Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe: Episode 501

I have been an irregular listener to the SGU for the past year.  I tend to only listen to parts of an episode here or there.  It's not that the quality of the show faltered.  It has maintained a high and consistent level for some years.  However, that very consistency over the years has also made it grow a bit stale.  I get it.  To speak in my local slang, 'don't bust something that ain't broke.'  Really, all the Rogues but especially Dr. Novella should be commended for producing a weekly podcast like clockwork and keeping the show from getting into all of the skeptical infighting.  
cover picture from SGU #1

I made a point to listen to this week's episode #501 as it was a house party to celebrate the production of 500 episodes. I have to say the episode felt like a breath of fresh air.  The general organization of the show was the typical beginning banter, some news items, then science or fiction.  However, added to the mix were Massimo Pigliucci, Jon Blumenfeld, Larry Fitzgerald, Joe Novella, and Joshie Berger.  Further, they were all in the same room together which also helps in keeping conversation flowing.

Also, some interesting tidbits were shared about the show, especially how Jon Blumenfeld is basically the Pete Best of the SGU leaving the New England Skeptical Society shortly before the show was launched.  Hearing Joe Novella, the brother who is not a Rogue, give his opinion is always intriguing.  Naturally, having Prof. Pigliucci share his two cents about the show and skepticism in general is a wonderful counterpoint and support to Dr. Novella's steering of the show.  

The topics discussed were all things I had read about earlier.  The discussion regarding Brian Williams' memory about being shot down over Iraq was interesting given that Dr. Novella is a neurologist.  I was not surprised by his take that it is quite possible that Williams was not knowingly lying when he told his story.  Rather, Williams' memory could have just mushed things together.  It was interesting.  The Rogues hope that this might turn into a teaching moment to reveal to the public just how terrible human memory can be has not come to fruition in the week since the show was recorded.  News anchor lies is much more pithy than News anchor might be lying, or his memory like everyone's is subject to massive failure.  

Their take on the debunking of viral Youtube video of Lars Andersen's archery video was good, but a bit frustrating.  While there are a number of debunking pieces on the web, the one that is head and shoulders about the rest was the one produced by John Rael and narrated by Anna Maltese at Skeptically Pwnd.  They appear to refer to the Rael video, and to be fair there is a link to it in the show notes.  Yet, they do not give it a shoutout or a hat tip.  It would have been nice.  I might be picky here, but spread the love a bit more, Rogues.  

Prof. Pigliucci touched upon how skepticism has changed over the past ten years, and the growing rift between those who at least acknowledge the philosophical aspects contrasting with those who seem to think philosophy is of little to no use within skepticism.  I have been finding this aspect of skepticism interesting as of late.  PIgliucci shares his thoughts on this matter, which is nearly worth the listen to the episode itself.  

Overall, I quite enjoyed this episode.  I am not sure how the SGU could add the above noted elements to keep the show a bit more fresh.  Clearly, schlepping in everyone including guest Rogues on a weekly basis is impractical.  Dr. Novella noted that each Saturday he gets up at 6am for six hours of post production work to release the weekly Saturday episode.  I cannot imagine doing that for 500 episodes.  Yet, he has managed to do it.  It is an impressive achievement.  

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