conspiracy theories

SkepSun #176 (02_07_2016)

This week Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor celebrate the birthday of Charles Darwin and the 90th birthday poet Philip Appleman (a Darwin scholar) on Freethought Radio. Annie Laurie interviews Dan about his best-selling new book, GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction. Then Dr. Abby Hafer champions Darwin’s ideas by discussing her new book, The Not-So-Intelligent Designer: Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not.

The Skeptic Rogues of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast discuss a recent peer-reviewed study that mathematically modeled large conspiracies (involving more than 1000 people) and showed that these are inherently not sustainable and prone to quick failure, even with the most generous assumptions made about the secret-keeping abilities of conspirators.

However, not everyone’s gotten the memo that huge conspiracies can’t work and some are speculating that the Zika virus we’re hearing so much about is a hoax and/or a genetically engineered biological weapon. Gordon Bonnet of Skeptophilia looks into it.

Sadly, this will be the last Skeptical Sunday, at least for the foreseeable future, and I’ve chosen two final segments which eloquently summarize the worldview and values of skepticism, naturalism and humanism that this show has been promoting for the past 3.5 years.

First, we’ll hear Carl Sagan from what turned out to be his last television interview from the May 27, 1996 Charlie Rose show on which he talks about what was his final book The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark and lastly we’ll hear Jeremy Beahan’s wonderful “Atheist Sermon.”


SkepSun #162 (11_01_2015)

We start off with a Halloween-themed Freethought Radio this morning. Before hearing the song “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” co-hosts Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker announce state/church victories, lawsuits and complaints across the country. Then, from the 38th annual FFRF convention we’ll hear Anita Weier’s speech  as she accepts the “Freethought Heroine” award and FFRF lead staff attorney Rebecca Markert recaps thousands of complaints and hundreds of victories by FFRF’s legal staff in 2015.

Well, anti-vaxxers are claiming that the new autistic muppet character on Sesame Street named Julia, created to foster understanding for children with this disability is part of a conspiracy between Big Pharma and Sesame Street to “normalize vaccine injuries” by portraying autism in a positive light.  We’ll see what Gordon Bonnet’s thinks about this.

What is a conspiracy theory and why are some people so prone to believe them?  A professor of Philosophy at Warwick College in the U.K. with the enviable name of Quassim Cassam investigates these fascinating questions in conversation with Nigel Warburton on the Philosophy Bites podcast.

Then Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist interviews Sarah Morehead, President of the Reason Rally Coalition to get the inside scoop on the next Reason Rally to take place Thursday June 2nd through Sunday June 5th of next year. Morehead is also Executive Director of Recovering From Religion, the group that runs the Hotline Project and Secular Therapist Project. She was named American Atheists’ 2014 “Atheist of the Year.” They speak about what’s in store for the 2016 Reason Rally and how it’ll be different from the 2012 event as well as her work behind the scenes putting together something called “Apostacon.” You can see the Reason Rally launch video below.

SkepSun #143 (06_21_2015)

This week’s Freethought Radio is dedicated to the memory of FFRF’s principal founder Anne Nicol Gaylor, who died June 14 at 88. Annie Laurie and Dan will play recordings of Anne, read from the New York Times obituary/article about her and then we read two of Anne Gaylor’s articles from her 1983 book, Lead Us Not Into Penn Station. Then, where did some people get the idea that the United States military training exercise called Jade Helm 15 really a covert operation to establish martial law in Texas? Can the governor of that state and action hero movie-star Chuck Norris be serious? Skeptoid focuses its skeptical eye at a very influential conspiracy theory of very recent vintage. Then: If you you’re a skeptical blogger, you’ll probably get some interesting e-mail. Gordon Bonnet of Skeptophilia does, and he talks about some of it. Finally in hour two of the show: you know about the wine trail, the beer trail and maybe even the cheese trail here in the Finger Lakes, but do you know about the Freethought Trail? In recognition of the summer solstice, we begin Skeptical Sunday’s “Freethought Trail” summer. Over the next few weeks, we will be playing recorded presentations from last year’s two-day conference at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York that was entitled “Robert Green Ingersoll and the Reform Imperative.” It highlighted Ingersoll, known as the “Great Agnostic,” as well as other freethinking social reformers of the 19th Century from our part of New York state such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage whose homes are featured on what might be the most educational of all our trails here in the Finger Lakes: the Freethought Trail.

Still relevant: Dresden, NY native Robert Green Ingersoll on a sign held up by the Westboro Baptist Church at the 2012 Reason Rally in Washington, DC.

