Adam Conover and Tim Caulfield on The Algorithm, Gwyneth Paltrow, Netflix at CSICon 2018

January 10, 2019

Adam Conover
Adam Conover is the creator and host of Adam Ruins Everything, an informational comedy show that debunks common misconceptions and encourages critical thinking. The New York Times calls it “one of history’s most entertaining shows dedicated to the art of debunking” and refers to Adam as a “genial provocateur”.

He is a founding member of the sketch group Olde English, who performed at HBO’s Comedy Fest in Aspen and was named “Best Sketch Group on the Web” by As a standup comedian, he performs at colleges and theaters across the country.

Timothy Caulfield


Timothy Caulfield is a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, a Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health, and Research Director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta. His interdisciplinary research on topics like stem cells, genetics, research ethics, the public representations of science and health policy issues has allowed him to publish over 350 academic articles.

He has won numerous academic and writing awards and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Trudeau Foundation and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

On this episode of Point of Inquiry, Kavin speaks to Adam and Tim about their CSICon talks, Tim’s new Netflix show A User’s Guide to Cheating Deathand Adam’s TruTV show Adam Ruins Everything and his interest in Gameboys.

Hey, everyone, it’s me, Kavin Senapathy, one of the two brand new hosts, four Center for Inquiry’s Point of Inquiry podcast, shout out to our other brand new host, James Under Down, executive director of CFI L.A.. 

For those who don’t know me yet. Thanks for tuning in. I’m a writer covering health, food, parenting and science for a variety of news outlets and other publications, including my Woo Watch column for Skeptical Inquirer online. By the way, in case you missed it. Make sure to check out my article on the top 10 WU Related News of twenty eighteen. I’m also a mom to a second grader and a kindergartner and I’m a proud sigh mom. Check out more about the sign Moms at Zae Moms dot com. For those of you listening that I’ve been following my work for a little while. Hey there. And thanks for checking me out on point of inquiry. This podcast has had some brilliant hosts and guests since it started all the way back in 2005. So I’m excited to take up the mantle and I think CFI for the opportunity. So let’s jump right into these first episodes really quick. My first four episodes aren’t going to be the regular format. These are segments that I recorded in Las Vegas this past October at Psychon. Twenty eighteen. And let me tell you, Psychon this year was the most tired I’ve been in ages, in part because fall is my busier travel season for various public speaking and other fun engagements, but also because Psychon is so full of action. Fascinating. Back to back talks. Lots of friends and allies to reconnect with and so many lovely new people to meet. And, well, you know, it’s Vegas. I had the opportunity to chat with Adam Kahn over. We talked about Adam Ruins Everything, the mysterious capital, a algorithm on Facebook and other social networks and more following my interview with Adam Khan over will jump into my conversation with Tim and Caulfield, professor of health law and science policy, author and host of A User’s Guide to Cheating Death. 

All right. So it is great to be here with Adam Canova of Adam Ruins Everything. 

And it’s a new Netflix show which actually started on Tru TV. 

What’s it called? It’s still Adam ruins everything, but it’s airing on Netflix as well as on Netflix is cool. 

So my dear friend Emily is super excited for that. And I’m going to get your autograph. After we finish up here. Today, you gave a talk titled Adam Ruined Skepticism. What’s your relationship with this movement and what brings you here? 

Well, actually, this tugger game today. I ended up changing it. What I the talk abstract I originally gave Barry Carr was Adam rude skepticism. 

Then instead, what I delivered today was my new show called Mind Parasites, which I’m taking on the road, and which is not so much about skepticism specifically. But, you know, before I started writing that show, you know, Barry book me many months ago and I said, oh, well, maybe I should do something about skepticism specifically because I do like to sort of I often do when I’m speaking at conferences is I think, OK, what’s the topic of the conference? 

And then how do I tell them that everything they do is wrong? 

That’s just like my shtick. Right. So I did this sort of famous talk that I gave called Adam Ruins Millennials, that I gave it a marketing conference that want to know how to market to millennials. I told them that millennials don’t exist and that it’s a very stupid idea. Right. And they loved it. And, you know, it sort of did very well on YouTube. 

Does it all go to the same thing, the skeptics conference. But I didn’t actually end up giving that talk. 

But what I was going to be on was the idea that. 

So it sounds like you think a lot of talk and you don’t get to get. That’s very true. I do. Well, there’s a lot happening. The problem is it takes a while to write them. 

