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The Pseudoscientists is the official podcast of the Young Australian Skeptics - a weekly journey into the overlapping worlds of science, critical thinking, religion and pop-culture with a group of young skeptics and science communicators.
So what’s in it for the regular listener? Scientific and skeptical news, entertaining guest panelists, vox pops, science-fiction hypotheticals, niche enthusiasm, terrible puns, pop-culture references and general nonsense.
And yes, we’ve interviewed all the classic skeptical heroes, like James Randi, Simon Singh, Dick Smith, George Hrab, Rebecca Watson, Jay Novella, Eugenie Scott and PZ Myers, as well as some local Australian up-and-comers, like Simon Taylor and Lawrence Leung. Of course, there are plenty more as well.
You can subscribe to The Pseudoscientists on iTunes or via your podcast aggregator of choice through the RSS feed - or you can listen to each episode in the audio player attached to its corresponding blog post. It also has its own Twitter account — @pseudoscipod.
The Pseudoscientists began in late 2008 along with the original incarnation of the Young Australian Skeptics blog, but evolved over time to adapt to new arrivals and fond farewells alike. See below for a full list of those who have contributed to the show, past and present (wherein the current panelists interview themselves very smoothly).
What do you do on The Pseudoscientists?
I’m the genetics, molecular biology and evolutionary biology person. Because, you know, every podcast has one. Also, I edit and produce the podcast, which means that nearly everything that’s wrong with it can be somehow attributed to me. Print off my face to use as a dartboard, you know you want to.
What got you into skepticism and doing a podcast about it?
The murky world of YouTube, wherein I combatted creationism and intelligent design (good luck finding those old videos, they’ve long crumbled into digital dust), was my first experience with the skeptical community. This lead to creating my own blog, then becoming a part of the Young Australian Skeptics, then helping to start up its podcast, and then finally coming to rule said podcast with a curiously pale iron fist when all the other founding members drifted away to focus on other things. It’s a benevolent dictatorship: I keep whipping to a minimum.
Does your love of science bleed into other areas of your life?
It’s definitely shaped my love of science fiction, and my fascination with audio production and visual arts (although I don’t claim to be good at them). Once you learn enough about science, everything becomes interesting, in my opinion. You’re legally not allowed to be bored ever again if you know past a certain amount about biology, chemistry and physics — that’s a fact, and you can quote me on that.
Loving science has forced me to pursue higher degrees in biology, and I’m currently about to undertake a Master of Science (Genetics) degree at the University of Melbourne. It has also made some of my friends slightly wary of talking about particular topics, because they know I can ramble for hours about them. Science: it’s a blessing and a curse. But mostly a blessing.
Do you have opinions about the relationship between science, skepticism and religion?
If you could magically get rid of one unscientific or non-skeptical thing in the world, what would it be?
That’s a terrible question. Uh, probably alternative medicine, because that stuff does real harm.
Are you Scandinavian? Your hair is very blonde.
I don’t think so, but yes, it is, isn’t it?
Jack has been a regular on The Pseudoscientists since Episode 2 (although he was a part of the unreleased pilot episode, so there’s that). You can find him on Twitter — @JackLScanlan — and on the Young Australian Skeptics blog, where he electronically whips the writing team as head editor.
What was your first experience of skepticism?
Asking ‘why?’ as a small child and not being satisfied with the answer I was given. I’ve always had a scientific mind and loved finding out how things really worked. Skepticism seems to me like such a logical and obvious choice as a way to view the world that it always surprises me that anyone would be opposed to it.
How do you spend your days?
In my office, at my desk, studying the universe. I’m currently doing a Master of Science (Physics) at the University of Melbourne studying astrophysics. My days are pretty awesome when my research goes as planned, and a bit frustrating when it doesn’t, but that is also where most of the excitement comes from.
If you were going to be trapped on a desert island, what 3 books would you take with you?
- Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World, because everyone needs some Sagan in their life.
- Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, because having some amazingly well written and imaginative fiction is always necessary
- A book on how to survive on a desert island. I could see it coming in handy…
What is your favourite science related movie?
The Dish — so Australian, and portrays astronomers as they really are: intelligent, but not nerdy and completely socially inept. My favourite experience of watching this movie was when I visited the Parkes telescope for the 40th anniversary of the moon landing and watched the movie on an outdoor screen set up in the paddock next to the dish.
What is your favourite thing about being on the podcast?
Finding and discussing weird science topics. Some of the research happening out there is amazing and bizarre. I love how imaginative scientists can be about what to study next.
What do you hope will be the future of skepticism?
That the skeptical movement will be redundant as having a skeptical and scientific way of viewing the world will be widely used and mainstream. A bit optimistic and naive perhaps, but one can hope…
How did you get into science and skepticism?