Dresden, NY native Robert Green Ingersoll on a sign held up by the Westboro Baptist Church at the 2012 Reason Rally in Washington, DC.

SkepSun #93 (06_01_2014)

A Christian pastor has a falling out with his Church, doubts his faith, loses his job and decides to try on atheism for one year.  I’m talking about Ryan Bell who until March of 2013 was senior pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church. Currently he’s a researcher, writer and speaker on the topic of religion and irreligion in America. In January 2014, Dr. Bell began a year-long journey exploring the limits of theism and the atheist landscape in the United States. He blogs about this experience at Year Without God. He’s interviewed by Bo Bennett on the Humanist Hour podcast. We’ll find out what results he’s gathered to date from his experiment in the second hour of Skeptical Sunday. But First on Freethought Radio, Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-presidents of the Freedom from Religion Foundation update us from the frontlines of the battle of church and state: FFRF’s Raleigh conference was covered CNN Belief Blog, new billboards in Ohio billboards and a Christian park in Iowa sparks protests. Then they talk with Greece vs. Galloway plaintiff Linda Stephens and get her response to being labeled “demonic” by a politician for trying to stop city prayer in Greece, NY. Also, we’ll hear a Skeptoid with Brian Dunning on which Brian looks at possible examples of conspiracy theories that may have actually turned out to be true.


Ryan Bell, former senior pastor at the Hollywood, CA Seventh Day Adventist Church, is trying atheism for one year.

Ryan Bell, former senior pastor at the Hollywood, CA Seventh Day Adventist Church, is trying atheism for one year.

SkepSun #79 (02_23_2014)

Today: the social impact, neuroscience and psychology of conspiracy theories. We’ll hear Michael Shermer, author of The Believing Brain, on the John Stossel Show, talking about why people so readily take to conspiracy theories and why we should think twice. Then David McRaney on his You Are Not So Smart podcast interviews Jesse Walker, books editor for Reason Magazine and author of the new book, The United States of Paranoia, a Conspiracy Theory and Steven Novella, host of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, and an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. Also, Brian Dunning of Skeptoid will look at a popular urban legend that holds that marijuana became illegal in the U.S. as a result of a conspiracy involving newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.  What’s the evidence? But first, on Freethought Radio, Dan and Anne Laurie celebrate the birthdays of Victor Hugo and W.E.B. Dubois. We’ll hear about student activists in North Carolina who get to have a freethought club at their high school after FFRF sends a letter and FFRF has success at getting bibles removed from a state-owned hotel rooms at Iowa State University. We’ll hear the unflappable Annie Laurie Gaylor interviewed about it by the obnoxious Sean Hannity. Then they talk with executive editor of MS Magazine, Katherine Spillar, about the religious war against women.


SkepSun #65 (11_17_2013)

On Freethought Radio, after hearing about an FFRF billboard in Janesville, Wisconsin that says “Enjoy Life Now: There is no afterlife,” hosts Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor dissect the oral arguments heard in the Supreme Court “Greece vs. Galloway” case dealing with prayer at the Greece, NY, city council. Then they talk with a legal legend,  Nebraska Senator Ernie Chambers whose 1983 lawsuit resulted in the historic “Marsh vs. Chambers” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. After Freethought Radio, Brian Dunning looks at five false claims about raw milk on Skeptoid.  Then, in hour two, the Skeptic Rogues of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe interview Gerald Posner author of Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, about the 50th  anniversary of the mother of all conspiracy theories. And finally, on the newly revamped Point of Inquiry podcast, host Josh Zepps interviews physicist, author, and screenwriter Leonard Mlodinow about his most recent book Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior. In this interview, Mlodinow explains how we have trouble poking holes in our own suppositions.



Gerald Posner

SkepSun #42 (06_09_2013)

It’s a consipiracy theory-themed Skeptical Sunday this week. In Point of Inquiry in hour two, Chris Mooney talks to cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky about the mind of the conspiracy theorist. Lewandowsky is a professor at the school of psychology at the University of Western Australia, and at the University of Bristol in the UK and the author of a recent study with titled “NASA Faked the Moon Landings, Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science (PDF)”.  We’ll also hear Brian Dunning respond to listener mail on his conspiracy theory episodes, Neil de Grasse Tyson on those who think the moon landings were a hoax and the song “Conspiracy” by the band, Terrible Things. But first, we begin the proceedings as we do each week with Freethought Radio on which women’s rights, Roe v. Wade, and the current “marriage equality” cases before the U.S. Supreme Court are this week’s topics. Dan and Annie Laurie talk to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Linda Greenhouse, author of the books Becoming Justice Blackmun and Before Roe Against Wade.