SkepticblogSkepticblog logo banner

top navigation:

Podcast People

by Mark Edward, Jul 28 2009
Beware the woo Podcast People! Use a ten foot pole!

Beware the woo Podcast People! Use a ten foot pole!

I’m happy to say the last few months have been busy for me. On one hand I’m happy that so many people have asked me to participate in on-line podcasts, but on the other, I have found that many of the so-called “paranormal” or “skeptical” presentations have been woefully lacking in either skepticality or anything that even remotely constitutes what those of us who have been involved in might refer to as paranormal. There’s just too much woo out there  – and The Pod People are multiplying!

Last Saturday night I was asked to be a part of CBS Radio’s “Para-X” Paranormal Podcast: “The Paranormal View.” While I had been on this show once before as a part of their “Skeptic Tank,” I was aghast at what is passing for paranormal and even more surprised at the complete gullibility of the people running the show. No offence guys and gals and I mean this only with all the respect I could give under the circumstances; but as I said on the podcast, “…What are you people talking about?”

During the two hours I was on this show, I was was asked in all seriousness to comment and tell the listeners what “testing” we skeptics had done on such diverse subjects as shadow people, the reality of demons, OBE’s and how scratches could appear on a guy’s back without a demon of some kind being involved. Testing? We were told Demons are real, …but it’s a religious thing. Well, yeah, I guess that says it all doesn’t it? Will JREF be testing for Smurfs and trolls soon too?

Shadow People - What?

Shadow People - What?

Both Paul Turner (Batboy) and myself staved off the woo, but found ourselves generally cut-off in mid-comment by an avalanche of commercials for Swiffers, tax advice commercials and even promotion and the selling of tickets for a medium’sdemo at $25.00 a pop. This is not exactly where I wanted to be coming from. At one point, I almost lost my cool. The host advised us we would be confronting a huge audience of believers who would be hot and heavy to take us skeptics on. In the past months, the same promises have been made withother podcast hosts. In those other cases, nary a single believer managed to turn up and fight the good fight with me. How boring is that? Put up yer dukes!

In Saturday night’s extravaganza of preposterousness, we were treated to a new ploy in this never-ending spectacle: the assembled mediums “Jamie” (no last name given of course) and the few others who participated switched around the whole skeptic effect by generally agreeing with whatever Paul and I said. When asking for evidence or to define what “shadow people” were or what they do or not do, they could offer neither evidence or details, just vague ramblings about “…those things in  the corner of your eye.”  Well, …what did I expect, intelligent conversation? Yes I did. I was wrong. These are some scary people out there in the paranormal community. I guess I’m just not used to the on-line version of the Art Bell crowd. I could say little but,”…What’s the deal here guys ?”

One segment went like the following text. I’m writing this with the kindest of colloquialisms intact, it’s not my spelling. Also, until I have an exact transcription; this is all written to the best of my memory. You can listen for yourself if and when this charade is put up on “The Paranormal View” in a few days:

Mark:  “So what exactly happened?”

“Psychic Investigator”: “Well, this guy we was out on a investigation with one time showed us a big scratch on his back that wasn’t there before and we knew we was in the presence of a demon.”

Mark: ” So he had a scratch on his back. So what? I mean, did you actually see his flesh rend open and the scratch tear through his flesh like a zipper in a horror movie ….or what?”

“Psychic Investigator:”  “Nope, not exactly.”

Mark: “So what did you see. Was his shirt off or what?”

“Psychic Investigator:”  “Nope. He showed it to us after it happened.”

Mark: “I see. He showed you his back after he took his shirt off. So you took his word for it and just saw a scratch on his back after it happened and assumed it came from a demon of some sort? I mean, was there a message inscribed, was there a crime solved by this , winning lotto numbers or hidden treasure involved? Or might he have just caught it on a nail?”

“Psychic Investigator:”“Well, we think it was from a demon ’cause there was other weird stuff going on and there wasn’s’t no one else in the hall but him.”

Mark: “All the more reason to expect that he did it himself. He could have found a nail on the street. You know most so-called poltergeist activity is put down to children who just want attention?”

