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VINE VOICEon January 11, 2005
I have mixed feelings about this series. I really like what Penn and Teller are trying to do with this show, and I tend agree with them more than I disagree. When someone is arguing a point that I agree with, I have a tendency to be even more critical of their arguments; so, I am very critical of any weak arguments that they may make. Regardless, we are in dire need of more skeptics in this society, so I am glad that this show exists.

Michael Shermer stated in his book, "Why People Believe Weird Things", two fallacies of being a skeptic. One is that when a skeptic disagrees with absolutely everything at face value, their arguments become less valuable. The other is that skeptics are often so used to arguing against others, that they forget to closely analyze their own stance; thereby not accepting the skeptics of their skepticism. This could lead to the false belief that any form of disagreement is correct, which Penn and Teller are occasionally guilty of in this series. This is the mistake of using skepticism as a dogma rather than as a scientific method.

Episode one is a great starter to the series. It exposes mediums as frauds who use techniques, much like psychics do, to hot and cold read people. The second episode on alternative medicine is one of my favorites. They informatively use science and logic to debunk reflexology, magnet therapy, and chiropractors. The Alien abduction episode was a little sad, because a lot of people who believed in it seemed lost, or searching for something more. It was really sad to see how they were exploited by people trying to milk dollars out of them.

The second hand smoke episode was interesting. The episode was not so much about debunking the idea that second hand smoke is harmful. Rather, it was about exposing the fanaticism in the anti-smoking movement, and forces non-smokers to think about the implications their movement has on civil liberties. P&T lost me a little here, using a radio DJ as an expert, whereas in previous episodes they had used doctors, academics, as well as reputable psychologists and scientists. Also, they start to expose their bias. P&T are admitted Libertarians, and use data from the Cato institute, a free market biased libertarian think tank. That's not to imply that the data gathered by Cato is wrong, but I hope anyone watching this show considers all of the sources, especially when political issues are involved. Though they show that there is not current data to support the theory that second hand smoke is harmful, they don't really discuss that proper studies have not been done to prove it safe, either. As a scientist who studies public health and statistics (there's my bias), I can tell you that such a study would be extremely complicated and expensive to design. Still, from a civil liberties point of view, it is a very interesting episode to watch.

The "Sex" episode exposes the lengths (no pun intended) people go to in order to improve their self esteem. As with many of these episodes, it is sad to see how people get duped out of their money. The "Feng Shui", "Self-Help", "ESP", "Ouija Board", and diet episodes were much the same. The portion of the Feng Shui episode focusing on bottled water being very informative, and P&T give a link to the NRDC paper on their web site, which everyone should read. The diet episode is very interesting, but I think they only presented half of the "genetic" foods issue. It can be very beneficial to produce more abundant crops for third world countries. Though, I wish they had addressed the issue that some corporation have been accused of engineering seeds that are only viable for one generation, making farmers dependent on the seed companies.

The final episode, on environmentalism, was the most frustrating. Their main source against the argument of global warming is author Bjorn Lomborg, who many scientists have accused of extrapolating his conclusions from cherry picked data. Any statistician who is aware of environmental issues would know that Lomborg's data does very little to prove that global warming is wrong. Many Nobel laureates have signed an anti-global warming statement, and it is a shame that none of them could be interviewed to defend global warming. The argument they make that "there would not be any trees, were it not be for the paper industry" was flat out ridiculous. Unfortunately, the environmental activists deserve the treatment that they got in this episode. As I said, I am even more critical of people arguing for my own side, because I don't want my side to sound ignorant. In this episode, ill informed activists who have no idea what they are talking about are the best the environmentalists could produce to represent their side. The kind of people in college who would have drum circles and protests, without ever taking a biology or chemistry class to really understand the implications of what they are fighting about. Doing research after this show, many of the pro-environment academics have said that their interviews were dramatically edited. So, once again, a person needs to remember that this is a T.V. show that is trying to prove a point, and the creators will rarely want to look incorrect.

