Saturday, March 29, 2014

SKEPTICISM VIEWED FROM THE PODCASTS


Originally posted June 19, 2013

Once again, there is turmoil in Skepdom.  The details of the current bout of discontent is not the purpose of this post.  While slings and barbs are flinging across my twitter feed, it causes me to take stock on how skepticism is doing despite what some may consider dire times.  Arguments on whether skeptics ought to be broaden their reach or stick closer to classic skepticism often derisively called Big Foot Skepticism by some. (Not me or others.) I suspect others interested in Skepticism could care less about the ruckus, or consider the current exchanges theatre.  Therefore, I thought I would share a few thoughts on the state of skeptical podcasting, by giving a brief blurb on podcasts with which I have an acquaintance.  
Skeptoid.  The podcast itself is one of the most reliable productions around showing up in my feed like clockwork every Tuesday.  Other than host Brian Dunning’s meanderings into musical comedy episodes, Dunning churns out skeptical tidbits like FoxConn churns out iPhones.  As my iPhone is imperfect, but I still imagine what I did without it, I feel the same toward Skeptoid.  The biggest question about the show is what changes might be wrought by Dunning's impending sentencing for wire fraud. While the show continues to quite good, its future is unfortunately in some doubt.
The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. The SGU is another old reliable.  Out nearly every Saturday early afternoon, the show has survived the death of a beloved co-host, the skeptical/free thought/feminist drama of Rebecca Watson, and a 24 hour video effort which resulted in a panel of cranky Rogues. Still, the show puts out a dependably informative and entertaining product.  The show is akin to the skeptical world's water cooler mixed with the reliability of a Toyota Camry with Dr. Novella behind the wheel.
Skepticality.  Yet, another old war horse dating back to the early days of podcasts back in 2005 when times were more simple and skeptics argued more against creationist nonsense and less between each other.  The show is now a Derek solo effort sans Swoopy, but Derek gets by with a little help from his friends who nicely fill out the first third of each episode with mini-segments before the interview.  As I have noted before, I always listen to the minisegments, and depending on the guest stay for the interview.  All in all, a show that has had some high and lows but keeps on chugging.  
Quackcast.  Dr. Mark Crislip the crusader against supplements, complementary and alternative medicine (SCAM).  The longer the show continues, the more stripped it has become.  No more intro music. Not much of a pithy introduction, and the host just gets down to business.  Dr. C. seems more and more burned out.  He sounds more like the government employees who earn their 30 years of service recognition.  The content is still quite informative, but the episodes seem to be trending shorter and shorter.  I do fear that at some point the show will just fade away.   
The Token Skeptic.  Australia's award winning one-woman (Kylie Sturgess) podcast that tends to cover the off the beaten trail aspects of Skepdom.  Kylie justifiably prides herself in not interviewing the same old folks on other podcasts.  For my tastes in skeptical podcast, she wanders a bit too much into atheist territory, but not too much or too often.  Unlike Dr. C., Sturgess does not appeared to be burned out at all.  Perhaps this is achieved by releasing episodes in bursts rather than continuously.  It works.   
The Skeptic Zone.  A bit newer than the Skepticality or the SGU, the Zone has been pumping out content on a weekly basis for about five years and is an Australian staple.  The content of the show is not as consistent as some other podcasts.  Some weeks there is a Think Tank, other weeks not.  The length of the episodes vary, but the host, Richard Saunders, is always personable, and Dr. Rachael Dunlop is always on the fight against anti-vaccination goons.  I do not listen as regularly, but I do often enough that if it stopped production, I and I am sure many others would miss it.  

Exposing Pseudo Astronomy.  Dr. Stuart Robbins twenty to thirty minute thrice monthly podcast is one of my favorites.  In part, it could be his heavy reliance upon Coast to Coast AM clips, and Robbins really knows his stuff.  He conveys it without being dry and stuffy.  He has a whiff of snark without being an ass.  At times his episodes on technical issues on photography lose me, but he does give understandable explanations why a popularly printed photograph on Mars is not showing a glass worm on Mars that the government is hiding from the sheeple, but just a photographic artifact.  I hope Stuart is able to keep up with the continuous one man effort without burning out.
Strange Frequencies.  Bobby Nelson and Jason Korbus do a live Vodcast out of Ohio each week covering skeptical topics of the day along with interviews.  Luckily for me, they also release an audio only feed for download after the live show.  If Skeptics with a K or the late Righteous Indignation were in the Midwest and only two guys, that is Strange Frequencies sorta kinda.  I enjoy the banter between the hosts, and while it is not a weekly must listen for each week, I do try and catch it if I can. 
Skeptics with a K.  Marsh, Collin, and Mike have some of the quickest and smartest banter in Skepdom.  They can get a bit cheeky as when they do an entire episode of made up stories to see if anyone notices.  Every two weeks the trio give another entertaining take on the past two weeks skeptical events. 
Virtual Skeptics.  This is not a podcast, but a vodcast.  I wish it was a podcast too.  I basically treat it as such walking around the house with my iPhone gingerly in my pocket listening to the panel discuss each individual's skeptical topics.  Out of all of the panel shows that I listen to, this is the one for me feels like I am sitting with friends over dinner discussing skeptical stuff.  These are the cool geek friends I think most skeptics scattered throughout the English speaking world wish we had.  The show's been going on weekly for a year, and the biggest fault with the show is that Google Hangouts is more than a tad glitchy. 
The above list is not complete.  There is Be Reasonable, Fortean Radio, (New and Improved) Irreligiosophy*, (the beloved) Conspiracy Skeptic, Point of InquiryMeet the Skeptics, Monster Talk, and Rationally Speaking among others that are out there for one’s skeptical (or related to skepticism fix.)  The state of skeptical podcast right now is really damn good.  There is choice aplenty.  There are view points and style aplenty.  While I see folks within Skepdom going at it hammer and tongs, which I find depressing, the above podcasts avoid such conflict for the most part and just keep on keeping on with performing skeptical goodness.  It is heartening to see that so many people within the small community that make up Skepticism are willing to put in the time and effort to produce shows.  Yes, I am concerned for the future of Skeptoid, and for Dr. C’s efforts to continue his show.  Yet, there is Strange Frequencies, Virtual Skeptics, and Be Reasonable stepping into any possible hole.  Let the discussion,  analyzing, and interviewing on UFOs, alternative medicine, ghosts, dowsing, end of the world prognostications, creationism, and even Big Foot etc. continue.  At least viewed from my area of interest, Skepticism is not failing or in a crisis.   Far from it, I think it is flourishing.  
*Ok. This is an atheist podcast.  I add it as a success story of a rationalist podcast that hit difficulties and perserved after a hiatus and is back and better than ever.   



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