Listener Feedback Resurrection

More vitriol from the Skeptoid inbox exposed.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid #215
July 20, 2010
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
 

The other evening I was peacefully dining with my family, when all of a sudden the power went out. We sat there in darkness for a fraction of a moment, wondering what happened; but then before anyone could speak, helicopter searchlights suddenly flooded all the windows. The doors burst open with a rush of wild wind and noise, and men came streaming in wearing yellow hazmat suits. I scrambled in a crazed kaleidoscope of harsh light and darkness, running feet, a cacophony of megaphone shouts and roaring military engines. We were zipped into a plastic sheet prison as the stream of yellow suited half-humans flowed through a makeshift plastic tunnel that led upstairs to my office. Silence for a few minutes, and then they came slowly down the stairs, accompanied by swinging flashlight beams, with the object of their search held tightly in a sealed case gripped by four carefully-stepping men. It was my email inbox.

Let's get started with a couple of emails responding to my episode about the conspiracy theory Internet film Zeitgeist. Let's hear from Nick in Lisle, IL:

This debunking of Zeitgeist is not sufficient. You have not fully and exhaustively cited credible sources yourself, yet you critique Joseph for his lack of proper citation. While I agree that Joseph failed to cite fully and while his evidence may be weak or inaccurate at times, this critical response is clearly not sufficient to debunk Zeitgeist.

Two points, Nick: First, you're exactly wrong when you say I did not cite my sources. Scroll to the bottom of the online transcript and you'll find that it is thoroughly referenced, like all Skeptoid episodes.

Second, my episode (as I explained quite clearly) made no pretense at being an attempt to "debunk" Zeitgeist, as that has already been thoroughly done by others; but rather to examine the filmmaker's motivations for making it. Moreover, debunking anything has never been what I do, as that's simply the process of supporting a preconceived notion. If you're looking for articles calling out Zeitgeist's profound misrepresentations of virtually every subject it broaches, ten seconds with Google is all you need. With Skeptoid, I generally try to bring a fresh perspective that's not already comprehensively done by others.

Another Zeitgeist fan, Pip from Lisbon, was amused that I cited Christian scholars as authorities on Christian doctrine:

Funny how a skeptic uses the authority of christian scholars. if you give yourself the trouble of going to the sources you will find out that the paralels between christ and previous gods are facts.

A number of people criticized me for this, which kind of boggled my mind. If you want to find out about a subject, you go to the authorities on that subject. Some felt that I should have instead gone to people who denounce Christian doctrine as the best authorities on Christian doctrine. That's wrong. That's what you'd do if you were looking for cherrypicked information to support some point you're trying to make. I was trying to find out whether Zeitgeist accurately represented the religions it was purporting to compare; and if you look at what those religions actually say, it turns out the answer is no.

I received a tweet from Paul asking a question about my episode on the Crystal Skulls:

@BrianDunning hello i read ur article on skeptoid about the crystal skulls,wondering how u can say that the hedges skull was made in 1800s? the technology doesnt exist to carve something so accurate in quartz so what method do u suggest otherwise?

Feedback like this evidently comes from people who did not listen to the episode, and didn't even read the transcript, because the answer to this question was the central theme. From the perspective of craftsmanship, there is absolutely nothing extraordinary about the crystal skulls. At the time they were made in Idar-Oberstein, the 1870's, the craftsmen there were also cutting far more exquisite pieces; not just jewelry, but also figurines and chess sets, many of which are much more detailed than the comparatively simple skulls. Their museum boasts quite a collection. Modern rotary carving tools, like those in use at the time, leave distinct markings which are patently obvious on the crystal skulls; and just to seal the deal, particle accelerator tests found traces of water used during the cutting and polishing, occluded within the quartz, bearing unmistakable isotopic signatures that positively dated the carving of the skulls to between 1867 and 1886.

The assertion that "the technology doesn't exist to carve something so accurate in quartz" can only be made by someone who has not made even the most basic efforts to inform himself. Please listen to my episodes before presuming to offer your feedback.

Wheatgrass juice was one of my first episodes nearly four years ago, and as far as entertaining feedback is concerned, it's been the gift that keeps on giving. Blended grass contains virtually nothing of any nutritional value for anyone who's not a cow, and yet suburban trendies continue to shell out top-shelf liquor prices for it every single day, convinced that it's a medical miracle. Why? Listen to this sample from Chris in Port Richey, FL:

I drink 3 to 4 ounces of wheatgrass a day. I feel amazing...I have lost 10 pounds in 2 months and my workouts have doubled. Plus I love the rush I get from it in the morning...better than coffee..so Brian Dunning is just another fool who wants to be controversial by saying thinking and saying the opposite of the truth. After reading some of his articles, I now actually have more respect for Michael Moore!

That's great; I think you should get all of your health and weight loss advice from Michael Moore.

