Essential Podcasts

•January 18, 2014 • 1 Comment

I am rather lucky to have significant free time between work tasks – mostly spent driving in my car to the next ailing piece of technology, and this gives me precious time to immerse myself in the aural ecstasy that are Podcasts.

The comforts of Philosophy and the intricacies of Neuropsychology and the social and intrapersonal dynamics of Psychology keep me company on these journeys. Being a skeptic and rationalist my media playlist is full of quality Skeptical content as well and I thought that I would share with you some of my favourite podcasts.

If I have missed any gems, please feel free to let me know in the comments…

In vague order of preference (I love em’ all):

1. Rationally Speaking

Hosted by the superbly talented Julia Galef (who I met at TAM 9) and the great Massimo Pigliucci (who I have never met), both of whom I hold in very high regard, Rationally Speaking is the official podcast of New York City Skeptics and never fails to deliver superbly interesting and critically examined content. Loads of Philosophy of Science and skeptical thinking training.


2. The Partially Examined Life

I love the long, casual but by no means pedestrian format of this discussion podcast.

The Partially Examined Life is a philosophy podcast by some guys who were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living but then thought better of it. Each episode, we pick a text and chat about it with some balance between insight and flippancy. You don’t have to know any philosophy, or even to have read the text we’re talking about to (mostly) follow and (hopefully) enjoy the discussion.


3. Philosophy Talk

So even though they get some of their funding from the Templeton Foundation, this is a superb podcast with two great and knowledgeable hosts taking us through a wide range of Philosophy topics. I love their roving philosophical reporter segments and the 60 second philosopher segments by Merle Kessler are just wonderful.


4. Philosophy Bites

Short nuggets of philosophy on a super wide range of topics in the form of interviews with philosophy professors / field experts. This is the crack cocaine of podcasts – never start this thing, you cannot stop!


5. The Geologic Podcast

I originally stumbled onto George Hrab’s podcast hoping it would be about Geology – HA HA HA – there is no Geology per say in the podcast, but if you are a skeptic, atheist, rationalist and you are looking for the best entertainment and good honest Humanist content, this is for you. I listened to George’s podcast for 3 years before I met him at TAM 9 – I felt like I knew him, but didn’t want to be THAT guy, so I downplayed my appreciation in person. I really value his contribution to the world of Skepticism and his honest and personal sharing interspersed with great segments like Religious Moron of the Week, Geo’s Mom reads Jay Z lyrics, and his well thought out and heartfelt responses to listener questions. Loads of music, humour, skits, imagination and more – George Hrab is the consumate skeptical entertainer. A great skeptic, and a great musician, you cannot help but love George! Check out the Promo here.


6. Wise Counsel

My degree is in Psychology so naturally I am interested in the subject. I have grand ambitions to be a therapist one day, maybe when I grow up, but until them I feast on the meat that is Wise Counsel. Like his other Psychology podcast Shrink Rap Radio – see below – the content is sometimes a little too woo for my skeptical tastes but there is a lot of great stuff accumulated in the range here and we are all mature enough to not throw the baby out with the bathwater now aren’t we. This podcast features content aimed more at professional Psychologists rather than the general public.


7. Skeptics Guide to The Universe

The quintessential skeptics podcast – if you are not a regular listener, you are missing out on a great podcast. Stephen Novella is a shining star in the modern Skeptical movement and this podcast is chock full of great content and skeptical banter.

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, LLC – dedicated to promoting critical thinking, reason, and the public understanding of science through online and other media. The first episode of the SGU podcast went online on May 4th, 2005. It soon became a popular science/skeptical podcast, and remains one of the most popular science podcasts on iTunes.


8. Radiolab

Oh Radiolab, Radiolab, how I love thee! Just imagine the best audio production value known to Dinosaurdom, awesome stories about amazing and interesting stuff. Stories told with heart and depth, and just out of this world audio stimulation. Being a rather sentimental fellow at the best of times, I have literally had to pull over and bawl my eyes out to some of these, they are magical. Goat on a Cow is one of my all time favourites.


9. Inquiring Minds

Each week Inquiring Minds brings you a new, in-depth exploration of the places where science, politics, and society collide.