“Psychic Investigator: “ Dead Silence.

Host of Show: “Well,  eh, ….that being said, we are going to have to go to another commercial break, so stay tuned.”

Pods pepThis is the way it went. These are truly Pod People in the classic tradition of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,”(1956). The believers simply appeased us by staying silent or passively agreeing, but by editing the better part of us through commercialbreaks which are loaded with woo, they basically said to the listening world, “…Don’t fight it Mark. Be one of us. It will be painless and you’ll feel much better after you give in.” No. As Kevin McCarthy screams in “Invasion:” I am not insane! To deny or squelch any opposing view in this way shows a condescending bias that should never be confused with scientific education or skeptical thinking. I’m going to be a lot more careful of where I speak and what battles I decide to fight.“The Paranormal View” might have been better avoided.

My personal favorite exchange of that podcast was when Jamie tried to convince Batboy and myself when bringing up Out of Body Experiences or OBE’s, she knew that;

Jamie:  “…For sure there’s life after death ’cause I know of people who died and came back to speak to me.” 

Batboy explained the scientific evidence through which brain responsesgenerally credited with OBE’shappen and how they work when for example, astronauts in space have been deprived of air for periods of time. I countered simply with:

Mark: “Jamie, can you name one person who, after being embalmed and put in the ground for two weeks personally tallked to you?”

Jamie: “Well, uh. …No.”

Mark: “I think you might be confused. They are dead. There’s death and then there’s what’s called a near- death experiences. It happens for only a few seconds or minutes, not days. That’s why it”s called a Near  – Death experience, not a death experience.”

Things went on and on like this and by the time we got to the host starting a segment with the comment,

“Now let’s talk about something we can all agree about. We all know there’s witches. They cast spells and make potions and such.” I was almost beside myself. I’m a fairly patient person, but there comes a time…

When it came to asking Paul and myself what proof we have that demons don’t exsit and where were the tests that we had personally conducted to disprove them, I had to step up whatever nerve shattering  pace had carried us that far and called the whole premise of the show into question. I quoted Asimov’s Unicorn Wing theory and let the host and his guests know that to even begin to talk about what a demon can or cannot do, I would have to acknowlege that demons exist in the first place. This was something I was just not willing to do.

As withmy comments on the shadow people, I reminded everyone that as in the case of ghosts; if one person sees a ghost, that’s one thing. It is most probably in their mind. If two or more people experience the same ghost, independently of each other and with corroborative evidence to the specific situation, then there might be the possiblityofsomething paranormal. But that’s a long way from when someone, “…See’s something out of the corner of their eye, turns and it’s gone.”  I also stated that were I to ingest enough LSD, there would be the distinct probability that I may not only see shadow people lurking in dark corners, but pink unicorns and leprechauns as well. But this was an uphill battle and I came away with an exhausted feeling that we are doomed if this is what a corporation like CBS Radio sponsors as viable information, or even the thinnest of entertainment. I once again wondered how people who travel in such realms manage to get home at night, get out of bed every day and keep a job or just do their laundry. If you are beset by demons, witches and shadow people, how can you function?

Are we in 2009 or is it the 11th century?

ooga- booga

ooga- booga

In the end their “paranormal view” hadn’t  much  of a view at all. They all ended up agreeing with us. This had the effect nullifying the concept of having a ” skeptic tank” on the show. And what the heck is a skeptic tank anyway?  Sounds dangerously close to “septic tank” to me. I suppose one might say that this was a successful skeptical coup, but in situations like this I don’t want nutty people with no last names agreeing with me! They knew my last name. Why didn’t I get the privilege of knowing theirs? What are they afraid of? It was just too easy for them. I felt patronized by the whole lot. There was little or no conflict and every time we got a heated debate going, the show cut away to a commercial break. As I stated on the air: the only evil demons I could tell were present were the commercial breaks.

