Wacko of the Week is no more

Subscribers to the Skeptoid email newsletter are going to notice something new this week: The much-loved Wacko of the Week section is gone. This segment highlighted a specific nutty person, sometimes living, sometimes dead, who has been a willing part of the vast network of pseudoscience in which we live. Some wackos were pretty scary, some were just plain funny. Why is it gone?

For the same reason that I’ll not be doing any more Listener Feedback episodes of Skeptoid that make fun of goofy, nutty detractors. Episode 251 was the pinnacle of this, and it’s a direction in which Skeptoid never should have gone. I want the show to be a positive resource, not a snarky one. Plenty of you have given me this feedback over the years, and I agree with you. I need to do better.

Particularly now that Skeptoid is a member of the National Science Foundation’s Science360 Radio, the books are used increasingly as textbooks in schools, and I’m in the midst of conversion to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, I need to hold myself to a higher standard. There remain plenty of places you can go on the web for snark, but the Skeptoid podcast shouldn’t be one of them. It’s a place to appreciate the value of knowing what’s real in the world, and enjoying the much greater rewards of true history and true science compared to lazy, sensationalized fiction.

Taking the Wacko’s place is the Wonder of the Week, something amazing (and real) from the world of science. Wonder of the Week made a few appearances in early newsletters, but doing that plus the Wacko was just too much work for this stretched-too-thin podcaster to keep up with. Many of the best Wackos are archived at Torsten Pihl’s Gallery of Wackos.

Please remember that Skeptoid is a listener-supported program. It exists only because a fraction of a percent of listeners make it a two-way street and support it through monthly micropayments. I hope you appreciate this renewed focus I’m giving the show. If you do, please consider joining the ranks of the supporters who make it possible.

About Brian Dunning

Science writer Brian Dunning is the host and producer of Skeptoid.
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34 Responses to Wacko of the Week is no more

  1. Scott Drouin says:

    I think this is a good move, although it was entertaining while it lasted. Keep up the good work!

  2. Adam Jones says:

    When in doubt, positive reinforcement is the way to go. Building something is a real accomplishment – any bully can tear something down.

  3. Good! More positivity in the world! 🙂

  4. Craig Sachs says:

    Cool wonder of the week is a great idea. I am glad to see your ideas evolving !

  5. Ashley says:

    I respect you so much for making this choice. Those sections always bothered me a bit even when they were entertaining. I thank you for being a model on professional Internet and scientific discourse.

  6. Jeff Grigg says:

    I will miss Wacko of the Week. But it’s a good move. I heartily agree that it’s the right thing to do.

  7. It’s probably a good idea for the reasons you mention. But I hope this doesn’t mean you can’t unleash the snark for when you’re a guest or guest co-host on other podcasts, like SGU?

  8. Phronk says:

    Great move. Wacko of the Week always made me a bit uncomfortable. I love snark as much as the next guy, but it was incongruous with a carefully researched science podcast.

  9. SeanG says:

    I’ll miss the snark, but what I like most about Skeptiod is the positivity. Particularly when you point out how cool the real science is or how amazing it is that people and not aliens built the pyramids. Thanks Brian.

  10. Tracy says:

    Good move Brian…we should all strive to do/be better!! Thanks for the reminder….

  11. Greg Middleton says:

    I think Wacko of the Week served it purpose. I think it might have been a bit of Wonder that you didn’t get sued, not that you were wrong but that some people are litigious. I am glad you did the ones you did but you may well be right to raise the tone and move on. This does not mean you can’t do the occasional podcast on some strange, especially harmful claims being made by someone, focusing on the claims and their lack of validity rather than something that could be construed as a personal attack. So yeah, I concur, bin Wacko of the Week.

  12. Greg Middleton says:

    Hey, wait a minute, does this mean I’ll never get to be Wacko of the Week?

  13. Rallick says:

    Good on you, Brian. Winning hearts and minds is so much easier when you’re not tearing things down. Thanks for all the effort you put into the podcast and the various blogs.

  14. Denis Solaro says:

    Same comment as Greg. I wanted to be there and see my friend John Ellis being listed too. I’ve been trolling the mailing list for a year or two, I even thought I could be the next David Mabus. All that for nothing. Greg, let’s get a beer and forget it all. This is a sad day, a sad day.

    • John Ellis says:

      Hey! I’m just way ahead of my time. “They” thought most of the world’s greatest were wackos at the time, so future – here I come, unless there be dragons. Can I join you boys for a beer? Or just come on over – I’ve got some great Homebrews ready to drink. Or maybe just Greg – I don’t think Frogs are allowed in Texas.

