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Mainstream Skepticism Win! Score one for New Media

by Ryan Johnson, Feb 02 2010

I am an avid listener to podcasts. I can attribute my enlightenment that I was a Skeptic from the early days of listening to Penn Jillette’s radio show rebroadcast on my iPod.

Now, as I spend my day making videos, working on pitch materials for The Skeptologists and also making breakaway bottles for SMASHProps, I have a lot of time available to listen to many great podcasts. Most are skeptically themed and feature several of the authors that contribute regularly to this blog.

One podcast that I listen to regularly is the Tech Stuff Podcast, from the folks over at HowStuffWorks.com. Chris Pollette and Jonathan Strickland regularly take on topics related to technology from how fiber optics work to the best Easter eggs found in video games. When I scrolled through my menu of choices for my evening listening, last night, I saw that the latest offering from tech stuff was labeled “Ghost Hunting Technology.” I have to admit that I almost skipped it! My fear was that I’d listen to this podcast and have to stop listening to their future shows because of something that they said and I would have lost all “faith” in their ability to report on topics related to, well, anything!

This is a mainstream podcast. While tech-heavy, it’s aimed at a general audience and as such cannot be considered a skeptical podcast by any means. I generally tend towards programming from people who share at least a reasonable amount of similarities with my world-view. Luckily, I’ve found many.

So with some trepidation, I listened to the podcast and held my breath. Lucky for my oxygen-starved brain I didn’t have to wait long, because co-host Jonathan Strickland opened his part of the show by saying: “I’m going to preface this by saying, I am a Skeptic.” Whoa! I thought! he just came out! Ha ha! Not only that, he then very clearly and concisely explained what being a Skeptic was: “And when I say skeptic I don’t mean someone that automatically denies that something exists. When I’m saying Skeptic I’m talking about a person that requires there be some sort of empirical evidence that something exists before I just go ahead and accept it.”

Aw shucks Jonathan. What a swell guy. A great, clearly stated definition that many of us can really get behind. He further goes on to say that there is a an enormous lack of empirical evidence that ghosts exist. He is steadfast in his position and when Chris Pollette begins to give a little slack to the rope, Jonathan is quick to reign it in. They both continue through the podcast explaining the tools that are frequently seen on the popular ghost shows, and how it’s really all just props for entertainment value.

The reason that this podcast is important in my perspective is that these are people that produce a program in the mainstream media market, and Jonathan presented a great case for being a critical thinker and held his ground in an intelligent way, without being confrontational. He discussed skepticism in a way that anyone could understand and appreciate. Furthermore, he and his co-host took the time to go through many of the ghost hunters tools of the trade and in a simple fashion explained how there is no evidence that these tool can detect the presence of ghosts, or that there is any good evidence of ghosts themselves.

This type of rational, entertaining discourse is what we need to see more of. It’s not enough to simply cheer amongst those of us that know and understand the tenants of skepticism. It’s important to inject rationality and critical thinking skills –perhaps by using science and technology as a vehicle– to help people understand. The world that we live in is amazing and wonderful and although filled with many unexplored and misunderstood things, we should not work so hard to create industries that support unfounded claims of the paranormal and supernatural.

I highly recommend that you listen to TechStuff, and even drop them a line and let them know that there are a great many people out there that support this work.

While I remain hard at work to bring a mainstream TV series to viewers all over, I also stand and applaud those that are not afraid to wear their true colors and stand by their convictions.

To go directly to the rs feed for the Podcast Click here: feed://www.howstuffworks.com/podcasts/techstuff.rss

Tech Stuff can be found at www.HowStuffWorks.com

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Rating: 4.8/5 (11 votes cast)
Mainstream Skepticism Win! Score one for New Media, 4.8 out of 5 based on 11 ratings

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16 Responses to “Mainstream Skepticism Win! Score one for New Media”

  1. Michael Bok says:

    Now if How Stuff Works would only stop running the laughably ridiculous, “Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know” podcast. Total garbage; like an entire series of “Loose Change.”

