Monday, September 5, 2011

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, The Token Skeptic, and Righteous Indignation

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is not perfect.  For the most part, the episode was typical solid skeptical goodness.  The show opened with a discussion of the demise of the passenger pigeon and challenges faced by the international space station.  The space station currently has no reliable means of transport and resupply since a failure of a Russian Progress mission.  How Hurricane Irene affected the Novella family in Connecticut was discussed.  The parents of the Novella boys recently bought a home with a large propane-powered generator where the family retreated to during the storm.  Unfortunately, it sounds as if no one bothered to test the generator and the family was without power anyway.  (Who has a giant generator?  Do they live in a secret underground lair?)  Bob discussed some challenges to Super Symmetry, which sounds quite interesting although I can never quite comprehend.  The Rogues had some fun with a listener who disliked their use of the term "tin foil" when they really mean "aluminum foil."

I thought the interview was off, or as my editor noted "that was dissatisfying."  The interview this week was with Jad Abumrad of the popular podcast "Radiolab."  "Radiolab" is one of those podcasts that while popular within the skeptical community has never caught my fancy.  In part, I think it is the tone and NPR-style of editing that loses me.  I find myself not listening to it, but hearing the rhythm of the show and wondering off.  It's a purely subjective thing with me.  The show basically deals with normally scienc-y topics over the course of my hour zone-out in a story type fashion.  Gabfest that meanders around ala "The Conspiracy Skeptic" or "The Talk Show" it is not.

What was odd about the interview is that it began with pleasantries between everyone and Abumrad.  Abumrad discussed his background with science parents, then doing the late radioshift and finally how "Radiolab" evolved into its current format.  So far, it was good if not brilliant material.  However, the interview turned to an episode from 2009 regarding how hookworms can be beneficial to regulating the immune system.  Apparently, the episode focused on Jasper Lawrence and his treating folks with hookworms for various immune ailments based on some proof concept studies.  Abrumrad became a bit defensive, and Dr. Novella explained why he saw an problem with someone going from a basic study to treatment without any steps in between.  Then the interview just sort of ended.  At least from the way the interview was edited, I perceived the reason to have Abumrad on the show was to discuss this topic since it generated so much email at the time to the Rogues.  All the Rogues seemed to perk up when this was brought up, but then it just did not seem to go anywhere interesting.  I thought it was a rare miss for the show, which typically does a good job of it.

Episode Seventy-six of the Token Skeptic appeared on my iTunes feed.  It featured an interview in the round with Jack Scanlan, Sara Mayhew, and Kylie Sturgess basically talking about a lot of things, but much of it on their experiences at TAM 9.  This was not some NPR tightly edited affair, but a nice chat among a few skeptics.  I did not zone out.  Mayhew, artist and blogger, gave a talk at TAM 9 as well as some TED talks in the past on the intersection of art and skepticism/science.  Scanlan is a member of the Young Australian Skeptics and discussed what it was like for a youth to travel to and interact with people in Las Vegas.  It was a pleasant forty minute chat.

Alas, if you have ever dreamed of attending an astronomy lecture given by Drs. Phil Plait and Pamela Gay your desires will be satiated by a video recorded and posted by Kylie Sturgess on her YouTube channel of a lecture given at the Atlanta Skeptics Star Party .  It's a geeks 14 minutes in heaven.

Edison's sketch of the first tin foil phonograph
Last but not least, on Righteous Indignation Trystan Swale has returned to the show he started and from a medical leave he took for a few months.  As great as it is that he has returned, it also felt as if he had not been gone at all.  It just immediately clicked.  shew-w-w-w.  Also, Trystan has his own website.  It includes a quite nice list of 25 logical fallacies.

Anyway, Marsh shared that Q.E.D. headline speaker is Joe Nickel, and went on pitching Q.E.D. and how it is going to be an amazing wonderful meeting.  While ticket prices have been dropped £10 to a mere £89 (~$143), it still has not dropped sufficiently for me to reasonably entertain the thought of traveling to the mother country.  If they ever dropped the price to a £-50, I would be there in a shot.  I can dream.  Trystan shared that he does not understand how the record player works including near modern vinyl records or wax Edison cylinders.  So if you can explain how analog sound recording works succinctly, email the Indignates.  I must admit there are a lot of technologies I do not quite understand such as how planes fly, but I think I get mechanical sound recording, although perhaps after listeners email explanations I could be fooling myself.

The guests on the show were Greg Newkirk and Jason Gowin from the WhoFortedBlog, and apparently fellow Pennsylvanians from the Northeast corner of William Penn's former colony.  The pair relayed that they have done their share of ghost hunting, dabbled in U.F.O. research including joining MUFON.  However, they were on discussing their adventure Bigfoot hunting, and the accompanying documentary "The Bigfoot Hunger: still searching."  Greg and Jason were a fun pair to listen to talk.  Part of it might be that they made Taco Bell and Applebee's references which I immediately understood, but also it was they sounded like a sharp pair.  Now I have to find a way to get my hands on this documentary, but here is a link to a clip.

Anyway, it was quite nice to have Trystan on the mend and back on the show.

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