We’re committed to the idea that making an effort to understand the world around you though science and critical thinking can benefit everyone—and lead to better decisions. We endeavor to find out what’s true, what’s left to discover, and why it all matters with weekly coverage of the latest headlines and probing discussions with leading scientists and thinkers.

Inquiring Minds is hosted by bestselling science author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas. It’s produced by Adam Isaak in partnership with Climate Desk, a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact of a changing climate.


10. Skepticality – official Podcast of Skeptic Magazine

This was my very first podcast download and it remains awesome – good skeptical content, and a great entry point into the skeptical podcast universe.

The official radio show and podcast of Skeptic Magazine and the Skeptics Society for the promotion of critical thinking, science, and the elimination of supernatural thinking.


11. Conscilience – a South African Science Podcast

Run by some of my skeptical mates in Johannesburg, this is a cool podcast with a geeky flavour (largely caused by Owen). In hiatus right now while two of the hosts reproduce. Check it out!


12. Primordial Soup – South African Podcast

Another cool South African podcast, this time run by my good buddy Deon Barnard.

Dedicated to news and discussion of interest of Atheists, Humanists and Free Thinkers.


13. The Moth Podcast

I devour this podcast all the time. If you are into wonderful story telling, all presented without notes, usually before a live audience, then this is superb. There is a wide ranging universe of interesting content in this podcast, and if you are interested in the lives of humans as constructed in narrative then you will be fascinated to no end. Make sure you catch them on a regular basis, they seem to only have 5 or so downloadeable at a time, and them they get chopped from the feed, so if you don’t get em while they are hot then you might miss a gem of a story. I have not found an archive of previous episodes.

The Moth is an acclaimed not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. It is a celebration of both the raconteur, who breathes fire into true tales of ordinary life, and the storytelling novice, who has lived through something extraordinary and yearns to share it. At the center of each performance is, of course, the story – and The Moth’s directors work with each storyteller to find, shape and present it.

Since its launch in 1997, The Moth has presented thousands of stories, told live and without notes, to standing-room-only crowds worldwide.

Moth shows are renowned for the great range of human experience they showcase. Each show starts with a theme, and the storytellers explore it, often in unexpected ways. Since each story is true and every voice authentic, the shows dance between documentary and theater, creating a unique, intimate, and often enlightening experience for the audience.

Moth stories dissolve socio-economic barriers, expose vulnerabilities, and quietly suggest ways to overcome challenges and see with new eyes.


14. Shrink Rap Radio Psychology

A great Psychology interview podcast – if you are into Psychology and want a semi non technical presentation, in other words for a general audience rather than a professional audience then check this podcast out.


15. Point of Inquiry

Point of Inquiry is the Center for Inquiry’s flagship podcast, where the brightest minds of our time sound off on all the things you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table: science, religion, and politics.

Guests have included Brian Greene, Susan Jacoby, Richard Dawkins, Ann Druyan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eugenie Scott, Adam Savage, Bill Nye, and Francis Collins.

Point of Inquiry is produced at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, N.Y.


16. Astronomy Cast

A cool podcast dedicated to all things Astronomical.


Book review – Passionate Minds by David Bodanis

•April 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment
Passionate Minds - Book Cover

Passionate Minds - Book Cover

Passionate Minds by David Bodanis, Crown Publishers; 1st American Edition edition (3 Oct 2006)

ISBN-13: 978-0307237200

I fear a lapse into hyperbole when I reconsider this wonderful book Passionate Minds by David Bodanis. So if you can forgive the gushing expression of my true passion for this work, I can think of no better introduction to the intricately delicious story of the love between the famous French writer, poet and all round raconteur Voltaire and the sublime, and iridescently attractive Émilie du Châtelet. So deft is Bodanis at entrapping the reader in the rich narrative of the powerful bond between this power couple ushering in the very beginning of the Age of Enlightenment, that one is almost compelled to physically pine for the chance to reverse time and somehow meet these brilliant and engaging characters, for just one day perhaps!

