Podcast: Skeptoid https://skeptoid.com/ Host: Brian Dunnin Episode Count: 600+ Format: Single Voice Reading Established: 2006 Frequency: Weekly Topics: Just about everything
With over 600 weekly episodes running between 10 and 15 minutes each across more than 10 years, the Skeptoid podcast presented by Brian Dunning has at one time or another covered just about every fortean subject under the Sun (and the Moon). Only the most recent 50 episodes are available to listen to without paying for a premium feed, so if you want to delve into the deep history of the show, you’ll need to cough up.
However, within the 50 free episodes currently available there is a wide range of interesting topics. Skeptoid started out as a fairly straight science show considering topics such as sustainability, why ‘woo woo’ like magnets and wheatgrass juice have no measurable benefits whatsoever, or the basis of scientific testing. It wasn’t long though before subjects such as Bigfoot, aliens, and the Philadelphia Experiment were subjected to Dunning’s style of debunking.
Episodes in the 550-to600 number range (from the very end of 2016 through to Hallowe’en 2017) cover a diverse range of subjects, such as the myths surrounding the death of Hong Kong action movie star Bruce Lee, the ‘ghost’ fighter plane of Pearl Harbor, and the 1944 tale of ‘the Mad Gasser of Mattoon’. Old fortean favourites include the DB Cooper mystery, false memory (#560: Remembering the Mandela Effect), lost children raised by animals (#567: Feral Children), and the hoary old stories of those forgotten Japanese soldiers who failed to realise the war was over (#585: Relic Japanese Soldiers).
There are some rather useful contemporary topics on offer too, focusing on Internet security or high-tech crime (#553: How Your Password Got Stolen; #554: How Your Credit Card Got Stolen). Other science subjects (often tying in to recent events) include global warming (#549: The Simple Proof of Man-Made Global Warming), new-found sources of power (#555: Thorium Reactors: Fact and Fiction), the complications of ‘phantom’ pregnancy (#572: True or False Pregnancy), eclipses (#584: Eclipse Myths and Science), and controversy over pollution (#586: Volkswagen Dieselgate Re-examined).
Quirkier topics include whether Beethoven died of lead poisoning (#561: Beethoven’s Hair), the tendency of scientists to experiment on themselves (#593: I Still Can’t Believe They Did That: More Human Guinea Pigs), and the origins of the urban legend that the Beatles’ Paul McCartney was replaced by a double (#594: Paul is Dead). Every so often, Dunning includes an update episode that adds some new information or insights to previous stories, often correcting errors or responding to listener feedback.
As always, UFOs are a popular subject, with Dunning tackling such cases as Canada’s best-known flying saucer encounter (#565: The Shag Harbour UFO) and the famous 1974 UFO sighting by a New Mexico police officer (#582: Lonnie Zamora and the Socorro UFO). Dunning even examines the question of whether strange things seen in the sky are likely to be an alien visitation or not – from a sceptical scientific point of view of course (#576: Lights in the Sky).
One episode takes a deep dive into the fairly recent controversy over the supposed photograph of lost pilot Amelia Earhart (#580: Amelia Earhart Redux: Competing Networks, Competing Craziness). In this slightly longer than usual instalment, Dunning tackles the media coverage of the 1937 disappearance of the pioneering aviatrix. Outlining Earhart’s character and achievements, he looks at the unanswered questions surrounding her vanishing act and examines how folklore and exploitation move in to fill the vacuum. In the process, known history is ignored or lost in favour of false histories that suit a TV programme’s promotional needs rather than the search for knowledge or truthful answers. It’s a good example of the mix of history, science, speculation and debunking that the Skeptoid podcast at its best delivers in neat, bite-sized chunks of satisfying listening.
The ‘just the facts, ma’am’ approach is welcome…
…however, Dunning’s delivery can sometimes be a bit on the dry side. Recommended Episodes: #550: The Mad Gasser of Mattoon; #551: Space Missions You Should Know; #570: More Space Missions You Should Know; #573: There is No Finland: Birth of a Conspiracy Theory; #576: Lights in the Sky; #595: Chasing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370.
Short (most episodes are under 15 minutes) and to the point, the strength of Skeptoid is the sharp focus on facts and the debunking attitude.