Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Dear Penn and Teller: Bullshit!

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on September 24, 2009

I haven’t seen the episode in question so I can’t comment, but if Massimo is right about his observations the Penn & Teller would have made a booh-booh! Too bad ’cause I really like these guys, but it would just show that no one is perfect.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT RATIONALLY SPEAKING

I like Penn & Teller, the magicians and debunkers of pseudoscience and general inanity. I regularly use clips from their show in my critical reasoning class, despite cringing every time Penn indulges in his “fuck this” and “motherfucker that” exercise in free speech (it distracts the students from the real point, not to mention the always lurking possibility of an administrator asking me about the appropriateness of foul language in a philosophy class). Heck, I even recently went to Vegas to see them in person, had a photo taken with Teller, and managed to tell him (to his surprise) about how my students enjoy stimulating discussions triggered by the duo’s antics.

But as we have learned recently from the Atheist Alliance / Dawkins Foundation / Bill Maher fiasco, “skepticism” is sometimes too broad a label, as someone can be properly skeptical in politics but not about pseudoscience (Maher), while someone else may be great at debunking astrology and magnetic therapy, and yet also unable to shed some huge blinders when it comes to politically charged issues. The latter is, unfortunately, P&T’s case, as made excruciatingly clear by the 2008 (season 6) episode “Being Green” of Bullshit! I just watched it last night, and I found myself wanting to call up Penn to let go a few expletives of my own. Fortunately, I don’t have his phone number.

P&T have been very good at showing that just because one is concerned about the environment it doesn’t mean that one can think critically or act rationally. Their demonstration of well meaning environmentalists signing up to ban the “dangerous and ubiquitous” chemical known as dihydrogen monoxide (i.e., water) is priceless. In “Being Green” they pull off some of the same useful cautionary tales by showing how easily people can be duped by “green guilt” into all sorts of nonsense, like walking around with gravel (for which they paid real money) in their pockets in order to feel “connected with the earth.” Even more disturbingly, the episode raises some serious questions about large scale exploitation of pro-environment sentiment by web-based companies selling “carbon offsets” that are calculated in ways which the companies themselves have a hard time explaining.

But you know even our smart debunkers are running out of arguments when they choose to introduce former Vice President and Nobel winner Al Gore as an “asshole.” Again, there may be some legitimate criticism of Gore’s arguments and even tactics, but to give him the same treatment Penn & Teller usually reserve for real assholes, like con artists who sell snake oil to gullible people, just seems the kind of ad hominem attack that reflects badly on the attacker.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT RATIONALLY SPEAKING

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