Episode 129 – 30th March 2012

This week we find out why health screenings might actually be a bad thing, discover how to make an IMAX film without CGI effects, and try to get Alan Turing on the £10 note.


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Screening Can Be Bad (2:24) by Margaret McCartney
Outside In (11:30) by Kash Farooq (ft Stephen van Vuuren)
Cash For Cameron (20:42) by Adam Jacobs
Girl On The Net (28:52) by Sean Ellis (ft Girlonthenet)
Turing on the Tenner (37:32) by Salim Fadhley
Doomsday Scenarios (44:20) by James Robson (ft Alok Jha)
Ban The Burka? (53:48) by Steve Page
The sketch at the end is by David Lovesy and Brian Two

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11 thoughts on “Episode 129 – 30th March 2012

  1. Disagree with Steve’s piece, but only partly.
    Sam Harris has it about right; (The moral landscape) does something move the world towards greater suffering for all or greater well being? Endorsing one group of men to coerce women into hiding themselves in a bag isn’t in the good half of the equation.
    ‘Western’ values are superior to Muslim values, we shouldn’t be shy about saying it, although I agree an outright ban of burka wearing is unlikely to achieve anything.

  2. Let’s play name the fallacy!
    In his report, the always lucid, provocative and interesting Adam Jacobs menti0ns “people wouldn’t donate large sums of money to political parties if they didn’t get something in return” (I’ve used quote marks, but this may not be a close paraphrase).

    This is a disguised appeal to popularity. Compare “people wouldn’t spend money on alternative medicine if it didn’t work!”. “People wouldn’t send spam email if it didn’t make money”.

    There are obvious alternate explanations for the same data. The most obvious is that people spend money on political parties because they _believe_ it buys influence. More benign (but contra-indicated) is that people spend money so that the party closest to their own position has a better chance of winning. It could even be a form of charity giving – people spend money on political parties to support the work of an organisation they support philosophically. This last explanation could apply even to people who give to both parties. (“I don’t agree with your policies, but your existence makes the world a better place”).

    The consequence of any sort of electoral funding control in the USA has been donors spending directly instead of giving the money to the parties. This works because most political spending is on advertising. Important topic overlooked in the report is that you can only control donations if you also limit political advertising by _anyone_. This is a dangerous and complicated road …

  3. Chris and Adam: thank you for your comments. Chris, I broadly agree with you, and certainly don’t endorse those who encourage the wearing of the burqa, but, for the reasons that I mentioned in the piece, I balk at the idea of direct government legislation to address this. I’d sooner attempt to do this indirectly, by education rather than coercion, but this is an attempt to go around a wall rather than running head first into it; my goal is still to get past the wall, but in a slightly less painful manner that I feel would bear fruit more quickly.

  4. Thanks for your comments Drew.

    Yes, I think you’re right that my “people wouldn’t donate large sums of money if they didn’t get anything in return” isn’t logically bullet-proof. I agree that they would donate if they thought it bought influence, even if they were actually wrong about that. However, I wonder if they would keep on doing it?

    But anyway, even if that part of my argument is flawed (and I think you’re right: it is), it doesn’t mean that the conclusions are necessarily wrong. Are you suggesting that people who donate large sums of money to political parties don’t get influence in return?

    Good point about the political advertising. I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right, it certainly does complicate things.

    Having said all that, I honestly think that rules about funding, advertising, etc are a bit of a side show. Whatever rules you have, politicians will find ways round them. The only way to solve that problem is to have an engaged electorate who turn out in large numbers and vote after carefully considering all the issues (rather than just voting for the same party each time out of habit). That’s the only way I can think of to guarantee politicians are kept honest.

    And sadly, I suspect it’s also something that’s nigh on impossible to achieve in practice.

  5. Re Steve Page’s piece:
    1) Just who is to carry out this education campaign? Certainly not the government: there is only a difference of degree between government action to ban an article of clothing and government action to tell people that a garment is bad.
    2) Your argument is based on the premise that wearing a burqa is a free choice of some misguided individuals. I find it much more plausible that women who wear the burqa do so because of pressure from men and their local community. This has been the experience in France where the headscarf is banned in schools: before the ban*, girls who chose not to wear the headscarf were treated as sluts and subject to all types of abuse. Similarly, a ban on the burqa preserves choice for the most vulnerable. It is unfortunate that this is needed, but if society needs to choose between protecting the rights of women not to be subject to sexism and religious oppression and the rights for others to express a personal belief, then I’m going with the protection of the vulnerable.
    3) There would be no religious excuse for public nudity, nor (in the UK) for wearing clothing with hate speech. The law already does tell people what they can wear.
    *I personally understand the desire for the ban, but would have far preferred another option (school uniforms) rather than a ban on religious garb.

  6. Adam – I should have made clear that I agree with you about why people donate and what effect it has. I was nitpicking the argument because it’s the sort of faulty reasoning that gets used in support of lots of things that I _don’t_ think are true.

    I imagine that you could find the evidence to support your conclusions if you went looking – and I would be a bit surprised if it hasn’t already been investigated, although I don’t know enough to know where to look. Political science journals maybe?

  7. er yes. sorry about that. We had ‘technical difficulties ‘ ie someone who didn’t really know what she was doing. If I’m ever asked back, I will be sure to get someone to educate me in how to do it properly.

  8. Get your sleds ready, were going down a HUGE slippery slope argument/logical fallacy:-

    @55:10 Steve Page said “… but my fear is that if the government gets to rule over one item of clothing that a large enough number of people find offensive, then they will not stop at the burkha!”

    Wheeeeee! what a ride!

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