Penn & Teller's Bullsh*t!

This may be more appropriate for GD, but since it’s about TV I’ll put it here.

I generally like this show (I’ve been watching it on DVD), but does anybody else find it a bit misleading? For example, Bjorn Lomborg was their leading guest to rebut environmental hysteria- and there certainly have been legitimate instances of hysteria and inaccuracy on the part of Greenpeace, ELF and other radical organizations- but Lomborg is considered a lunatic by many middle-of-the-road environmentalists as well (many of them people of impeccable scientific credentials). And while I love any show where Sylvia Browne, John Edward and Rosemary Altea get shown for the frauds they are (not that it will do any good), I thought that the episode on alternative medicine and UFOs deliberately went to an effort to find the loopiest advocates out there rather than interviewing the more middle of the road folks.

So other watchers of the show: do you consider Penn & Teller fair? Have you caught them in any errors? Favorite or least favorite moments?

Funny you should mention the alternative medicine episode, because that’s where I decided that the show wasn’t really all that good.

I like that they are trying to debunk “myths”, but they are also trying to entertain, and let’s face it, television is about the most biased media there is (in terms of editing what people see). I resented that they chose complete idiots to talk about environmentalism, (although they still have a valid point about people being sheep and whatnot,) but the clincher was the chiropractor. I’ve seen a chiropractor, my ex saw a chiropractor and it changed his life, and I KNOW that they are not all quacks. That doesn’t meant that there aren’t some out there, because that’s what Penn and Teller certainly dug up. But they had that one dead wrong.

I lost interest after that. They are just as biased as the people they are trying to prove wrong.

well when it comes to chiropractors Penn and Teller were too late to the subject.

It was a quack treatment when it first came out. They’d cure everything from Neck aches to Pneumonia. However in the intervening time most of the useless BS has been weeded out (by the mainstream chiropractors anyway) and the applicable functions have been kept. I can’t imagine why they bothered.

I think Ghanima’s is the typical response. Great show, love to see them skewer the lunatics and frauds, uness the lunatics and frauds they’re skewering believe the same things we believe.

They specifically noted that their target was not mainstream chiropracters who help people with back problems, but the fucking psychos who break babies’ necks and shit.

Ahem. Let me clarify. I like the idea behind debunking myths, and I encourage it, even for the things that I “believe.” For example, I don’t believe that chiropractors can cure your pneumonia. However, if you have a chronic back injury related to a car accident four years ago, then yes, I believe a chiropractor can help you. My disgust is with the bias, not with the topics.

I must have missed THAT disclaimer. That would perhaps have changed my final judgment. But allow me to continue with my analysis. The “environment” episode was another good example of selecting the exact person they need to make their point. They talked to untrained, undereducated volunteers who of course don’t really know what they’re doing. They don’t go and talk to a recent graduate with a major in environmental science who might actually know what they’re talking about, for example. And so on.
Now, I’m NOT saying that they don’t have a point. I know there’s hysteria spread around about the environment. But that doesn’t mean that every person who is concerned about the environment is an uninformed nutcase. And that is what I think P&T suggest in their show. Therefore, I am not terribly impressed.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to go worship Gaia before my chiropractor’s appointment.

They young woman they spoke to frequently was one of the organizers of a protest. They expected someone who organized a protest to actually know what she was talking about. They even said “Hey, it looks like we’re picking on this poor girl but keep in mind she organized it. She should know what they’re all about.”

Marc

I really liked the “culture of fear” episode. Penn really went off on the cops who invaded the high school with drawn guns and dogs looking for drugs. (An incident I had heard about because of a Pit thread that I can’t find right now.) The only time I have really questioned their logic was during the episode about food. I pretty much agreed with what they had to say about genetically engineered foods that could feed everyone on the planet. But by their logic we should all be vegetarians because it’s more efficent then feeding grain to animals and then eating the animals. But they didn’t follow their logic to its conclusion.

And no, I’m not a vegetarian.

