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Listener Feedback 6: I Want to Believe

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by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid Podcast #141
February 17, 2009
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Listener Feedback 6: I Want to Believe

So I was sitting in the corner the other day, holding my knees and rocking back and forth, debating whether or not to read my email. It was like John Lithgow in the Twilight Zone movie (or William Shatner in the original TV show, whichever you prefer) trying to muster the courage to open the shade and look out the airplane window, for fear of seeing the terrible demon outside. I sat and sat and sat, tension building all the while, until at the very crescendo I threw open my laptop, and there with a shriek of horror burst email after email of fallacies and personal insults, and I screamed and tried to run but was wrestled to the floor and subdued. I took some sedatives, and I now proceed to address a few of these latest listener comments.

Jessica from Australia had some criticism of the way the website is run:

I enjoy your approach to critical thinking. However, I can't help but notice, that as a person trying to look at all the evidence within a given situation, why only positive feedback is allowed on this website?

I'm not sure what website she's looking at, because it's painfully clear from a glance at any episode transcript that comments are all over the map, and generally the more controversial the topic, the more angry the anti-Brian feedback is. There are moderators who do delete a few comments a week, but only when the posts are either spam advertisements, or are profane personal attacks against other posters that do not advance the discussion. Sorry Jessica, but you're just straight-up wrong and you obviously didn't look very hard.

David had a comment about Here Be Dragons, my 40-minute video:

I strongly support encouraging more rational thinking in society, But how can you possibly include organically grown vegetables in your "Woo Woo" video montage. Why are you mixing flaky thinking with genuine issues. Its shameful.

The assignment of magical super-vegetable powers to organic produce is one of the most pervasive pseudosciences in society. Even you, David, who say you support rational thinking, seem to have bought into it. There's nothing wrong with organic produce, it's just grown less efficiently and is marketed as some kind of elite super-product. I did a full Skeptoid show about it, Episode 19, if you're interested in what my research has shown. In short, proponents of organic produce claim that non-organic produce is somehow contaminated or morally wrong. Well, maybe modern agriculture is morally wrong, that's for you to decide for yourself; but the scientific claims made about it are either demonstrably false, or apply equally to organic produce. Remember, the plant species are the same, and the fertilizers and pesticides used deliver the same chemical loads. It's all about marketing. You say that it's "shameful" of me to point this out. Well David, if you're going to be truly rational, sometimes you have to be willing to hear criticism of even your most sacred cows. Go eat some soybeans.

Steven from Stamford, Connecticut found fault with my episode about the Pacific Trash Vortex, an alleged solid conglomeration of floating plastic garbage in the middle of the Pacific:

There *are* photos of the pacific trash vortex and it's not hard to find them. ...This episode comes across as blind denial of an actual, documented phenomenon. ...According to the photos and documentation, it is there and it is floating at the surface. I almost went away from this podcast secure in the knowledge that the Pacific Garbage Patch doesn't exist. Thankfully I did my own research so I won't look like a fool if it comes up in polite conversation.

I guess your own research consisted of looking at websites like Treehugger and Greenpeace. It's true, there are many photographs on the web of floating garbage patches, and though these are often used to illustrate web articles about the Pacific Garbage Patch, you don't really have any way of knowing where those pictures were taken. There are many such patches around the world, all close inshore and mainly around third world harbors where they don't have any environmental laws. Unless you clapped your hands over your ears and went "La la la" during my episode, you'll recall that the science makes it impossible for plastic to survive the one to five year journey that it takes to ride the surface currents to the center of the Pacific Gyre. Plastics blasted by ultraviolet sunlight and agitated by surface waves break down into neuston plastic particles long before they could ever complete that journey. Scientists closely monitor the amount of neuston plastic found in the center of the Gyre. Of about 200 sample stations about the size of Olympic swimming pools, only half have been found to have detectable levels. That's way cleaner than the water off any coast you've ever been to. The science simply makes the Pacific Garbage Patch, at least the way the extremist websites describe it, impossible. If you still won't accept that, just go to Hawaii, which is the exact center of the Pacific Gyre. If you can walk from island to island on floating trash from Asia, call me.

Adam from Israel had a really thoughtful comment about the episode on Raëlians, the people who follow the French guy who calls himself Raël and teaches that space aliens seeded humanity and enhanced his intelligence:

The problem is that alien intelligence boosts (and mind alterations in general) wear off in the presence of radio waves. Notice that the more prevelant cell phones have become, Raëls ability to convey his aquired intelligence has greatly dimminished. In fact, it seemed to start the minute he returned. We may never know the real answers.

