I had, until quite recently, always held The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast in high esteem. It was usually entertaining, frequently skeptical, and the information presented was often correct.
Sadly, that reliability has now all but crumbled completely away. I first noted this disintegration when I was listening to an episode a few weeks ago. They were, as they often do, discussing fake foreign accents — a topic of grave concern, and far reaching implications. They were unified in their disdain for “Brian Dunning’s terrible German accent.”
I received a number of reports that they repeated this charge during the recent live recording during the NECSS conference. Suspiciously, this specific line was edited out of their broadcast version. The point at which the edit was made can be heard during their obligatory “fake German accent” segment of that show, which begins at approximately 47:30.
The problem is that I did not recall ever attempting a German accent in any public forum; except once, seventeen years ago, which can be heard in the last five seconds of this video.
Curious to know the source of this bizarre claim, I turned Skeptoid’s impressive resources loose. And, with such a powerful weapon brought to bear, the true facts were soon uncovered. Does Brian Dunning indeed have a terrible German accent? Read on.
Some months ago, I was contacted by Richard Saunders of The Skeptic Zone podcast for a small favor. He was doing a piece on Samuel Hahnemann, the inventor of homeopathy. The piece was to be in the form of “The Diary of Samuel Hahnemann”. Richard asked me to record a short introduction, which I did, in which a fanciful tale was told: That Hahnemann’s diary had recently been discovered. This introduction was presented in my normal Skeptoid speaking voice, and can be heard at 27:30 in The Skeptic Zone #71. I sent the introduction to Richard, and then thought no more about it.
When the show was completed and came out, my introduction was followed by a satirical, comical German-accented voice of Hahnemann reading from his diary. I heard one listener describe the voice as similar to that of Dr. Strangelove. Clearly, this was what had so rocked The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe and sent them into their insane, self-destructive spiral of obsession with fake German accents.
But who had recorded that voice? I made some inquiries, and it became clear that a misinformation campaign was afoot. I was pointed down a number of false trails by Skeptic Zone contributor Kylie Sturgess: The Pseudo Scientists, the Young Australian Skeptics, and even Skeptic Zone presenter Dr. Rachael Dunlop. Finally, I went straight to the source, and asked Richard directly who had performed Hahnemann’s voice. I give here his emailed reply in its entirety:
The mystery was thus solved, and SGU’s claim was rent asunder. In that same moment, I was exonerated, and resumed my place as a shining beacon of unerring infallibility, tolerance, and sensitivity to all foreign accents.
The repercussions have been staggering. A YouTube video reveals that SGU host Dr. Steven Novella does not practice medicine, and has been both disbarred and defrocked. Listeners are reeling from the controversy, and it’s now widely acknowledged that The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe can no longer be trusted to provide unbiased or well-researched information.
And so, rest in peace, SGU. You had a good run, but failed to recognize the need for at least rudimentary quality control.
P.S. for the uninitiated reader – This post is all in fun. The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is awesome. The basic facts of this case are true, however.
P.P.S. – In another Skeptic Zone episode I recorded an announcement of Richard Saunders’ upcoming visit to California, in a burlesque Australian accent that purported to be Richard’s own voice. This was widely panned as a horrible Australian accent. However, in my own defense, it was not actually intended as an impersonation of Richard or of any real Australian accent, but rather as a parody of the popular American stereotype of what we think Australians sound like. And, in that context, I still maintain that it was impeccable.