I’ve stumbled across a new blog that’s right up my alley called A Skeptical Blog and I’ll be adding it to my blogroll as soon as I finish this entry. Though it is with some disappointment that I read James’ entry on why Penn & Teller’s Bullshit! is not a very good show on skepticism.
It gives me no pleasure to write an article trashing P&T. As a fellow magician I admire Penn & Teller tremendously. They are innovative performers who have changed the face of magic, and for the better. They make me laugh, and that is a high compliment indeed. Yet as a fellow skeptic, I cannot stand by and allow what is basically a political question – should laws be past to curtail smoking in public places – to masquerade as science, which unfortunately is exactly what P&T did in this episode. When I decided to be skeptical, it was with the realization that I would replace consoling fantasy with uncomfortable truth. I choose to live in the real world, such as it is. A skeptic should be a seeker of truth, not a spinner of lies. Unfortunately I am drawn to the conclusion that this is exact what Penn & Teller are doing. Exposing bullshit is a noble goal, but by engaging in a bit of bullshit on their own, they cast doubt on any other argument they might care to bring to the table. After all, Penn and Teller are doing exactly what we accuse Creationist of doing. Praising science when it agrees with them and damning science when it does not.
Shame on you.
Mind you, I’m not disappointed with the James’ entry, I’m disappointed that P&T may not be promoting the cause of skeptical thought as well as I had hoped. I can’t comment myself as I don’t have Showtime and haven’t seen an episode yet, but early reports from friends that have seem to indicate the show plays fast and loose with the facts at times. In the case of the episode on Environmental Tobacco Smoke which James writes about it appears that P&T aren’t dealing in facts at all, but spreading a little bullshit of their own.
Which is disheartening because I think this country could do with a few more shows like P&T’s that are both entertaining and illustrative of the benefits of skeptical and/or critical thinking. Alas it looks like P&T may be undermining the value of their show by engaging in some of the very same tactics they accuse others of using. I’m still interested in catching an episode or two when I get the chance, but in light of these early reports my enthusiasm for the show is not what it once was.