Episode 152 – 7th September 2012

We speak to newly elected Green Party leader Natalie Bennett about her plans – and her views on some controversial subjects (GM, nuclear and homeopathy to name but three). We also speak to Simon Singh and Johnnie Shannon about their new ‘Good Thinking’ Society, figure out why the government bothers with reshuffles, discover why IQ tests are actually a rather scientific business, and figure out how students are cheating on their exams.

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Natalie Bennett Interview (3:08) by James O’Malley (ft new Green Party leader Natalie Bennett!)
Reshuffles (26:25) by Cory Hazlehurst
Good Thinking Society (34:14) by James O’Malley (ft Simon Singh and Johnnie Shannon)
Cheating on Exams (41:12) by Drew Rae
New Abortion Research (48:29) by Andrew Holding (ft Professor Siladitya Bhattacharya)
IQ Tests (54:48) by Stuart Ritchie
Who Made Your Pants? (61:38) by Liz Lutgendorff (ft BeckyPants)
The sketch at the end is by David Lovesy and Brian Two

Follow-Up Links:

Cory’s Reshuffle Links:

Notes for Stuart’s IQ Piece:

17 thoughts on “Episode 152 – 7th September 2012

  1. I like Pod Delusion when it sticks to it’s main area of expertise, ie. The silliness of religion and scientific skepticism in general. Where it goes off the rails is with the left wing politics which is creeping into episodes more and more. I actually like western type institutions like free market capitalism, (Could even call it ‘evidence based economics’), globalization and some ideas behind the establishment of corporations because I have a reasonable understanding of how they work and the alternatives. I’m even partial to some mono-culturalism! But all this is irrelevant to the fact that I consider the ramblings of bronze age goat herders not being evidence for a god.
    Tainting the debate with politics is counter productive; I can see some people forced to clinging to Jesus along political lines against the alternative to being marched to a local collective vegan farm for work assignment. Even I will be praying then (Well, pretending).

  2. Thanks for the feedback Simon – I’m afraid I’ve never envisaged the show as one that just talks about religion and scientific skepticism, otherwise every week it’d be “breaking news: God still doesn’t exist”. Which would get a bit dull.

  3. Simon, I agree with the responses you’ve already had. Focussing on the sillier aspects of religion would be like shooting fish in a barrel – time for the new-atheism debate to up its game. Science in society is political, and science cannot simply dismiss the less-than scientific aspects of human psychology that make up that rich tapestry.

  4. Yeah, I guess I was trying to say that associating one side of politics with atheism is 1) Not representative 2) Can be counter productive by complicating a seemingly straight forward issue. Because it’s called the Pod Delusion (Sounds a bit like ‘God Delusion’, geddit?) I expected it to be a bit more focused. I think there is plenty of subject material left as entire books have been written in recent years, that’s for sure.

    Anyway, it is a free podcast (Although I will get around to buying the team a couple of those drinks a month when I can!) so I won’t complain too much. I’ll just use the fast forward button where applicable (ie Next interview with a Greens party leader or that anti-corporation dude. My brain still hurts.).

  5. Simon,

    I see where you’re coming from, and thought I’d add a couple of personal thoughts.

    I think the podcast is, at heart, a discussion a broad range of topics from a broadly skeptic point of view. I also enjoy the more varied interviews etc, but can see why others might find them off-putting – there is more representation of “lefty” politics, and sometimes these reports and interviews aren’t approached from the same skeptical standpoint.

    I personally don’t see that as a problem. Sometimes people say things that are frustrating, and sometimes I pick up on them and do a response. Other times, I’m glad to have heard the other point of view. Different political views pop up from time to time, as received by contributors. If there’s an imbalance, it’s likely down to an imbalance of contributions. I’d say get involved and put across the alternative views.

    Anyway, just those are just my quickly-thumbed views as I eat my lunch! :-)

  6. Interesting. I tend to be more critical of Pod Delusion (and the BHA generally) for being too one-dimensionally anti-God focussed, as opposed to say the more enlightened Rationalist Association or the New Humanist.

    It takes all sorts, but my own agenda is to try to move the debate on from the more obvious easy negative targets, to more positive constructive activities. To be a humanist is far more than being for science and against “god”.

    Sounds like James at least has got the message. “God is dead” – is old news.