I grew up reading Dr Karl Kruszelnicki’s books, which I believe inclined me to skepticism from a young age. I knew that I really wanted to study science after attending a science camp run by the Young Scientists of Australia at the University of Melbourne, where I extracted my own DNA from a cheek swab, studied the oxidative effects of cigarette smoking, gassed fruit flies to observe their mutations and modelled the greenhouse gas effect. Like many a skeptic before me, I came into skepticism and the skeptical movement through podcasts — through listening to The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe and The Pseudoscientists (what a coincidence — I’m now a panellist!) although I’d been skeptical throughout my life without realising it, always being suspicious of alternative medicine such as naturopathy and chiropractic, as well as dangerous anti-vaccination proponents.
What do you enjoy most about being a panellist on the podcast?
For me, it’s the opportunity to discuss and share my ideas and opinions about various scientific topics with other young people. It’s also a great way to promote skepticism in a humorous way.
What do you bring to the podcast?
I’m not exactly sure — unlike the others I’m yet to find my centre of interest in science, and I don’t have a specific area of expertise. I usually bring in news items from the fields of biology or medicine, and quite often I’ll discuss LGBTIQ issues pertaining to science and skepticism. Being the youngest podcast member, I like to think of myself as a breath of youthful, fresh air, preventing the others from going off on tangents about the kaiser in 19-dickety-2, and whatnot.
What are your interests outside of science?
I quite enjoy French language and culture, and I also enjoy pondering obscure words, such as ‘mammothrept’, a word for a spoiled child, or ‘prend’, describing a mended crack. Moreover, why is there a word describing a bread-worshipper (‘artolater’)? I also watch a lot of Doctor Who and SVU, and enjoy painting.
Are you Jack’s sister? Your hair is also very blonde.
Despite my receipt of this question relatively frequently, Jack and I are not related.
How did you first become interested in science communication/skepticism?
I guess I’ve always been pretty sciencey. Growing up in the country you see a lot of the forces of nature, life and death, things like that, and I was one of those obnoxious kids who asked too many questions and was always taking things apart. I was lucky to have open-minded parents who let me choose my own way (pretty sure they’re atheists, though my dad said he got himself baptised to hedge his bets). For most of my academic years I’ve been torn between science and creative pursuits, and it wasn’t until I finished my undergrad and joined one of Questacon’s science outreach programs that I realised how much science communication is the perfect middle ground for me, and something I can maybe see myself doing forever.
Which is your favourite field of science?
As a science communicator I should strive to be a generalist, and I genuinely feel that all fields are of equal importance (unlike some of my physicist friends) but I do have a soft spot for the big-picture biological stuff. I get a little glazed when we talk about lipid bilayers or quantum field effects, but I can talk natural selection and herd psychology ’til the cows come home (the cows that don’t come home do not survive to pass on their inferior path-finding genes). Basically I love the sciences which relate most to who we are as people and animals.
What is your least favourite pseudoscience/nonskeptical belief?
As a zoologist, you really can’t top the varying forms of creationism/intelligent design. I don’t bother arguing with believers anymore, but I do find it amusing that as the “theory” of creation has had ever greater selective pressure placed upon it, it has been forced to prune some of its more glaring flaws and has adapted into sleeker, more cunning forms as a response to competitive pressure from introduced theories. And if that isn’t evolution, I don’t know what is.
Climate change denial makes me sad and angry (and confused, because there’s a lot of crossover between climate deniers and apocalypse believers).
I also talked to someone drinking “chlorophyl water” the other day, and found that pretty darn dubious. Chlorophyl and water are two insanely common substances, but I guess people will buy anything in a plastic bottle.
What’s your role on the podcast?
While I’m not nearly as scientifically specialised as Jack or Belinda, nor have I been involved in the skeptical community for very long, I do have more of a background in public communication. I’ve decided that I can usefully act as a sort of spokesman for the listener who has an interest in science and skepticism, but not necessarily a strong background. So I contribute a lot of the “and exactly who is James Randi again?” and “wait, but what do all these acronyms actually mean?” This means that when I struggle to follow along when we talk about bonding sites or planetary physics, that’s actually an intentional thing, and not at all because I kept falling asleep in morning lectures. I swear.
Are you available for birthday parties/weddings/funerals?
Yes, kids love my rendition of Darwin’s Origin of the Species with balloon animals. For funerals, I can do the same thing, but in a suit.
What do you bring to The Pseudoscientists, Sarah?
Aside from a great sense of humour, sarcasm and a razor-sharp wit? Not much.
In all seriousness, I’d like to think that I bring a bit of a medical perspective to the podcast. We often like to discuss medical news on the show, and hopefully an insider’s view could be useful and interesting to the listeners. I think I represent more of an accomodationist view on atheism than some of the other panellists– why people believe in the religions they do is really fascinating.
