The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe
The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is a weekly, 80-minute podcast hosted by Steven Novella, MD, and a panel of "skeptical rogues". It is the official podcast of the New England Skeptical Society. The show features discussions of recent scientific developments in layman's terms, and interviews authors, people in the area of science and other famous skeptics. The show also includes discussions of myths, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, the paranormal, and many general forms of superstition, from the point of view of scientific skepticism. Steven Novella, the host of the show, has been particularly active in debunking pseudoscience in medicine. His activities include opposing the claims of anti-vaccine activists, homeopathy practitioners and individuals denying the link between HIV and AIDS.
Dr. Steven Novella|
Cara Santa Maria
|Genre||Science and skepticism|
|Original release||May 4, 2005 – present|
- The principal host of the show. He is an American clinical neurologist and assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the president of the New England Skeptical Society (NESS), and is the author of the blog NeuroLogica. He is the executive editor for, and a regular contributor to, Science-Based Medicine, an influential and respected source of information about medical controversies and alternative medicine.
- Evan Bernstein
- Cara Santa Maria (From July 25, 2015)
- Robert "Bob" Novella
- Jay Novella
- On August 19, 2007, co-host DeAngelis died shortly before his 44th birthday after suffering from a number of chronic illnesses (most significantly scleroderma). During the two weeks before his passing, DeAngelis phoned in his contribution to the Skeptical quote segment for which he was responsible at the time from his hospital room.
- Rebecca Watson (From March 29, 2006 to December 27, 2014.)
- On December 27, 2014, co-host Watson announced that she has recorded her final show prior to leaving the organization.
The show is prerecorded via a Skype conference call. Each caller records their own audio and then the locally recorded tracks are mixed together. Steven Novella does the editing and post-production of the show himself. British comedian and skeptic Iszi Lawrence provides voice-over introductions for the show and certain segments.
- The Skeptics' Guide opens with Steven Novella introducing each panelist in attendance, typically leading to the retrospective segment "This Day in Skepticism". The panelists then discuss that week's top news stories of concern to skeptics. This is generally followed with answering of listener email.
- "What's the Word"
- Cara Santa Maria presents a technical word, discussing the history and etymology of the word and how it currently applies to various scientific disciplines.
- "Forgotten Superheroes of Science"
- Bob Novella describes a notable scientific figure from the past who is not well-known, ending with an encouragement to mention the figure to your friends when discussing their obscure area of expertise.
- "Who's That Noisy?"
- A sound clip is played for listeners to guess what, or who it is. This segment was originally hosted by Bernstein, but is currently hosted by Jay Novella.
- "A Quickie with Bob"
- Any of the rogues (apart from Bob) can ask for 'a quickie with Bob' who will then address an issue of current scientific news. Tends to happen before the interview section in around one minute, to a set length piece of background music.
- Most weeks the panel interview a guest skeptic or scientist.
- "Science or Fiction"
- Steven Novella presents the panelists with three recent stories of a scientific nature, one of which is fiction. The co-hosts then have to use their knowledge of science and skeptical senses to figure out which story is fiction. The fake story may either be a complete fabrication or based on a factual story with a critical detail changed to make it fictitious. "Science or Fiction" is occasionally themed, such that all stories discuss similar topics.
- "Skeptical Quote"
- The show closes with Jay Novella reading a quote from a famous person that is relevant to skepticism or science. Bob did the first skeptical quote although it wasn't really specific to any one of the rogues. ("Isaac Asimov. A scientist fiction writer of some note.") Jay announces the source in an exaggerated radio announcer voice. On May 10, 2008 host Steven Novella posted a survey on the SGU message board asking listeners if they preferred Jay read the source of the quote before or after the reading of the quote. The voting is open ended.
Only since 2010, has the "Who's That Noisy?" segment been before the interview; pre-2010, it was just before the "Skeptical Quote".
Most podcasts last around 80 minutes but on September 23, 2011 SGU produced a 24-hour-long podcast with contributions by skeptics from around the world. It was referred to as SGU-24.
Occasional and defunct segmentsEdit
- "Guest Rogue"
- Since the start of 2010, sometimes, instead of having an interview, the Skeptic's Guide will invite a "guest rogue" to be present throughout the show including the news and "Science or Fiction" segments, as if they were one of the cast.