It is very hard to not fall in love with Émilie, in the way in which one might fall in love with a character who has taken on the unrealistic sheen of fantasy through the immortalising lens of history, through this romantic depiction of not only her beauty, and self-confidence, but her superb intelligence, her love for learning, Mathematics, Physics, Philosophy and Astronomy, her sparkling erudition and her wonderfully admirable contribution to the foundations of the later ideas of Einstein.

…You are beautiful

so half the human race will be your enemy

You are brilliant

and you will be feared

You are trusting

and you will be betrayed…

—Voltaire, “Epistle on Calumny,” 1733,

soon after meeting Emilie (everything he predicted came true)

The reader might find oneself entranced, as I increasingly found myself becoming, by this heady mix of intelligence and beauty, but the other main focus of this work is Voltaire, in his own right no slouch in the historical account of not only The Age of Enlightenment but additionally, of a time when it was distinctly deadly to be an embodiment of and fearless champion of so many of the civil liberties and political freedoms we cherish today in the form of good constitutional Democracies. Voltaire was a fearless advocate of these liberties and freedoms – hard-won freedoms easily removed by those in modern times who would see a return to intolerant and less pluralistic times, inured to or in the dark silent absence of Voltaire’s significant contributions.

At the risk of exposing my significantly influenced bias towards Émilie however, even a man as great as Voltaire cannot but be a medium-sized candle to the overwhelmingly brilliant luminescence of Émilie du Châtelet. She is truly the star of this book, and a now gleaming star in the expansive interior world of my cerebrally bound intellectual play room.

This collection of paper and images, bound and printed upon, can barely contain her radiance, but Bodanis does a fantastic job (I have more of his books, waiting expectantly in my reading queue) and he adds truly entertaining and engrossing intricacies of colour and shadow to this tapestry, mainly through his inclusion of letters written by relatives and contemporaries who knew the couple. A depth of characterisation is well revealed through these accounts, and as I read through the middle of the book, and a superbly entertaining account of the establishment of the couple’s laboratory and scientific investigations at their château at Cirey, where they accumulated more than 21000 books together, I grew anxious, agitated and sad that the end must come to even such gargantuan lives as Voltaire and precious Émilie du Châtelet.

I am quite excited and somewhat daunted at the realisation that, in writing this book Bodanis has inadvertently condemned me to an insatiable obsession with Émilie du Châtelet. I must have more books about her, but for those who are currently uninitiated to her fantastic life and story, and those who heed not the strong warning above about the resultant obsession you are sure to face, you can do no better than to begin by reading Passionate Minds.

Bully tactics by Australian Homeopath invites blogging backlash

•April 6, 2012 • 4 Comments

Bully tactics by Australian Homeopath invites blogging backlash.

My fellow members of the Skeptical Army have blogged recently about some underhanded tactics employed, futilely it transpires thanks to something called the Streisand Effect, to silence an Ausie blogger from exposing the truth about the nefarious activities of one Ms. Scrayen, an Australian Homeopath implicated rather heavily in the death of cancer sufferer Penelope Dingle. Penelope Dingle’s sister is now suing Ms. Scrayen for her part in the death of her sister

Unfortunately for those who would silence the truth with nasty little letters, there is a growing army of skeptics ready to make sure that the light of legitimate criticism and exposure of harm done in the name of unscientific lunacy is not extinguished.

Warning, the following story is likely to make one to have a large “sad” – if one will excuse the modern colloquialism.

For the uninitiated, Homeopathy, or as I like to call it “magical water slinging”, is bullshit of the purest kind and is not supported by the scientific evidence – heavily diluted preparations of water (which is purported to have “memory”, but only of good things, like the vibrations of that expensive twat shaking the bottle, but not memory of passing through my rectum and going through the sewage system) are irresponsibly and without proper evidence offered as “treatments” (and that is in parentheses because I use it so loosely that it almost reaches homeopathic proportions) for a wide range of ailments including cancer and other life threatening challenges.

“German physician Samuel Hahnemann first stated the basic principle of homeopathy in 1796, known as the “law of similars.” This principle is: “let like be cured by like.” Homeopathic remedies are prepared by serial dilution with shaking by forceful striking on an elastic body, which homeopaths term succussion. Each dilution followed by succussion is assumed to increase the effectiveness. Homeopaths call this process potentization. Dilution often continues until none of the original substance remains.[6] Apart from the symptoms, homeopaths examine aspects of the patient’s physical and psychological state,[7] then homeopathic reference books known as repertories are consulted, and a remedy is selected based on the totality of symptoms.

