Help a skeptical TV show get made

By Phil Plait | December 2, 2010 9:54 am

skeptologists_logoRegular readers* may remember that a couple of years ago I was involved in a pilot for a skeptical investigation TV pilot called "The Skeptologists". The other cast members were Michael Shermer, Kiki Sanford, Brian Dunning, Steve Novella, Mark Edward, and Yau Man Chan.

Eventually, as you may know, I was offered to host a TV show pilot on The Discovery Channel, so I had to give The Skeptologists my regrets. At that point they did two good things: they replaced me with my dear friend Dr. Pamela Gay, and changed the name of the show to The Edge.

At this point, they are trying to get the show to air on PBS. This is where, perhaps, you come in. A grant came in rather quickly and unexpectedly, and to get it they need endorsements. They’re looking for skeptical groups, teachers, and other people involved in education to write a brief letter of support for the show.

Head over to Brian Dunning’s page about this and see how you can help. The grant has to be submitted Tuesday, so sooner is better. It won’t take but a few minutes of your time, but could be invaluable to help get an actual reality show on the air.


* … and those who don’t eat their bran etc. etc.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Skepticism, TV/Movies

Comments (36)

Links to this Post

  1. TikkiWeb » Archive » Get Critical Thinking on PBS | December 3, 2010
  1. Beelzebud

    I just hope that Shermer’s Libertarian zealotry doesn’t infect the show. He’s basically turned the blog into a personal platform for his woo-woo economic ideas…

  2. So happy to. May try to work this into my blog as well, we need more programming like this. SCIENCE reality. For that, I would blow the thick dust layer off that television across the room, and tune in. =)

  3. Sigmund

    I always thought that “the skeptologists” was a great name for a skeptical TV show – at least for one that involves a group of proctologists who are rather questioning of the stories they hear from the emergency room (“so you tripped in the shower and fell onto the hamster, Mr Gere”).

  4. Is there anything that a Macintosh consultant or Zombie rights activist can do?

  5. Gamercow

    I hope that religious zealots don’t attack the show, if it does come on.

  6. I’m not a blogger, famous, or an educator (not by profession, anyway), but I endorse the show. Does that count?

  7. ForeGo

    I just hope that Shermer’s Libertarian zealotry doesn’t infect the show. He’s basically turned the blog into a personal platform for his woo-woo economic ideas…

    Because *you’re* such the expert, right, and economics is such a precise science?

    Amazing… some people…

  8. Derek N

    Phil, have you considered asking PZ Myers to endorse / throw up a blog post about this (since he’s a teacher, as are many of his readers)?

  9. AbuMaia

    A little late there, Phil. As quoted from the page you linked: “… we have AN IMMEDIATE NEED (before the end of November) for letters of support from educators.” Note the “before the end of November” part.

  10. Blake

    It looks like this particular bunch of skeptics are something of zealots themselves. I think it would be a disservice to intellectuals everywhere for this particular show to appear PBS. The most interesting question ‘Does God exist’, uses both scientific and rigorously defended philosophical propositions to construct its arguments, but Shermer and the like are embarrasingly uneducated in the relevant areas of philosophy. So, despite the fact that most Ph.D’s who are published in the subject and specialize in the arguments for/against God’s existence are in fact theists (68.3% [1]) , “Skeptologists” are part of a subculture which is notoriously shallow and one-sided, hardly interested in balanced and proper education. Ask other atheists who specialize in Phil. of Rel. and are named Michael (like Michael Martin at Boston U., or Michael Tooley at Colorado U.) what they think of Skeptologist education. Alternatively, you probably know and respect Philosopher of Biology Michael Ruse (at Florida State) who dabbles in the field; ask what he thinks. Despite being atheists, they will repeat my point. Anyways, thanks for the heads up. I enjoy the blog.

    ~Blake

    [1]“Philosophy of Religion” journals, which, as atheist philosopher and Quentin Smith recently said, are “overflowing with submissions from leading philosophers”, are where your papers on the existence or non-existence of God get published. Here’s the survey results on positions from philosophers who specialize in the subject: http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl?affil=Philosophy+faculty+or+PhD&areas0=22&areas_max=1&grain=coarse

  11. Kenny

    I won’t be supporting this show at all. A christian cast member on a skeptical tv show? Was it renamed the edge because they stepped off it? haha!

  12. Matt B.

    Yau Man Chan is such a cool name.