- "Skeptical Puzzle"
- At the end of the show, Evan Bernstein used to present the listeners with a skeptical puzzle, usually about some person or topic within the field of pseudoscience. Occasionally the puzzle was presented in verse, and on Episode 96 it was presented as if by a fictional skeptical rapper Kom’n Cents. Listeners would answer the puzzle via email or on the message board. Recognition (albeit no actual cash prize or gift) was given the following week to the first person to correctly answer the puzzle. The Skeptical puzzle has been discontinued since episode #130 to allow Evan to concentrate on other areas including SGU 5x5, though he has since occasionally offered a logic puzzle in lieu of "Who's That Noisy?".
- This Day in History
- Until 2015, the first segment after introductions was a description of a historical event of scientific or skeptical importance whose anniversary falls on the date of recording or the date the podcast is released.
- "Randi Speaks"
- As of September 20, 2006, James Randi joined the podcast providing a pre-recorded commentary segment called "Randi Speaks". Randi, a professional magician and skeptic, expounds upon a topic on his mind for that week which may or may not have to do with skeptical matters. The segment disappeared for a period but returned for the August 8, 2007 episode with a different format. Instead of Randi delivering a prepared essay, an SGU host asks Randi a question which Randi then answers and expands upon.
- "Name That Logical Fallacy"
- Steven Novella regularly presents the panelists with a recent argument, usually of a pseudoscientific nature, that has either appeared in recent news or has been submitted by listeners for consideration. The panelists are challenged to point out the flaws in the presented argument, with specific references to any logical fallacies employed. The segment debuted during Episode 40 but it is not featured in every show. Many of the fallacies named are taken from the show's "Top 20 Logical Fallacies" list.
- "Swindlers List"
- Starting on May 21, 2011, Jay Novella talks about a particular scam he has discovered or been told about. The first scam featured in this section was Bidsell.com.
- "The Dumbest Thing I Heard All Week"
- Steve Novella occasionally recounts a subpar article he read during the past week and explains what is wrong with it.
The show's theme music is "Theorem" by the San Francisco rock band, Kineto. The theme was acquired from the Podsafe Music Network. Prior to the November 2, 2005 show, Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science" was the show's theme.
Many Skeptics' Guide episodes contain interviews. Often the interviews feature well-known scientists or skeptics, for instance Massimo Pigliucci or Joe Nickell. Rarely the guests are proponents of fringe or pseudoscientific views. Notable guests include the following:
|Regular guest||---||James Randi||A Canadian-American stage magician and scientific skeptic, founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation|
|Regular guest||---||Phil Plait||An American astronomer and skeptic, former president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, known as "The Bad Astronomer"|
|Regular guest||---||George Hrab||Musician|
|Regular guest||---||Richard Saunders||An Australian skeptic, podcaster and professional origamist|
|June 29, 2005||5||Michael Shermer||Founder of The Skeptics Society, author of Why People Believe Weird Things |
|October 6, 2005||15||Chris Mooney||Author of The Republican War on Science|
|July 5, 2006||50||Gerald Posner||Author of Case Closed |
|July 12, 2006||51||Neal Adams||A proponent of the hollow and expanding earth hypotheses |
|October 4, 2006||63||Michael Shermer||Founder of The Skeptics Society, author of Why People Believe Weird Things |
|December 13, 2006||73||B. Alan Wallace||The president and founder of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies|
|January 31, 2007||80||Teller||One-half of the illusionist team Penn and Teller |
|February 7, 2007||81||Adam Savage and Tory Belleci||From the Discovery Channel show MythBusters |
|February 15, 2007||82||Christopher Hitchens||Journalist and literary critic, author of God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything|
|February 15, 2007||82||Matt Stone||Co-creator of South Park|
|February 21, 2007||83||Julia Sweeney||Former Saturday Night Live cast member|
|July 25, 2007||105||Jimmy Carter||39th President of the United States, Nobel laureate |
|September 5, 2007||111||Bill Nye||"The Science Guy"|
|November 14, 2007||121||Paul Kurtz||Committee for Skeptical Inquiry founder and chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism|
|July 16, 2008||156||Neil deGrasse Tyson||An American astrophysicist and science communicator|
|August 26, 2008||162||Richard Saunders||An Australian skeptic, podcaster and professional origamist|
