TV That Makes You Think

So let me make a few things clear: I am a skeptic*; I do not believe in supernatural phenomena of any kind, and when I hear an extraordinary claim being made (one which, for example, violates the known laws of physics) I demand extraordinary evidence before I admit it into the realm of possibility.

I also like Penn and Teller; I violently disagree with their politics, but they are great entertainers and brilliant magicians.

However: I did not like the TV series Penn & Teller: Bullshit. And I get upset by just how popular this seies remains, even to this day, amongst people who call themselves freethinkers. You may think that this is related to my above-mentioned violent disagreement with their libertarian politics (and that’s certainly a part of it), but I didn’t even like those episodes which weren’t strictly political. And the reason for this is that, frankly, I think the series is less about encouraging critical thinking and more about stroking the egos of people who agree with Penn and Teller.

The show’s format, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is this: Penn and Teller will set-up the issue to be discussed. They will then interview people on each “side” of the issue. The people on the side opposing the magicians will generally be ridiculous, unintelligent charlatans whose interview segments will be mercilessly spliced until they look even more ridiculous and unintelligent, all the while Penn will mock them, generally for reasons unrelated to their opinions. The people who agree with Penn and Teller will be articulate, well-groomed intelligent people who are treated sympathetically.

Frankly, such blatant appeals to emotion are no way to encourage critical thinking. If you want a skeptical documentary series that actually forces you to think, may I strongly recommend Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and the follow-up series Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers.


*At least I am now; someday I’ll tell you about my abortive belief in magic (the “real” kind, not the illusory version)


About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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2 Responses to TV That Makes You Think

  1. Adrian says:

    YES, i’m not alone in this. You just voiced all my objections to Bullshit, except more clearly than I would’ve.

  2. Pingback: Parascience And The Problems of Modern Physics | voxcorvegis

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