In the introduction to his book, Michael Shermer stated that people often ask him why they should believe him. He replied, as all skeptics should, "They shouldn't." The controversial political analyst Noam Chomsky advises his readers to never believe anything he talks about without researching it for themselves. That advice should also be taken when watching P&T's show. Just because they are funny, charismatic, and sure of themselves does not mean that they are correct. To their credit, Penn and Teller post many of their sources and links for each episode on their web site. All in all, I think this is a series that everyone should watch. Especially if they watch it critically, and can remove themselves from the passionate arguments that Penn makes.
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on March 3, 2004
Master stage magicians Penn and Teller take on psychics, astrology, the environment, and a host of other questionable topics. Like the title of the show, Penn and Teller do not hesitate at all in demonstrating that the frauds, con men, and phony scientists are full of Bull Sh*t! Happily, they manage to do it with a unique style and humor that left me snorting Dr. Pepper through my nostrils. Ouch. It was worth it!
In the process of watching these programs, you will learn exactly -how- frauds and fakers pull of many of their stunts, -why- certain pseudoscientists and pseudo historians are wrong, and even -why- people are often so eager to believe and accept things at face value. While our prestidigitationator hosts are opinionated, they are always on the side of the common man (us) who so often plays the dupe to the frauds of our day.
These programs are entertainment and education rolled into one. I am not the sort of person who usually buys dvds of every series I like. This series was warrented though, and long overdue...Penn and Teller have proven themselves worthy of a place on any skeptic's shelf. Enjoy!
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on July 25, 2004
Penn and Teller's Bullshi*t is a much-needed voice of reason in the midst of the alarmist, emotionally charged know-nothings they spend their time debunking in this DVD series. What's included here is a 3-disc set that contains the entire first season (10 episodes) as well as some bonus features, most notably a bonus episode (about ghosts).

Initially, I caught Bullshi*t on Showtime and fell instantly in love with it. At last, here was a series dedicated to crushing the myths that draw in millions of non-thinking individuals. There was something almost vindicating about seeing them body-slam sensationalist after sensationalist with their rhetoric, even providing thinking America with some ammunition to battle our more, well...emotion-driven friends. I had only seen three or four installments on Showtime before buying the DVD and eagerly gobbling up all ten episodes.

Now that I've had some time with the series and have seen all the shows multiple times, something interesting has happened. The last episode I watched really got to me - an episode on second-hand smoke. For once, I thoroughly disagreed with Penn and Teller. The idiots that I normally found myself scoffing at - well, this time it was the hosts of the show. What I saw in that episode was Penn and Teller from the other side of the river. I saw them taking a very specific facet of an argument, thus pushing reams of data aside, and exploit it using arguments from the constitution applied to illogical extremes. Right away it started on a very shaky foot when they staged a scene of themselves in a restaurant with a noisy musician nearby, annoying them. "You're annoying us - let's legislate against you," they began, implying that second-hand smoke was on the same level of loud music, nothing more than an annoyance.

The most important thing to note about this argument is that there *is* legislation against loud music. It's called disturbing the peace. So apparently "annoying" habits are regularly legislated against, including the one they were trying to portray as absurd as an analogy.

Their main thread in this argument was that since there was no direct data that linked second-hand smoke to illness, second-hand smoke is therefore okay to have around. Their sub-point is that the EPA exaggerated some data in a report they issued in the 90s, and this exaggeration has been used to fuel the legislation against smoking in public. Therefore, they seem to imply that because of the bogus data, the legislation against second-hand smoke is also bogus.

To me, neither of these arguments hold any water. There is a very simple point to be made regarding second-hand smoke - we know smoking causes death and illness. The same chemicals that cause these illnesses are present in second-hand smoke. Therefore, whether or not we can prove that occasional second-hand smoke causes cancer, we do know that it contains very harmful compounds. The only difference between a non-smoker and smoker, then, is the amount of this smoke they are inhaling. Just because it's not proven that a smaller amount of smoke will cause me to die doesn't mean it's perfectly okay for it to be floating around in the air for me to breathe. If I sprayed arsenic and carbon monoxide into someone's face, they would arrest me. If I blow it into someone's face after inhaling it from a cigarette, it's legal in most areas. This is completely illogical to me. Speaking to their second point, just because the data may have been exaggerated, it doesn't mean that it's not fundamentally true.

Anyway, this exposed some of the techniques that Penn and Teller use, and I started looking for them in other episodes, even those episodes with which I wholeheartedly agreed (in other words, all of them). I found something pretty standard in all their arguments. For their opponent, they usually find the absolute most extreme camp they can find, a camp that probably represents 10% of the other side of the argument, and they use that as the face of the enemy. For example, in their episode on eating and feeding the world, whom did they choose as the antagonist? Greenpeace and a group of hippie-freakshows who only eat raw foods. Of course we're going to disagree with these idiots, therefore agreeing with Penn and Teller. We leave the show thinking that any and all genetically-altered foods should be dumped into the 3rd World, bar none.

