saved my noggin on more than one occasion.  However, if one rides a Beemer or Honda a helmet seems to be fine, but if you are on a Harley . . . a helmut is just not fashionable while riding your hog unless it has one of those Imperial German spikes on the top.  Anyway, Eran does a quite solid discussion of the various studies on the subject, and it was quite nice to enjoy the segment once again.

Maynard did a highly engaging interview with Food Inspector, Gary Kennedy on current practices in attempting to prevent food-borne disease.  They also touch upon a few flaws in the Mythbusters episode dealing with hygiene of doubling dipping food.  It sounds like it might be some dry material, but Kennedy was a good sport and Maynard is clearly a skilled professional interviewer.

Before the "Think Tank" segment, Saunders and Michael "Marsh" Marshall (former full time host on the Righteous Indignation) did an effective tearing apart of the Power Balance band statement in Britain defending their bit of nonsense plastic jewelry in the face of the Australian government forcing the same company to offer a retraction.  It was wonderful with Marsh reading the British statement, while Saunders countered point for point from the Power Balance Australian retraction or earlier statements made by the company in the past couple years.

The Think Tank was wonderful, complete with bus announcer interruption near the end.   Saunders was joined by Dr Dunlop, Segev, Nurse Joanne Benhamu, Jason Brown and James Crawley.  Power Balance was discussed and briefly the copycat called the iBand in the States as well as Andrew Wakefield and the latest revelations that point to Wakefield's Autism/MMR scare being based not just on bad science, but on falsified science.

All in all, it was quite a good episode of The Zone.  This one clicked quite nicely.

So go out there and donate to your favorite skeptical activist or group, and if you have the time, means, and energy, get yourself to the Q.E.D. Conference in wonderful Manchester, England.


  1. I chose Will Philips as my 'skeptic of the year' because skepticism requires an open mind, and the ability to questions what we, as skeptics, take for granted and do that we're probably not skeptical enough of.

    I think Will did this when he refused to say the pledge. Plus, my original nomination showed an ugly side a day or two prior to recording.

    It was an odd choice, but Will was high up on my inspirational people of 2010 list.

  2. My god you are quick! : )

    I hope I did not come across as overly harsh. I guess I was expecting some known "big name" skeptic rather than some Yank child. Wait. I am a Yank. Oh no.

    I will say that standing up against the crowd (as I remember it at least) was difficult to say the least. Everyone went out of the way to not discuss my skipping baccalaureate. I have no idea what was said behind my back by my classmates.

  3. 'I thought the way it was edited was a bit odd as it seemed to me that not all the questions were kept in the mix, but that Abrassart would just answer a question and the listener had to infer the question. It was not overly jarring, but just a bit odd.'
    Hello! All of the questions were there, but it was pre-recorded and so didn't have the usual 'banter' that can be had. But his detail was so great, that I'm glad you got so much of out it! :)
    Oh - hope you also catch the episode just prior - Episode Forty-Seven – On A Little Bit Of Douglas Adams With Maynard And Seasons Greetings!

  4. It did not "register" with me that pre-recorded meant, well, pre-recorded.

    Yes, indeed I did enjoy the Christmas greeting episode. : )

  5. Hello,

    Just to say thank you for the kind words about my interview on The Token Skeptic podcast.



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