Your hosts…

Art by MandersOwen Swart
Since I was a little boy, I’ve been fascinated by both the revelations of science, and the visions of possibility presented in science fiction. As an adult (well, legally anyway) I’ve taken the opportunity to dedicate the bulk of my spare time to promoting both of these ideas in any venue I could find.

My own blog, 01 and the Universe is devoted primarily to sceptical analysis of ideas in popular culture, be they religious, political or pseudo-scientific – and sometimes some Star Trek.

Although I have yet to settle into any sort of specialist niche, as far as scepticism is concerned, one of my pet peeves is the proponents of the Planet X and Ancient Astronauts silliness. Oh, and homeopathy

I’m really looking forward to contributing to this blog with my esteemed colleagues, not to mention reading their contributions!

Angela Meadon

I am the editor of a leading online African IT news site. With a growing sense of wonder at the beauty and simplicity of the natural world I tries to keep my eyes (and my keyboard) firmly targeted on the truth. I dedicate most of my free time to smacking quacks, debunking chain e-mails and exposing myths. Whenever possible I pursue nerdy activities such as reading and playing role-playing games.

Having been the go-to sceptic in my circle of friends for many years I finally decided to make a expand my circle of influence. I started writing a sceptical blog, The Skeptic Detective, in May 2008 and it has been an eye-opener for me. I rediscovered the joy of writing and thoroughly enjoy exercising my sceptical muscles in the public arena.

I have a passion for science which probably started when my mother bought me my first real books: one was about dinosaurs and the other was a beautiful journey through the solar system. Since that modest beginning, I have read books on topics as far apart as biology and mathematics. I believe that every day brings a new opportunity to learn.

Michael Meadon

I am the author of Ionian Enchantment and a graduate student in cognitive science at the University of KwaZulu Natal in Durban, South Africa. In my younger days, I was rather heavily into the social sciences (I studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the Universty of Cape Town as an undergraduate), but I’ve come to a rather dim view of the possibility of a rigorous science of society. As a result, when I’m not procrastinating or trying to read the whole internet, I do research on a narrow but tractable topic: the effect of rapid and unreflective facial judgments on political elections.

It has long seemed obvious to me that South Africa, and Africa generally, badly needs skepticism, science, logic and reason. The great Sir Francis Bacon wrote in the Novum Organum that:

Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule.

Knowledge, in the words of the popular corruption, is power. Achieving our ends depends (at least in part) on our understanding of how the world works. But, as Bacon also pointed out, (1) the world is exceedingly complicated (“[t]he subtlety of nature is greater many times over than the subtlety of the senses and understanding”) and (2) the human mind is sadly prone to error (“[f]or the mind of man is far from the nature of a clear and equal glass, wherein the beams of things should reflect according to their true incidence, nay, it is rather like an enchanted glass, full of superstition and imposture”). Making sensible decisions in a complex world, then, depends (in part) on us recognising the fallibility of our minds, and demands a commitment to science and skepticism.

The aim of this podcast is to advocate the application of reason and skepticism to topics relating to Africa, and I hope to pay my dues and make my small contribution.


3 Responses to About

  1. Dave says:

    Hey team,

    Firstly, wanted to say well done on the podcast series – please stick with it and keep up the great work. Would like to offer some feedback and please understand that anything that might be construed as negative is meant with a truly constructive intent.

    A) Sound quality has improved greatly, and this has made it a much more enjoyable podcast. Well done on getting this sorted, but I’m sure you’re as pleased with it as your listener base is!

    B) Fantastic array of topics, though I’d recomment even a five second preamble on some of your repeat segments – the ‘Teach Angela To Appreciate History’ is a good topic, though you’ll have listeners joining with every session, so a five second intro say what you’re doing and why would be good. Yes, it’s going to be heard each week by repeat listeners, but may I suggest you have a bit of fun with it? “Last week Angela though Emmanuel was a chariot with a gearstick, and Gologtha was a Decepticon, so now it’s time to continue with our weekly segment….” etc. That way it’s not boring, you could even highlight common errors around the topic you’re about to introduce (stuff like “Angela was convinced that people once thought the world was flat…”). And only do this if Angela’s keen on some gentle mocking! (Well, maybe not KEEN, but ok with it at least.)

