Top positive review
38 people found this helpful
A show every "new age" person should see.
on 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.