This is the first of a series of occasional posts explaining why I recommend various books and DVDs. Today I feature the DVDs of Penn & Teller’s Showtime TV series, “Bullshit”. The first set consists of three DVDs containing the initial 13 episodes, plus some bonus items not shown on TV, such as an interview with James Randi.
The purpose of the series was to reveal the truth behind talking to the dead, Nostradamus, remote viewing, feng shui, alien abductees, creationists, extreme environmentalists, bottled water, alternative medicine and more. Undercover operatives were used to film the stories, and these location shots are interspersed with Penn’s comments (Teller remains mute), in the studio. The programs are fast paced, use a lot of humor, and pull no punches, as you might guess from the provocative series title.
They certainly get their message across. For example, in the segment on feng shui, they call in three feng shui experts to rearrange furniture in the same Californian house. No one who sees this program will forget how each of the three feng shui experts comes up with completely different arrangements of furniture - each expert supposedly using the same feng shui “science”. Especially telling was how the first feng shui expert said that the red sofa was bad for the family – she mentioned several health problems that would result. Then the second one said the red color was “absolutely perfect”. What a hoot. Does this prove that feng shui is bullshit? Well no, of course not. To do that you would need a much bigger experiment. But it’s not the job of Penn & Teller or anyone else to prove that feng shui is nonsense; if feng shui experts want us to believe in it, it is up to them to provide evidence that it does work. What P&T do is demonstrate the general idea of how things should be tested. And they make it pretty clear that they think feng shui failed the test.
Mind you, I don’t necessarily agree with everything they say. For example, in the “environmental hysteria” section, they seem to give too much credence to the global warming doubters. I know there are differing views on this, but it seems to me that the majority of peer reviewed literature today supports the anthropomorphic global warming hypothesis. But P&T also demonstrate that many environmentalists don’t know what they’re talking about either, and support causes they don’t understand. For example, at an environmental rally, they get everybody they ask, to sign a petition to ban di-hydrogen monoxide. Of course, di-hydrogen monoxide is H2O.
I may not agree with P&T 100%, but I’ll settle for 90% and a lot of fun. This is a great DVD for promoting critical thinking to non-skeptics. It’s much easier to get people to watch a 30 minute DVD than (say) read a book by Michael Shermer (good though they are). The DVD succeeds because it is entertaining, and at times hilariously funny. I have shown these DVDs to several people, including some who I thought would not like the hard-core skepticism. I found they enjoyed them tremendously and got the message.
Bear in mind, since these were originally on Showtime, they contain a lot of profanity: some people might be offended. Apart from that, the DVD makes an excellent gift for the person in your life who you feel needs to be exposed to a more skeptical way of thinking.
Or anyone who just likes a good laugh.
The first series
The second series