  15. Sean Jordan says:

    I have never felt like Skeptoid has been nasty in its snark, but I do agree that it’s time for the show to up the ante from “internet podcast” to “broad science-themed show,” and the emphasis on positivity is encouraging. Way to go, Brian!

  16. psychchick says:

    I LOVED wacko of the week, but what’s better is that you’re an NSF member and doing what you need to do to increase scientific awareness, critical thinking, and knowledge, and that’s pretty cool.

  17. I’ll miss the Wackos but agree that this is a good move for you, Mr. Dunning. With the snarky touch gone from your newsletter, those who would criticise you will have less ammo to reach for. Also, congratulations on your first steps to becoming a non-profit! I hope to be able to financially support you soon: Your cause is one of the few that I truly believe in.

  18. Chauncy says:

    Great news.

    I’m new to the cast and there is now a greater chance that I stick around.

    In my opinion, snark is not in the spirit of skepticism (scientific), reflects badly on the snarker (there is science for that) and makes a podcast sound amateurish in a bad way.

  19. Andiis says:

    A good positive move.

  20. Adam N. says:

    I bet we’ll still get plenty of snark in the episodes. I hope so anyhow.

  21. Blake says:

    Good form.

  22. anthony says:

    Yeah, the wacko of the week thing was terrible. Good riddance. The wonder of the week is actually worth reading.

  23. Reed says:

    I’m very pleased that Wacko is gone! I once suggested a Wacko and am ashamed!

  24. Dani says:

    I am here to agree with the masses. I enjoyed Wacko of the Week while it lasted. I’m a bit more sad to see Listener Feedback episodes go away. That said, I agree with the move that you are making and I am glad to see that you are placing a firm foot in the podcast/radio universe as well as in schools and places of education. Thank you for being passionate about such an important and fantastic thing: Skeptoid.

  25. Daish says:

    While i always was amused by wacko of the week im very glad it has gone. To get people to learn about a world that they don’t understand ( namely the scientific world ) it much better to show people what good can be done with it rather than bad. When people get offended ( by hearing/seeing something the believe in be belittled ) , they get defensive and then will no longer listen to your podcasts, which would be a crying shame as they are so awesome and they could learn a lot. Good on you for taking the higher ground and showing the beauty of the world we live in!

  26. Shirley says:

    Yeah, I know… Everybody seems to be glad Wacko of the week is gone and I suppose I agree, to an extent. I’m not talking about missing the snarky aspects, as those don’t serve the cause. What I will miss is the courage to point to pseudoscience and name it. It it excellent that Skeptoid is moving into the big league and I think that is well deserved, but it pains me just a bit that in order to play with the big boys, the analyst must play nice…don’t ruffle any featers, be PC… It’s great to teach kids what good science is, but not so great to NOT show them what BAD science is in balance. Please, consider continuing to teach recognition of pseudoscience, albeit in a nice, pallatable way. I live with a number of people who love technology, but then use it to tune in to view “Astral Gazers”. I often look to Skeptoid to learn ways to explain the difference between science and not-science. I hope you continue to be skeptical…as there are plenty of mags called, “Science”, “Lancet”, “Nature”, etc., to serve the other purpose. As always, I love and financially I support your work and am hoping you stay on point…the skeptical point.

  27. Nate Eagle says:

    I didn’t really mind Wacko of the Week, but as soon as I read that it was going away and why, I got a big smile on my face. I’m a subscriber, and I couldn’t be happier that your ambition for Skeptoid is more oriented toward evangelism than snark. Again: I didn’t mind it, but I think this is an important step toward reaching more minds.

  28. James Womack says:

    I like the direction Skeptoid is going in and appreciate your reasons for making this change. It’s great that you are beginning to get the recognition you deserve! I think you may have been a little hard on yourself, though.

    When you poked fun at the promoters and students of pseudoscience, I found it amusing. I also thought this was a positive thing — emphasising the ridiculous nature of the claims made by these people is a powerful way to promote rationality and critical thinking. However, I agree with the direction you are taking. Skepticism is popularly branded as a negative, as a means to demolish ideas, dreams and faith. Ridicule and snark is a powerful tool for fighting woo, but it doesn’t help skepticism shake the negative image. By promoting a positive skeptical outlook, where the wonder of scientific and rational endeavour is clearly emphasised, I think you are really helping people see the merits of a skeptical outlook.

    Thanks, Brian!

  29. Chris F says:

    The direction of Skeptoid is laudable and I cant fault the aspiration, but the Listener Feedback episodes were very funny and some of my favourites. Contrary to Brian’s approach summed up in Episode 160 – Sarah Palin Is Not Stupid, I think that these nutters should be ridiculed mercilessly.

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