What they don't show you are the extremely intelligent, forward thinking scientists who recognize the *legitimate* problems with this. Most notably, while genetic engineering may have saved a billion lives it has also done something else very obvious - drastically increased the population. Therefore, deaths related to overpopulation not associated with starvation - like aids, leprosy, and other illnesses - have drastically increased, inverse to the decrease in deaths from starvation, even exceeding it in some areas. So in trying to do good, we could, in the end, be killing more people. I'm not saying I totally agree with this point of view, just that it is a legitimate facet of the argument that isn't so easily dismissed with a wave of the hand like the ignorance of the losers that Penn and Teller put on camera. So be aware as you watch, that there are almost always more viable arguments against their points that they are not showing you. By consistently choosing only the far spectrum of their opponents, they safely avoid putting an intelligent adversary - which would probably fall somewhere in between Bullsh*t's POV and the extremist they've chosen - into the equation.

This doesn't mean I won't continue to watch regularly and cheer P&T on, or show these episodes to my more gullible friends who may be environmentalists or alternative medicine subscribers. Just understand that more often than not, there is a wide gap between what Penn and Teller are advocating and whom they choose to portray on their show, and in that gap lies a full spectrum of arguments for you to explore.
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on January 9, 2007
Penn and Teller tackle many subjects, including bottled water, creationism, ESP and alternative medicine. Even though they don't go into specific formal rebuttals of everything, usually there's science and research to back them up. The "Eat This!" episode was the best of the lot I think, where they talk about a man you've never heard of that's saved a billion people from starvation, and how it's rather selfish to protest the use of proven-safe GM crops in developing countries.

However this made it all the more painful to watch the last episode. They completely miss the mark when going after global warming. They ignore the arguments stemming from ice core samples and the vast array of peer reviewed scientific papers that all use different methods to come to the conclusion that the world has been warming up and will continue to warm up. And at a rate far beyond that of any natural heating that's occurred in the past. The only way in which they disagree is exactly how much, and even the lowest estimate is uncomfortably high. Using a libertarian think tank rather than a peer-reviewed journal as a source is rather dubious. It's rather sad that they've fallen for the "scientists don't agree" line here.

However it's overall an entertaining and enlightening set of DVDs. Keep your skeptic hat on for the last episode and you should be okay.
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VINE VOICEon May 16, 2007
Penn & Teller made a name for themselves in the early years of their career together by performing entertaining (sometimes stunning) magical tricks ... and then telling everyone how they did it. Although the pair are avowed hedonists (with an epicurian slant), they are also hardcore teetotalers, eschewing the traditional anesthetics of alcohol, nicotine, and even caffeine in favor of, say, sex and food. Libertarians with the same view of politics that can be found in your typical episode of South Park, Penn & Teller are big fans of the pursuit of knowledge and happiness, as long as it isn't at the expense of someone else's own pursuit. It is this attitude more than anything else that prompts their myth-busting show, and although many episodes come across as mean-spirited, that's because these fellows have little patience for exploitation and willful ignorance.

This three disc set covers all thirteen episodes of the first season, where the foul-mouthed prestidigitarians expose (among other things) sham psychics, the bug-eyed culture of alien abductees, bottled water, the self-help industry, and environmentalism. The episodes are by turns enlightening, informative, thought-provoking, and disturbing.

And when these guys aren't convincing, they are at least entertaining. Some of their targets are admittedly soft (if I promised to buy him an extra controller for his Xbox, my eight year old nephew could probably debunk Ouiji Boards in ten minutes). Others are just excuses to perform silly and titillating "experiments" that are mostly about embarrassing the participants or showing off mostly-naked women (see the entire episode about sex). Still, this IS a television show we're talking about, and not rigorous scientific explorations. A little sensationalism isn't unwarranted.

Along the same lines, there's something to be said for SOME impartiality. Penn & Teller pretend to approach each subject with some degree of openness, but it's quite obvious that no one needs to convince these guys that they're already right. It's not hard, when you're the one calling the shots (or, in this case, edits), to make your competitors seem like manipulative idiots, and there are numerous occasions where Penn & Teller do just that, thumbing through their arguments like a couple of stand-ups who are only pretending that they don't know the punch-line to the joke they're in the midst of telling.

