The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe

Infobox Podcast
title = The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe

caption = The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe's web page
host = Steven Novella, MD, Evan Bernstein, Perry DeAngelis (May 4, 2005 – August 8, 2007), Jay Novella, Robert Novella, Rebecca Watson (since March 29, 2006)
url = []
status = Weekly
began = May 4, 2005
ended =
genre = Science and skepticism

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is a weekly, one-hour podcast hosted by Steven Novella, MD and a panel of "skeptical rogues". It is the official podcast of the New England Skeptical Society, and is produced in conjunction with the James Randi Educational Foundation. The show features discussions of myths, conspiracy theories, pseudoscience and the paranormal 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 publications include debating the claims of homeopathy practitionerscite journal |author=Novella S, Roy R, Marcus D, Bell IR, Davidovitch N, Saine A |title=A debate: homeopathy--quackery or a key to the future of medicine? |journal=J Altern Complement Med |volume=14 |issue=1 |pages=9-15 |year= |pmid=18199017] cite journal |author=Gold PW, Novella S, Roy R, Marcus D, Bell I, Davidovitch N, Saine A |title=Homeopathy--quackery or a key to the future of medicine? |journal=Homeopathy |volume=97 |issue=1 |pages=28-33 |year=2008 |pmid=18194763] and individuals denying the link between HIV and AIDScite journal |author=Smith TC, Novella SP |title=HIV denial in the Internet era. |journal=PLoS Med |volume=4 |issue=8 |pages=e256 |year=2007 |pmid=17713982] .


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 [cite web | url = | title = Interviewees | work = [] ] :

* Neal Adams (proponent of the hollow and expanding earth hypotheses) - July 12, 2006
* Jimmy Carter (thirty-ninth President of the United States, Nobel laureate) - July 25, 2007 [cite press release | title = Jimmy Carter: No Truth to UFO Rumors | publisher = [ Marketwire] | date = November 5, 2007 | url = | accessdate = 2007-11-17 ]
* Christopher Hitchens (journalist and literary critic, author of "") - February 15, 2007
* Paul Kurtz (founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism) - November 14, 2007
* Chris Mooney (author of "The Republican War on Science") - October 6, 2005
* Bill Nye (the "Science Guy") - September 5, 2007
* Phil Plait (President of the James Randi Educational Foundation, known as the "Bad Astronomer") - June 7, 2006; September 20, 2006; February 7, 2007; June 13, 2007; August 6, 2008
* Gerald Posner (author of "Case Closed") - July 5, 2006
* James Randi (founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation) - Frequently
* Adam Savage and Tory Belleci (from the Discovery Channel show "MythBusters") - February 7, 2007
* Michael Shermer (author of "", founder of The Skeptics Society) - June 29, 2005; October 4, 2006
* Seth Shostak (of the SETI Institute) - November 15, 2006
* Matt Stone (co-creator of South Park) - February 15, 2007
* Julia Sweeney (former "Saturday Night Live" cast member) - February 21, 2007
* Teller (one-half of the illusionist team Penn and Teller) - January 31, 2007
* B. Alan Wallace (the president and founder of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies) - December 13, 2006

Repeat Guests

Phil Plait and James Randi have both been interviewed on the show five times. Joe Nickell, Richard Wiseman and Eugenie Scott have been interviewed three times, while Mark Crislip, Ken Feder, Steven Salerno, Adam Savage, Michael Shermer [cite web | url = | title = The Skeptic Magazine | work = [] ] and Brian Trent have each been interviewed on the show twice as of August 2008.


The show is prerecorded via a Skype conference call. Each caller records his/her own audio and then the locally recorded tracks are mixed together. Steven Novella does the editing of the show himself.

The uncredited woman who provides the voice-over that introduces each segment is the wife of podcast member Jay Novella.


Opening: The Skeptics' Guide usually opens with Dr. Novella and the panelists discussing that week's top news stories of concern to skeptics. This is generally followed with the answering of listener email.

Interview: Most weeks the panel interview well-known scientists or skeptics.

Science or fiction: "Science or Fiction" [cite web|url =|title=Science or Fiction Statistics|work= [] ] is a game very similar to the "Bluff the Listener" segment of National Public Radio's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! quiz show. Dr. Novella presents the panelists with three or four 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. The quotes had previously been read by Perry DeAngelis until his death in August, 2007. Perry, after identifying the source of the quote, would give the person's profession and then add "of some note". ("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 [,10521.0.html 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. The voting is open ended.

Occasional or Defunct Segments

Skeptical puzzle: At the end of the show, Evan Bernstein presents the listeners with a skeptical puzzle, usually about some person or topic within the field of pseudoscience. Occasionally the puzzle is presented in verse, and on Episode 96 it was presented as if by a fictional skeptical rapper Kom’n Cents [cite web|url=| work= [ Official Skeptics' Guide Site] |title=Episode 96] . Listeners may answer the puzzle via email or on the message board. Recognition (albeit no actual cash prize or gift) is 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.

Randi speaks: As of September 20, 2006, James Randi joined the podcast providing a 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: Dr. 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 [cite web|url=|title=Episode 40| work= [ Official Skeptics' Guide Site] ] but it is not featured in every show. Many of the fallacies named are taken from the show's "Top 20 Logical Fallacies" list [cite web | url = | work = [ Official Skeptics' Guide Site] | title = Top 20 Logical Fallacies | last = Novella | first = Steven] .

Theme music

The show's theme music is "Theorem" by the band Kineto ( [ Kineto's Myspace page] ). The theme was acquired from the Podsafe Music Network. Prior to the September 5, 2006 show, Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science" was the show's theme.


As of October 2008, more than 40,000 listeners download the latest episode each week. Weekly downloads including archived episodes average 100,000 and all time downloads exceed 4 million. It is typically in the top ten listings for science podcasts on the iTunes store, and is currently ranked #1 on Digg in the Science Podcasts category. [cite web | url= | title=Science and Medicine Podcasts | work= [ Digg] | accessdate = 2007-11-17]

Perry DeAngelis (8/22/1963 - 8/19/2007)

Co-host [ Perry DeAngelis] died on August 19, 2007 [cite web | last = Novella | first = Steven | url = | title = Perry DeAngelis: 8/22/1963 8/19/2007|work= [ NeuroLogica Blog] ] , shortly before his 44th birthday. Perry died after a long battle with a number of chronic illnesses (mainly scleroderma). Despite being in hospital, he still managed to call in from his hospital bed to perform his Skeptical Quote of the Week duty.


See also

* New England Skeptical Society
* Skepchick
* Steven Novella

External links

* [ The official home of the show]
* [ The official message board of the show]
* [ Official daily blog]
* [ New England Skeptical Society Homepage]
* [ Subscribe via iTunes]
* [] - a semi-official fansite

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