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200 Skeptoids

by Brian Dunning, Apr 08 2010

This week marked the 200th episode of my podcast Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena.

Skeptoid has a long-standing tradition of making every 50th episode a lavish musical production. This tradition began last year at episode 150, which established the lavish musical employing a host of talented professionals; and crumbled all to hell this week at episode 200, when I applied my own unassisted imbecility toward the construction of a musical piece. The result is a parody of marketing efforts from purveyors of pseudoscience in the form of a song entitled Buy It!

–>> Click here to listen now (3 minutes) <<–

Being an experienced non-musician, and quite impressively talented on no musical instruments, I elected to make this piece an a cappella. This allowed me to leverage my deep gifts for not singing. Critics have already praised the performance as one of the great voices made for blogging.

My background in not composing music helped to cunningly construct chord progressions as provocative and complex as those from The Wiggles.

And so armed with the needed talents, I proceeded. Among those talents are not the abilities to count beats, keep rhythm, or hold a note, so I had to cheat a bit. Contrary to suppositions I’ve already heard, no sampling or pitch correction was used in Buy It! But there is a lot of looping. This meant I had to record each loop, usually 4 measures long, in the correct pitch and timing. So I played each vocal part separately on a keyboard into Garageband, each on its own track. I listened to each track solo, as a guide, as I sang each line. There are thirteen separate vocal tracks, plus ten handclap tracks and one finger snap track. Put them all together, mute out the keyboard guide tracks, and presto, we have a multitrack vocal performance that’s actually in sync and reasonably close to being on key. Pretty good, I thought, for someone who has no clue and little hope of ever obtaining a clue.

Yes, I know there is some clipping in a couple parts. The clipping provoked much colorful language. It’s not in the original recordings, so perhaps some future engineering will get rid of it.

The crowd-shouted “Buy it!” line caused a lot of headaches. Richard Saunders gathered a crew together in Australia and did some takes. I thought it would be fun to make this a bi-continental piece, but unfortunately I ended up being unable to use that clip; it just didn’t sound right when I mixed it in. I also gathered my family around the mic and we all shouted it too, but it came out unintelligible. So I ended up reverting to my original concept of a Village People style chorus: a combination of basses and falsettos. I doubt any listeners were able to divine that inspiration, but that’s what I was going for. Regardless, it was the only one of my three options that worked.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. It was fun to make, and I think its message is a worthy addition to the Skeptoid body of work.

21 Responses to “200 Skeptoids”

  1. MadScientist says:

    Congratulations! It’s good to hear the Skeptoid is still going. Speaking of pop phenomena, I’m reading a (text only) copy of Charles Mackay’s “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” thanks to the Project Gutenberg. Unfortunately the lithographs are not reproduced, but I can live with a book without pictures.

  2. PurePareidolia says:

    Well whatever you did worked, it’s surprisingly catchy and certainly put a smile on my face when I heard it earlier today

  3. Brian says:

    Heard it on your pod cast and loved it! I didn’t realize that all (most?) of the voices were yours, nice work!

  4. No, I totally got the Village People reference. It reminded me of a doo-wop rendition of “Go West” right from the beginning. ;)

    The fun thing about it is that, were it not for the context of being part of Skeptoid’s long history of big-pharma activism, it could have been interpreted as a scathing, sugary attack on marketing in general.

    I hope whatever it is you got gets gone. If not, just tell people you caught it off a toilet seat. That’s how my mom explained me.

  5. Somite says:

    Enjoyed the comedy and music! But a little bit of constructive criticism for Brian. You are falling into the trap of being reactionary and failing to appreciate a complex issue. The position that Big pharma is evil is as absurd as the position that it is not. We do have safe and effective drugs in the market that are produced by pharmaceuticals (big and small) but this is not intrinsic to corporatism. Safe and effective drugs are produced through a combination of science, corporatism, and regulatory efforts by the FDA and other organizations.

    If any of these components were missing, and it happens when the system breaks down, you do get unsafe, uneffective or no drug at all. Of one thing I am sure. Without regulation the goal of any corporation is profit with effectiveness and safety being only secondary. The true heroes of the story are safety pathologists, pharmacologists and physicians that document the toxicity of an investigational drug even at the peril of their own jobs and careers.

    All of this is no more clear than in the food industry where obviously efficacy is not a component. In the food industry every means have been undertaken to take perfectly safe components and create foods that maximize your caloric intake and leave you wanting more. More food sold, more profit and again secondary to health.