What sort of articles do you like to discuss?
Expect mostly medical stories. Although the media will probably be the source of most of my stories, I’d love to bring some interesting research articles in from BMJ and the Lancet. Psychology, palliative care, genetics and stem cell research are all cool topics that relate to skepticism and my interests! I’m also happy discussing different religions, politics, current affairs and internet memes.
What’s most exciting about The Pseudoscientists?
It’s a group of young people coming together to debate science issues of the day! If that’s not exciting, then clearly you’re not eating popcorn to the right things. Skepticism thrives on debate and reasoning, and the more discussion we can through out there, the better. It’s also great fun.
Any other talents that you’d like to share with us on the podcast?
I love to annoy Jack, our fearless leader, so the opportunity to do so on-air and on-line simultaneously is a great honour. I also like reading and literature, and having some science book reviews on the podcast (I believe) would be awesome!
Any last words?
The idea that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more accurate than the fact that a drunk man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a dangerous, shallow, and not at all necessary one. (Apologies to George Bernard Shaw!)
Alastair Tait was one of the original panellists back when The Pseudoscientists started in 2008. He was also a committee member for the Victorian Skeptics in 2008. Since then, Alastair quit his career as a video game artist to pursue a scientific career — in 2009 he started his Bachelor of Science at Monash University and has recently completed his Honours year in Geology.
Whilst at Monash, Alastair founded the Rationalist Association of Monash (RAM) to represent atheists, agnostics and secularists alike. He is currently employed by the Victorian Space Science Education Centre to teach primary and secondary students about space science. Alastair is most looking forward to starting his PhD in 2013, by looking for possible signatures of life left in Martian meteorites.
Elliot Birch is the original creator of the Young Australian Skeptics. The idea was formed in 2008 while he was studying multimedia at college. He found that many of his class mates were quick to believe things of a religious or pseudoscientific nature, and after reading Richard Dawkins’s The Ancestors Tale, he was spurred on to create a site and community that would help promote science to young people in Australia and worldwide.
Elliot was a regular panel member from Episode 1 to 48. He now makes occasional cameo appearances, and can also be found on the Young Australian Skeptics blog, where he serves as an editor, as well as Twitter — @skelliot.
After watching too many episodes of House during high school, Jacqui’s fascination with all things disease-y and disgusting lead her to a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne. For her Honours thesis she piloted a metagenomic technique to investigate the potential role of viruses in Crohn’s disease pathogenesis. Her study of pathological excrement continued with studies of faeces (for viral paediatric gastroentertitis surveillance) and sputum (for pneumonia vaccine research) at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.
She currently works at the University of Melbourne in the Centre for International Child Health and is studying for a Masters of Public Health, focussing on disease stigma and the relationship between the Internet and health.
Jason Ball is a former writer for the Young Australian Skeptics blog and one of the original panelists on The Pseudoscientists podcast. He was the President of the University of Melbourne Secular Society in 2009 where he completed his Bachelor of Arts Majoring in political science. He is also the co-founder and President of the Freethought Student Alliance.
Jason served on the Committee of the 2010 and 2012 Global Atheist Conventions, and has worked as a Spokesperson for the Atheist Foundation of Australia. He currently works full time in brand marketing and social media and serves on the board of the Rationalist Society of Australia.
Richard Hughes introduces himself to his friends as an Arts dropout, though he also has the distinction of being a Law dropout (and a Science graduate). He has previously been President and Treasurer of the University of Melbourne Secular Society, and Education Officer of the Melbourne University Mathematics and Statistics Society.
Currently, Richard is in his first year of a PhD in Mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin, having moved to Texas to escape the heat of Melbourne. His short term future plans involve devising a method of transporting the entire University of Texas to Melbourne; his long term future plans involve dealing with the ramifications of his short term future plans.
Richard was a regular panel member from Episode 15 to 55. He now makes occasional cameo appearances, and can also be found on the Young Australian Skeptics blog, where he serves as an editor, as well as Twitter — @divisible_by_pi.
After graduating from the disciplines of Business (Marketing) and Psychology, Tay has maintained a career within various marketing sectors. Tay has had experience within marketing research, slogan and logo design and freelance marketing; however current marketing focuses include web publishing/coding and event co-ordination.
Tay enjoys an active social life, regularly attending magic, circus and variety shows in Melbourne. Science (especially chemistry) remains an active hobby and she is a member of the Australian Skeptics (Victorian branch).
Ted Janet is a Melbourne-based writer specializing in screenwriting and editing. He has worked as a staff writer/researcher on Save Point (for ONE HD), and scripted the authorized adaptation of Leigh Killough’s short story A Cup of Hemlock, the resulting film featured at the Omaha Science Fiction Festival in 2012. You can find his blog at tedjanet.com.