  13. @Kenny…. baby steps. The sad reality is, even many scientists claim to be Christian. Many of us have escaped the “brain-washing” of a religious upbringing and turned to pragmatic thinking based on scientific method, but still others cling to it (or claim to) so as not to disrupt their families or because they fear handling any emotional fallout. SUPPORT ANY SCIENCE SHOW ON TELEVISION, for they will always be in the minority, fighting for an intelligent voice among all the mindless celebrity trash. The tag line is “We Want Proof.” Every move toward a scientific, as opposed to a superstitious, way of thinking is a good thing. At least give it a chance. Don’t be one of those zealots who pickets something before they have seen it… :)

  14. Brice Gilbert

    @Blake That may be all well and good, but anyone who studies religion and comes away a theist in my book is no more right than me (an agnostic atheist). Prove me to me all you want why a God must exist in this type of universe, but Jesus or Zeus? Yeah you don’t know crap.

  15. Agreed with Beelezbud: Both Shermer and Dunning’s libertarianism could poison the show, not just infect it. Sorry, Phil, but I’d write PBS NOT to do such a show if both of them are involved.

    And, if Shermer continues to adore Frank Miele, he’s got problems worse than libertarianism:

    http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2010/11/is-michael-shermer-racialist.html

  16. meem

    I dunno about this…

  17. @Kenny
    I assume you mean the wonderful Pamela Gay? I saw Pamela give a talk at TAM Oz last weekend and she was awesome, inspirational, enthusiastic and fun. She received a well deserved enthusiastic ovation too. Obviously I’m not the only atheist skeptic who doesn’t care about her religious beliefs. Any show that has her involved will be the better for it.

  18. jearley

    As a teacher, I sent in a letter of support. We do need more shows like this, and I hope that they are successful.

  19. Tribeca Mike

    As a long time card-carrying member of PBS, I’ve sometimes wondered why a show of this kind hasn’t been presented before, unless you count the current History Detectives, which though of a different genre can be quite good.

  20. Kenny

    @Shane

    Would your opinion change if she was into ghosts rather than christianity? This is this disconnect between the atheist and the skeptic movement. Skeptics make exception to religious beliefs.

  21. Tribeca Mike

    As far as the presumed prejudices of the presumed “cast members” goes (some of the names aren’t familiar to me), I used to feel somewhat the same skepticism about Bill Moyers, who’s worship and promotion of Joseph Campbell on countless PBS “specials” used to rattle my nerves to no end, to the point that I refused for its first couple of years to watch his most recent and now lamented show, Bill Moyers’ Journal — much to my chagrin, upon discovering it was by far the most intelligent and insightful program in the “vast wasteland” of television. In other words, I’ll take a wait and see approach, and hope like hell that PBS regulars like the moronic and yet still on the air John McLaughlin doesn’t ever, ever appear to blame everything even remotely anti-status quo on the unions and anti-Papists that seem to be always lurking under our beds.

  22. Tribeca Mike

    Please pardon the last ranting sentence of my above missive. Combining cold medicine with the online posting of one’s comments is seldom a smart idea.

  23. @kenny
    I used to fairly hardline went it came to believers. Now when it comes to religion I live and let live unless they, the believers, make a testable claim or their religion is used to restrict human rights – eg. gay marriage.

    We all have a blindspot even when we think we don’t. That is the definition of a blindspot I guess.

    In the case of Pamela Gay, she is smart, enthusiastic and inspirational. She does as much or more for the advancement of science than just about anybody you could care to name. I’d watch The Edge not in spite of her being on it but because she is on it.

  24. I pimped this during a live feedback session I had with Discovery Channel marketing weenies.

  25. [Jumping up and down, waiving hand frantically] Ooh, ooh, me next!

    Dr. Phil knows what I’m talking about.

    - Jack

  26. 15. SocraticGadfly Says: “Both Shermer and Dunning’s libertarianism could poison the show, not just infect it. Sorry, Phil, but I’d write PBS NOT to do such a show if both of them are involved.”

    Ah, yes. The well – known liberal tolerance of all other viewpoints.

    - Jack

  27. Bruno

    How about a story on the skeptics being right on one, or at least a possibility that they are. Looks like a grand solar minimum might be here:

    http://solarcycle24com.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=display&thread=855&page=34

    LEts hope the Little Ice Age was really just a coincidental event to the last one.

  28. Monkey

    You made a tv show?!?

  29. Poor Prof. Gay, she seems to be a hot topic in skeptical circles lately.

    Yes, I’m disappointed she isn’t applying the skeptical side of her brain to religion. To kick her out of the skeptical movement because of that is intellectually dishonest, though, since it implies that the Scotsmen left apply their skepticism to everything, without bias. I’d never claim such a thing; I likely have some topic I’m not sufficiently skeptical on, either.

    Of course, that isn’t going to stop me from kicking religion in the shins, nor voicing my disappointment. I hope Gay returns the favor someday.