    And the most blatant example of this: tobacco companies producing an addictive, carcinogenic and legal product.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      The real deal behind “Big Pharma” or any such massive industry is somewhere in the middle between conspiratorical and dismissive views. Certainly the big suits don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone else’s well being, and will exert the absolute minimum cost to meet safety standards. The top directive is to protect revenue, but nothing is more detrimental to profit than public scandal and health scares. People who believe these corporations would actually endanger our health for profit aren’t just wrong, but stupid.

      I also have to argue against the food industry example, for the simple fact that there is a vast and competitive market for healthy foods. The rest are high calorie because that is the nature of those types of foods. A hamburger made at home with freshly picked vegetables, fresh baked bread, and freshly slain bovine is no less caloric than a quarter pounder from McDonalds. Again, any extra revenue they might earn from calorie packing pales in comparison to the devastating losses incurred if people knew they were deliberately fattening us for a few extra bucks. It just isn’t worth it.

      Also have to cut Big Tobacco a break too. Tobacco smoking pre-dates modern industry by a couple hundred years, the demand is already there. You can’t blame the supplier because smoking is bad for you, and there is little they can do to change that. Thus I’d sooner put by trust in a huge corporation than an honest tobacco farmer, as the former has the financial means and political pressure to finance research into a safer product.

    • skeptologic says:

      It’s pretty obvious that you have not listened to Skeptoid before. Brian is not saying that pharmaceutical companies are evil, he is saying that the people who push untested, unapproved alternative therapies are the ones you should not give your money to. His comments before and after the song about not going to doctors and big pharma were meant to be sarcastic.

    • Sorry, I guess I missed the part where tobacco companies are part of Big Pharma.

      • Max says:

        You don’t get what Somite meant by “the most blatant example of this“?
        I think the “this” refers to: “Without regulation the goal of any corporation is profit with effectiveness and safety being only secondary.”
        This would include Big Pharma, Big Farma, Big Tobacco, Big Oil, you name it.

  6. Max says:

    I’m a sucker for pharmaceutical ads.

    Do you suffer from life’s symptoms and stresses due to drug defficiency? Studies show that most Americans are not getting enough medications, but you can do something about it. Talk to your doctor about Xerocure today.
    Common side effects include diarrhea, constipation, internal bleeding, and the very symptoms Xerocure is approved to treat. Stopping Xerocure can cause withdrawal symptoms. Xerocure is not habit forming.
    If you stop breathing and lose consciousness while taking Xerocure, seek immediate medical assistance.
    Ask your doctor if Xerocure is right for you.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      Haha, yeah! Or like those other ones where the mom and daugher are walking by the lake, and.. wait, are we talking about the same thing?

      • Max says:

        Yup, and the mother sounds so happy even as she’s listing the nasty side effects, you just want to say, “I’ll have what she’s having!”

    • tmac57 says:

      While Xerocure is not habit forming, the FDA has found that long term use of this product can result in Xerotolerance.

    • Bill says:

      If Xerocure works as expected, you can expect to receive Xerobenefits.

  7. Skepdude says:

    Hey don’t beat yourself over it! You’re a skeptic not Justin Timberlake, you did much better than I would have done that’s for sure. Now those words of encouragement said, I gotta admitt that you set the bar too high with “Screwed” which I thought was brilliant both in the material and the performance, whereas “Buy It” was brilliant in the material, and ok in the performance. Maybe you should have tried to do “Buy it” using Michael Jackon’s “Beat it” music; that would have been fun. LOL. Keep the 50th episode, musical extravaganza, tradition alive though.

  8. Bill says:

    Liked ‘Buy It!’…
    LOVED ‘Screwed’…

    But my favorite Skeptoid EVER is still the one you did on Homeopathy. Abso-frakkin’-lutely BRILLIANT!


  9. tmac57 says:

    Very clever Brian, I especially liked the background vamping. I’ll probably have that looping in brain for a couple of days.

  10. Anthony says:

    As a musician myself, I have learned over time that musical training isn’t as important as most people make it out as. I can really only read music when I’m playing the Saxophone anyway, and even then not well. When I’m writing songs for voice and guitar I do it all by instinct – and that’s where the best pop songs come from.

  11. Citizen wolf says:

    Where can I buy it, and how much does it cost?
    Also, does it come in racing green?

  12. James Beattie says:

    Actually, the Wiggles arrangements are more complex than most current popular music.