Respectful Insolence

It’s here, and it’s on Google Video. I watched it last night, and it was a blistering attack on the irrationality that is so common in our society:

Part I begins with Richard Dawkins sitting in on some sort of New Age chanting ceremony (the discomfited look on his face is priceless to watch), after which he goes to a New Age fair, and concludes with an attack on the crappy science that lead to the MMR vaccine scare over autism in the U.K. In between, Dawkins takes on astrology, dowsers, spiritualists, and mediums, no holds barred.

Next Monday: Richard Dawkins versus alternative medicine. I can hardly wait…

Comments

  1. #1 Ezekiel Buchheit
    August 16, 2007

    It was a great show and I was amazed as I so often am, at Dawkin’s ability to remain so genial and polite. It’s painful in that way. You want him – at least in my projection of my own self – to just out and out say it, hey, you know you’re full of shit, right?

  2. #2 sailor
    August 16, 2007

    It was very good. But I think it might have been more helpful to make more comparison with science and sell the idea of science more.
    Using the guy testing the dowsers would have been a good example about scence being “how we know”

  3. #3 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    August 16, 2007

    Oh, Crap! In that shot of the Chasids right after they show Dawkins at the chanting session? I’m about 95% sure that one of those is my *brother*.

    I’m so ashamed.

  4. #4 Woodwose
    August 16, 2007

    The chanting session reminds me of attending a revival with a born again girlfriend way back when. Everyone should do this, the feeling of being an absolute alien, out of touch with everything that is going on, is a good zero on your scale of life experiences. Alternately, if you don’t know any evangelicals, attend an Amway get aquainted party for the same “just don’t belong” impact.

  5. #5 scote
    August 16, 2007

    I’ don’t know…it was kind of slow and really over used the nature shots as B-Roll/filler as Dawkins explained things. It would have been a lot better if they had kept in the psychic reader who claimed to be channeling Dawkins’ (not) dead father…

  6. #6 Ginger Yellow
    August 16, 2007

    “Using the guy testing the dowsers would have been a good example about scence being “how we know””

    That’s pretty much what it was, surely. He explained why double blinded trials trump anecdotes, how you could distinguish chance from signficance, and clearly demonstrated there was nothing to dowsing. It was certainly the best part of the show, in terms of presenting a convincing argument. The rest was pleasant red meat, but I don’t think it would change any minds – as we saw on the show, people are always able to rationalise individual cases away.

  7. #7 bigTom
    August 16, 2007

    “double blinded trials trump anecdotes”

    How unpleasantly boring it would be to go about conducting double-blinded trials (ugh)! Then even worse your cherished idea is likely to go down in flames (ugh-ugh)! Anecdotes are so much more satisfying.

  8. #8 Ahistoricality
    August 16, 2007

    I haven’t watched much of it yet, but the “New Age chanting ceremony” at the beginning is some form of Buddhist practice. They’re changing “Nam myoho renge kyo” which is a Japanese veneration to the Lotus Sutra. That could mean Transcendental Meditation, or it could be Soka Gakkai or some other variant on Nichiren Buddhism. Pretty mainstream stuff, in some parts of the world, and not really “New Age” at all, though TM might qualify.

  9. #9 Jon H
    August 17, 2007

    Yeah, whether the chanting was weird or not depends on what they were doing it for. Were they imputing wacky healing powers to it? Were they TM’ers trying to fly? Or was it more of a subjective thing like chanting as a meditation practice, or as a form of veneration with no claimed benefits but just to make the practitioners feel good, like singing a hymn?

    I was surprised that he trotted out dowsing. While it did serve a purpose in demonstrating a double-blind test, I have to think – Dawkins is talking about the looming threat to science, and he brings out friggin dowsers? How many people even *do* that anymore?

    Dowsing seems to come up in skeptic shows and books, I suppose because it’s SUCH an easy target and looks ridiculous, but, really, is it even relevant nowadays? It’s the 21st century, even new agers know you get your water out of a plastic bottle or a filter jug.

    As culture-damaging woo goes, dowsing is right at the ‘negligible impact’ end of the scale.