    • Trausti says:

      Yeah, I was gonna comment on that garbage as well. “Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know” podcast is pure pseudo-science and howstuffworks is on my shit list.

  2. I’m humbled — and that’s saying something! I’m glad that I didn’t horribly misrepresent skeptics with my own definition. As a fan of so many members of The Skeptologists, it was a real thrill to have our show mentioned on this blog. Thanks!

  3. If Strickland is a skeptic, I wonder what he has to say about his colleagues at the “Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know” podcast? I wrote a scathing post about it here. It really soured me on HowStuffWorks’ podcast offerings. What a shame :(

    • Ryan Johnson says:

      Abrams and Bok,

      Rather than pointing out what’s wrong with a program that Strickland has no control of, let’s focus our energy to supporting the projects that DO get it right.

      We’ll ALWAYS find more crap to deal with. The purpose of my post was to highlight and support those that ARE making a concerted effort.

      • Michael Bok says:

        Ryan,

        I completely agree and I wasn’t criticizing Jonathan Strickland; I love his podcast as well as “Stuff you should know” and “Stuff you missed in history class.” I was just pointing out that I was disappointed to see such a nonsensical podcast as STDWYTK offered alongside high quality, fact-based offerings like “Tech Stuff” and the others.

  4. I hesitate to criticize my colleagues’ work. I’ve discussed STDWYTK with the guys behind the show and expressed my opinions in rather clear terms. I can’t really talk about it here but I can say that the show went through several format changes before going live and one of those formats was something I thought was superior to what they do now. Were it up to me, it would take a skeptical perspective on the matter.

  5. tudza says:

    I listened to the item about QWERTY typewriters. I think they got the details wrong so I sent them the items I had read that made me believe so.

  6. Paranormal Technology. Two words that should never side side by side. Problem is, the paranormal crowd simply ignore any logical argument put forward and retreat to their safety net of excuses whilst they waive their fancy eBay gadgets.

    These people aren’t interested in skepticism or logic. They’re in search of the “truth”. How dare anyone consider putting skepticism, logic and common sense in the way of “truth”!

    Let me just confirm that EMF detectors are useless…..”weeeeeeeeeeeeeeooooooooeeeeeeeooooeeeee!” Oh my god. Did you hear that? An EMF spike! Obviously this means we have a ghost or some sort of paranormal activity. Let me just confirm this with my K2. *flash….flash flash flash* One flash and three quick flashes. They’re communicating!

    Ok, finally let me just fire up my Ovilus that translates EMF to speech. Ok….wait for it….wait for it……”BULL……SHIT”

  7. Hubert says:

    It’s Penn Jillette. Btw, I wish he was so popular as the pseudoscientific 5-blade razor.

  8. TJ says:

    I’m sorry, but it’s my opinion that ‘how stuff works’ is ruining the discovery network. Fricken science channel seems to have had a marathon of those for a few weeks. More science, less gadget bs.

  9. Pat in Montreal says:

    I have to disagree there TJ… I think the “how stuff works” folks generally manage to bring science and technology to the masses.

    Personally I think Discovery networks went to hell in a hand-basket when they started to produce all those ridiculous paranormal, ghost and cryptozoology shows… the motorcycle, fishing and logging shows were merely annoying but I’ll admit there was still something to be learned. But all the paranormal stuff, thats just over the top.

    Time to rename Discovery networks to the Woowoo Network :)

  10. Dave Jones says:

    Maybe I’ll pick up a couple of their podcasts again… I was put off by an episode of the main (I think) “how stuff works” podcast when they gave the moon landing ‘hoax’ WAY too much slack. I’d love to support them, being mostly fellow Atlanteans, but it’s such a grab bag. But I’ll try the Tech cast, and my wife likes the History cast. And she is never wrong. ;)