Pod Delusion Live at QEDCon

Yes, it’s Wednesday, but here’s a special live edition of the Pod Delusion recorded on Saturday 5th February 2011 at the QED Conference in Manchester. Your regular weekly show will be along on Friday.

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What’s wrong with eugenics? By Sean Ellis
Polygamy by Liz Lutgendorff
Voting is irrational by Craig Lucas
Learning facts by Dr*T
Motorcycle Science by James Thomas
Reviving a ritual by Jourdemayne
Growing into skepticism by Stells Dessoy

14 thoughts on “Pod Delusion Live at QEDCon

  1. We just got this comment left on our ipadio page by Peter Arnold:

    “Democratic countries depend on voting to get rid of unpopular governments. If schools encourage young people to ask better questions facts become probabilities with various levels of reliability that need answers to more questions before we can start to be pedantic. We have two atheists among the Quakers who meet in my house, me and another. “

  2. @ Liz Lutgendorff

    Canada is NOT happy with civil unions and gay adoption but we are happy with same sex marriages and adoption.

    I know it may be hard to remember as an American but if you use the rule that EVERYWHERE else (developed countries) is more advanced socially, liberal, democratically and is more compassionate than you, it will help you understand other cultures better.

    For example does Canada have the death penalty?

    You now have to think of 2 things; does the US? and what would be the more “advanced” option? The answers would be; yes, and abolish the death penalty. Therefore Canada does not have the death penalty. This works with most subjects, only countries such as China, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the US, of course, fail the test.

  3. Um, I know the rest of us can’t tell the difference between a US and a Canadian accent reliably, but shouldn’t a fellow Canadian be able to recognise where Liz is from?

    Great episode, folks. Minor nitpick with Sean’s report – Sickle-cell anemia isn’t a clear candidate for eugenics, as it provides protection against malaria. Bigger nitpick – my main concern about eugenics is people making such mistakes, eliminating normally recessive alleles that provide protection against something not in the current environment (but potentially in future environments). Whilst we could in theory recreate these alleles on demand, there are various reasons why we might not be able to at the time we need them.

  4. Okay, sorry Liz, I’m sort of Canadian too and I can only tell if you’re from Quebec or NFL. I’m surprised though that you didn’t know marriage was not discriminatory in CANADA. I’m in Alberta, the heart of the Canadian Bible belt, and gay marriage didn’t make a ripple here.

  5. Andrew Rae:

    I know the rest of us can’t tell the difference between a US and a Canadian accent reliably, but shouldn’t a fellow Canadian be able to recognise where Liz is from?

    I have noticed that accents in British Columbia and Alberta are similar to those of us in states south of their borders. Perhaps that is because we have a Swiss cheese border and tend to travel back and forth, with relatives on both sides of the border. We were not the only family in our area to celebrate Thanksgiving twice (the October version was with salmon, and the relatives came down to us).

    Of course, that type of moving around was mentioned in Liz’s report. There is lots of traffic of those families between Bountiful, BC and towns in northern Arizona and southern Utah (perhaps more than the rest of us who have relatives in both countries). A couple of good books on the subject:
    Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
    and (it is a bit colored by her affection for her father, but includes descriptions of when Utah arrested and jailed polygamists during the first half the 20th century and later, it has been a few years since I read the book):
    Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk : Growing Up in Polygamy by Dorothy Allred Solomon.

  6. Andrew – you are right about Sickle-Cell Anaemia, and I should have spotted that before using it as an example. This is a clear problem of a useful trait being closely associated with a negative one. The problem of eliminating potentially useful traits is even more tricky to deal with.

  7. Re: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Emptiness”. (Good title, by the way.)

    I don’t think there is much to support the idea that there is a significant connection between Pirsig’s book and postmodernist abuses of science. The postmodernist / deconstruction school of thought started well before 1974 – I think a reasonable view would be that it began with Derrida’s 1966 paper “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”. And implying an influence on intelligent design by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a bit like tracing scientology’s anti-psychiatry bent back to The Dice Man. Ironically, this is one of the things the postmodernists get (deserved) flack for – finding and imputing meaning to spurious parallels between barely related phenomena. If you want a culprit for the excesses of postmodernist pontification on science, have a look at the French (literary critics of the 70s and 80s).

    I assume the final quote from Feynman was intended as support for the attack on postmodernism? ( Though I don’t think that was what he meant by it.) Because slagging off philosophy of science as a field in general at a skeptics’ conference seems rather like having a go at birds at an ornithologists’ conference to me.

  8. Hi Gwyn,

    Thank you for posting such a well reasoned and considerate response.

    In my defence, I was trying to postulate that Pirsig was responsible for bringing ‘Academic Left’ thinking into the popular conciousness rather than being the source of that way of thinking and as with all modes of analysis, determining an actual starting point will always be a difficult task.

    With regards to ID and the appropriation of scientific jargon by those propounding the validity of the spiritual in science, I stand by my assertion that “Zen…” was the drop that caused the ripples which affected so many different lines of thinking. Yes, it may have been a case of confirmation bias in that an inherent human ‘understanding’ of the way the world worked was already there but I can’t ignore what I see as a definite progression from “Zen..” to say the output from Deepak Chopra?

    I will definitely track down the Derrida paper and if you could recommend some typical examples of French critiques I would be very grateful?

    Just to give you some background for the piece; it was planned as a companion to the theme of the conference which is why it focused on the popularity of the book, both then and now, as one of the areas we skeptics/scicomm people are concerned about is the obfuscation of science in the public eye so I fully appreciate my research concentrated on popular works.

    Anyway, thank you once again for the comments and I’m glad you found me piece interesting enough to respond.


  9. Hi James,

    Thanks for replying. Fair enough, Pirsig might well bear some responsibility for such ideas’ breaking into the popular consciousness, though I think there are many factors (as always with such things!). The expression “blurring the boundaries”, for instance, is a classic deconstructionist thing to say that’s still in popular use in journalism and elsewhere – and I don’t think that appears in Pirsig’s book (I may be wrong). I just point this out to demonstrate that there must be other profoundly influential texts/thinkers who have contributed to that intellectual climate (in fact I have no idea what the conduit for that particular phrase was).

    And I can see how Chopra may have been influenced by it, I guess. (Talking about an individual is interesting, since it may even be possible to find out what his major influences are, assuming he would be willing to truthfully speak about them.)

    But I can’t agree that such schools of thought had anything more than a negligent influence on ID. The Dover trial (especially the classic “cdeisign proponentsists” thing in Of Pandas and People and the Wedge document demonstrate pretty conclusively that ID is simply ‘creationism in a cheap tuxedo’, to steal whoever’s phrase that was. It’s motivated by religion and yeah, there might be the odd example of a proponent borrowing postmodernist concepts to defend their position – but to me that just highlights their intellectual dishonesty in using whatever’s to hand to support an ideological position, rather than being evidence that postmodernism had any influence on the development of ID.

    I wouldn’t recommend tracking the Derrida paper down unless you’re feeling in a masochistic mood. It’s pretty much incomprehensible. (One of those papers with so many allusions and wordplays that, if anyone understands it at all, it’s only the author.) I wasn’t sure what you meant by French critiques (of Derrida, do you mean?), but I’ll do my best if you can clarify.

    (By the way, I attended the live recording of the Pod Delusion at QED – and much enjoyed that and the event in general.)



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