  10. #10 Paul A
    August 17, 2007

    Normally the sight of people parading their superstitions and trying to avoid providing any evidence, evading tests, etc (like the astrologer at the start) has me fuming. However I really wanted to just cuddle the old dowsing fella who claimed god told him where the water was and blamed his failure in the test on god just having a laugh. Bless ‘im :-)

  11. #11 Tyler DiPietro
    August 17, 2007

    Maybe the “Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science” should just be “The Friends of Reason Foundation”. The catchiness matches that of this series’ title.

  12. #12 Graculus
    August 17, 2007

    As culture-damaging woo goes, dowsing is right at the ‘negligible impact’ end of the scale.

    – Jon H

    Everyone knows what dowsing is (like astrology) so you don’t have to explain what they are trying to do. Good for a TV show. Dowsing is also associated with a wide variety of energy woo (ley lines, etc), it’s the gateway to geomancy (Feng Shui, etc). Like every other “harmless” woo, it’s an encouragment of irrational thinking. In fact, it’s :harmlessness” is it’s worst characteristic, it means that it will be tolerated more.

  13. #13 Stagyar zil Doggo
    August 17, 2007

    Thanks for the link, Orac. I look forward to the remaining parts.

  14. #14 Jon H
    August 18, 2007

    “Everyone knows what dowsing is (like astrology)”

    Honestly, I don’t think dowsing *is* all that well-known anymore. Certainly not in the US, which admittedly isn’t the market for the program. But I doubt it’s very well-known among urban Brits, either.

    It seems like a very rural, pre-ww2 British kind of thing that is dying out. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the small selection of mostly-elderly dowsers was all Dawkins could come up with for the segment.

    If there is a more contemporary example of dowsing-esque woo, I would suggest using that instead of something that is about as relevant as Morris dancing.

  15. #15 sophia8
    August 19, 2007

    Simply dowsing for water may be dying out, but today’s “dowsing” includes all sorts of stuff.
    From BritishDowsers.org:
    “To dowse is to search, with the aid of simple hand held tools or instruments, for that which is otherwise hidden from view or knowledge. It can be applied to searches for a great number of artefacts and entities.”

  16. #16 Jon h
    August 19, 2007

    “Simply dowsing for water may be dying out, but today’s “dowsing” includes all sorts of stuff.”

    Perhaps, but that dowsers site doesn’t have a lot of activity in its forums – mostly limited to a few posters.

    And the photo on the site’s front page looks like it’s about 30 years old.

  17. #17 S.H.A.M. Scam Sam
    August 19, 2007

    Imagine one of those people was your husband/wife – would it still be harmless then?

    Imagine those beliefs were taken to such a degree they led to a death – would it be harmless then?

    Imagine almost everyone around you (almost your whole society) was defending those beliefs – even after the death – harmless?

    Imagine your potential future president believed this stuff – is it still harmless?

    Would she look harmless (your potential future president) after seeing a death by these beliefs?

  18. #18 Jon H
    August 20, 2007

    “Imagine those beliefs were taken to such a degree they led to a death – would it be harmless then?”

    I would suggest starting with the many examples that *are* life threatening, and working *back* to the harmless nutters waving sticks in the grass in order to find water that nobody actually needs anymore now that we’ve got, you know, PIPES.

    That would help establish how the seemingly-harmless irrationality jeopardizes people. He touched on it with the MMR vaccine thing, but it could use more time.

    The cold reading example in the show was a good one. Cold reading is another low-hanging fruit that skeptic books hit early, but it’s more relevant than dowsing, especially if, as stated in the show, there are 200 ‘spiritualist’ churches in England that do that stuff. There was also the hideous ‘crossing over’ show in the US.

    I just think potentially receptive non-skeptic people are likely to have watched this show and seen the giant Dawkins jousting at dowsers and tuned the rest off, especially given the severity of his rhetoric.

  19. #19 Blake Stacey
    August 21, 2007

    I just found Part 2!

  20. #20 Julia
    August 26, 2007

    In the general area where I live, some folks still need to dig wells for their water, and I’ve heard of some of them using dowsers.

    I’d hire a geologist, myself.

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