Bullshit artist on Bullshit

On his blog, Lott writes:

Penn & Teller will be airing a show on their television series name “Bullshit” that examines gun control and apparently focuses on my research. The show will first air on June 27th. The show airs at 10 PM and is replayed at 11 PM. I have been told that the show comes across very well.

In other words, Penn and Teller will uncritically swallow everything Lott says and savagely mock anyone on the other side of the question. Steve Milloy on second hand smoke, Lott on guns — they sure can pick their experts, can’t they?


  1. #1 Amanda
    June 27, 2005

    As I’ve said before here, they are great at debunking the paranormal/pseudoscience and extremely disappointing of social issues. Extremely disappoiting because I’m a big fan otherwise. It’s a mindset where if something can be tagged “PC” it’s automatically assumed to be completely wrong and the opposite position is therefore correct. Of course they’re polemicists and they’re whole MO is taking an extreme position and cranking up the rhetoric but still it would nice to see some nuance.

    I read …somewhere… Teller at least had backtracked on previous dismissal of Global Warming but I might be hallucinating that.

  2. #2 flute
    June 28, 2005

    Comedians backing research, we live in farcical times.

    Hang up your keyboard Tim.

    When Costello claims economic backing from “the short black child like adult thing” Gary Coleman from Diff’rent Strokes, I’ll hang up mine.

  3. #3 Alastair
    June 28, 2005

    Agree with Amanda, they are great at exposing paranormal, pseudoscience and new age nonsense, in a very amusing style. However some of this is fairly low-hanging fruit so it’s a pity they don’t turn their attention to some more of the real bullshit in the world, such as that expertly exposed by Deltoid and others.

    I tried my hand at examining their claims on the Recycling episode, which were, predictably, from a handful of rather dubious sources. Not obviously bullshit, but not obviously right either. It’s a complicated topic and doesn’t really deserve the trivialization they gave it.

  4. #4 simonjm
    June 28, 2005

    Haven’t they also had a go at second hand smoking as well?

  5. #5 simonjm
    June 28, 2005

    Sorry only scanned the above doing that alot lately 🙁

  6. #6 Aaron Swartz
    June 28, 2005

    I wonder who they’ll get to play the “dumb liberal” this time.

  7. #7 saddam as mother teresa
    June 28, 2005
  8. #8 Nigel Pond
    June 28, 2005

    I was a fan of their show until the second hand smoke episode — full of pseudo- and junk science. Any Brits reading this remember Roy Castle? — a well known British entertainer and life-long non-smoker who spent many of his early years playing trumpet in smoke filled jazz clubs. He died of lung cancer almost certainly caused by smoke inhalation…

  9. #9 z of the iantysonites
    June 28, 2005

    Saw the episode. (Don’t know if aired in Australia yet). Just one short sound byte of Lott pushing his More Guns Less Crime thesis. Lots of other folks with the Pro-gun viewpoint, however. Some mockery of the gun-not-likers. Gillette mentions a couple of times, and closes with, the Bigger Picture, however; that the US Second Amendment is not there because concealed carry makes you safer from robbery or because concealed carry does not lead to bloodbaths, but because having just done away with the government by a popular uprising, the fledgling US wanted to keep that avenue open in perpetuity. Definitely a bigger issue to discuss, but then the rest of the program is irrelevant.

    That started me thinking as usual how ironic it was that the Second Amendment proponents are the ones most likely to support a government which does the most to infringe on their freedoms; but that’s not just current affairs, but also old stuff. As I’m fond of saying, where were the armed freedom defenders when they rounded up the Japanese into internment camps, when they were lynching blacks in the South, when they were massacring striking miners’ families, when they were barring black students from schoolhouse doors; answer: if they were to be found at all, they were to be found supporting the loss of freedom. Some things never change. But anyway, that did not get brought up, obviously.

    Nobody, pro or con, brought up the effect of firearms in enhancing the deadliness of domestic violence; a singularly biased thing to leave out, since it’s the best-established link. One anti-gun fellow did mention something about it being criminal to leave a loaded unlocked gun lying around, that seemed to just slip by without notice.

    The show was immediately followed by a rerun of their show making fun of intelligent design types; I suppose that’s supposed to be “balance”.

  10. #10 z of the iantysonites
    June 28, 2005

    I don’t remember the details of their second hand smoke episode. The subject still has a glaring hole, however, in the lack of any reasonable dose-response curve. AFAIK, the measurable smoke components in the bodies of second hand smokers are orders of magnitude too low to support the morbidity and mortality rates seen epidemiologically; if anybody has data that fits better, I’d sure like a reference.

  11. #11 coop
    June 30, 2005

    The “Environmental Hysteria” episode was atrocious. They did not interview a single, solitary climate scientist.

