Listener Feedback Resurrection
More vitriol from the Skeptoid inbox exposed.
by Brian Dunning
July 20, 2010
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.
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:
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"
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.
By Brian Dunning
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Listener Feedback Resurrection." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
20 Jul 2010. Web.
18 Mar 2018. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4215>
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.
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