I don't really have a response to Adam, I just thought you'd enjoy hearing his perspective.

We know that conspiracy theorists, especially the 9/11 "Truth" guys, often support their claims with red herrings, pointing out things that are irrelevant but that seem to raise suspicion. South Park fans will recognize this as the "Chewbacca defense". Things like Marvin Bush had once been an executive at a security firm for whom the World Trade Center was a client. Carl Mark from Canada feels that points such as these should be considered proof that George Bush executed the attacks:

My issue in general with people trying to disprove the conspiracy theorists is that they rarely attack their proof but suggest that they are irrelevant instead. Why not disprove them instead with the same effort and standards???

Marvin Bush did used to work there. What's to disprove? It's got nothing to do with anything. You guys will sit with a stopwatch and see how many seconds it took for the World Trade Center to collapse, and then challenge the engineers to "disprove" that time. Nobody disagrees, and nobody cares because it's got nothing to do with anything. Carl Mark, red herrings are not proof of anything, and this is where the disconnect really lies. Go watch the Chewbacca defense, understand why it's silly, and then apply the same reasoning to all your supposed "proofs" of the 9/11 conspiracy.

I knew that my episode about Fast Food Phobia would be a controversial one, because the vilification of fast food is such a precious sacred cow to so many people. Like so many other listeners, Zack from Chicago pulled a classic straw man argument, and argued against essentially the opposite of what I said. Folks, this is not the way to make a point:

...Is the Skeptoid trying to claim that a diet high in salt, corn syrup and saturated fat is not unhealthy? Millions of diabetics would beg to differ. In any case, this is one Skeptoid article that needs a little critical treatment itself. Are you claiming that [the] adage "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants" is garbage, and could be replaced by "Eat McDonalds?"

I hate to even grace him with a reply, since his comment is so profoundly disingenuous. He knows darn well that I made no such statements. But let's try it again: No, Zack, I do not think you should eat a diet high in salt, corn syrup, and saturated fat, as I stated in precise detail in the episode (although maybe you should try it just to teach me a lesson). The real point is that a salad from McDonald's is no worse than a salad from Whole Foods, simply because it bears the label "fast food"; and a hamburger from McDonald's is no worse than a hamburger you make at home, for the same reason. McDonald's soft drinks, french fries, and pancakes have virtually the same ingredients as those same foods you eat at home. If you do what Morgan Spurlock did, and force-feed yourself thousands of calories of too many milkshakes and french fries every day, you're going to gain weight and might even develop some other problems; but it's because you grossly overate, it's not because the food came from a fast food restaurant.

Keep on trying with the straw man arguments, though, people. I'm not very good at spotting them, and maybe you'll be able to slip one by me.

An entity designated "Thupten" from New York had some comments that he said were about my Free Tibet episode, though I can't say he addressed any of the issues very directly:

Get a life man. It a total waste of time to try and explain you that your claims are ridiculous. But I would honestly like to express that the oppotunists like you and your idol Journalist Christopher Hitchens are disgusting. I mean, research about Hitchens, all he did was throw dirt on nice people to become famous and earn some cash. So my advice to you is; be real.and get a life.

I have to say Thupten's remarks cut pretty deep and made me realize the error of my ways. Thank you, Thupten, I will turn over a new leaf and follow your shining example. No more throwing dirt on nice people to earn some cash. From now on, Skeptoid will be all about having a life: No more of my ridiculous claims. Only love, and harmony, and beauty, and the celebration of — well, of whatever you want me to celebrate. Let's all just be real.

By Brian Dunning

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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Listener Feedback 6: I Want to Believe." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 17 Feb 2009. Web. 13 Jun 2024. <>


References & Further Reading

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

Berlofff, Pavel S. et. al. "Material Transport in Oceanic Gyres." Journal of Physical Oceanography. 10 Jun. 2001, Volume 32: 764-796.

Dupont, J., White, P., Feldman E. "Saturated and Hydrogenated Fats in Food in Relation to Health." Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 1 Jun. 1991, Vol 10: 577-592.

Kava, Ruth. "Is Organic Produce Better?" American Council on Science and Health. American Council on Science and Health, 12 Mar. 2002. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <>

Kubota, M. "A Mechanism for the Accumulation of Floating Marine Debris North of Hawaii." Journal of Physical Oceanography. 1 May 1994, Volume 24, Issue 5: Pages 1059–1064.

MacKerron D.K.L. et al. "Organic farming: science and belief." Individual articles from the 1998/99 Report. Scottish Crop Research Institute, 1 Dec. 1999. Web. 22 Jan. 2010. <>


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