In the context of homeopathy, the term remedy is used to refer to a substance which has been prepared with a particular procedure and intended for patient use; this differs from the generally accepted use of the word, which means “a medicine or therapy that cures disease or relieves pain”.[8] Homeopathic remedies should not contain pharmacologically active molecules,[9] A pharmacological effect would violate fundamental principles of homeopathy.[5][10] Modern homeopathic practitioners have suggested water has a memory allowing homeopathic preparations to work without any of the original diluted substance; however, there are no verified observations nor scientifically plausible physical mechanisms to account for such phenomena.[10][11]

This is not “natural” medicine folks – that may contain some active ingredient, but the entire edifice of Homeopathy is built on the notion that no active molecule of the original substance is required to make an effective preparation – although, Homeopaths seem conflicted about whether it is necessary or not, as revealed here, where it alleged that some nanoparticle remains are behind the “power” of a Homeopathic dilution – well if there are particles of the original substance present, then that kinda blows the whole “no particle of the original substance is required” thesis doesn’t it! And if particles of the original substance under dilution are present, and proposed as mechanism for the “efficacy” of the preparation, then these substances would plausibly be amenable to study under the auspices of conventional medicine and science based techniques. And as the link above reveals, this has been done, is not supported by the scientific evidence and no effect beyond placebo is evident.

Well even in the face of evidence some people are not immune to holding onto strange beliefs at all costs. Unfortunately it seems that Penelope Dingle paid the costs for Ms. Scrayen’s dangerously unscientific beliefs and callous disregard for the suffering of a person under her unqualified care. Surely, if what you are doing to “treat” someone does not seem to be working, you should abandon it and refer the person to a qualified professional.

Read the full story over at Dan Buzzard’s blog.

What is interesting is that Dan has now been threatened with a Cease and Desist letter from Ms. Scrayen’s Attorney. A very poor showing indeed, and even in the face of my initial reluctance to use a sporting metaphor, that’s just not cricket!

Dan is clear however and not scared off:

You cannot silence legitimate criticism with lawyers. If you can prove the (sic) Homeopathy works and is effective for treating cancer, as Penelope Dingle was led to believe. Then I will gladly make the necessary corrections to maintain the accuracy of my blog. But if you want to sell unproven medicines to vulnerable cancer patients then you can expect to be justifiably criticised for it; especially if the patient then dies due to your ineffective treatment.

All I can do is commend Dan Buzzard for having the courage of his convictions to call out a pseudo-scientific quack who committed a gross act of incompetence leading to terminal harm. And for not turning from this task in the face of threats of unwarranted litigation.

It is easy to see that Ms. Scrayen is reasonably responsible in a large part for the death and suffering of Penelope Dingle, as attested to by the Coroner’s report, but Ms. Scrayen tries to obfuscate and ignore this fact by misrepresenting the truth and attempts to cover it up with deplorable legal tactics against those people brave enough to expose her and the deadly consequences of pushing her crazy Homeopathic rubbish.

Unlike the victim in all this, Penelope, who takes responsibility for her own part in entertaining such quackery – in her published letters she says “I take responsibility for placing my trust in a health professional who was not trustworthy.”, Ms Scrayen, the alleged perpetrator, seems to be doing her utmost to dodge her own complicity.

How terribly sad to have hoped and put faith in a path of possible recovery only later to have been ignored and treated with complete medical incompetence and just pure callous disregard for her immediately apparent suffering. It is truly disgustingly sad to read Penelope’s letters to Ms Scrayen, the Homeopath who neglectfully helped a woman to suffer and had a large hand in her death because of a lack of critical thinking about water.

Jacques Rousseau over at Synapses has a great take on this story and the dangers of not having the space and freedom in our societies to express legitimate criticism against nonsense and its purveyors.

Another victim added to whatstheharm.

Book review: Philosophy, The latest answers to the oldest questions. By Nicholas Fearn. Atlantic Books, 2006.

