The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe
The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe (SGU) is a weekly podcast hosted by Steven Novella, MD, along with a panel of "skeptical rogues." It is named to evoke The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and 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 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.
|The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe|
|Hosted by||Dr. Steven Novella|
Cara Santa Maria
|Genre||Science and skepticism|
|Original release||May 4, 2005 – present|
All of the SGU hosts, with the exception of Jay Novella beginning in 2018, maintain careers separate from the podcast. The SGU contemplated hiring a full-time employee to meet the demands of a growing audience but was hindered due to a defamation lawsuit filed by Edward Tobinick that consumed financial resources that would have otherwise been available.
- 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 Jay Novella began as a software engineer, which led to a career building layer functionality behind websites and eventually into e-commerce. He created and maintains the SGU website. After 13 years with the SGU, he became their first full-time employee in 2018, resulting from reaching a Patreon target of 3,000 donors.
- 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 individually recorded tracks are mixed together when Steven Novella edits the show in post-production. British comedian and skeptic Iszi Lawrence provides voice-over introductions for the show and certain segments. With Jay Novella becoming the first full-time employee with the SGU, his contribution to recording and production will increase, as will his responsibilities to growing the audience of the SGU through marketing, social media, and a newsletter. Larger projects will be coordinated through him that will provide a more professional appearance in a timely manner that a larger audience demands.
- 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. The first episode it appeared in was #181. The name comes from Steven's daughter who, when she was 2 years old, would say "who's that noisy" instead of "what's that noise?"
- "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. Some episodes have guest rogues, such as Bill Nye, participating in the entire podcast. Notable guests include the following:
|Frequent guest||---||James Randi||A Canadian-American stage magician and scientific skeptic, founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation|
|Frequent guest||---||Phil Plait||An American astronomer and skeptic, former president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, known as "The Bad Astronomer"|
|Frequent guest||---||George Hrab||Musician, skeptic podcaster|
|Frequent 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|
|September 7, 2005||12||Steve Milloy||Founder of junkscience.com|
|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|
|April 18, 2007||91||Susan Blackmore||PhD in parapsychology, skeptic, and author|
|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, skeptic podcaster|
|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|
|November 16, 2013||435||Gerald Posner||Journalist and author|
|December 7, 2013||438||Susan Gerbic & Tim Farley||Founder of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia & The creator of WhatsTheHarm.net|
|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|
|July 21, 2018||680||Bill Nye||"The Science Guy"|
|December 15, 2018||701||Susan Gerbic||Founder of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia discussing that project|
|March 9, 2019||713||Susan Gerbic||Founder of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia discussing New York Times coverage of psychic sting operation on Thomas John|
Sponsors and membershipEdit
On July 30, 2013, Dr. Steven Novella announced that the SGU would begin offering membership and airing sponsors. 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 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.
Additional financial support from listeners is provided through Patreon. The SGU has established several goals after achieving a certain number of financial supporters. A major benchmark was reached in 2018 with 3,000 Patreon supporters that sustained enough predictable income for a full-time employee. Other benchmarks include a 12-hour and 24-hour live show after reaching 4,000 and 5,500 supporters, respectively. These live shows may be located on the most complete and accurate reproduction of the Starship Enterprise Star Trek: The Original Series set, which was built by James Cawley and can be seen on the SGU Patreon page introduction video.
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
The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe: How to Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake is a 2018 book written by Steven Novella and co-authored by the other current co-hosts of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast—Bob Novella, Cara Santa Maria, Jay Novella, and Evan Bernstein. It also contains posthumous material from former co-host Perry DeAngelis. The book is meant to be an all-encompassing guide to skeptical thinking. In an interview with The European Skeptics Podcast, Jay Novella describes their approach to writing the book from the "point of view of an alien species observing the earth from a skeptical perspective using critical thinking," reminiscent of the podcast's namesake The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
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- 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.
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