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Entry 665, on 2008-01-04 at 23:06:57 (Rating 2, Skepticism)
As I wind down from holiday mode and prepare for a new year I have started downloading and listening to "serious" podcasts again. Skepticism is one of may main areas of interest and near the end of last year there was a big debate starting between the leading skeptical podcast, Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, and a prominent podcast which promotes paranormal phenomena, Skeptiko.
If you read this blog you might have noticed that I have commented on my frustration in listening to Skeptiko because the host has a very credulous attitude to the paranormal - especially the idea of a non-material consciousness and NDEs. I would naturally be on the side of the skeptics, but I have detected in the recent debate that they have also been guilty of some superficial analysis and inadequate preparation before commenting on the opposition's case.
I still think that the balance or evidence indicates that the effects seen in paranormal research are probably caused by subtle bias and other unexplained phenomena, but automatically dismissing them in that way without sufficient supporting evidence (as I have just done!) leaves the way open for critics of skepticism to make valid points.
Podcasts are generally an informal and entertaining forum for discussion, even on serious and technical subjects, so I think it isn't helpful to over-analyse comments made on a podcast. One criticism I do have of "Skeptics' Guide" is that it does maybe err on the side of lighthearted banter but that also makes it entertaining and I can completely understand why they choose that format.
So really the point is that any forum which approaches a subject from a particular perspective tends to become a bit careless in what it is saying because there is no counter-argument. This certainly happens in Skeptiko, but it happens on Skeptics' Guide too, so both sides are guilty to an extent.
Maybe the best way to get unbiased debate on any subject is to ensure that a representative of both sides is present and that a mediator ensures things stay within agreed boundaries. But that really becomes too formal and doesn't really fit the podcast format so I guess we just have to accept podcasts for what they are.
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