Skeptics with a K: Episode #180

In this very unusual episode of Skeptics with a K, Mike, Marsh, and Alice talk about the Edinburgh Festival, cell signalling pathways, acupuncture, The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, Doctor Who, and the latest from QED.

It’s a golden bat hitting a golden ball out of the park, from Skeptics with a K.

  1. #1 by Tom Williamson on August 25, 2016 - 14:34

    This was a really, really weird episode to listen to. This was like that bit in Star Fox/Wing where you’re in an asteroid belt, you shoot a big asteroid lots of times, an egg comes out, you shoot the egg, a bird comes out of the egg, you fly into the bird and you end up in a parallel dimension with a big slot machine.

  2. #2 by astrotimer on August 25, 2016 - 14:51

    take a drink
    every time qed
    when someone says marsh
    homeopathy is mentioned
    if Alice did see something because of Warren

  3. #3 by Price on August 25, 2016 - 17:59

    My husband listens to your podcast and enjoys it. I, on the other hand, get really irritated by Alice banging on about her blooming Thesis.
    I have decided to start at the beginning of all the podcasts and make a drinking game, whereby I drink a shot of vodka every time she mentions her Thesis. I fear for my liver.
    I may also start a gambling game where we bet how many minutes into the show we can go before the “thesis” is mentioned.
    P.S Alice-good luck with completing the thesis.

  4. #4 by Trebor on August 26, 2016 - 10:47

    Great Episode, definitely the best one yet!
    Keep up the good work.

  5. #5 by NickT on August 26, 2016 - 11:48

    I enjoyed your Q & A episode. I did twitch ever so slightly when Marsh stated that 1 was a prime.

    I apologise for my pedantry, but there’s a good explanation as to why 1 is not considered a prime here:

    Thanks for the show folks 🙂

  6. #6 by Karl on August 28, 2016 - 05:57

    I used to be a fan of the podcast but I don’t think I can listen any more. It’s just not the same since I found out there is a Derby County supporter on the show.

  7. #7 by astrotimer on August 29, 2016 - 06:32

    Sorry was suppose to be did not see anything because of Warren

  8. #8 by Dorothy Mantooth on August 30, 2016 - 15:28

    “It’s misogynist, because it’s American.”

    …and that’s where I stop listening and subscribing. As if the UK isn’t misogynistic and sexist. As if the US is somehow more misogynistic and sexist. I’ve lived in both places and I can promise you that is not the case. I’ve seen sexism in a UK workplace that would get people fired in the US, but goes completely unremarked in the UK. My daughters hear offensive sexist “jokes” and have experienced sexual harassment, groping, and rape threats that we’ve been asked to ignore by administrators and told are “just jokes,” “just curiosity,” and “just a boy trying to tell a girl he likes her(!)” here in UK schools. All you have to do is read a UK “lad mag,” to see the rampant, disgusting sexism in the UK (for bonus points, read the US edition of the same magazine, and you tell me which is more sexist. Bet it won’t be the US edition). Given the anger with which you responded to a listener who noticed your own sexism a while back, your desperate rush to “justify” it, and your denial of the way it appeared to listeners in general, I’d say perhaps you ought to examine your own attitudes before casting aspersions on those of another country in which you have never to my knowledge lived.

    (The US never featured naked female pin-ups in our newspapers, either, but of course, the US is sexist and the UK isn’t, because we don’t care what the facts are, we just listen to media propaganda.)

    Quit pretending to be focused on facts and skepticism when you happily spread canards like the above.

    I’m truly offended by your unfunny “joke.” It was rude, unnecessary, and untrue. (I’m sure you loved how superior you felt while making it, of course, but it’s not my job to applaud you for being offensive just because it makes you feel good about yourself any more than it would be my job to applaud if you’d made the same comment about a race of people instead of a nation.)

    I’m also extremely disappointed. I thought skepticism was open to people of all viewpoints and walks of life, as long as they had an interest in truth over lies, evidence over myths, and a belief in science and the scientific method. Apparently that is not the case. As an American in the UK I am constantly bombarded with “funny jokes” about the inferiority of Americans compared to Brits, and I am required to smile and pretend to laugh no matter how rude, hurtful, offensive, and incorrect those comments are (because heaven forbid I show I “can’t take a joke,” despite the way none of those “jokers” can take it in reverse). I should not and am not required to pretend it’s funny and/or not hurtful and rude when it comes from something I listen to for entertainment and education, and regard as an escape from the ridiculousness of the media and popular culture.

    I’m sure you’ll ignore this, or perhaps you’ll mention it on your show and get together to dismiss me and discuss how wrong I am. That doesn’t change the fact that I am personally hurt by your “joke,” that I and my family get enough grief on a daily basis from people who think such “jokes” are the height of hilarity, and that I shouldn’t have to hear it on a show that pretends to be about reality, and claims to want listeners.