Chris is right that it's to my advantage to be controversial, but this is not done by "saying the opposite of the truth". If I were to go out and promote some made-up, implausible miracle cure, like wheatgrass juice, I would most likely be embraced by the public hungry for such things. A better way to be controversial, as the vitriol in Chris' email so aptly illustrates, is to point out that people are being ripped off. That's something nobody likes to be told, and they rarely believe it when they hear it. They usually react by writing emails praising Michael Moore, or Deepak Chopra, or Oprah Winfrey; centimillionaires who have made their careers on feeding the public whatever it is they want to hear. The real facts are where the unwelcome controversy resides; dollars usually only flow freely toward the pockets of those promoting the nonsense.

Dollars also flow into the pockets of companies who sell their products through a multilevel marketing scheme, such as Kangen water machines. James from Portland, OR is the increasingly poor victim of one such scheme; here is what he wrote in:

I just bought the Kangen Sd 501 Machine and I have decided to market it through their Marketing Program. All I know is that I drink the water and my breathing improves. I take Milk Thistle for my liver. It works. I use Biofeedback. It also seems to work. Four years ago, I was given less than a year to live by Modern Medicine. What I do know is the water works. I believe it is helping me. I have evidence that it is. Skepticism has it's place. Freedom dictates that we follow our hearts as well as our heads. What a waste of time it is to question everything and gain nothing but a life filled with conflict and misery.

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

It must be, because James evidently questions nothing at all, instead relying on his heart to tell him that every influence, bias, preconceived notion, and uncontrolled personal trial means more than anything learned by modern medicine. He's probably bankrupting his family buying these machines for thousands of dollars in order to become an unpaid sales rep for Kangen; and if he does indeed have some terminal illness, the only treatments he says he's taking are alternative ones: treatments that have either not been proven to work, or been proven not to work. Why? Because questioning what these quacks are defrauding him with would give him "a life filled with conflict and misery". Well, at least it will be a short one.

There is no misery in my life. My family is happy and healthy; when one of us gets sick or injured, we go to the doctor and get it fixed. One reason we're reasonably secure financially is that we don't waste money on fraudulent products or services, like virtually everyone else in our neighborhood does, and like you do, James. Questioning those who are trying to talk us out of our money by offering us miracle cures and miracle business plans? I'd say the questioning has worked out better for me than it has for you. Look into it.

And now for the traditional final email, showcasing a particularly insightful or thoughtful piece of feedback. This one comes from someone in New York who calls himself Handyman, and it was in reference to my episode on FEMA prison camp conspiracy theories:

We will happy to announce that the fist men that will put in a FEMA camp is no other less then Illuminati lakey and disinfo agent:
Brian Dunning
hero of the day
(look he even has the all-seeing eye as a weblogo symbol, NEED TO SAY MORE FOLKS!)
Brian Dunning, the kind of person that in the twenties said it was ridiculous to state that Stalin was building camps to rape, torture, slaughter and murder non-jewish Christians, non-marxists, non-atheistic, non-materialist & non-bols-jew-ist
Well this freemasonic kind is all around us. The even make websides!
You are on and in it at the very moment. So don't worry be happy!!!
"By the art of deception thou shall fight war"
Mossad credo

My favorite thing about these emails (and they're pretty common) is the seemingly schizophrenic charge that I'm both behind the FEMA prison
camps, and will be among the first to be put into them. Why would I put myself into my own evil conspiratorial prison camp? Since Handyman was intuitive enough to see through my transparent efforts to hide my identity, like by putting the "all-seeing eye" on my "webside", I'll probably now be killed by a Masonic conspiracy for misusing their symbols (just like Mozart was).

Thankfully, we have Handyman to shine the light of reason through the fog of evil; you might even say, to "illuminate" the truth for us. Oh my; now that's a truly scary thought.

Brian Dunning

© 2010 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Aaronovitch, D. Voodoo History: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Modern History. New York: Riverhead, 2010.

Callahan, T. "The Greatest Story Ever Garbled." Skeptic. The Skeptics Society, 25 Feb. 2009. Web. 2 Mar. 2010. <http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-02-25>

Garvin, Richard. The Crystal Skull: The Story of the Mystery, Myth and Magic of the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull Discovered in a Lost Mayan City During a Search for Atlantis. New York: Doubleday, 1973. 75-76.

Jarvis, W.T. "Wheatgrass Therapy." National Council Against Health Fraud Resource Documents. National Council Against Health Fraud, 15 Jan. 2001. Web. 9 Nov. 2006. <http://www.ncahf.org/articles/s-z/wheatgrass.html>

Lister, C. "Wheat Grass Nutritional Analyses." Crop & Food Research. The New Zealand Institute for Crop & Food Research Ltd, 12 Sep. 2002. Web. 9 Nov. 2006. <http://www.barleyleaf.co.nz/rightpages/WheatGrass.html>

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>

Nickell, Joe. "Riddle of the Crystal Skulls." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 Jul. 2006, Volume 30.4.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Listener Feedback Resurrection." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 20 Jul 2010. Web. 2 Sep 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4215>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 92 comments

"...following other “skeptics”, and losing all credibility."