The Demon of Podcast Commercials

The Demon of Podcast Commercials

Batboy and I will continue to fight the rational fight, despite the overwhelming preponderance of woo and the apparently contradictory nature of what is presently passing for “skeptical” reportage or “psychic investigators.” The good news is that according to a CBS producer who  has been in contact with Paul, the skeptical spots on paranormal pod casts that have featured skeptical guests like ourselves end up with the biggest ratings and when skeptics are on these shows, the chat rooms are full to the brim. People sitting in their offices at CBS like that. This is a good sign. Somewhere, somebody is at least thinking. There may not be a dirge of Sherlock Holmes’ out there, but there is some hope. There’s a possibility that Batboy may be getting a shot at putting together his own deal. That would be nice. 

Let the producers of any questionable podcasts know where you stand. There must be literally hundreds of them. Most will never consider having a contrasting viewpoint, but if they are open enough to entertain that notion, take them on yourself or send them our way. We may one day arrive at some sort of parity.

Here’s a list of recent podcats I have appeared on in case you want to listen (or comment) for yourself:

The Paranormal View (2)

Skeptics Guide to the Universe (SGU) Including a live seance conducted by yours truly for Michael Jackson. The only non-woo show so far  – thanks to Steven Novella’s hard work.

The Paranormal Podcast

Ghost Divas

FYI: I have a new promotional video: “THE TRUTH!” which will hopefully put to rest any quibbling  over where I stand for psychics, magicians, skeptics or “psychic entertainers” who have dogged my supposedly “on the fence” attitude for far too long. This piece pretty much tells it all in nine minutes. Of course there’s much more where that came from, but for YouTube, it’s about right. Plus, it’s an excellent example of the quality of craftsmanship my son Miles can produce. Check it out and comment here or through

GO TO:http:/

"Open the Pod Doors Hal..."
“Open the Pod Doors Hal…”

26 Responses to “Podcast People”

  1. Max says:

    I once heard a guy describe his encounter with shadow people, and it was an obvious case of sleep paralysis.

  2. Susan Gerbic says:

    That was way too much fun! The believers were great, the stuff they kept coming up with was fantastic. One man in the chat room started in with medicine is not science.

    TonyaK, C.J. Sevilla and I had a great time, we finally ended up talking about the existence of smurfs, apparently one woman got really upset at TonyaK telling her she was insulted. We are still not sure what set that off but we were talking about Brainy Smurf. The woman did not like that we were not taking the conversation seriously. I mean really?

    One exchange between Demon man and Mark was great when the demon man started telling Mark, “well, there was this girl that had words scratched on her stomach, what do you think of that?” So Mark asked him to clarify and asked, “On her stomach or In her stomach?” The man said “on her stomach” to which Mark replied “I would be more impressed if it were IN her stomach.” That was pure gold, then he told the man “how do you know the girl didn’t do it herself for attention?” I don’t remember hearing an answer.

    They asked Paul and Mark about a voice recording they did at a “haunted” place where later on they heard a voice saying, “help me”. Paul was all over this one explaining audio paradola. I don’t think they bought this answer cause someone in the chat room called Paul a jerk for giving an answer without hearing the tape. Duh, if Paul heard the tape he would probably here “help me” as that was what he was told he would hear. And besides what difference would it do if Paul heard something else they weren’t voting.

    What’s a skeptic to do?

    You are told a story (they are always stories) about something they or their friend or their cousin’s friend saw and then ask you opinion. When you give them a reasonable answer of what it might be then they slam you and say, “you weren’t there!” or even better “are you calling me a liar!”

    Mark you are forgetting that you also appeared on Bryan and Baxter’s Warning: Radio a few weeks ago, and that is definitely not a woo podcast.

  3. Paul T. says:

    That was a hell of a thing! But I want to qualify anything I say with the fact that I really like Beth Brown one of the cohosts, who unfortunately could not join us on Saturday night due to technical difficulties. I feel perhaps if she had been present things would have gone differently. I don’t always agree with Beth but I always respect her. Something she has earned.

    I have also been told that it sounded better to some listeners than it did to us. But the CBS radio commercial breaks are excruciating. If there is a hell(evidence so far indicates no) the only thing the alleged devil would have to do to torture me for an eternity is to staple a pair of headphones to my ears and force me to listen to those commercial breaks.