    C) I’ve downloaded all your podcasts to date (joined at ep 10, have slowly been working my way through them) and wanted to, once again bring up the topic of placebos. I’ve just listened to the podcast where questions were asked by Paulo around the placebo effect and how skeptics accept/deny it (Ep 11?). Thanks for the clarification of it (i.e. that it does NOT change the physiological nature of the problem, but affects how symptoms are viewed), but I’d like to ask for further clarification here: are there not studies, or even anecdotal evidence of how the body has been able to regenerate and repair things that doctors didn’t believe were possible? Yes, the placebo effect takes place in the mind, but can’t the mind trigger responses in the body that can actually have a physiological impact? Not sure if there’s more that can be discussed on the topic (plus, you may already touch on it in other podcasts that I’ve not heard), but I’d be happy to hear more about the mental impact on the healing process.

    Now for a couple pieces of constructive feedback.

    D) I know how much work it takes to prep doing weekly audio presentations – I do it as part of my job, though I do mulitple short topics, and not on anything that requires as much prep as you guys do. However, please, please, please…. don’t say stuff like “I’ve not researched up on it”, “There’s a paper but I forgot who wrote it” etc.

    Case in point – in ep 12, Michael mentioned that he’d done some reading up on the Heimlich maneuver, but also came across other info about it. Quote: “…some controversy around it, I didn’t bother to look into the scientific literature….”

    Michael, that made me want to slap you. It’s that exact sort of behaviour that you take other people to task for – you just admitted that while there was other information around that could have a bearing on this, you “didn’t bother” to check it out. I am not a Heimlich “denier”, as it were, and I am more than accepting that I’d rather “have broken ribs than choke to death” as Angela said, and but if you aren’t going to be bothered reading it, then I’d suggest not mentioning it in this manner.

    This isn’t really the first time a comment like has been made. There have been previous podcasts where you try to cite someone or an article or book to support a position and say something like “Oh, I can’t remember it right now…” or similar. If you were to hear a podcaster extolling the virtues of homeopathy say something like that, you’d all have a fit.

    To help avoid the bad impression this can cause, something like “and there is some published evidence to the contrary” would be better, which to your credit, you even acknolwedged and mentioned directly after this statement! But to say that you “didn’t bother” made your comments sound sloppily researched and almost gave the impression that you weren’t interested in it (which you may well not have been, but for God’s sake to let on!). When you do say things like this, it you sound like you’re only putting in work on one side of things, and I know that wouldn’t be the case. Sometimes, in the chats you have between you, yes there will be digressions onto topics on which you’ve not prepped and topics might come up where you don’t have your stuff handy, but if that’s the case then it’s totally ok to let people know this. A disclaimer like “This podcast is a free flowing dialogue, and this line of chat is now off topic from what we prepared, so we don’t have everything handy”. That’s all the acknowledgement needed, and you can even say that if anyone is interested in that specifically, you’ll be happy to follow up with the info during the show notes.

    E) Passion vs professionalism. It’s very easy to see how passionate you are around certain topics (*ahem* homeopathy *ahem*), but I’d ask you to consider the following – is it professional to be as vociferous in some of your statements? I understand that homeopathy is viewed with the fury of a thousand exploding suns, but what line is too far? I’d like to hear it either way – if you want to blast it with pure acrimony and a swearing laden diatribe, great, but I’d recommend you put a bit of a disclaimer up around that (something like the above “this is a free flowing dialogue…”). Alternatively, if it’s pure professionalism you’re going for, that’s great too … but that sort of diatribe wouldn’t really have a place there. I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, if the podcast is still finding its feet in what it truly wants to be, but I’d recommend it as something for consideration.

    Something else that came up in Ep 11 – you mentioned the local group of Rapture faithful who had rented five star accommodation for the preceeding evening. Do you not think that all those people could actually be brought up on charges for intended larceny? They all state that the world WILL continue for another six months, so in effect they would be stealing from the hotel, absconding from their required payment. I’m sure they did eventually settle their debt in someway/how, but they intended not to. Something to ponder.

    Guys (no offence Angela), you’re doing a great job, and I wish you all the best of luck. The feedback is meant as a helpful commentary, and I truly don’t wish any offence by any of it (particularly point D). Please, take from it what you will, and I look forward to hearing more great stuff from you!



  2. Anti Tom Maydon says:

    Here is a cool news item: plastic eating Amazonian fungus… http://mashable.com/2012/03/07/plastic-eating-fungi/

  3. Anti Tom Maydon says:

    Hey guys… Not sure if you’ve seen this. Will send it to tim Farley too, but basically it’s muti’s involvement in the Lonmin massacre.


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