    The did, however, interview a Cato wonk whilst neglecting to mention they are largely funded by the petroleum industry. Or that P&T themselves are on Cato’s payroll.

  12. #12 Glen Raphael
    June 30, 2005

    You can see a partial list of experts and a short video preview of the episode here.

  13. #13 Classic Liberal
    July 3, 2005


    so how much of Cato’s funding “largely” comes from the petroleum industry? 1%, 10%, 90%? And how much do P & T get for being Mencken Fellows at the Cato Institute? I’m pretty sure they don’t get paid at all by Cato, except on a per work basis (Gillete writes a column for one of their monthly mags, I think).

    I guess when P & T debunk the bible, they are heroes, but if they don’t tow the line on guns they are pawns of the necromerchants?

  14. #14 Ian Gould
    July 3, 2005

    From Wikipedia:

    The Cato Institute has a budget of about $14 million a year, derived from 15,000 contributors. More than 70 percent of its funding comes from individuals, with about 10 percent each from corporations and foundations. According to one critical source, in the 17 years spanning 1985 to 2001, the Institute received $15,633,540 in 108 separate grants from eight different foundations


  15. #15 Classic Liberal
    July 3, 2005

    So the answer is less than 10%? I guess that’s a new definition of “largely” that I was previously unfamiliar with.

  16. #16 Eli Rabett
    July 3, 2005

    Classic, you don’t know how many of the folk who gave “individual” gifts are oil industry types. Best you can say is not proven until Cato releases its list of contributors with amounts. FWIW Exxon appears to give $20K/year directly.

  17. #17 Classic Liberal
    July 3, 2005


    I agree, but I’m not the one who made the argument that Cato is “largely” funded by the petroleum industry.

    BTW, the Cato Institute is against the war on Iraq. Is that a petroleum industry supported position?

  18. #18 coop
    July 3, 2005

    Origins of the Cato institute:

    The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington DC, was founded in 1977 by Edward Crane and Charles Koch, the billionaire co-owner of Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the U.S.

    Detailed description of its funding model from:


    80% of Cato’s income comes from individual donations and subscriptions. 8% comes from corporations, 8% from foundations and the remaining from conference and book sales etc. They currently have an annual income of $17,000,000. Between 1985 and 2001, the Institute received $15,633,540 in 108 separate grants from only nine different foundations:
    * Castle Rock Foundation
    * Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation
    * Earhart Foundation
    * JM Foundation
    * John M. Olin Foundation, Inc.
    * Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation
    * Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
    * Scaife Foundations (Sarah Mellon Scaife, Carthage)
    Known corporate funders include ExxonMobil, who gave $30,000 during 2002 [3] (http://www2.exxonmobil.com/files/corporate/public_policy1.pdf).*

    The Koch, Lamb, and Scaife foundations have strong ties to the petroleum industry. As does ExxonMobil, unsurprisingly.

    Nevertheless, I apologize for my error. I should have said, “In addition to having being founded by an oil baron, Cato’s corporate and foundation endowments are largely provided by petroleum interests”. And Eli is right about the “private” donations, one trick the special interests use is to funnel donations through their employees.

    In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Jillette should have made his affiliation with Cato, their history and funding sources clear if he wanted to use them as a source. To do otherwise is a clear conflict of interest and poor journalism.


    I have no idea what the petroleum industries position on the Iraq war is. Do you?

  19. #19 Ian Gould
    July 4, 2005

    While it appears unlikely that the bulk of the Cato Instiute fundign comes from the oil industry ( why would they bother to line up thousands of individuaal donations?), Koch’s background in the industry, which I was not previously aware of, does tend to call their neutrality on oil-industry-related matters into question.

  20. #20 Classic Liberal
    July 4, 2005


    Comment deleted for violating my comment policy – TL

  21. #21 Ian Gould
    July 4, 2005


    If I find an error in one of your posts here can I immediately attribute it to your dishonesty?

  22. #22 Eli Rabett
    July 5, 2005

    Ian asks why the Cato Institute would use a funding model which solicits individual donations. Without judging political motives there is a simple economic reason: Such donations are tax deductable.

    It makes good sense for say the top 20 Kochs to donate directly to Cato rather than through their foundation (true, the donation to the foundation is also tax deductable). There are all sorts of complicated reporting requirements, etc.

    I am not a tax advisor. Consult your personal tax advisor before doing this….

  23. #23 Classic Liberal
    July 5, 2005

    OK, I guess my last comment was deleted because it was interpreted as a personal attack on another commenter? If so, I apologize to both our host and coop.

    Ian/coop, the gist of my last comment was that one should apply the same standard to everyone. My experience with pundits and commenters across the political spectrum is that very few of them are willing to do that.

  24. #24 coop
    July 6, 2005


    I do apply the same standards to everyone. I don’t trust industry-sponsored pundits and think tanks regardless of what industry they are publishing PR for.

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