  7. Oh dear, I was thinking Natalie Bennett seemed to be talking a lot of sense about things, at least with their opposition to GM she seemed to be coming from it from an evidence-based opposition, whether that evidence is correct is a separate issue. But the idea that the Green’s still support things like homeopathy, Natalie said she wanted trials done, surely all the trials have been done to prove homeopathy doesn’t work, so her calls for more sound suspiciously like a homeopathy supporter who wants more and more evidence to be produced until finally they have one that proves that all the hundreds of properly conducted studies that showed it didn’t work were wrong. That’s when the wheels came off the wagon for me.

    I suppose, being a wishy-washy vaguely lefty I don’t mind the political leanings in the Pod Delusion, it’s certainly better than the American Libertarianism that crops up in some of the websites and podcasts from across the Atlantic. But if someone wanted to put forward a Conservative or right-wing perspective of things I’d be happy to give it a hearing on the podcast.

  8. Just to add – I didn’t see the interview as particularly sympathetic to the Greens. I thought it was a clever use of the “be a sympathetic listener and get the crazy to say what they really think” tactic. As a result we got straight answers on her support of destroying experiments and spending money on homeopathy trials (not to mention her total misunderstanding of the placebo effect and its role in experiments). An attacking interview would just have got her denying that she was anti-science.

  9. Clearly many of the preceding commenters didn’t listen to the interview or, for some reason, chose to ignore what the Green Party leader actually said:

    >> “I absolutely do not believe homeopathy works as they describe it. I think it is scientific nonsense. However, what I do believe in is the placebo effect.”

    Although, it’s pretty clear the interviewer has an agenda to paint the Green Party as anti-science “hippies” – he even uses that word in the weasely, “I don’t want to use the word ‘hippy’, but…”.

    After Bennett explains that the placebo effect is very powerful, he responds “Interesting. Interesting. Our audience are going to love that!”, as though she had just said “I believe in fairies.”

    He then asks Bennett “why not have someone waving their magic hands over them?” thereby demonstrating he failed to understand the preceding explanation about placebo, to which she replies:

    >> “I want it to all be based on science.”

    What we have with this leading, patronising interview is an interviewer with a very narrow grasp of science who already believed the Green Party are “a bit nutty with their anti-science views” – most likely because they oppose (for very solid scientific and economic reasons) his *belief* in GMO agriculture and nuclear energy.

  10. Paul – would you like to put any more words in my mouth?

    From her answers on homeopathy – it seems that Natalie doesn’t appreciate how extensively homeopathy has been debunked. In any case – “our audience are going to love that” was in reference to it being funded on the NHS. It bothers me less (though still bothers me) if people want to believe in magic water privately – but I don’t want the health budget being spent on nonsense.

    Also I don’t “believe” in GMO and nuclear – as I thought I made obvious in the intro to the piece, I share the Greens’s sceptical take on corporations and their possible control of food chains. I don’t know what that answer there is – I just don’t think scientific research should be smashed up. Same for nuclear – my gut tells me to be against it, but I’m increasingly of the opinion it’s the only viable option in the short to medium term, depressingly.

  11. James O’Malley

    >> “it seems that Natalie doesn’t appreciate how extensively homeopathy has been debunked.”

    Natalie Bennett: “I absolutely do not believe homeopathy works as they describe it. I think it is scientific nonsense.”

    You do not appear to be listening to what you are being told, again suggesting that your preconceived beliefs are not being modified by facts.

    >> “I don’t want the health budget being spent on nonsense.”

    The placebo effect is not nonsense, even if you do not understand it. But if this really concerns you, start by attacking Labour and even more so the Tories who are funding it and who have installed a health minister who really believes homeopathy works.

    >> “I just don’t think scientific research should be smashed up.”

    I recommend reading up on the ‘precautionary principle’. The potential damage of releasing GMOs in to the environment far outweighs the financial benefit of that GMO crop to a handful of people. I note you were swayed by the arguments of ‘Sense About Science’. You should really do some research on who and what they are. A starter: http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/13945-the-inside-story-on-the-gm-wheat-trial-debate

    >> “nuclear … it’s the only viable option in the short to medium term…”

    There is nothing short or medium term about nukes. They take 10 to 20 years to construct. They operate for 60 years. The waste from them remains toxic for 100,000 years. But that should be academic when you realise they are not economically viable – confirmed by a wide and growing range of sources.