    Very sad. I loved listening to you. I loved supporting you. I happily filled out surveys for the Liverpool NHS and sent emails to my MPs. But apparently you don’t care about making me feel welcome as a listener.

  9. #9 by Jason Jones on August 30, 2016 - 15:48

    They put nude pictures of Women in papers in Australia, I’m Australian, so does that mean I’m misogynist?

    Dorothy Mantooth :

    …All you have to do is read a UK “lad mag,” to see the rampant, disgusting sexism in the UK (

  10. #10 by Mike Hall on August 30, 2016 - 17:52

    Hey Dorothy,

    Thanks for taking the time to write in, though I fear you’ve the wrong end of the stick.

    At no point did we say, or have we ever said, that sexism doesn’t exist in the UK. Of course it does, and in spades. The examples you cite are a clear demonstration of that, and are only the tip of an extremely deep iceberg, representing a toxic anti-woman culture which is endemic across Britain, America, and beyond.

    The joke where we said that our recording equipment being American meant that it was misogynist by default was an oblique reference the on-going problems skeptical communities face with anti-feminist attitudes, and to parody the same self-aggrandising pomp you’re accusing us of.

    It is an unfortunate truth that many Brits suffer from almost a “lost empire syndrome”, where we feel a sense of smug superiority and entitlement over the world we used to run. These attitudes writ large formed a not-insubstantial chunk of pro-Brexit propaganda, which insisted that the rest of the world would come flocking to us broker favourable trade deals after we depart the EU. Writ small, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been with someone—usually a family member—who goes on an anti-American rant, having forgotten that my wife is sitting right there. And when they realise, they smile and say “oh, but I don’t mean you.” I wish I could say they were embarrassed, but often they’re not.

    It’s not uncommon on the show for us to tout a position we don’t hold, either for comic effect, or to hold that position up to ridicule. For example, in episode #179 I repeatedly told Alice “breast is best, that’s all you need to know” during her piece on breast feeding. I don’t actually believe that, and I hope it was clear within the context of the remainder of the segment that was not a position any of us were advocating.

    It’s also very easy for us to forget, given that from our perspective the show is just a conversation between three good friends, that listeners don’t always have access to the wider context of our lives and the conversations we have between ourselves and with others off-air.

    I’m sorry for offending you, and I’m sorry we failed to adequately convey the context of what we were saying. Though I haven’t discussed this in-depth with Alice and Marsh, I’m confident in saying all three of us would agree with your comments about endemic sexism in the UK, and about Britain’s unabashed anti-Americanism.

  11. #11 by John Pryer on August 31, 2016 - 01:00

    Hi Guys
    Greetings from Australia
    You asked for listeners’ Q’s.
    Re: Climate Change
    On the same recent ABC TV Q&A program on which Brian Cox appeared, an audience member effectively asked “Well, just WHO do we (the public) believe on the web, who can we trust (with our lives)?”
    Many of us are now encountering that frustrating stage of ‘Stats denial’ in what should be productive conversations/debates.
    Please chew this over
    Cheers guys


  12. #12 by Black Knight No. 3 on September 8, 2016 - 14:40

    Mike Hall :
    At no point did we say, or have we ever said, that sexism doesn’t exist in the UK. Of course it does, and in spades.

    Really? I’d love to know how you come to that conclusion. Which laws in particular did you have in mind? (Yes, I know you weren’t thinking about laws but laws are how a society codifies its values)

    Mike Hall :The joke where we said that our recording equipment being American meant that it was misogynist by default was an oblique reference the on-going problems skeptical communities face with anti-feminist attitudes, and to parody the same self-aggrandising pomp you’re accusing us of.

    Much of the witty banter of the show revolves around this sort of thing, i.e. irony as you mention later in your reply, most people get it (I think) but some don’t. In a way I’m surprised you don’t see more hate on these pages.

    Mike Hall :I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been with someone—usually a family member—who goes on an anti-American rant, having forgotten that my wife is sitting right there.

    I think people often get annoyed at American foreign policy not at Americans themselves. I travel to America myself on business and am always happy to be there, generally people are great but that doesn’t stop me complaining about things like “extraordinary rendition” and the like.

    Mike Hall :I’m sorry for offending you

    Never EVER apologise to these people, they will see it as a weakness and use it against you. You did not give offence, she (he?) took offence. It will happen again, don’t worry about it, no-one has the right not to be offended.

  13. #13 by Dorothy Mantooth on September 9, 2016 - 14:01

    Hi Mike,

    Thank you very much for the reply. I genuinely appreciate it.