Oh, rest assured I place myself squarely in the same category. I loved the ones on, like, survivalism and UFOs and such. The anti-smoking one pissed me off, and I knew better than to watch the PeTA ep. Not that I’m a virulent anti-smoking activist or animal rights activist but I knew the being pissed off would overwhelm anything they’d say. My overall feeling on the series is they make the mistake too often of debunking the movement/idea/whatever based on an extremist adherent.

Actually I would have to respectfully disagree. Bjorn Lomborg is very highly considered and his work has withstood significant (sometimes underhanded) attack. Indeed, the people this show attack are often the people we see every day, that is the people we come in contact with when dealing with these issues. Their take on PETA was excellent as that really is a creepy movement. They highlighted it as the radical cult that it is. Morever, for the most part, chiropractors are quacks and should be avoided as much as possible.

I was rather annoyed with their bottled water segment where they chose to perform a blind test in New York of all cities. Conveniently ignoring the fact that NY has some of the best tasting tap water in the world. Now, if they had chosen to do it in some place with absolutely abysmal, sulfurous water, then I am sure the results would have all been convincingly in favour of the bottled water.

Also, I found that there was a disturbing amount of editing going on when they are trying to paint someone as crazy. I have no way of verifying if the editing they do is honest so generally I try and be sceptical of what they purport the other side is saying. That said, their science is usually fairly top-notch.

Great.
So what’s the show? A skeptic show hosted by P&T?

Yes it’s a skeptic debunking show. I’ve only seen one of them (where they attacked the talking to the dead readers) it seemed fairly decent. Of course that isn’t something I believe in or endorse so maybe that might colored my opinion of it.

Penn & Teller’s Bullshit.

Here’s a non-Showtime site about it.

Slight nit pick:

Actually IIRC the woman was “hand picked by the organizers to represent them” she was not “The organizer”. I am (and I believe you are) referring to the woman who kept on fudging up the answers and asked to start over a few times.

They did talk to an organizer (at a different event I think) but it wasn’t that woman.

My take on that episode it that they were tring to enlighten people that they should be more aware of what they are supporting. There were hundreds of people that signed the “Ban dihydrogen monoxide” petition just because they thought it was helping the planet.

Be more aware of what you are supporting and ask questions. Its ok to love the enviroment and want to protect it but know what you are supporting and where your money/time is really going towards.

Quote from Ghanima


I must have missed THAT disclaimer. That would perhaps have changed my final judgment. But allow me to continue with my analysis. The “environment” episode was another good example of selecting the exact person they need to make their point. They talked to untrained, undereducated volunteers who of course don’t really know what they’re doing. They don’t go and talk to a recent graduate with a major in environmental science who might actually know what they’re talking about, for example. And so on. Now, I’m NOT saying that they don’t have a point. I know there’s hysteria spread around about the environment. But that doesn’t mean that every person who is concerned about the environment is an uninformed nutcase. And that is what I think P&T suggest in their show. Therefore, I am not terribly impressed.


Yes you definately missed the disclaimer. It was early in the episode so it was easy to miss.

Didn’t they speak to a college professor? He is teaching his crack pot theories in class rooms and “educating” our youth. They went to the source instead of one of his former students.

I haven’t seen it (no Showtime). Does Teller ever talk?

I just finished watching the first season on DVD. I loved it, mostly because I’m entertained by pretty much anything Penn & Teller do. But yes, it does definitely go to extremes to make fun of the people they’re debunking. As was mentioned before, in the medium of television, to make your point you often have to go to extremes.

The one big error that jumped out at me was when Penn mentioned burning witches in Salem. A factual error that big really took me by surprise. Because I’m on their side, though, I chalked it up to dramatic hyperbole, kind of sloppy though, to do in a show where you’re trying to look like you did your research.

If you aren’t entertained by their act and don’t agree with their politics, yeah, I can see how this would be a very annoying show.

Nope, he stays in character.

I forgot to mention, he did co-author most of the scripts, though.

I wish I’d seen the PETA episode, just for laughs. PETA people really creep me out.
If they did speak to a college prof about the environmental hysteria thing (don’t remember this either, but I’ve only ever seen the two shows, long ago) then that’s exactly who I think they should be talking to, and my opinion of the show will increase a bit. Maybe enough to motivate to watch the PETA episode. :slight_smile: