Listener Feedback Strikes Back

Another perilous dive into the listener feedback files.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid #197
March 16, 2010
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
 

Whenever I check my email, I first dig a big trench in the snow to fortify my position; for, sure enough, the feedback emails come lumbering in from the distance like great big four legged robots. We trade laser-like barbs, but it never settles much. Generally I have to bring in the big guns, and one by one I tie the legs of each email, trip it to the ground, and then blow it up, as I do for you today now.

Tim from New York took issue with the episode in which I argued that scientists should not agree to public debate with pseudoscience, my basic reasoning being that the loudest message broadcast by such a debate is that we have two equally plausible, and thus debatable, possibilities. And whenever that's not the case, it's counterproductive to science education:

And who decides what is science and what is pseudo-science?

The scientific method.

...This column argues that science should be put on the path of ossification and decay.

Yes, that's exactly what I argued! Well summarized. (Straw man!)

...You grant yourself a power and status no person can safely have (and no person has the right to grant themselves in any case). If you don't want to debate someone, fine. Don't debate them. But to refuse to debate them because you've declared they're not scientific...that's a dangerous attitude.

If you think that science consists of one person walking around with a staff and anointing subjects as good science or bad science, like King Arthur knighting people, you are in error. The jury is no longer out on the core fundamentals of most sciences. If the question is whether the Earth is thousands of years old or billions, it is not "dangerous" to refuse to give both answers equal status. One is proven correct through every available line of evidence, one is proven incorrect. Proponents of claims that have been long established as invalid by the scientific method don't qualify for renewed status unless and until new science emerges that overturns the basics of what we know. That does happen, but not very often. When it does, it happens in the lab, not in a debate.

Going back to my episode on the Bell Witch, I pointed out that the author most responsible for creating the legends used only untraceable sources. If you want to make a point, but don't want anyone else to be able to prove you wrong, cite a source that you know nobody can follow up on. He did this by quoting only people who had died, and in one case, by citing an article from the Saturday Evening Post from a period for which the Post has no existing archives. T. Hays from Texas misunderstood what I said:

Interesting, but I'd take issue with the comment that the Saturday Evening Post article was a fabrication. If the SEP says that articles for that year are lost, you don't know that it didn't exist. And just because Jack looked on either side of the target year proves nothing.

Although the Saturday Evening Post themselves have no records for 1849, others do. There are many other records. Researcher Jack Cook went to public libraries that maintain their own microfiche archives, and looked through all of 1849 and even extended his search to several years surrounding it. T. Hays may have misunderstood my wording and thought that Jack Cook looked only at the surrounding years and not at 1849 itself, which would be silly. I wouldn't have said Cook confirmed no such article existed if the search had been anything other than comprehensive using complete archives.

S. Maples from "Anywhere", obviously a distributor for the multilevel marketing Kangen water filters, had a comment about Dr. Stephen Lower, a retired chemist from Simon Fraser University who maintains the excellent AquaScams web site:

First of all, Dr. Stephen Lower is a quack in his own right and many of his claims are not exactly correct.

Oh, OK, please enlighten us...

...Furthermore, this water and specifically Kangen Water™...

Or not.

...has been promoted by people with much greater credibility including Dr. Hiromi Shinya who INVENTED the colonoscopy. That aside, my uncle OVERCAME TYPE 2 DIABETES and PROSTATE CANCER on this water and made his doctor a believer in this! I would say that BEWARE of sites like these whose whole purpose is to debunk. Some of these guys have even been caught on the payroll of Big Pharma.

It's always refreshing to hear something new and clever like I'm on the payroll of Big Pharma. Dr. Shinya's biggest contribution to gastroenterology was indeed the use of endoscopes to perform the first polypectomies at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York in 1969. But after his retirement, like some other scientists, he pretty much descended into crankhood. He's now best known as the author of a book in Japan called Living without Disease: A Miracle Enzyme Determines Life, in which he proposes that a single miracle enzyme, unknown to medical science, can cure all diseases and produces longevity. Its English translation, The Enzyme Factor, is now regularly trotted out by people selling all manner of medical quackery.

My pronunciation of foreign words continues to be a common theme in the listener feedback inbox. Jason from California seems unaware that I've thought of this:

As a point of professionalism, you may want to consider using Dictionary.com (which is free and even has an audio feature so you can hear the word) just to make sure you don't completely butcher names that you don't definitively know how to pronounce... All I could do was cringe every time I heard the mispronunciation and it turned out to be so distracting that the episode was almost impossible to listen to. For those interested in knowing the proper pronunciation of Antikythera, please go check it out at Dictionary.com.

Thanks Jason — I hate to disappoint you, but the way I pronounced Antikythera in the episode is the way it's pronounced in Greek. I have a native Greek research assistant. You can also find travel videos about the island (in Greek) on YouTube if you want further confirmation. Services like Dictionary.com are rarely correct for foreign words, I almost always have to go to a native-speaking source. An exception in this episode was Archimedes, where I chose to use the much more familiar (but wrong) American pronunciation. Not that I'm able to pronounce them, but at least I do always get the correct pronunciation in a native speaker's audio and practice it before recording. I also did this with Chinese and Thai in my episodes on the Baigong Pipes and the Naga Fireballs.

Here's "Antikythera" spoken by a native Greek:

I got as close to that as my sloppy Gringo tongue would conveniently allow me. But here's the Dictionary.com version Jason recommends:

This highlights a problem with using common Internet sites as authorities for anything. Wikipedia, Dictionary.com, and even Google are fine starting points, but you should never consider them the final word on anything. I certainly don't. Contrary to popular opinion, I'm not entirely reckless in my production of Skeptoid.

Cody from Austin, TX felt my discussion of shadow people was a bit reckless though:

To dismiss any and all experiences of shadow person encounters by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world as foolish, drug-induced, or simply sleep paralysis, seems to be bounding above and beyond skepticism and landing in the realm of ignorance... I however, for the past 6 months have had 3 entities residing in my apartment, felt and seen by both myself and my fiance... My mom finally came over. It didn't take 20 minutes for her to feel the presence and break down in tears by the heaviness and darkness she felt at my place. The beings are shadow people, and they are very real. Basically, I just want to hear you guys debunk these experiences that so many people are having... without calling it sleep paralysis (which i have, NOT the same thing), stupid, or imagined...

Cody, I would love to come and check that out, but since you're several states away, it's probably not going to happen. You challenge me to "debunk" it based on your email. First of all, your email does not constitute testable evidence that can be meaningfully studied. Second, "debunking" is quite an insulting term. It presumes that I've already concluded your claim is "bunk". I cannot possibly reach any such conclusion based on your email alone. If you're serious, shoot and send me some videos. If they're compelling enough it wouldn't surprise me if we could put together a budget to send some folks to study what's going on.

Simon from Seattle disagreed with my recommendation that moderation is usually better than complete reliance or overindulgence on anything when I discussed More Medical Myths:

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

It bugged me more than it should that Mr. Dunning repeated the popular trope about moderation being key... My real beef with it is that I usually hear it being used to make lazy equivalences between true and false claims. You should pursue moderation between allopathic and homeopathic medicine, Western medicine and spiritual healing, skepticism and credulity, etc. The saying "moderation in all things"... implies that you shouldn't rely on proven solutions and that you should devote some time and money to every half-baked idea that you're presented with.

Yes, Simon, you've correctly interpreted my advice. I'm always saying that everyone should moderately indulge in every half-baked idea. Good analysis. To the less spastic and reactionary listeners, I clarify that "moderation in all things" refers to all the things you indulge in, not those plus everything else in the world.

Ron from Grand Rapids, MI had this response to my episode on nuclear energy:

I would love to hear Mr dunnings take on the sellafield nuclear power plant and the damage supposedly done to the Irish sea personally I don't think the issue is has open and shut has he would have you believe. Maybe hes angling for a job at Haliburton.

...because Halliburton is desperate to expand into the high-profit world of podcasting.

What he's talking about was a facility hurriedly built by the British in the closing stages of WWII to make plutonium for the war effort. It was not a nuclear power plant, though later power plants were built there. For about 10 years in the 1940's and 1950's, it discharged some of its low-level waste into the ocean, which was thought to be safe at the time. That process has never been part of power generating reactors, so this has no relevance to the subject, Ron.

And finally, Layna from the UK has some thoughts on my episode about New Age Energy that we'll include just for fun:

Disinfo agent, loads of them out there, they just don't want us to know the truth - people are waking up, we don't need articles like this to tell us what energy is or isn't. Brian you should listen more to your healer friend!

Someone should make me a "Disinformation Agent" badge that I can go around and flash. Then I can follow Layna around and try to keep her from knowing the truth, to freak her out.

Brian Dunning

© 2010 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Coker, R. "Distinguishing Science and Pseudoscience." Quackwatch.com. Quackwatch, 30 May 2001. Web. 11 Oct. 2010. <http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/pseudo.html>

Cook, Jack. "The Spirit of Red River." Bell Witch Legend. Jack Cook, 1 Sep. 2006. Web. 16 Jan. 2010. <http://bellwitchlegend.blogspot.com/>

Guthrie, S. Faces in the Clouds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 91-121.

Livingston, Hugh D. Marine radioactivity. Oxford: Elsevier Ltd, 2004. 59, 87-88, 101.

Lower, Stephen. "'Ionized' and Alkaline Water." Water Pseudoscience and Quackery. AquaScams, 11 May 2009. Web. 14 Jan. 2010. <http://www.chem1.com/CQ/ionbunk.html>

Shinya, Hiromi. The Enzyme Factor. Tulsa: Council Oak Books, 2007.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Listener Feedback Strikes Back." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 16 Mar 2010. Web. 2 Oct 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4197>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 36 comments

I was disappointed to hear you use the term "spastic" as a term of abuse in this episode. The word has a specific neurological meaning (referring to pathologically high muscle tone) but in this part of the world and others is also a very offensive slur to people with disabilities.

I was surprised at your use of it. Digging around, it seems that in the US it is not regarded as offensive. There is some discussion of the differing attitudes to this word on the wikipedia page: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spastic>

But in an episode dealing with sensitivity to correct pronunciation, it might be worthwhile noting that words can also have entirely different meanings in other societies. To avoid creating a very negative impression of you in the future, it might be wise to strike this term from your lexicon.