  12. No, no – I know she said that about homeopathy. But the fact she then went on to talk about the placebo effect and if I recall correctly dropped the “big pharma fund the research” bomb (I may be misremembering) suggests she has missed the point somewhat.

    In any case – what I find more concerning is what I followed up with – even if the placebo effect is effective, it is predicated on doctors and medical professionals making some sort of deception – the ethics of which I think are too dodgy. And to have the government endorsing homeopathy through funding hospitals is bad on public health grounds – as it means the real big time quacks, who claim homeopathy can cure cancer and the like, can cite the fact the government fund homeopathy to legitimate what they are doing.

    I agree the Tories / Labour / etc should also be attacked for supporting homeopathy. But I was interviewing the leader of the Green Party… For comparison: Should we not criticise Obama’s use of unmanned drones to commit extrajudicial killings from the air when Romney would do the same if not worse? And we all know Obama is better, so should we ignore his faults?

    If you check back on an earlier episode of the show (http://poddelusion.co.uk/blog/2012/05/11/episode-135-11th-may-2012/) you’ll hear a piece I recorded actually at Rothamsted on a tour of the facilities I went on with Sense About Science. I’ve seen the actual field that was targeted, and seen the precautions that they have taken and all that – and I realise I’m speaking as a lay person, but they seem to know what they are doing.

    Again – I’m all for debating the ethics and the politics of using GM – but in order to form opinions surely we need to do some experiments to see what can be done? Ironically smashing up the experiment would have caused a greater risk of contamination – given people would be running about and spreading stuff about and so on.

    Yes, I know. Don’t get me wrong – I’d much rather live in a world closer to the Green ideal, complete with windmills generating electricity and the rest. I’m sure as someone who is presumably a green you’d agree that man-made climate change is the biggest threat to humanity and the world – and we need to do something about this quickly. Pragmatically speaking I’m increasingly of the opinion (and I raised this with Natalie) that the only way we’re going to be able to do anything quickly is with nuclear – because building some powerplants is going to be quicker than facilitating the political and cultural shift needed to make people en masse modify their behaviour (especially amongst Tories here, and especially amongst Republicans in America who won’t like state intervention saying “you need solar panels on your house” because of their libertarian beliefs and the like). I’d love to believe everyone can be persuaded to take climate change seriously quickly, but we’ve only got one Green MP and decades of the green movement…

  13. >> “…she then went on to talk about the placebo effect…”

    Your point is? Do you deny it exists?

    >> “dropped the “big pharma fund the research” bomb”

    Do you deny this is a serious issue? Suggest you read http://www.badscience.net/

    >> “…suggests she has missed the point somewhat.”

    How? Stating that she has does not make it so.

    >> “placebo effect …. is predicated on doctors and medical professionals making some sort of deception”

    100% wrong. You’ve just demonstrated that you do not understand the science. E.g. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0015591

    >> “big time quacks, who claim homeopathy can cure cancer”

    Bennett specifically said that would be prohibited. Perhaps you should listen to your own interview?!

    >> “…a tour of the facilities I went on with Sense About Science.”

    Did you read the article I provided? Why would you continue to reference them when it is absolutely clear they are a very shadey propaganda outfit?

    >> “I’ve seen the actual field that was targeted, and seen the precautions that they have taken…”

    Animals and insects could easily enter, collect contaminated plant material and leave with it.

    >> “…surely we need to do some experiments to see what can be done?”

    In the lab. Prove a) they are safe b) they work c) they are needed. None of those have been done with regard GMO. It’s all about corporate profit and political control.

    >> “…smashing up the experiment would have caused a greater risk of contamination”

    Not necessarily. Think about germination and pollination.

    >> “…complete with windmills…”

    Windmills *mill*. Wind turbines produce electricity. Good to get the terminology right if you want to appear informed.

    >> “…the only way we’re going to be able to do anything quickly is with nuclear…”

    I already told you: a) it takes ten to twenty years to build one; b) they are not economically viable and no one has worked out how to finance them. There is nothing “quick” or short term about nukes. There is overwhelming public support for renewables, and very weak support for nukes so you have things the wrong way around.

    Finally, taking “climate change seriously quickly” is not the responsibility of Green MPs alone.

    P.S. One more comment on the line you delivered in the interview: “The perception of the Greens is a little… I don’t want to say ‘hippyish” – that’s a little bit rude, isn’t it…” Your contempt for green politics comes shining through in this interview.

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