Yet you said that character assassination is something that leads to that conclusion, a conclusion which is character assassination. By your own logic, you have lost all credibility.

'Poisoning the well, mockery, abuse, and character assassination' are not evidence true enough, but they also don't negate other evidence that is presented. If an ugly man says that 2+2=5, and I say that he is as wrong as he is ugly, that is an insult (or abuse), but doesn't make the conclusion (him being wrong) any less valid.

"belief me when I say that many are; though skeptics tend to ignore them, and many times prefer to tackle bizarre claims written by teenagers on their personal blogs"

This is one of my biggest annoyances with psuedo-science and other such claims. They always, always point to the weak evidence that is easily debunked and claim that the 'real' evidence is being ignored. PRESENT IT. The organic and anti-GMO crowd does this all the time. They say, "Oh, you're arguing against PETA's insanity, not what WE believe." When you ask them what they believe, or what the 'good' evidence or reasoning actually is? They repeat THE SAME CLAIMS. (I really wish I could do italics on the comments section so it didn't seem like I was yelling.)

Have good evidence? Present it. Don't complain about how there is so much bad evidence.

Brandon, Falconer
August 26, 2010 8:08pm

That’s a straw man argument Brandon, I never said they lost all credibility because of the character assassination, but because of all the reason I explained combined. And even though I never believed I ever had any credibility here anyway (nor I ever will), I think you are misinterpreting my criticism of Brian’s approach with character assassination; criticism is not the same thing as character assassination.

“'Poisoning the well, mockery, abuse, and character assassination' are not evidence true enough”

Yes, I can agree with that; but it’s a clear sign of bias, and therefore, of the research probably not being fair; that’s what I meant. How can I make a fair judgment of someone I despise or even hate?

“They always, always point to the weak evidence that is easily debunked and claim that the 'real' evidence is being ignored. PRESENT IT.”

But I just did; I just showed you in episode #22 how the whole matter was reduced to the most unlikely and easily debunked claim; while the rest was completely avoided. I saw all skeptics do the exact same thing with many issues; they debunk any weak claim found on the internet, and then state that the whole issue is bullshit.

Adam Freeman, Springfield
August 27, 2010 5:39am

You are clinging to a logical fallacy as if it were evidence of anything. Dismissing the message because you don't like the way SOME people deliver it isn't useful in the least. What you are doing is making a 'red flag' into a reason to dismiss, which IS THE EXACT THING YOU ARE CRITICIZING SKEPTICS FOR. You claim that they just mock, abuse, character assassinate, whatever because they are biased. You ignore the good evidence that they present and focus on the 'entertaining' fluff, by saying that they ignore good evidence and focus on fluff!

"But I just did; I just showed you in episode #22 how the whole matter was reduced to the most unlikely and easily debunked claim; while the rest was completely avoided. "

What rest? You can't claim that saying the good evidence is being ignored IS the good evidence. Blatant circular reasoning will only convince people who actually aren't paying attention. Even if you HAD shown that in that case 'good evidence' was being ignored, that doesn't prove anything about any other specific claim, such as homeopathy, organic food, or anti-GMO.

Brandon, Falconer
August 27, 2010 7:07am

“You are clinging to a logical fallacy as if it were evidence of anything.”

I’m simply clarifying that I never said it was only because of one factor, but because of all of them combined.

It’s not only that I find distasteful the way these skeptics abuse and insult people who disagree or have alternative beliefs and points of view (whatever the reason), it’s also that I find their research biased, and that they haven’t looked deep enough and are wrong about some issues. Said that, I don’t ignore all the times they are right; I’ve just praised Brian for ep#22 and in one of my early comments I openly admitted that I actually agree with Brian in a lot of his research.

I’m aware it looks as if I’m after him because he “killed one of my sacred cows” or something, but this is also untrue; I’ve already explained why I picked on him.

“What rest? You can't claim that saying the good evidence is being ignored IS the good evidence.”

That’s another straw man; I never claimed such a thing. The evidences I presented in ep#32 are an example of how skeptics use logical fallacies, dismiss crucial information, and how they cherry-pick the easily debunked claims and then state they’ve closed the case.

“Even if you HAD shown that in that case 'good evidence' was being ignored, that doesn't prove anything about any other specific claim, such as homeopathy, organic food, or anti-GMO.”

Of course not! I never claimed they’re always wrong.

Adam Freeman, Springfield
August 27, 2010 9:51pm

"I’m simply clarifying that I never said it was only because of one factor, but because of all of them combined."

