One of my favorite podcasts is The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe (SGU). The podcast is produced by members of the New England Skeptical Society and hosted by Society president Steven Novella, a neurologist. Each week the show's panel of "rogues" addresses controversial claims, pseudoscience, and the paranormal, often focusing on the latest scientific discoveries or advances, fraud or just plain nonsense from the world of medicine. The SGU was one of the inspirations for this blog.
This year the SGU took on a couple of nautical issues, with varying success. An excellent report on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic talked about some myths surrounding the lost liner:
- Although the Titanic struck an iceberg on April 14th, 1912, she did not actually sink until the 15th.
- The ship only had enough life boats for the current passengers; it had only a third of the number required for her total capacity
- Most of the deaths were from hypothermia, not drowning
- Much of the video we see of Titanic may actually be of her sister ship Olympic, which was launched the previous year
- The ship's owner, White Star Lines, didn't promote the idea that the vessel was "unsinkable," this was something that came up more after the sinking.
This last item turns out to be a myth about a myth. The SGU, to its credit, published an email from a listener the following week pointing out that, despite the claim that the "unsinkable" claim was untrue (as reported at, among other places, the myth-busting website Snopes.com), White Star had claimed in some promotional material that "as far as it is possible to do, these two wonderful vessels [Titanic and Olympic] are designed to be unsinkable."
On the other hand, another podcast on the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez sinking led with one "rogue" commenting that "one drunk sea captain drives the boat into the shoals..." Another panelist interrupted, pointing out that this was a myth, but then saying "the captain was drunk but not at the helm." Captain Joseph Hazelwood was found not guilty of being under the influence at trial. Also, investigative journalist Greg Pallast, quoted in the very Wikipedia article the SGU uses as its source for its report, says "Forget the drunken skipper fable."
To be fair, such slip-ups are rare on the SGU. It's a worthwhile, entertaining podcast for anyone interested in honing their critical thinking skills.
Misunderstood Mariners: Joseph Hazelwood
The Skeptic's Guide To The Universe, Show #352 Show Notes
The Skeptic's Guide To The Universe, Show #349 Show Notes
Anchorage Daily News, Hazelwood Cleared On Three Counts