    @Blake
    Uh, are you arguing that God exists because a bunch of people say God exists? I may not be a philosopher, but I know Argumentum ad populum when I see it. I counter with the Atheist 1-2 punch: Do you have evidence for a God? If yes, present it. If no, Ockham’s Razor renders it irrelevant in any explanation of the world, and thus it should not be believed. I find it works quite well, no matter what the recipient’s IQ.

  30. Derek

    It is not a contradiction to be a part of the skeptics movement and also to be religious. It is also not a contradiction to be a part of the skeptics movement and to believe in Homeopathy, Crystal Healing, or Astrology (although it is obviously very uncommon).

    Skepticism is, at its heart, the idea that claims should have evidence to support them, and in turn that such evidence should be fairly considered and then conclusions drawn based on the weight of the evidence. If a claim has no supporting evidence, then it should be discarded. Nothing should be assumed on faith (or at least, as little as possible). However, Skepticism does *not* dictate WHICH conclusions must be drawn, even on topics such as these. And it definitely doesn’t mean that we should exclude people who have drawn different conclusions than we have.

    If someone approaches Religion starting from a neutral viewpoint, fairly considers all the existing arguments, all the claimed pieces of evidence, and all the scientific analyses thereof…and if, on the basis of this examination, that person determines that the evidence favors the existence of a God…then they have appropriately followed the tenets of skepticism, and it is right for them to believe in one. Other skeptics (such as myself, and presumably you as well) may disagree about the persuasiveness of the evidence, and we are free to discuss. But it would be wrong of us to claim that the person is not a skeptic simply because the conclusions they have drawn differ from the ones we have.

    In short: skepticism is a process, not a set of predefined answers to a handful of very specific questions. And it is the process that needs to be embraced, taught, and spread, not the individual answers that you or I or she have reached.

  31. @Jack Hagerty – Libertarianism has NOTHING to do with skepticism. Therefore your snide sneer is logically vacuous. If I want to see “Michael Shermer” on TV, he’s already there; his name has just been changed to John Stossel.

    And, as I said in my link, libertarianism isn’t my only worry about Shermer. If he openly supports, and keeps as an editor at his magazine, someone who believes sub-Saharan black Africans are genetically predetermined to be forever dumber than other races (Miele has said just that), then Shermer is at the least a supporter of racialism and hugely lacking in critical thinking.

  32. Blake

    @Hornbeck
    While I am a theist, nobody was arguing for the existence of God here. The contention of my post was that “it would be a disservice to intellectuals everywhere for this particular show to appear PBS”. Why? Because “Skeptologists are part of a subculture which is notoriously shallow and one-sided, hardly interested in balanced and proper education.” That a slight majority of experts in the relevant field (68.3%) have concluded that God exists only goes to show that “Shermer and the like”, despite their *condescending confidence* in the lack of evidence for theism, are just out of step with the research. It’s precisely that condescending confidence that most atheist Ph.D’s who specialize in the question have lost in the course of their career and engaging with those arguments. It’s a rich and deep debate that Shermer is just clueless about. So, if you asked Shermer “What do you think of Robin Collin’s argument from fine-tuning?[1]“, despite perhaps every Philosopher of Religion being familiar with it, he would be clueless.
    In short, I don’t want a group of guys on PBS opining on the truth of a proposition which they’ve done no work on (e.g. I wouldn’t want Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron getting a PBS show where they can tout their uneducated skepticism of evolution).

    - – - – - – - -
    [1] Here’s the argument, if you’re interested: http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/Fine-tuning/Abridged%20Version%20of%20Fine-tuning%20book.doc — If you think you’ve got the refutation, let me know. =)

  33. Kenny

    @Blake

    The universe is also finely tuned to ensure that young children will die a terrible death in house fires or that water will fill a hole in the ground just right.

    Nothing is ever said of how finely tuned things were for god to exist in the first place, so what god crated god? And so on… into infinity.

    But I would recommend reading the counter apologetics here:
    http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Fine-tuning_argument

  34. Buzz Parsec

    So Blake @33, are you advocating the complete suppression of the free speech rights of any and all skeptics? Or only on PBS? And based solely on the fact that many of them are atheists?

    And ooohh, the Strong Anthropic Principle? As if none of us have ever heard of that before.

  35. James

    I’m afraid I’d have to oppose this show if Shermer has any intention of injecting his Libertarian and Austrian economics views into shows. Not because I think such views should be censored or anything of the sort, but because these views have little to nothing to do with skepticism.

    In fact, any skeptic should find the tenants of Austrian school of economics anathema to their core ideology since it claims to be unfalsifiable and rejects empirical analysis.

    Unfortunately, Shermer’s tendency to inject his various non-science beliefs into his discussions on skepticism undermine any confidence that he’d avoid the proselytizing in this case.

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