Penn & Teller are bullshit

21 January, 2008

I think I’ve had enough of Penn & Teller’s show “Bullshit!”. The last episode I watched was on the issue of ‘gun control’. I expected to disagree with them on this one, but I also expected them to at least make some credible arguments. Instead they argued that a society where anyone can carry a concealed gun is safer than the alternative. Well, I say “argued”, but really it was “asserted”. They presented no evidence for it, and I would have thought that the US having the worst violence statistics in the Western world would have fairly comprehensively disproved it. (Or maybe it’s the “American exception” – Americans in particular who can’t own a gun without shooting it at someone.) Exhibit 1: the Wild West. The amount of violence in that gun-crazy time is legendary. Everyone had a gun, and everyone used it, preferably while drunk. Should we maybe just ban people from possessing firearms while intoxicated? I bet Penn & Teller wouldn’t like that one either.

The icing on the cake was when they pulled out the good ol’ US constitution – sorry, Constitution. The Constitution says something slightly confused about state militias and the right of “the people” to “bear arms”. And to which I respond: SO FUCKING WHAT? P&T present themselves as arch-rationalists, so why are they making a big deal about some crumbly sacred document? Shouldn’t they be examining the evidence, and drawing conclusions only from facts and logic (and basic human decency)? Well, no, they’re not the straight-talking, clear-headed sceptics they present themselves as. They are standard cranky US-style libertarians. They firmly believe that “the Market” is an omni-benevolent force before which all must yield, in order to bring about Utopia. They also think that people, well, no, Americans, should be allowed to carry any kind of weapon they please, because… well, just because. There’s no logical basis for it – there are few benefits and many drawbacks, but that’s not really relevant. They believe it, therefore it’s so. Ideologues. Fuckwits.

~ ~ ~

In a related vein, I watched one episode of Sleek Geeks and don’t plan to watch another. I already had a problem with this show after reading Adam Spencer putting down the TV shows Mythbusters and Brainiac. In particular he said that Mythbusters had “nothing to do with science”. Well, I watched Sleek Geeks and found them illustrating scientific principles in “humourous” ways – just like Mythbusters and Brainiac. Except Sleek Geeks has a live audience, and the hosts, Spencer and Karl Kruszelnicki (sorry, Doctor Karl Kruszelnicki) have university credentials – which of course makes them much more credible when illustrating the causes of flatulence, for instance.

Well, Brainiac deliberately presents itself as “dumbed-down” science (the show’s subtitle is “science abuse”). It’s ironic, and fun. Mythbusters is also fun, but less exploitative of explosions and women with big breasts. It is also educational in demonstrating the principles of the scientific method, something Sleek Geeks doesn’t do, from what I’ve seen.

What have I seen of Sleek Geeks? I saw them walk on hot coals (“Wow! The laws of physics actually work!”) and I saw their chili test (or whatever that segment was called). Three “contestants” ate three chilis of increasing hotness. The “survivor” tried drinking three different liquids to alleviate his discomfort. The cups were opaque, so we had to take for granted what the hosts told us was in them. The best liquid for alleviating chili heat was milk, or rather “a milk-based liquid”, as they rather mysteriously expressed it on the show.

So basically it’s like Brainiac or Mythbusters, but without the razzle-dazzle production and explosions of Brainiac (though I’m prepared to bet that Sleek Geeks will ventually stoop to demonstrations of spectacular combustion), and without the engineering/experimenting bent and explosions of Mythbusters (ibid.). The stars, Spencer and Kruszelnicki, are personable, I suppose, but since reading that interview I can’t help thinking of them as arrogant. Oh well.

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