|October 8, 2008||168||PZ Myers||An American biology professor at the University of Minnesota Morris (UMM) and the author of the Pharyngula science blog|
|January 15, 2009||182||Michio Kaku||Theoretical physicist|
|April 22, 2009||196||Seth Shostak||An American astronomer and senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute|
|May 13, 2009||199||Rusty Schweickart||An American Apollo astronaut|
|October 28, 2009||219||Mark Edward||Mentalist|
|March 25, 2010||245||George Hrab||Musician|
|August 11, 2010||265||Rhys Morgan||Teenage consumer advocate|
|May 9, 2011||304||Jon Ronson||Author of The Psychopath Test|
|November 19, 2011||331||Neil deGrasse Tyson||An American astrophysicist and science communicator|
|December 3, 2011||333||Rhys Morgan||Teenage consumer advocate|
|September 8, 2012||373||Billy West||Voice actor on Futurama and other shows|
|September 29, 2012||376||Pamela Gay||Astronomer and podcaster|
|October 20, 2012||379||Jamy Ian Swiss||Close-up magician|
|November 17, 2012||383||Bruce Hood||Psychologist and author|
|December 1, 2012||385||Banachek||Mentalist and director of the JREF Million Dollar Challenge|
|January 5, 2013||390||Massimo Pigliucci||Philosopher and author|
|January 26, 2013||393||Zack Kopplin||Educational activist|
|March 2, 2013||398||Jon Ronson||Journalist and documentary film maker|
|May 11, 2013||408||Don McLeroy||Creationist and former member of the TExas State Board of Education|
|June 22, 2013||414||Daniel Loxton||Illustrator and editor of Junior Skeptic magazine|
|June 13, 2013||417||Paul Offit||Pediatrician and vaccine advocate|
|August 10, 2013||421||Michael E. Mann||Climatologist|
|August 24, 2013||423||Sanal Edamaruku||Author and founding president of Rationalist International|
|August 31, 2013||424||Cara Santa Maria||Science communicator|
|October 12, 2013||430||Marty Klein||Sex therapist and author|
|November 9, 2013||434||Chris Mooney and Indre Viskontas||Science writers and Podcasters|
|January 16, 2013||435||Gerald Posner||Journalist and author|
|January 11, 2014||443||Mark Crislip||Medical doctor and podcaster|
|January 25, 2014||445||Karen Stollznow||Linguist and podcaster|
|March 1, 2014||451||Michio Kaku||Physicist and science communicator|
|March 15, 2014||453||Jennifer Ouellette||Science writer|
|April 5, 2014||456||James Marsters||Actor and musician|
|May 3, 2014||460||Elise Andrew||Founder and maintainer of the "I Fucking Love Science" Facebook page|
|September 27, 2014||481||Daniel Dennett||Philosopher and cognitive scientist|
Sponsors and membershipEdit
On July 30, 2013, Dr. Steven Novella announced that the SGU would begin offering membership and airing sponsors. Dr. Novella went on to say that the money raised would go into funding skeptical activities, including but not limited to, development of skeptical educational content and web-series such as "Occ The Skeptical Caveman." The addition of sponsors is not permanent, according to Dr. Novella, they shall be removed "if 4% of listeners support the SGU through membership at an average of the $8 per month level." Though membership has begun, the SGU continues to publish a free weekly sponsored podcast. Membership entitles one to an ad-free version of The SGU, extra content, and discounts to NECSS (The Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism). Membership range from $4/month to $200/month.
A companion podcast, The Skeptics' Guide 5x5 (SGU 5x5 for short), described as "five minutes with five skeptics," consist of single-topic episodes which often delve into specific types of logical fallacy. SGU 5x5 did not appear regularly and there were no episodes between January 26, 2011 and February 8, 2012. There have been no episodes released since May 9, 2012.
The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe bookEdit
In a 2017 interview, SGU team member Evan Bernstein announced in an interview for Skeptical Inquirer with Susan Gerbic that the team had collaborated on a book, and it was expected to be available in the fall of 2018. The book, titled The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe: How to Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake, became available for pre-order in early 2018, and is due to be released by Grand Central Publishing on October 2. The Amazon.com pre-order advertisement included the following information:
In this tie-in to their incredibly popular "The Skeptics Guide to the Universe" podcast, Steven Novella, MD, along with "Skeptical Rogues" Bob Novella, Cara Santa Maria, Jay Novella, and Evan Bernstein will explain the tenets of skeptical thinking and debunk some of the biggest scientific myths, fallacies and conspiracy theories (Anti-vaccines, homeopathy, UFO sightings, etc.) [...] It covers essential critical thinking skills, as well as giving insight into how your brain works and how to avoid common pitfalls in thinking...