    Thank you, too, for explaining the context of the “joke,” as I am/was completely unaware of any anti-feminist attitudes in the skeptical community–perhaps because I tend to stick to only a few skeptic sites/communities, a couple of which are focused specifically on women or “women’s issues” (which means I definitely got the “breast is best” joke and found it very funny, as well as appreciating the discussion in general. I imagine you’ve heard of or visited Dr. Amy Teuter’s “Skeptical OB” site, but if you haven’t, you should). So I’ve always seen the skeptical community as being pretty pro-woman; I’m a little surprised to hear that isn’t always the case, but then, one of the things I like about the community in general is the wide variety of viewpoints, or rather, the willingness to at least allow other views to be heard, even if they are disagreed with or proven wrong.

    I did try at first to interpret the “joke” in a different context, as sarcasm or irony about anti-American views, but to be perfectly frank, the fact that it’s not the first time an anti-American comment or “joke” has been made on the show meant I just couldn’t convince myself that such was the case. I tried to let it go, as well, on the grounds that I was perhaps being a touch oversensitive given that it had been a difficult few weeks here at the Mantooth house (thanks to my husband coming home from work upset and angry from a particularly harsh rash of those same types of “jokes” at his workplace, and a reminder that one of my youngest daughter’s school friends is not allowed to play with her after school/during the summer holiday because of her mother’s dislike of Americans. It’s rough to try to comfort a crying child over such a thing). I admit that colored the tone of my reply, and I apologize for that, but again, I just couldn’t seem to get past it, or get it out of my head, even after almost a week.

    Believe it or not, I’m not normally someone who can’t let things go and don’t actually take offense easily–I’ll disagree, and say so, but I’m rarely personally *offended*–and I started thinking that if it still bothered me that much then not only were there possibly others who were also bothered by it, but I ought to say something simply so I could stop feeling like I’d tacitly agreed with it by not speaking up.

    And I do generally feel that if I’m going to stop listening to a podcast (or patronizing a certain business, buying a particular brand of product, etc.) for a specific reason like that, then the hosts/managers/manufacturers might want to know why, and to have a chance to respond. I’m a professional writer, and I certainly want to know if a reader plans to stop buying my books because something I wrote offended them personally in that sort of way; I stand by what I’ve written, but I always appreciate at least having the chance to respond. For those reasons, I decided to comment.

    I don’t feel that the “joke”‘s relation to anti-woman sentiment in the skeptic community was at all clear. And while you (or Marsh, who, if memory serves, made the joke) didn’t intend it to sound like “America has this problem but we don’t,” and may not feel that way, that is–as I am sure you and your wife know–a not-uncommon sentiment to encounter.

    That being said, though, I am perfectly happy to accept your explanation and apology, with thanks again. I completely understand the “we forget it’s not just a conversation between friends who understand the context,” thing, having fallen into such situations myself in the past–and I don’t think you necessarily should be more aware of that, because that’s part of the fun of the show and one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed listening to it. It’s not even that I want any of you to stop making jokes or comments unless you’ve first considered whether it might possibly offend someone, anyone, anywhere, for any reason. That way leads to fear of speaking altogether; to dull, dry shows that might as well be computer text-to-speech recitals of scientific papers (although I’d probably listen to such a thing, heh); or, ultimately, to the fascistic silencing of any dissenting voices on any subject, especially now that “you disagreed with me” and “you offended me” seem to more and more be seen as synonymous. I don’t want anyone to censor themselves or be extra-sensitive to my (or anyone else’s) personal situations. I do, however, think it might be nice if, even once in a while, an acknowledgment was made that the US is actually a pretty awesome place despite the faults it shares with the rest of the Western world; or that Americans are not all stupid, racist, sexist, and fat (and not in a way that expresses surprise at that fact–you said some nice things after your trip out there, but it seemed [even if you didn’t intend it to] all to be in the context of being slightly shocked, or lucky to have found the lone enclave of decent people); or that scientific studies about almonds are not the only things that the media likes to turn into clickbait headlines designed to make a problem or solution seem bigger than it is, or to capitalize on a situation or sentiment whether it’s accurate or not, in order to generate more website hits and thus more money; or that some problems are just problems to be solved rather than indictments of an entire system.

    Again, I’m not at all trying to censor you or suggest that you must be extra-sensitive to my personal feelings, but to be honest, the above are all things that you guys have done when discussing other countries. Would it kill you to say something nice about the US once in a while? 🙂

    Anyway. This is now very long. I apologize for my overly-upset tone in my original comment, and I really do appreciate your reply, your apology, and the chance to discuss this with you further. I hope you have a great day, and I’m looking forward to the next podcast (which I guess would be yesterday’s, for me).

  14. #14 by Dorothy Mantooth on September 9, 2016 - 14:10

    Correction: “my overly-upset tone” above should read “my overly-harsh tone.”

    Because it was.

    Thank you.

(will not be published)