The Skeptical Syndicate: Brian Dunning

The purpose of “The Skeptical Syndicate” is to feature a known (or not so known) individual within the skeptical community, and highlight that individual’s contributions to skepticism.  This episode we feature, Brian Dunning

Simpson’s picture:

Or as he is more commonly seen…

Real Picture:

Brian Dunning is best known for his podcast, titled Skeptoid (http://skeptoid.com/), which he writes/hosts/runs.

Mr. Dunning also (somewhat) recently released “Here be Dragons”, a 40 minute educational video that serves as an introduction to critical thinking.  It is a great in introduction to critical thinking/skepticism or a great review for the card carrying skeptic.  Here is a link to the video where you can watch the movie for free:

http://www.openfilm.com/videos/here_be_dragons/

The popularity of the Skeptoid podcast has spawned a sister podcast titled “InFact…With Brian Dunning” (http://infactvideo.com/).  This is a video podcast that riffs on some of the most popular Skeptoid episodes and provides the same great Skeptoid content in a shorter video format.

A detailed and informative bio on Mr. Dunning (written by the man himself) can be found on the Skeptoid website (reposted here for your convenience):

A few years ago, I began searching for interesting and unusual phenomena in Internet forums and mailing lists. More than once, I tried to open a discourse offering alternate, more reasonable explanations for the reported phenomena, as diplomatically and respectfully as I could. Nevertheless, the most insightful replies I got were:

Warning: skeptoid alert!

and

Another debunkatron rears its ugly head.

OK, fine, I understand that it’s their forum, that I’m just a guest, and if they are not open to critical examination, that’s their right and they’re under no obligation to me. But I marveled that they felt that way, in light of the forum’s stated purpose: “Discussion of Fortean phenomena.” That their only response was to make up patronizing and dismissive nicknames for me shows that their true interest is certainly not open discussion. In fact, the next time I tried to log in, I found that my account had been banned.

This happened on three different Fortean Phenomena forums, and I’m being completely honest when I say that my posts were respectful and in no way inflammatory. They were much worse than that: they were skeptical.

So, in the interest of improved public relations, I’m going with the flow. If rationally examining pseudoscientific claims makes me an evil skeptoid debunkatron, so be it. I’ll even help out by so identifying myself up front.

Thus was born the Skeptoid.

By profession I am a computer scientist, both as a Silicon Valley CTO and as a consulting engineer. My only academic credential that bears any scrutiny is in Writing for Film and Television from University of California, Los Angeles. I also have a credential that doesn’t bear any scrutiny — and you’ll find it at Thunderwood College.

I’ve written a few books and numerous technical articles. I decided to put this experience to good use, and created the Skeptoid podcast. I’m also one of the featured bloggers on SkepticBlog, the official blog of the upcoming TV series The Skeptologists which I host. Here is a blurb about me from CBS Radio’s Sound*Bytes with Jan Ziff, and here’s my appearance on CNNfn from my previous career as a CTO.

I have a great wife, two terrific kids who are smarter than me, a cat who’s dumber than me, and some assorted koi who haven’t yet been evaluated. We all live happily on the beautiful and sunny southern California coast.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a huge fan of Mr. Dunning and his podcasts!

Alright, with that out of the way…

Mr. Dunning tackles a different topic during each Skeptoid episode.  One of the things that make Skeptoid unique, in my humble opinion, is the diverse topics covered on the podcast.  Topics range from common skeptical topics such as UFOs, cryptozoology, and the paranormal, to more mainstream topics such as genetically modified foods, organic food crops and Mozart.  Each episode is extensively researched, and even the most knowledgeable individual can expect to learn something.  Another extremely positive/accessible aspect of the podcast is the tone/role that Mr. Dunning takes.  Allow me to explain further, some personalities within the Skeptical community have taken it upon themselves to act as the authoritative debunker.  While this approach has its place, it can also be extremely off putting too some.  In contrast to this approach, Mr Dunning comes across as accessible and well informed and takes on the role of an educator.  But not just any educator, with this unique style Mr. Dunning manages to channel the spirit of your favourite teacher/professor/instructor that you remember so fondly.  You know what I am talking about, that archetype teacher/professor/instructor that challenged you and helped you to become a better person.  Mr. Dunning challenges you to look at claims with a skeptical eye and pushes you to develop your critical thinking skills; skills that will serve you in all aspects of your life.  He manages to do all of this while unapologetically fighting against pseudo-science and misinformation, and totally succeeds.

As of this posting he is currently up to episode # 2–.  Pretty impressive!  With such a huge back catalogue of episodes/topics, one might worry that Mr. Dunning may soon run out of content.  Fear not dear reader, by his own account Mr. Dunning has approx 200 individual show ideas banked, with no less than 20 currently being researched and prepared for upcoming episodes. 

Brian Dunning, for your efforts in the struggle against misinformation and pseudo-science, the Skeptical Samurai takes his kabuto off to you!

This has been the Skeptical Samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

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