    Those commercial breaks definitely disrupted the flow of things I felt like we were Japanese fighting fish who could see the other fish but could not get to them. Then when the debate was about to start – commercial break- then we were back what seemed like 10 minutes later. Probably shorter but that’s what it seemed like when you’re on hold.

    My Bad Thinking Detector or BTD tripped off several times but I just didn’t say anything. For example when Joe the paranormal investigator said somewhere before the 9th commercial break that he approached investigations skeptically. But after commercial break number 19 or so he said that he believed in demons and ghosts. That’s being very skeptical Joe! But I was just too frustrated by that point.

    I have been doing WOO radio and podcasting for some time,I’ve always thought that taking rationally discussing and debating the paranormal with those in the paranormal would be a way to take skepticism out of our own blogs and podcasts and put it into practice. Occasionally I will get an e-mail or a message from someone who has either heard an old podcast, or read some ancient post I placed somewhere on some long forgotten paranormal site. And tell me that my arguments gave them food for thought.

    So while I agree with Mark that from our perspective it was a train wreck,the optimist in me wonders if we gave anyone out there food for though. But then again is it worth it always being the token skeptic?

  4. MadScientist says:

    Damn that Charlie the Unicorn! Now I’m imagining a transcript which looks something like this:

    Mark: “All the more reason to expect that he did it himself …”

    Host: “Shuuunnnnnn!”

  5. Wow. And I thought in my dealings with creationists that I’d waded deep into the woo. You are a far more brave and patient man than I, Mark. Keep up the good work.

  6. Michael says:

    I feel perhaps if she had been present things would have gone differently. I don’t always agree with Beth but I always respect her. Something she has earned. I also got the same at my radio.I heard that some of the Dish Tv service providers give free radio service.

  7. CH says:

    I do hope someone mentioned Occam’s wondrous razor. That little thing is probably the most effective weapon against woo, provided you can explain it before someone interrupts you to sell a Swiffer.

  8. The shadow person illusion is an explained neurological phenomenon. It has been described to occur during seizures(, and can be induced at will in some people (

    Most really weird stuff like that is just an artifact of brain processing.

    • Susan Gerbic says:

      TonyaK explained this to them in the chat room. I explained that our human ancestors found it a good thing to see movement in the corner of the eye, they managed to make it in the trees. The ones without good side vision got eaten. So we did give them some logic, they either didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand.

      They would have responded to you Steve with “you weren’t there so you don’t know what I saw” or “Are you calling me a liar” or better yet “I didn’t have no seizure!”

  9. Paul T. says:

    Congratulations Mark you won!!

  10. Mark Edward says:

    Well, I guess what Paul and I did hit home with more people than I thought.I have been voted this month’s Master Debater (?) by The Paranormal View group. Nice. Check it out at . Seems like Beth is more on our side than the other guys, or at laest more informed. Listen for more of Batboy and me on future podcasts. This stuff DOES make a difference, no matter how silly it may sound to us Charlies. I just have to remember to remain professional and keep my cool. It isn’t easy, but that’s my job.

    • Susan Gerbic says:

      I doesn’t look like you will keep winning the award by being nice. I think Paul has all that southern charm, and what is needed is some LA rudeness. You go Mark!

  11. TonyaK says:

    Mark, you and Paul did an excellent job when you weren’t being interrupted by the endless parade of commercials and ridiculous attempts to contradict your points. The crowd in the chatroom was more confrontational than the other guests on the podcast, and I found the whole experience to be extremely frustrating! For 10 years, I have been neck deep in the paranormal community, attempting to insert some degree of rational thought and skepticism among the glitter sprinkling love and light orb thumpers. It has been an often lonely, and typically losing, battle. It’s nice to know that I have company!

    And yes, Susan…the whole Smurf discussion was bizarre. I’m not sure what was so offensive, but my unnecessary apology was met with additional volatile comments. I stand by my comment that Brainy Smurf is definitely the hottest.

