Skeptics with a K: Episode #121

Psychics, Kenyan fisherman, gynosomes and nutritious seminal fluid.  Plus, a lot of talk about penises. Really, an awful lot. At least half of the show.

Playing it with a straight bat, it’s Skeptics with a K.

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Update: An extended excerpt from Marsh’s piece can now be found on the Guardian website.

  1. #1 by Rich on May 8, 2014 - 16:03

    Really appreciate what Marsh said in the latest show. That crystallises a lot of the points that I have struggled to make to friends and acquaintances. Quite brilliant summary of the skeptical position- thank you.

  2. #2 by mike on May 9, 2014 - 00:52

    I want to echo what Rich said.
    Has it been types up somewhere? I’d love to share it about my circle.

  3. #3 by Marsh on May 9, 2014 - 10:45

    Thanks! I’ll get it put up somewhere soon, either here or somewhere else and link it.

  4. #4 by Disagreeable Me on May 9, 2014 - 11:54

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that the term ‘penis’ is simply inappropriate for a gynosome. As Ed Yong points out in his article on the subject (, the terms we use for biological structures relate to functions as we perceive them and don’t necessarily have any actual relationship to each other. The wing of a moth has next to nothing in common, developmentally or structurally, with the wing of a bird. Absent a consensus, there is no fact of the matter on whether it is correct to use the same terms for such different structures. All that matters is what usage we find most intuitive.

    It’s not surprising that a dictionary definition of ‘penis’ says it is a male organ, seeing as all penetrating organs used in copulation found heretofore have been attached to males. But to stick to the dictionary definition in the light of new discoveries is silly.

    That said, of course there is a case to be made for reserving the word ‘penis’ for male organs. But there is also a case for the reverse, so I don’t think there is much call to be insisting that anybody is using the term incorrectly. The definitions of words are fluid and often there is no way of settling these debates until a consensus emerges over time.

    It is increasingly widely accepted that it is possible that a woman with a female gender identity can be born with a penis. Sometimes it is best to broaden categories in light of new understanding.

  5. #5 by Tom Williamson on May 9, 2014 - 22:17

    This clip perfectly sums up this episode:

  6. #6 by Andy Flintoff on May 15, 2014 - 16:58

    Why do you always consider PubMed the ultimate arbiter of good science? It doesn’t index many physical science journals, most of which are considered good in their relevant fields (mathematics, engineering, physics)

  7. #7 by Erique on May 28, 2014 - 22:40

    To many believers skeptics are seen as interfering know-it-alls, and, however good the intent, pushing their skeptical view of the world on them will only force them more to the ‘woo’.

    Listening to this podcast it is clear that Marsh has a very small mind, not understanding the thinking of others, just because he would want to prove any personal psychic ability, does not mean that anyone else would want to, it seems a pretty ignorant thing to say, TBH, and I can’t see that point as being any justification for saying psychic powers are not real, it is a logical fallacy, isn’t it? It has no bearing on the existence of psychic powers -whether or not they exist, it is great that Marsh lives in a black and white world where existence of an entity is purely based on historic precedent that it has been proven to exist…this is something that holds back science…science that is led by only that which has been and known and not of the unknown.

    As for people being there when you need them, I’ve had a few bereavements in my life which got me on a ‘spiritual path’, I questioned many many religious types, and found some solace in how they coped and believed, which was kind of comforting for this non-believing person. I’d say amongst the most difficult happenings at the time was the intervention – I am sure well-meaning – of people telling me that it was all bullshit and that the dead are just that…at the time that hurt far more than any beliefs I held at the time…the cynics who tried to convert me then just caused me more pain…

    Eventually I got through the bad times and this led me to be more spiritual and then to question that spirituality…I got there by my own doing, and could have got there quicker, perhaps, had some know-all cynics not pushed me even more into the ‘woo’…

    Many followers of woo are not dumb, most are not mentally ill, they can all vote, wipe their own asses and perform jury service, why the heck do so-called skeptics think these people need to be converted to the cynical view of the world?

    Do any skeptics ever consider that these people could be creating this mental trait to fill a need in their lives? That they just can’t live with the emptiness that this is all there is? What crutch can skepticism possibly put in place of the support of a belief in an eternal soul? “You have no soul, you die and get eaten by worms”…it is the truth {probably lol}…BUT, can people handle the truth?

    I think that this ‘mechanism’ is the result of humanity being able to externalise and create abstractions, it is evidence of our imagination, creativity and who we are, if we snuff out all of the ‘mystique’ that is life, what place is there for art and creativity? I see belief as a kind of contraindication of existence to what it means to be human.

    What is really troubling, to me, is that skepticism should be the bastion of free-thinking and liberalism, yet today it seems to be a ‘movement’ almost totalitarian in its want to ‘convert’ people with a different way of living and thinking about life…one of the most wonderful things about humans is our individuality, I’d rather live in a world with folks with different ways of thinking, than some kind of Orwellian ideal where individualism is limited to what everyone else tells you what it is…

(will not be published)