Episode 93 – 15th July 2011

We find out why abortion is brilliant, why maths isn’t immediately profitable but ultimately is, and about an intriguing new play about the dangers of alternative medicine. We also speak to author Mark Stevenson about his book. And much more!

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Pro-Choice Protest (1:49) by James O’Malley (ft Dr Evan Harris and Kate Smurthwaite)
James Webb Telescope (9:10) by Kash Farooq
Elevatorgate Response (13:48) by Natalie Dzerins (read by Charlotte Hooson-Sykes)
Maths & Progess (19:40) by Peter Rowlett
Alternative (27:01) by James O’Malley & Liz Lutgendorff (ft Trent Burton & Maria MacLachlan)
PowerPoint (37:22) by Simon Howard
An Optimist’s Tour of the Future (42:23) by Liz Lutgendorff (ft Mark Stevenson)
Sketches by David Lovesy and Brian Too

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11 thoughts on “Episode 93 – 15th July 2011

  1. I’m fairly ambivelent about powerpoint but do agree I prefer a less structured, more malleable lecture/presentation style. On note-taking though, I have to disagree. I hated and still hate taking notes because I found the process very distracting from actually listening to what the person was saying and thinging about it. I didn’t take a single note at university and I think I retained the information rather well – that said, I was always grateful when a lecturer would provide lecture notes, so that I had them to hand when it came to reviewing the points for exams, etc. Always the notes were best when they listed and briefly described names, factual information, etc. All of the conceptual stuff, I tended to keep in my head just fine.

    As for Mark Stevenson, he’s a good’un. While I was reading his book he mentioned he lived in New Cross, a short walk from where I live. So I tweeted him so… I don’t know why I felt the need to mention it, I just did. The following week I found myself spending quite a few hours in his local pub chatting about his book, politics, music and about a million other things, while I got embarrassingly drunk from my relative lack of practise with booze.

  2. Ah Simon! Just this morning I woke up and emailed James to say that I fancied doing a piece defending Powerpoint, then downloaded the podcast to my phone and had to email him back again. You got there first!

    Needless to say, my piece would have been completely different to yours.

    You only fleetingly mentioned that you shouldn’t blame the tool, and that would have been my point. The fact is, very few people in the world get any sort of lesson in how to present information to others. And even worse, practically no-one gets any real, honest, critical feedback on their presentation methods and style.

    Even when the opportunity is there to provide real feedback, people don’t take it out of some misguided belief of offending the other person. I’ve sat through many a presentation or training session where feedback forms were handed out. And those people that were moaning next to the vending machine during a break still give top marks for delivery, pace and supporting materials.

    Unlike you, I have also witnessed some fantastic presentations, and I’d be surprised if you had too. And funnily enough, those presentations are the ones where the slideshow was a very minor supporting act. But in these cases, people just don’t think of it as “powerpoint”, they think of it as part of the show. There are some great examples in TED talks or when people like Brian Cox speak. They use the visuals, but you treat them as that – visuals.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I too have sat through many a gut awful lecture and presentation. Just the other day at work we had a channel partner turn up, make a weak joke about “I won’t keep you six hours”, then spent four hours going through a 120 slide presentation. I’ve been there, I feel your pain. But I think it’s a bit unfair to blame it on Powerpoint.

    Actually (and to prove this is just an incoherent rant that I’m thinking of whilst I type), if there’s one thing that I can blame Powerpoint for, it’s having templates. Maybe if you provided a blank canvas… no backgrounds… no slide templates… they’d be a little more creativity.

    But the fact is a lack of training, a lack of constructive feedback and the fact that “everyone else does it that way” means that we end up with the yawn inducing slideshows that inevitably occur.

    Another rant…. For me, one sign of a rubbish powerpoint presenter is someone who claims they’re an expert at powerpoint. They’re often the worst. They’re the ones who say, almost zen like, “you should limit the text on the slide”, then do that by making all the other bullet points transparent and then bringing them into focus one at a time. End result? Same crap on a slide, only now you can see them one bullet point at a time.

    Cripes, it’s like I’m almost taking your side now 😀

    But yes, that would have been the sort of angle I argued. There is a purpose for it, it’s just that often people use it inappropriately. And those people are poorly trained and no-one tells them that what they just did was rubbish.

    n.b. I have never had any formal powerpoint training. But what I have done over the years is critically evaluate the good stuff that others do, read stuff like “the non-designer’s design book” and sometimes realise that I should use something other than powerpoint for certain purposes.

  3. Hey Rob,
    It’s good that we largely agree on this, even if the “hooks” we’d have structured our rants around would’ve been opposing! I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said… Great minds and all that…

  4. @Rob – I missed the bit in your reply about TED talks, and actually, you’re right – there are some great examples there of using slideshows to illustrate things… So you’re right to point out that I, in fact, have seen good presentations. They’re just not all that common.

    @Mike – No, I hadn’t seen that, but it’s absolutely great! Thanks for showing me!

    @Chris – Nah, they’d all use Google Docs Presentations, doubtless stored in the cloud, to introduce the extra technical complication of needing a working internet connection 😉

    @Peter – I agree with your points about note-taking to some extent – like you, I’m more of a ‘concentrate and engage with the concepts’ kind of guy than a hardcore note-taker, but I find that PowerPoint handouts distract me from engaging with lectures in particular. I end up doodling on them, numbering the slides, and making pretty arrows to connect the boxes. But that probably says more about me than it does about anything else…

  5. Quick kudos to Natalie Dzerins (and Charlotte Hooson-Sykes) for a measured and reasoned response. This issue has got to me to a weird extent, given that I don’t spend a lot of time doing ‘community’ or ‘movement’ type things; rather, I consume podcasts and so on for entertainment and information. And try to argue the case for things I believe in with people I know. I did go to a SITP once… Anyway, the response to this whole thing has left me feeling pretty sick, on the whole, as the genuine bilious misogyny of all sorts of people has spewed forth.
    Peter Hague’s report made me pretty cross; I did not find it well reasoned, and I thought that it carelessly recycled tired stereotypes, misrepresented a good deal of the discussion, used weasel words and was generally riddled with some/all fallacy, category mistakes… I wasn’t too impressed. (I am making an effort to be polite). I don’t really want to open up this can of worms, what I want to say is that given the really toxic, virulent response that anyone who says ‘maybe there are some good points within feminism’ has been subjected to over the last week, this was a nice, rather gentle riposte.
    I think I actually first heard about ‘elevatorgate’ via Pete Hague’s piece; I almost wish I hadn’t, although I guess it has raised my consciousness about the current reality of misogyny etc. across the internet… and I found this, which is really awesome:

  6. Thanks Dan. Unfortunately, the first thing people learn about publicly self-identifying as a feminist is that a lot of people are threatened by it and will try to argue you away from it without knowing what it is you actually believe. Good job I didn’t mention I’m a pro-sex, anti-porn Marxist feminist who doesn’t shave her legs, right? …DAMN.

  7. The only gripe I had with the Elevatorgate section in this podcast, was that (yet again), there was no mention of Rebecca Watson’s innapropriate behaviour towards Stef McGraw. The section on the Sceptic’s Guide to The Universe also missed this important detail.

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