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Listener Feedback: Denial and Aliens

Skeptoid answers some feedback sent in by listeners.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid Podcast #518
May 10, 2016
Podcast transcript | Download | Subscribe



Time once again for a trip to the mailbox, and hear what you, the listeners, have had to say. This is a great one today because I got some good, thoughtful feedback, to offset the inevitable crazy feedback. So get out your letter opener and let's get to work.

We'll start with my use of the word "denier" that I applied to those who reject anthropogenic global warming in my episode on the urban legend that scientists in the 1970s predicted a coming ice age. People of all stripes listen to Skeptoid, all across the political spectrum, so I got plenty of complaints for using this negative word. Here's one representative email, from listener Brad Tittle:

Any skeptic that uses the term Denier... is committing the first most fundamental fallacy. Ad Hominem... Anyone calling me a denier who won't spend 2 or 3 hours discussing Temperature, Enthalpy, Water Vapor, Psychrotrophic Charts, and heat balances IS not a skeptic. They are propagandists.

Well, that's not what an ad hominem argument is, but let's stick to the point. Three times in the episode, I used the term "denier" to refer to people who don't believe in global warming. In an early draft, I actually spent time discussing my reasoning for using this term, but had to cut it out for length. So I went rogue, and just threw the term out there as needed. The result was predictable: people were upset at being called deniers. They said I was being political, that I should be above name calling, that it was inflammatory and gratuitous, that I'm a liberal extremist trying to insult and belittle those who don't agree with my socialist anticorporate agenda. (All of those phrases were actually used in the feedback I received.)

Here's what I said to one guy on Twitter, who was in the minority by giving measured, intelligent, non-insane feedback. He argued I was being partisan. I asked him if it would have been partisan if I'd said vaccine denier? Evolution denier? HIV denier? These are all other hard, proven sciences that plenty of people disagree with passionately. The fact is that the term does apply to them. It is an accurate term. It's not an insult. Denying is exactly what they're doing. They hate it when the term is applied to them; yet they have no problem when it's applied to deniers of other things. Denying is exactly what the global warming deniers are doing. I didn't use a less "inflammatory" word because the shoe fits. We don't say people who accept that 2 + 2 = 4 are being unskeptical and closed minded, and we don't describe the 2 + 2 = 5 crowd as skeptically considering an alternate explanation. We say they're wrong. We correctly say they are denying a hard science fact, because they are. That's not an insult, it's not unskeptical, and it's certainly not partisan politics. I am a psychic denier. I am also a ghost denier. Hold up something that's factually false, and I'm proud to be called a denier. I am happy for a spade to be called a spade, and the conversation is better for the incisive honesty. If I ever need to be coddled with a more friendly term than ghost denier, then maybe I should reconsider whether I actually deny them.

Onto other things. Recently I did an episode laying out the case for why I believe a musical alien culture is likely to use the same musical scale we do, and as part of my argument, I discussed the work done by Pythagoras. Well, I got an onslaught of emails from music theorists, all attacking and disassembling the credit I gave to Pythagoras. So I went back to one of my main sources for the episode, Professor Robert Greenberg. You may know him from the 26 (!!!!!) different courses he has created for The Great Courses. Bob came to my rescue thus:

Freaking academics. Yes: if you had heard the greatly expanded explanation of tuning systems in my "Fundamentals" course, you would have heard me cover my derriere by saying that the person we today call "Pythagoras" was actually a corporate entity (like saying "Ford", as in Henry Ford/Ford motorcars) consisting of both Pythagoras himself and generations of followers. What these Pythagoreans came up with was a seven pitch diatonic collection which is generally referred to as the "Pythagorean scale". While the Chinese managed to come up with a 12-pitch construct in antiquity, European theorists did not create a similar construct until the Renaissance.

FYI: you said nothing wrong. The historical Pythagoras is credited with all sorts of things his followers came up with in the same way that Steve Jobs is credited with having "created" the iPhone, a movie director is credited with having "made" a movie, and Al Gore with having "invented" the internet (right). I have learned the hard way that there are trolls everywhere, waiting to jump on anything they may perceive as a mistake.

So, scratch out wherever I said Pythagoras and write in Pythagoreans, and pedants are satisfied.

Brazilian listener Walter Spielkamp offered some additional information on two Brazilian men who committed suicide in the episode on the Lead Masks of Vintém Hill, mysterious only because the men had brought with them some crudely made lead eye shields, for no obvious reason:

One thing you must bear in mind is the WHY those men decided to climb that hilltop on that tragic night. They were followers of Allan Kardec, a French philosopher of the 19th. Century, that studied the aspects of the spiritual world, communication with the spiritual world and the spiritual essence of the human being. This philosophy has an enormous acceptance in Brazil, and it is a mainstream religious manifestation here... Back then, people were more concerned with the pursuit of scientific proof of the existence of the spiritual world... This is what they were doing there. They were trying to obtain material proof of the existence of the spirits.

