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The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe

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The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe
Hosting Dr. Steven Novella
Rebecca Watson
Jay Novella
Robert Novella
Evan Bernstein
Genre Science and skepticism
Updates Weekly
Debut May 4, 2005

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is a weekly, 80 minute podcast hosted by Steven Novella, MD, and a panel of "skeptical rogues". It is the official podcast of the New England Skeptical Society. The show features discussions of myths, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, the paranormal, and many general forms of superstition, from the point of view of scientific skepticism. The show also features discussions of recent scientific developments in layman's terms, and interviews authors, people in the area of science and other famous skeptics. The host of the show has been particularly active in debunking pseudoscience in medicine. His recent activities include opposing the claims of anti-vaccine activists, homeopathy practitioners and individuals denying the link between HIV and AIDS.[1][2][3]


  • Steve Novella
  • Rebecca Watson
  • Jay Novella
  • Robert Novella
  • Evan Bernstein
  • Perry DeAngelis (former) -On August 19, 2007, co-host DeAngelis died, shortly before his 44th birthday after suffering from a number of chronic illnesses (most significantly scleroderma).[4] During the two weeks before his passing, DeAngelis phoned in his contribution to the Skeptical quote segment for which he was responsible at the time from his hospital room.


The show is prerecorded via a Skype conference call. Each caller records their own audio and then the locally recorded tracks are mixed together. Steven Novella does the editing and post-production of the show himself. British comedian and skeptic Iszi Lawrence provides voice-over introductions for the show and certain segments. Prior to April 13, 2011, each segment was introduced by the ex-wife of podcast member Jay Novella.[5]


The Skeptics' Guide opens with Steven Novella introducing each panelist in attendance, typically leading to the retrospective segment "This Day in Skepticism". The panelists then discuss that week's top news stories of concern to skeptics. This is generally followed with answering of listener email.
This day in history
Rebecca (previously Evan) presents a historical event of scientific or skeptical importance whose anniversary falls on the date of recording or the date the podcast is released.
"Who's That Noisy?"
Bernstein plays a sound clip for listeners to guess what, or who it is.
A quickie with Bob
Any of the rogues (apart from Bob) can ask for 'a quickie with Bob' who will then address an issue of current scientific news. Tends to happen before the interview section in around one minute, to a set length piece of background music.
Most weeks the panel interview a guest skeptic or scientist.
"Science or Fiction"
Steven Novella presents the panelists with three recent stories of a scientific nature, one of which is fiction. The co-hosts then have to use their knowledge of science and skeptical senses to figure out which story is fiction. The fake story may either be a complete fabrication or based on a factual story with a critical detail changed to make it fictitious. "Science or Fiction" is occasionally themed, such that all stories discuss similar topics.
"Skeptical Quote"
The show closes with Jay Novella reading a quote from a famous person that is relevant to skepticism or science. Bob did the first skeptical quote although it wasn't really specific to any one of the rogues. ("Isaac Asimov. A scientist fiction writer of some note.") Jay announces the source in an exaggerated radio announcer voice. On May 10, 2008 host Steven Novella posted a survey on the SGU message board asking listeners if they preferred Jay read the source of the quote before or after the reading of the quote.[6] The voting is open ended.

Only since 2010, has the "Who's That Noisy?" segment been before the interview; pre-2010, it was just before the "Skeptical Quote".

Most podcasts last around 80 minutes but on September 23, 2011 SGU produced a 24 hour-long podcast with contributions by skeptics from around the world. It was referred to as SGU-24.

Occasional and defunct segments

"Guest Rogue"
Since the start of 2010, sometimes, instead of having an interview, the Skeptic's Guide will invite a "guest rogue" to be present throughout the show including the news and "Science or Fiction" segments, as if they were one of the cast.
"Skeptical Puzzle"
At the end of the show, Evan Bernstein used to present the listeners with a skeptical puzzle, usually about some person or topic within the field of pseudoscience. Occasionally the puzzle was presented in verse, and on Episode 96 it was presented as if by a fictional skeptical rapper Kom’n Cents.[7] Listeners would answer the puzzle via email or on the message board. Recognition (albeit no actual cash prize or gift) was given the following week to the first person to correctly answer the puzzle. The Skeptical puzzle has been discontinued since episode #130 to allow Evan to concentrate on other areas including SGU 5x5, though he has since occasionally offered a logic puzzle in lieu of "Who's That Noisy?".
"Randi Speaks"
As of September 20, 2006, James Randi joined the podcast providing a pre-recorded commentary segment called "Randi Speaks". Randi, a professional magician and skeptic, expounds upon a topic on his mind for that week which may or may not have to do with skeptical matters. The segment disappeared for a period but returned for the August 8, 2007 episode with a different format. Instead of Randi delivering a prepared essay, an SGU host asks Randi a question which Randi then answers and expands upon.
"Name That Logical Fallacy"
Steven Novella regularly presents the panelists with a recent argument, usually of a pseudoscientific nature, that has either appeared in recent news or has been submitted by listeners for consideration. The panelists are challenged to point out the flaws in the presented argument, with specific references to any logical fallacies employed. The segment debuted during Episode 40 but it is not featured in every show.[8] Many of the fallacies named are taken from the show's "Top 20 Logical Fallacies" list.[9]
"Swindlers List"
Starting on May 21, 2011, Jay Novella talks about a particular scam he has discovered or been told about. The first scam featured in this section was[10]