The book was released in October, 2018. Publishers Weekly reviewed the book, stating: "In plain English and cogent prose, Novella makes skepticism seem mighty, necessary, and accessible all at once... Empowering and illuminating, this thinker’s paradise is an antidote to spreading anti-scientific sentiments. Readers will return to its ideas again and again." Neil deGrasse Tyson's review says: "Thorough, informative, and enlightening, The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe inoculates you against the frailties and shortcomings of human cognition. If this book does not become required reading for us all, we may well see modern civilization unravel before our eyes."
- Novella S, Roy R, Marcus D, Bell IR, Davidovitch N, Saine A (2008). "A debate: homeopathy—quackery or a key to the future of medicine?". J Altern Complement Med. 14 (1): 9–15. doi:10.1089/acm.2007.0770. PMID 18199017.
- Gold PW, Novella S, Roy R, Marcus D, Bell I, Davidovitch N, Saine A (2008). "Homeopathy—quackery or a key to the future of medicine?". Homeopathy. 97 (1): 28–33. doi:10.1016/j.homp.2007.12.002. PMID 18194763.
- Smith TC, Novella SP (2007). "HIV Denial in the Internet Era". PLoS Med. 4 (8): e256. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040256. PMC 1949841. PMID 17713982.
- "Yale Medical Group". Yale School of Medicine. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
- "The Ness About Us". The New England Skeptical Society. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
- Freedman, David H. (July–August 2011). "The Triumph of New-Age Medicine". The Atlantic. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
- Senapathy, Kavin (31 May 2016). "Why Is Big Naturopathy Afraid Of This Lone Whistleblower?". Forbes. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
- Joe, Schwarcz (17 July 2015). "The Right Chemistry: 'Is it safe to kiss your golf balls?'". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
- Gifford, Bill (13 November 2013). "This is What You Get When You Look to TV Stars for Health Advice: Suzanne Somers, Dangerous Medical Hack". The New Republic. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
- Moyer, Melinda Wenner (11 February 2013). "Does Fluoride Make Your Kids Dumb?". Slate. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
- Novella, Steven (20 August 2007). "Perry DeAngelis: 8/22/1963 8/19/2007". NeuroLogica Blog. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
- Watson, Rebecca (27 December 2014). "Why I've Left SGU". Skepchick.org. Skepchick. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
- Novella, Steven (May 10, 2008). "Topic: Skeptical Quote Survey". The Skeptics Guide to the Universe Forum. Retrieved April 5, 2016.
- "Episode 96". Official Skeptics' Guide Site. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.
- "Episode 40". Official Skeptics' Guide web site].
- Novella, Steven. "Top 20 Logical Fallacies". Official Skeptics' Guide web site].
- The Skeptics' Guide To The Universe - Podcast 305 - 5/18/2011 Episode Show Notes
- Kineto's Myspace page
- "Episode list". theskepticsguide.org.
- The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast archive, http://www.theskepticsguide.org/archive/podcast.aspx?mid=1, retrieved 10/04/2012
- Gerbic, Susan. "An Interview with CSICon Speaker Bob Novella". Skeptical Inquirer. CSI. Retrieved 13 January 2018.
- "Jimmy Carter: No Truth to UFO Rumors". Marketwire] (Press release). November 5, 2007. Retrieved November 17, 2007.
- "Larry King needs a new format". The Herald Tribune. January 21, 2008. Retrieved November 15, 2008.
- "Podcast Award Winners 2005-2014". The People's Choice Podcast Awards. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
- Sacerich, Robert (July 9, 2014). "The 2014 "Dose of Rationality" Top 10 Podcasts!". Rationality Unleashed. Archived from the original on November 20, 2015. Retrieved April 5, 2016.
- "The physics.org web awards 2010". Institute of Physics. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
- "The SGU and Skeptical Activism". Neurologica Blog. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
- "Member Subscription". The Skeptics Guide To The Universe. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
- "The NESS". The New England Skeptical Society. Retrieved January 8, 2010.
- Strohmeyer, Robert (December 15, 2009). "The Web's Most Illogical Arguments". Computerworld. IDG News Service. Retrieved January 8, 2010.
- "List of SGU 5x5 podcast episodes".
- Gerbic, Susan. "An Interview with CSICon Speaker Evan Bernstein". Skeptical Inquirer. CSI. Retrieved 13 January 2018.
- "The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe: How to Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake". Amazon.com. Amazon.com. Archived from the original on 30 April 2018. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
- "Review: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe: How to Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake". Publishersweekly.com. Publishers Weekly. 10 September 2018. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
- "The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe: How To Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake". Hachette.com.au. Hachette. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
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