    • Mr Stu dislikes WOO! says:

      “For 10 years, I have been neck deep in the paranormal community, attempting to insert some degree of rational thought and skepticism among the glitter sprinkling love and light orb thumpers. It has been an often lonely, and typically losing, battle”

      Shit, I’ve only been doing for a little over 2 years and feel the exact same way! It feels like being caught in a riptide. You can swim as hard as you want, but the current keeps pushing you out to sea.

      • Susan Gerbic says:

        I’ve been into the skeptic/science cause for 9 years now. I got interested when I was trying to find a topic for my BA Capstone.

        I don’t feel like you TanyaK or Mr Stu, I rarely interact with the shut-eyes so this kind of thing was a blast. I don’t think I have the decorum that Paul and Mark have to talk nicely to these people. I think I would bluntly ask them if they were nuts, and if they graduated middle school. Not nice, but then again I’m not.

  12. Beth Brown says:

    Shhhhh! You’re not supposed to let them know that I’m on your side!

    In all seriousness, I truly WANT to believe that there is life after death, cool mind rays, and whatever other woo you throw my way. The sad thing is that the harder I look for a shred of proof, the farther away (and more fictitious) the prize seems. Will I keep looking? Yes – and only because if I stop will I GUARANTEE that I won’t find anything. Something might surprise me one day. Hey, I’m an optimist.

    I’m so sorry that CBS cut me out Saturday night. When sound gets rough, the ax falls. That’s the trouble with us now being a radio broadcast instead of just a wee little podcast. Thanks to CBS, the show is only set for 13 minutes of talk interspersed by 3 minutes of ads – those ads ran longer last week because of the producers trying to remedy our connection troubles to get me back on. I feel a bit like a protective parent when it comes to the Skeptic Tank episodes because I had to lobby so hard to get them on and it KILLED me to not be there to help keep the discussion on solid ground (at NO fault of the Skeptics’ Team!)

    And as for the Believers that were so eager to challenge you – they canceled two days before the show. That should say something about the confidence they have in their own viewpoint, right?

    Thanks Mark and Paul for being level-headed voices of reason.

  13. Reap says:

    Yea I was in the chat on para-x that evening also. I would love to give a rundown of my take on the show but everytime I attempt to recall it I have the urge to go buy a swiffer duster or buy overpriced tickets to an event involving things that don’t exist. The para-x chat strongly ressembles and cult meeting in my opinion. The number of moderators is an indicator of how well they take an opposing view. When I mentioned the number of add spots the other listeners actually defended para-x I can’t help but find this another symptom of the mob mentality present in the chat. I did get to hear one portion of the show where the host shares “his definition” of the word unity. In my opinion the habit of ‘self-defining’ words is a largly how may paranormal claims are validated by people. If you make up your own meanings anything can be true its like living in a fantasy world…..
    It is my mission to start making public comment on some of the paranormal shows on these days. Those who need to can consider this fair warning.
    Great blog Mark, very accurate.

    • Susan Gerbic says:

      I think Mark did an excellent job asking for definitions, I think I would fall into that trap easily just assuming I knew what they were talking about, when clearly we might be talking about other things.

      Also good job for the winged unicorn analogy, that is another trap that I keep falling into. The host (not Beth) came out with the statement “Lets go to something easy….now we KNOW witches exist, they cast spells and…” To which Mark said “Hold on… we don’t know that”

      Another great moment.

      BTW is the episode in the archives yet? I looked this morning so I could listen to it on a long drive I had but didn’t see it. And more importantly, if I listen to it again will it have the demon commercials?

  14. Mark Edward says:

    “And as for the Believers that were so eager to challenge you – they canceled two days before the show. That should say something about the confidence they have in their own viewpoint, right?”

    Yes! And I think that it would have been only fair to the listening audience to report at the beginning of the show that the Eager Ones did indeed cancel out on us. For wahtever reason they may give – they were not there and that speaks volumes doesn’t it?

  15. Mark Edward says:

    Oppps Yes, thanks Susan for reminding me about the excellent podcast I appeared on a few weeks back: Bryan and Baxter’s Warning: Radio. It is definitely NOT a woo podcast and I look forward to doing it again soon. Too many things on my mind often has this effect…