Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe

Jay and the Conspiracy Conference

The most recent episode of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe episode #372 contained a special report segment by Jay discussing a visit of two other people, skeptics, who attended a conspiracy conference.  The skeptics were quit dedicated and spent around $2,000.00 in travel, lodging, and registration fees.  This was a bit more of an commitment than just going down to the local psychic/paranormal fair.

excuse to post a cat pic
Some of the material discussed at the fair for your average scientific skeptic was right out there.  Jay reported that the skeptics who attended the conference reported that some of the attendees believed there to be two types of physics.  The fake Jewish physics and the real Aryan physics, which to those who have studied Nazi Germany puts a chill through one that such outdated and outlandish notions are still considered viable by a segment of the population.  The skeptics reported that there was both implied and also overt antisemitism at the conference.  As well as other ideas such as global warming was made up by the Kennedy Administration to control the population.  Clearly, the content revealed a lack of a rigorous and controlled rationalist thinking was different from what one would find with a gathering of skeptics.

Interestingly, the skeptics reported that the conspiracy folks discussed how to bring over people skeptical of their conspiracy world view echoed the 'don't be a dick' ideas of spreading skepticism as famously discussed at TAM 8.  The idea to work with those outside the fold and allow them to see the light so to speak without belittling their 'ignorance' as an effective means was outreach sure seems familiar.  (I am not saying the 'don't be a dick' approach is improper skeptical outreach just that the other side has similar notions too.)  The conspiracy folks when with their own gathering can act superior or exude an air of being smarter than outsiders, which I have heard as a complaint with skeptics at skeptical events.  What I found interesting is that while their world view is quite different form a skeptical world view, we skeptics can come to some similar conclusions on outreach.  Conspiracy folk and skeptical folk both have the same human tendencies to be a bit full of ourselves when within the 'trust tree' of our pack.  I think skeptics ought to keep this in mind.  Imagine some conspiracy folks (or just not skeptically minded people) attending a skeptical gathering and coming away with 'these skeptics sure are full of themselves.'  I doubt this would be an appealing way to drawing people into the skeptical ranks, or at least see skeptics as a positive influence.  

One other thing nagged me during this segment of the episode.  It was a bit odd that Jay was reporting on what other people reported to him on what occurred at a conspiracy conference.  It would have been nice, and perhaps more effective, if the Rogues were interviewing the actual skeptics who attended the conference. Perhaps they wished to remain anonymous (which I respect) but one could still be interviewed under a pseudonym.  It struck me that if I attended a conference held by the cultural competition and I told Karl Mamer about one would expect that Karl would interview Lady and I.  If instead Karl just did an episode discussing what we told him that it would be a bit strange. It does to some extent take away some amount of credibility, and at the very least adds an unfortunate middleman.  

Other parts of the episode of note were the Rogues giving a nice tribute on the passing of Astronaut Neil Armstrong, as well discussed the 100 year anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon.  The Rogues discussed how in relatively short time frame the pigeons went from blanketing the sky with their numbers to becoming extinct through hunting and habitat destruction.  Dr. Novella's discussion on the number of people who at least at some point in their life hear voices versus the number of people who have a psychiatric disorder was quite interesting.  I always assumed that if you heard voices you had some sort of illness that required treatment.  Like a lot of things I assume, I was wrong.

All in all it was yet another enjoyable and entertaining segment of the SGU.  I would recommend the listener take the time to enjoy it.  Jay's segment on the conspiracy conference even after taking the time to write on it still has my mind pondering it.

Banish Rebecca? 

Finally, on a side note to the SGU, apparently there is an online petition to have Rebecca Watson removed the the SGU.  To counter the anti-Watson petition Hayley Stevens started a support Watson petition, which in part was to show just how silly these are these petitions.  As some background to my thoughts on petitions in general I do not have a very high opinion regarding petitions, especially their effectiveness.  I once had the privilege to intern with for U.S. Congressman for a summer in my youth.  Petitions arriving for the Congressman's benefit were a pretty common event.  The Congressman never took them seriously.  First, if he agreed with the petitioners that was nice, but did not make a difference in outcome.  If he disagreed with the petitioners it did not have the intended effect.  After all (in the Congressman's mind) what did the petitioners know?  It was easy for a person to sign some piece of paper, but the Congressman shared that when he spoke with petitioners at local meetings often the signers would waiver.  How much stock should he put into them after they waiver? Also, on a lot of issues (at the time the Clinton Universal Health Care initiative was the hot topic) there were passionate petitions on both sides.    Signing a petition was viewed as an act without much weight.  All in all, I left that summer with the thought that petitioners under many circumstances and issues were not worth the effort.  Perhaps other members of Congress gave them greater weight, but from my talk with others on the hill petition were more a pain than an effective method to sway Congress.

The above is a long way to say if the petition to be rid of Watson on the SGU gets say 1,500 or more signatures does anyone think it is likely the other Rogues would kick Watson off the show?  I suppose it is not impossible, but highly unlikely.

I like Watson as a Rogue.  I cannot say I have agreed with everything she has opined and stated over the last year relating to all manner of things off and outside of the show on Skepchick and other places. Some things I do have sympathy, and others I am torn or do not concur.  As a member of the SGU Watson is a valued member of the show.  If she left, under whatever circumstances, the show would likely continue without her, but I doubt it would improve the show.  I think she would be missed.

If one does not enjoy Watson on the show stop downloading it. There are a plethora of other skeptical podcasts to enjoy.  Filing a petition just seems to be wasted energy other than to make the signer feel good.  


  1. SGU is the one place they're not yammering about all this crap and some idiot wants to make it an issue for SGU. Geez. Kudos for SGU rising above the fray.