And I'm saying your 'combined factors' are either simply untrue in most cases, or are fallacies. Each one.

"The evidences I presented in ep#32 are an example of how skeptics use logical fallacies, dismiss crucial information, and how they cherry-pick the easily debunked claims and then state they’ve closed the case."

I encourage anyone interested to go to the comments of episode 32 (Blood for Oil) and see if any of his 'evidences' are valid or come the same conclusion that I did; 'Dismissed evidences' was not 'crucial', it wasn't cherry picking to address the most popular claims, and that it isn't 'character assassination' to address an anti-Bush bias (not that it is ever presented that being anti-Bush is/was a bad thing).

"Of course not! I never claimed they’re always wrong."

You claim skeptics have no credibility with you, essentially, because they are mean poopy-heads. But if they aren't wrong, what is the usefulness of your criticism of skeptics in general then? Criticize when SPECIFIC skeptics don't do the research, show clear bias, etc, but don't tell us that you aren't dismissing skeptics with one hand, and telling us they have no credibility with the other. It's pure character assassination to try to tarnish research because it comes from skeptics.

Brandon, Falconer
August 28, 2010 6:48am

“But if they aren't wrong, what is the usefulness of your criticism of skeptics in general then?”

I don’t understand where the conflict is: having no credibility doesn’t imply being always wrong, it implies that their research in general can’t be trusted (you can’t use it as a trustworthy source, for the same reason as conspiracy theorists).

“It's pure character assassination to try to tarnish research because it comes from skeptics.”

You're confusing “criticism” for “character assassination”. The last is, for example, what skeptics do to the image of a person before they even expose any claim; while “criticism” is a judgment based on a person’s work or actions.

“I encourage anyone interested to go to the comments of episode 32”

I was for looking forward to it; I’m really interested in other skeptics’ opinion, and I assure everyone that, even though this is Skeptoid, I never bully anyone just because they disagree with me.

But after reading other skeptic forums I notice that most are completely lost when anyone presents arguments deviating from the usual “believer’s nonsense”. So, I guess we will have to wait for Brian’s little revenge on me in the next feedback episode (:D) to hear anything else on the “oil for war” argument.

“And I'm saying your 'combined factors' are either simply untrue in most cases, or are fallacies.”

You are just engaging in contradiction Brandon, and it doesn’t shows that I’m clinging to a logical fallacy or even using them.

Adam Freeman, Springfield
August 31, 2010 8:31am

"You're confusing “criticism” for “character assassination”. The last is, for example, what skeptics do to the image of a person before they even expose any claim; while “criticism” is a judgment based on a person’s work or actions."

So when skeptics do it, it's character assassination, but when you do it, it isn't. I think I understand.

"But after reading other skeptic forums I notice that most are completely lost when anyone presents arguments deviating from the usual “believer’s nonsense”"

Most of what you've posted doesn't deviate from the usual 'believer's nonsense'. Specially the 'skeptical of the skeptics' gambit. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book; accuse the other guy of what you're doing. Don't confuse 'not bothering to argue with you' with 'being completely lost'. It's an internet meme that people believe they have 'won' if they can get the other side to ignore them. See http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChewbaccaDefense

I like how criticism of your arguments is 'bullying' and 'revenge'.

"You are just engaging in contradiction Brandon, and it doesn’t shows that I’m clinging to a logical fallacy or even using them."

Evidence? You have presented one halfway reasonable criticism of one skeptoid podcast, and said that it is evidence that Brian's basic research is so flawed it should not be trusted. Further you claim that skepticism in general is also so flawed. That I contradict this assertion doesn't mean my argument is only contradict

Brandon, Falconer
September 13, 2010 1:05pm

Its pretty easy, if you make a claim that can't be verified and you insist on representing the "truth" then you have to be asked what the evidence is.

Alternative modalities are so far bunk. This means that if they come up with one they lucked out.

UFO's are so far unobserved (I mean alien craft). If we actually see one one day, we may just dismiss it because the alien lovers have poisoned the well.

Do I need to go on?

I deal with a number of folk with loopy ideas. They all have a huge acceptance factor. I don't. They have friends... I don't.

Really is it so important that you have to be part of this rampaging mob that doesn't like evidence?

If life was all about coffee shop chit chat we wouldn't have coffee shops or hair do's.

Henk van der Gaast, Sydney
November 18, 2010 10:13pm

Like I have a hair do or pay for coffee!!!

Mud, Out to pasture, Oz
June 24, 2012 6:44am

Last weekend, at the local farmer's market, someone was peddling wheatgrass juice, complete with a display of wheatgrass growing. As our family walked by, I was sooo tempted to spill the beans in front of the booth, but my wife had to restrain me.

InkyA, Illinois
September 20, 2013 5:39am

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