Theme music

The show's theme music is "Theorem" by the San Francisco rock band, Kineto.[11] The theme was acquired from the Podsafe Music Network. Prior to the November 2, 2005 show, Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science" was the show's theme.


Most Skeptics' Guide episodes contain interviews. Often the interviews feature well-known scientists or skeptics, for instance Massimo Pigliucci or Joe Nickell. Rarely the guests are proponents of fringe or pseudoscientific views. Notable guests include:[12]

Show Date Episode Guest Description
Regular guest --- James Randi A Canadian-American stage magician and scientific skeptic, founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation
Regular guest --- Phil Plait An American astronomer and skeptic, former president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, known as "The Bad Astronomer"
Template:Dts/out1 5 Michael Shermer Founder of The Skeptics Society, author of Why People Believe Weird Things [13]
Template:Dts/out1 15 Chris Mooney Author of The Republican War on Science[13]
Template:Dts/out1 50 Gerald Posner Author of Case Closed [13]
Template:Dts/out1 51 Neal Adams A proponent of the hollow and expanding earth hypotheses [13]
Template:Dts/out1 63 Michael Shermer Founder of The Skeptics Society, author of Why People Believe Weird Things [13]
Template:Dts/out1 73 B. Alan Wallace The president and founder of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies[13]
Template:Dts/out1 80 Teller One-half of the illusionist team Penn and Teller [13]
Template:Dts/out1 81 Adam Savage and Tory Belleci From the Discovery Channel show MythBusters [13]
Template:Dts/out1 82 Christopher Hitchens Journalist and literary critic, author of God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything[13]
Template:Dts/out1 82 Matt Stone Co-creator of South Park[13]
Template:Dts/out1 83 Julia Sweeney Former Saturday Night Live cast member[13]
Template:Dts/out1 105 Jimmy Carter 39th President of the United States, Nobel laureate [13][14][15]
Template:Dts/out1 111 Bill Nye "The Science Guy"[13]
Template:Dts/out1 114 Richard Saunders An Australian skeptic, podcaster and professional origamist[13]
Template:Dts/out1 121 Paul Kurtz Committee for Skeptical Inquiry founder and chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism
Template:Dts/out1 156 Neil deGrasse Tyson An American astrophysicist and science communicator
Template:Dts/out1 157 George Hrab Musician
Template:Dts/out1 162 Richard Saunders An Australian skeptic, podcaster and professional origamist
Template:Dts/out1 168 PZ Myers An American biology professor at the University of Minnesota Morris (UMM) and the author of the Pharyngula science blog
Template:Dts/out1 182 Michio Kaku Theoretical physicist
Template:Dts/out1 196 Seth Shostak An American astronomer and senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute
Template:Dts/out1 199 Rusty Schweickart An American Apollo astronaut
Template:Dts/out1 219 Mark Edward Mentalist
Template:Dts/out1 245 George Hrab Musician
Template:Dts/out1 265 Rhys Morgan Teenage consumer advocate
Template:Dts/out1 304 Jon Ronson Author of The Psychopath Test
Template:Dts/out1 .mp3 331 Neil deGrasse Tyson An American astrophysicist and science communicator
Template:Dts/out1 333 Rhys Morgan Teenage consumer advocate
Template:Dts/out1 373 Billy West Voice actor on Futurama and other shows


The Skeptics' Guide won the 2009 Podcast Awards in the "Education" category,[16] and the 2010, 2011 and 2012 Podcast Awards in the science category.[17]

SGU 5x5

A companion podcast, The Skeptics' Guide 5x5 (SGU 5x5 for short), billed as "five minutes with five skeptics",[18] offers single-topic episodes which often delve into specific types of logical fallacy.[19] SGU 5x5 does not appear regularly. There were no episodes between Template:Dts/out1 and Template:Dts/out1.[20]


External links

  • The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe official website
  • New England Skeptical Society Homepage
  • SGU Transcripts
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