•November 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Book review: Philosophy, The latest answers to the oldest questions. By Nicholas Fearn. Atlantic Books, 2006.

I picked up this little gem of a book at a recent book sale. The jacket indicates that it was originally priced near R.90 (ninety rand, my local currency); sneakily, I added this luminous work to my ever-growing collection for the handsomely low price of R.28 inc VAT.

This low investment stands in stark contrast to the supremely gratifying intrinsic value of the work. Fearn has presented the book as an exposition of the current (2005) state of Western Philosophy’s answers to a range of fundamental problems in the field, and organises this wide-ranging treatment around three key questions:

Who am I?

What do I know?

What should I do?

The book is very well written with Fearn weaving an intricate but always clear web of understanding between the branches of such captivating questions as “the problem of the self”; “free will”; “the problem of knowledge”; “moral luck”; and a particularly insightful prodding of the innards of “Postmodernism and Pragmatism”. Fearn adds his excellent commentary to that of numerous experts and thinkers and travels to meet the big names trying to answer these questions.

My initial attraction to the book (there is a baseline predisposition within me to reflexively grab any book even vaguely mentioning Philosophy) was considerably augmented by the stamp of approval on the front cover; there emblazoned above a contemplative cloud image Raymond Tallis called the work “An intellectual feast”. Well, I hunger incessantly for just such edifying meal of the mind (no implication or suggestion of Hannibal Lector or that last statement will seem rather perverse!).

The book is pitched perfectly – never patronisingly simplistic or overly didactic, and most adequately avoids getting stuck in quagmires of the academically obtuse. It is a clear and potently stimulating tour of the ideas, perspectives and characters of modern Philosophy and Fearn is a wonderful guide to this fascinating landscape.

Deinonychosauria drawing

•October 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This drawing by my superbly talented friend Heather Martens is just so cool.

I met Heather at my first Rumble in the Midlands – a meeting of freethinkers and believers, with a debate format geared towards mutual respect and understanding between such diametrically opposed viewpoints as atheists and christians, or the  monogamous and the polyamorous. I asked Heather to draw me a Dinosaur (another Dinosaur of course, I was not quite ready for a portrait at the time *blush*) and this is the final drawing.

I love the turgidity and expressiveness of the sickle claw…

In Dinosaurs, the species with this sickle claw are grouped into a clade of Theropods called the Deinonychosauria.



In the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods (165 to 65 Million years ago) while most other Theropod Dinosaurs walked with all their toes making contact with the ground, the Deinonychosauria held their second toe off the ground, hyperextended into this formidable and beautifully evolved weapon, used for slashing at victims and climbing trees.

The hyperextension of the toe when walking is confirmed by fossilized Dino tracks and is termed functional didactyly.

Super well done Heather, and thanks for sharing your bright, shining talent with the world.

Full Moon Astrophotography 10.10.11

•October 10, 2011 • 2 Comments

Happy binary day (10.10.11) and…

Two days before full moon, I took this pic with a tripod, and a zoom lens – my first attempt at Astrophotography with the new camera.
I recently acquired a Canon D600 (it is labelled as a Rebel T3i because it was bought in the U.S.) and a 250mm IS Canon lens. The camera is awesome, and I await only my O-ring to attach the unit to my telescope.

The detail of the topography is marginally clear on the left of the image – so cool to be seeing hills and valleys on another solar system body, edge on, from approximately 405 486 km from the Earth.

Moon 10.10.11

This image taken at approximately 19h00 at Camelot, Hillcrest, Durban, South Africa.

Some detail from Wolfram-Alpha on Moon-Earth distances.

current distance from Earth | 405486 km\n63.57 R_(+)\naverage distance from Earth | 385000 km\n60.36 R_(+)\nlargest distance from orbit center | 405700 km\n63.61 R_(+)\nnearest distance from orbit center | 363100 km\n56.93 R_(+)\norbital period | 27.322 days

Gearing up for International talk like a pirate day 2011

•September 15, 2011 • 3 Comments

As we gear up for our holy celebrations on September 19th, I thought I would share with all of you this wonderful video…

May you all be touched by His Holy Noodliness.