Return to Website

Number Watch Web Forum

This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.

Number Watch Web Forum
Start a New Topic 
View Entire Thread
Re: Baloney Detection Kit

Sloppy in this case. The extenuating circumstance is that it is just an example.

I respect these guys. I just know now that I can't latch onto what any authority says, no matter how much I respect them.

Re: Baloney Detection Kit

I have no particular respect for these guys at all. To me these 'skeptics' are a type of science pundit created by the broadcast media in the 1970s.

the 1960s hippy counter-culture produced a revival of interest in various forms of mumbo jumbo, and the broadcast media wanted to take advantage of the fashionability of these 'New Age' beliefs in the 1970s. But when you make a programme about some belief system, broadcasting regulations often require some sort of balance to be provided and this needed a new type of science pundit to come on TV and be prepared to attack it.

I remember watching as a teenager a number of TV shows in the early 1970s which featured spoon-bender Uri Geller. On one show an up and coming academic media scientist, a mathematics or physics professor called John Taylor was participating. After Geller bent some spoons Taylor was asked his opinion and he replied 'Science has no explanation for this'. He was criticised in the newspapers for not putting up a more robust defence of science and I don't think he got any more media work after that. But it became apparent from Taylor's performance that the usual sort of academic media scientist (the type who would present science documantaries) wasn't really up to dealing with the likes of Geller, it needed a new kind of media scientist pundit and that's where James Randi (who wasn't a scientist, he was actually a former stage magician) stepped up to the plate.

We didn't really get the Randi and Shermer type people in the UK until the 1990s probably due to there only being a handful of TV channels in the UK (and most of those were public service TV channels) before the 1990s, limiting the amount of available work for a debunker pundit. Examples of these people in the UK are Richard Wiseman (mentioned in JEB's article 'Expert Ease'), Chris French and Susan Blackmore. All the UK people tend to be psychology academics (as Shermer is), and I'm not completely comfortable with the idea of science and its accompanying philosophy being represented in the media by 'soft science' people rather than 'hard science' people.