Radio

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: The Osmonds of evidence-based thinking

There’s lot of scientific debunking to be done out there. Psychics beware... The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is coming for you

Podcasts have changed the sort of recorded conversation we have access to. Radio requires a pacing and attitude to content, as well as a need to fit in a very specific time slot for listings magazines. This can lead to podcasts being woolly, unfocused and self-indulgent. Sometimes that self-indulgence can also lead to something rather wonderful. 

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is one of those podcasts where the chemistry and fascinations of the hosts comes together. It is a perfectly curated eavesdrop on science and scepticism. It is a family affair – Steven, Jay and Bob Novella are The Osmonds of evidence-based thinking, joined by Cara Santa Maria and Evan Bernstein. Steven Novella is a neurologist whose campaigning work has been particularly focused on the medical pseudoscience behind the anti-vaccination campaign and alternative medicine practitioners. 

The podcast will soon approach its 800th episode. Sadly, they are never short of stories and ideologies to debunk and discuss, though they are not purely attached to dealing with more negative human ideas – they explore the latest scientific ideas and anecdotes too. This year starts lightly with their annual psychic predictions round-up. Which psychic of 2019 most effectively distorted the laws of spacetime and burrowed forward in the block universe? 

Unsurprisingly, the team are not keen on psychics. In seeking a collective noun they settle on “a scam of psychics”. The predictions intended for last year vary from the pointlessly broad – “the stock market is going to go up and down” to entertainingly odd – “the way we approach farming will change radically”. One psychic offers a vegan alternative to the old soothsayer tradition of finding the future by interpreting the steaming offal of a freshly slaughtered beast. This psychic drops asparagus instead and, depending on how it lands, predicts the future with his spear of destiny. 

The general rule is things that are happening now will happen to a vaguely greater-to-lesser extent the year after. The trick for the psychic is to throw out enough predictions that, when just one of them hits, they can glory in their prescience. It doesn’t need to be too exact, but if it is dramatic enough the rest of your psychic career is sorted. If you got one right you’ve got a publishing deal and YouTube ad revenue for life.  

Join The Ride Out Recession Alliance

The Ride Out Recession Alliance (RORA) will develop and implement practical steps and solutions to prevent families losing their homes, and help people remain in employment.

Learn More

Episode 757’s engram story is of particular interest as engram is a word that has drifted into pseudoscience – “I think of scientology and I think of bullshit” sums up the reaction. Engrams in scientology are unconscious memories of traumatic events, but the term is older than L Ron Hubbard’s ideology. One hundred years ago, Richard Semon pondered the idea of what our memories physically are. Are there fundamental units of memory and can old memories that are no longer apparent be stimulated back to life? As usual, mice are bearing the brunt of this work at the moment, going so far as having artificial memories placed in their brains. This leads to a discussion on ideas in science that lie dormant until the necessary technological leaps are made. 

There is no shortage of podcasts trying to rebalance the plethora of misinformation in our world with evidence-based thought. The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is one of the best, but who knows what the future may hold for it. I will get my asparagus from the kitchen to find out. 

theskepticsguide.org

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Uncanny USA podcast host Danny Robins on Bigfoot, UFOs and why Americans scare differently to Brits
Danny Robins on set for Uncanny USA sitting on a rusty car
Podcasts

Uncanny USA podcast host Danny Robins on Bigfoot, UFOs and why Americans scare differently to Brits

Rick Edwards: 'I assumed I'd embrace being famous. I quickly realised that wasn't the case'
Rick Edwards
Letter To My Younger Self

Rick Edwards: 'I assumed I'd embrace being famous. I quickly realised that wasn't the case'

BBC cuts to local radio are a cost we cannot afford: 'Vulnerable people rely on radio'
A 1970s radio
Radio

BBC cuts to local radio are a cost we cannot afford: 'Vulnerable people rely on radio'

Shaun Keaveny: 'I was burnt out by the callousness and cruelty of this government'
Shaun Keaveny in a white t-shirt, smiling
Interview

Shaun Keaveny: 'I was burnt out by the callousness and cruelty of this government'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know