I don't want to harp. After all, I like the show. And I like Penn & Teller. And, more than any of that, I like the spirit in which the show is filmed, the idea that people are too easily pulled by emotional strings and they need to be slapped straight every once in a while, if not with some hilarious side-commentary, then at least with some simple logical application. Along those lines, these guys do a good job of clearly presenting their side of each argument, but I'd say they aren't as skilled at presenting the opposite side. I empathize with their anger when they encounter fraudulent "doctors" and "scientists" who milk both the hearts and wallets of vulnerable fools, but I see a little milking going on with Penn & Teller, too. Theirs is just a bit more subtle and not nearly as self-interested.

Intelligent mockery, crude comedy, and a little explotative sleight-of-hand: these guys have been doing this stuff for years, and doing it very very well. It's just, this time around, they're giving away everyone else's secrets, instead of their own.
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on December 2, 2014
The magic/comedy duo of Penn and Teller expose such idiocy as fad diets, alien abductions, talking with the dead, feng shui, and "alternative medicine." Penn also explains why he calls it "BS", instead of something more inflammatory or provocative. NOT for kids, but for inquisitive adults.
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on April 5, 2004
I guarantee it! At some point these guys are going to tread on some sacred "truth" that you hold near and dear. And that is the great thing about this series. They are truly Equal Opportunity Offenders. And while I don't know that I buy into every position (not so sure about say, second-hand smoke), these guys are funny, provocative, and invite debate on a whole host of ideas and issues that so many seem to swallow hook, line, and sinker, without the slightest inkling of critical thought. Watching those goofballs signing the petition to ban the chemical Dihydrogen Monoxide (um....water) is alone worth the price of this series. Wonderfully refreshing television! The overarching theme is our amazing ability for self-deception.
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on November 20, 2013
P&T start out with some low-hanging fruit topics, like hypnosis, feng shui, ESP, alien abductions and ouija boards. Chances are, if you are watching BS, it is because you already consider those things to be BS. It is only when P&T tackle issues like second-hand smoke and GMO foods that the show becomes interesting. Season two is full of those episodes, so skip ahead if you want to feel challenged.
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VINE VOICEon April 5, 2004
As a fan of magicians and magic, I always rated Penn and Teller as my favorites because they explained the tricks behind the trick - usually with poor Teller as the victim of the sadistic Penn.
And it is a thrill finally to get the first season of their show on DVD. I believe it's the only one like it currently running and it can only run on pay cable, what with every network buying into the various forms of Bullsh*t that permeate the American cultural scene. It is refreshing to see Penn and Teller expose such nonsense as talking with the dead, the 'dangers' of second-hand smoke, alien abductions, and the so-called positive effect of Mozart on a baby's development. And who better to debunk these phenomena than two magicians themselves, following the tradition of the Amazing Randi and Long John Nebel. In fact, Randi makes an appearance in their episode debunking Nostradamus; this episode alone is worth the price. What particulary strikes me as hilarious is the reactions of those in my audience of DVD watchers. They cheer when P & T gore someone else's bull, but are quick to disagree, usually emotionally, when their own particular ox is gored.
The only bad thing about this DVD is the wait I will have until next season's DVD is released. But then again, this is the sort of thing one can watch numerous times without boredom setting in.
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on April 19, 2004
I can't say I am Penn and Teller's biggest fan, but after watching a couple of the episodes of their second season of their show "Bull----!", I decided to rent the first season of shows.
There are 13 30 minute episodes where the two magicians take on issues such as ESP, alien abductions, bottled water and diet fads to name a few and try to debunk each of them. The episodes, which are narrated by Penn (since Teller doesn't talk), interject Penn's wicked dialogue (which is often profane, but that's OK with me) with interviews with people who believe in the topics at issue, followed by Penn trying to humiliate those people. I often wonder if the people are told that if they give an interview for the show they are going to be humiliated.
What I like about Penn and Teller's approach is that they don't tackle political issues, like tax breaks or war in Iraq. They basically focus on pop culture issues. I'm not interested in some of the topics they discussed (Feng Shui being one, for example), but their delivery of the material make it watchable.
One thing, this show isn't for kids, in particular the show that they do about sex, where fully nude men and women walk around them during their dialogs, but I can't believe kids would be that interested anyway.
All in all, a pretty good show, but I doubt that you would want to watch an episode more than once, so I go 4 stars here.
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