This is a very nice additional layer of insight, and my thanks go to Walter.

Here is another valuable addition to another episode from Chandra Deeds Gioiello:

I am a huge fan of your podcast and really enjoyed the recent episodes on the More Unsung Women of Science. I just wanted to add something to your piece on Alice Hamilton. While you mentioned that Inge Lehmann has an award named after her, the American Industrial Hygiene Association has an "Alice Hamilton Award" given out every year to a woman who has made significant contributions in the field of Industrial Hygiene and Workplace Safety. Its one of our 5 most prestigious awards. She is considered a true hero in our profession, and is a role model to all of us women in the field. I really appreciate you bringing attention to her and the other women of science!

You may remember one of the things I said in that episode was that an entire book could easily be written on each of those women, and I regretted having to cut each one down to a few sentences. Thanks, Chandra, for giving Alice the extra recognition.

Here's a thought from listener Ady from the UK:

I've just been re-listening to all Skeptoid episodes from the beginning. Although I really love the show, I am getting a little depressed about how (it seems) most of humanity is a little stupid. Maybe you could do a piece to show that humanity is generally pretty great despite the number of Big-Foot Hunters, UFO Abductees, Conspiracy Believers etc. Anyway, please keep up the good work.

Ady, I completely understand where you're coming from. Over 500 episodes, and every one of them makes me want to pound my face on my desk. Why do people insist on believing this? It's usually something so far out there. But we've talked about this specific question. They're not stupid, they're just like you and I, but their life experiences have included different inputs from ours. They're interpreting the world the same way you and I do, but getting different results, because their database of experience is different. But the one thing we can all do, regardless of our life experiences, is to learn the errors that color all of our interpretations. So it wouldn't be a case of saying "Hey, humanity is still pretty great despite all of these weirdos", it's more like "Hey, being human is a pretty complicated thing." And I think that's the one lesson we can all take home from the entire body of Skeptoid episodes as a whole.

Let's head west across the Pacific to an underwater formation of rocks off the coast of Japan, that a small number of people have interpreted as a manmade city they call the Japanese Atlantis. Parker from Indiana writes:

I really want to understand your skeptical viewpoint here, but despite the obvious fact that these are formations of sandstone near tectonic hotspots, they really display characteristics that seem manmade. I don't understand how such corridors, stairways, and perpendicular walls could form naturally (with such an incredible number of right angles). The regularity of this site goes far beyond anything I've ever seen resulting from layers of slate, fracturing due to tectonics... Please explain why the "artificial" hypothesis has become the subject of your ridicule.

Folks, as a rule, I don't ridicule things, and I certainly didn't ridicule anyone in this episode, so please don't claim that I did. All I can say is go back and listen again. All of these questions were answered comprehensively in the episode. Sometimes people hear only what they want to disagree with.

As a nod to Skeptoid's long and honorable history, I'll include one piece of old-style feedback. This comes from Steve Kroschel, who runs a wildlife center in Alaska, but unfortunately is also voraciously hostile to science. He's best known for his feature documentaries The Gerson Miracle, Dying to Have Known, The Beautiful Truth, The Grounded, and Heal for Free, all of which are wholesale infomercials for worthless alternative cancer therapies. I appeared as a token skeptic in one of those films, and as his thanks, he periodically emails me insults out of the blue. Recently I got:

Aha ~ ! I see you still are up to your same old tricks , Mr.Dunning ! Carry on . You make the world a more confusing and disharmonized place with your own brand of disinformation and half-truths..
Wishing you lots of bad luck ..............
Steve Kroschel

So that's the beautiful truth from someone dedicated to natural healing, and here is his philosophy, as presented in a PBS Digital Studios promotion for his films:

I think the future rests in one word: love.

Love you too, Steve.

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Listener Feedback: Denial and Aliens." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 10 May 2016. Web. 23 Oct 2016. <>


References & Further Reading

APRO. "Strange Deaths in Brazil." The APRO Bulletin. 1 Sep. 1966, Volume 1966, Number 5: 1, 3.

Gornick, V. Women in Science: Then and Now. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.

Greenberg, R. How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart. New York: Penguin Group, 2011.

Mann, M. "Exxon Doubled Down on Climate Denial and Deceit." Insights. EcoWatch, 21 Sep. 2015. Web. 24 Sep. 2015. <>

Schoch, R. "An Enigmatic Ancient Underwater Structure off the Coast of Yonaguni Island, Japan." Circular Times. Dr. Colette M. Dowell, 19 Apr. 2006. Web. 20 Aug. 2010. <>

Shermer, M. The Believing Brain: How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011. 207-230.


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