Regards,

Michael MacAskill
Van der Veer Institute for Parkinson's & Brain Research

Michael MacAskill, Christchurch, New Zealand
March 23, 2010 2:10pm

@Jeff, Fullerton

Sorry, I must have miscommunicated- I think Mr. Dunning is a very incisive thinker almost all of the time, which is why that exception bothered me. If it had just been some nut saying it then I wouldn't have even noticed.

Simon, Seattle
March 23, 2010 9:02pm

I second the response from NZ regarding the use of the term 'spastic'. I was actually appalled to hear it used in a context where I was, as usual, enjoying the smackdown of some of the less informed criticism of one of my favourite podcasts. People who have suffered strokes, cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders struggle every day against that hateful word, and in my role as a Rehabilitation Physician I see the prejudice they confront. If you used this term in Australia it would be seriously offensive to almost any audience these days.
I am not at all easily offended but I must say it ruined my enjoyment of the episode and has led to me post here for the first time to make sure that the offensiveness of the term is appreciated to avoid further problems with certain audiences.

Keep up the awesome podcast Brian, I'll be signing up for my Disinformation Agent badge, and hopefully I'll see you at TAM OZ in November.

Mick Vagg, Torquay, Australia
March 24, 2010 5:07am

This is nice. I like listening to things that are very much at odds with my beliefs, which is why I sometimes listen to skeptoid. Some of the listeners to this show might want to listen to "Skeptiko", which offers a slightly different perspective. Namely, it interviews both skeptics and advocates of the paranormal, although it disagrees with the former. It's truly worth checking out to broaden your perspective: http://www.skeptiko.com/

If you're interested in "conspiricism", I suggest checking out Alan Watt, who is infinitely more eloquent than Alex Jones. His recent show covers the cashless society, and is a good pace to start: http://cuttingthrough.jenkness.com/CTTM2010/Alan_Watt_CTTM_LIVEonRBN_538_Revelation_from_Sage--Government_Gives_You_Personalized_Webpage_Mar222010.mp3

I recommend the following alternative media sites:
http://globalresearch.ca/
http://corbettreport.com/
http://aftermathnews.wordpress.com/about/
http://cuttingthroughthematrix.com/

Robert Anton Wilson recommended engaging with material that was directly opposite your belief to broaden your perspective. I wholeheartedly recommend that approach.

In that spirit:

1) Why the "conspiracy theory" argument fails: http://www.outlawjournalism.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5016

2) The process of academic indoctrination: http://www.outlawjournalism.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5114&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0

Ben, Berkeley
March 24, 2010 2:18pm

I enjoy the show. And, I really enjoy the listener feedback episodes. I love your snarky responses: they make me giggle.

Keep up the good work!

Russ, Colorado Springs
March 26, 2010 10:31am

For the record:

<a href="http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v461/Belarafon/?action=view&current=badge.gif" target="_blank"><img src="http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v461/Belarafon/badge.gif" border="0" alt="Disinfo Badge"></a>

Asher, Maine
March 27, 2010 9:03pm

Another great episode, Mr. Dunning!

I have to say, although I find your regular podcast very enlightening, your listener feedback is always the most entertaining.

By the way, did you happen to catch tonight's (April 18) episode of 60 Minutes? They had an incredibly good segment on pseudoscience, specifically the use of stem cells in quackery.

Not sure if you are into history or not, but if you are, I highly suggest you check out this website: www.alternatehistory.com/discussion

No, it's not about psuedohistory, but the discussion of could have happened in history. A high percentage of the users there are incredibly intelligent, and you would be very welcome.

Jordan, Michigan
April 18, 2010 7:15pm

Goodness... you are giving Brian a big head... he is nearly as smug and self satisfied as I...

Pseudo history.. Like if Napoleon really did settle for a musketeer squad?

History for us westerners really does focus around the after math of the "first" world war in the 1750's and its aftermath.

Strangely "le them eat cake" originated in this period of internecine, international and transnational socioeconomic struggle that left its greatest player (Scotland) never to rise again.

Yes its a wonderful game called interpretive history. My expertise started in the French revolution.

and yes, I agree with a lot of their reforms. I just do not agree with their social adjustment philosophy.

I make a Corsican pizza in Napoleons honour. You should all try it.

Henk van der Gaast, Sydney
November 28, 2010 2:37am

Explains a lot Henk - I'd put the focus as being the period immediately after the foundation of the Byzantine Empire - leading into the consequent division over centuries between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, symbolised by the Great Schism and the rise of a particularly shonky form of Christianity in Rome.

The nodal point would be the sacking of Constantinople by Papal forces, transported by the Venetians in 1204**, and the final Fall of Constantinople in 1453

"The rest" as they say "is hIstory"

** like the Crusaders "took a wrong turning" - Yeah right

Phi, Sydney
March 14, 2011 6:05pm

Yes I was talking about western history and its full economic impact, not Pre-Imam political tom foolery.

Henk V, Sydney Australia
March 30, 2011 8:42pm

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