I got an interesting way to talk about this because I can talk about the original seed of the idea. But, you know, it takes it takes a long time to write the actual talk. But the idea was that. 

I noticed in my own skepticism a hubris where, you know, we. 

The idea should be. Well, I you know, do we really know about this? I’m doubtful. Right. I’m doubtful of the truth of something else. 

Right. Oh, someone is making this claim. I’m going to doubt it’s right. But so often we actually convert that into saying. I know. I know the answer. Right. 

And sometimes we do, you know, with something, hey, a psychic is you know, I can read minds. No, it’s cold reading. We know that’s what it is. Right. I know the answer. 

Right. But that stance of I know the answer to this question right. 

At all times is actually very deleterious to learning and to getting more knowledge. Right. 

They can get in your way of learning more. And so I’ve and I had a couple of examples of that. 

Well, there are so many examples, but it’s late here tonight, by the way, point of inquiry listeners. 

So we cannot think of the examples where skeptics do this, but it happens all the time. 

Well, I don’t know. We we can come up with some. I mean, like, you know, one come up with it. You know, one was that there have been writers from different backgrounds on our show. 

Right. We’ve made a real effort to have a more and more diverse. That’s a graters in the room. 

It’s a very important thing for us. And the reason is that there’s a lot that I don’t know. 

And I think I understand the issue. Right. I’ve got my take on it. 


But until I actually talk to someone else, you know, with a different background, different perspective, different experience with the topic at hand there. I don’t know what I don’t know about it until I until I’ve had that. 

I’ve had that investigation. And that’s just one of those important things. 

I’m on my show that we so often have my character take a step back and learn from another person who’s talking. Right. That’s really important for us rhetorically, because it lets the audience. No, I’m not just some like Holsey and God who knows everything. 

But I know I’m a character who learns things, too. But also, like that’s part of my process as well, is I try to. 

Take a step back and not and not act like I know all the answers to everything, because otherwise I don’t. I don’t know, by learning anything, you know, you have to. You have to listen as often as you talk. 

Well, I really want to highlight that you said that you have writers from all backgrounds on your show, which I think is I mean, it shouldn’t be a pursuit that we congratulate people on because it should just be a given. 

Yeah, but still, at this point in time, it is something that we have to at least make a note of. 

Right. And then I’m going to out us. Yes. So I’m going to say thanks for doing that. 

Now, there would be a worst show if we didn’t. So, you know, I we don’t I agree. We don’t do for the praise. We do it to make it better. 

So that’s that’s crucial here. 

Now, you ruined social media a little bit for us skeptics today during your talk on Facebook, Twitter. 

And you talked a little bit about the algorithm. Right? It’s nebulous idea, but it has so much power. 

So what have you learned about the algorithm and what would you advise us skeptics to kind of be wary of when it comes to this almighty algorithm? 

Well, it’s interesting. I don’t know that I have a message for skeptics specifically as opposed to other people. 

But the amount of power that the algorithm has in our lives to decide what we’re seeing is really stunning and striking. Right. 

So we’ve reached a point in time where the majority of what people see of the media they consume. You know, people are watching it. As I said, my talk a billion hours of YouTube a day. Right. People who spent 24 hours a week online, their decisions of what they watch are not being made by other people. 


It’s not like, you know, say what you will about the old days when there were only four networks. Right. And you. And that was your only choice in what you could watch on TV. Right. 

At least there was another person on the other end saying, hey, I think this would be good or bad to watch. Right. And, you know. Yeah. They were trying to make money and they didn’t know what had your best interests at heart. 

At least you’re a person right now. It’s an algorithm, right. That decides and it’s an algorithm that is just there to optimize your engagement with it. Right. It’s just trying to get. You know, it’s just trying to addict you and get you to stay as long as possible. 

So it’ll show you anything in order to get you to stay. Right. 

And that and that means you see some really weird shit. Right. That means that, you know. And now that. But we are ourselves making content in order to suit the whims of the algorithm. Right. And so we’re making content in order to please machine. So, you know, that’s really weird. 

It is weird. And, you know, it’s my kids are seven and five. 

You brought up the the unpacking. 

Like egg opening and packet opening videos. Keep your kids off. So here’s the thing. 

Number one, daddy, finger number two, baby shark. Those have more views than five hundred million. I think they have like a million views. 

Yeah, but do you have thoughts on the algorithm and a non-human making decisions about what people watch and children? I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard the controversy over screen time and we take YouTube away from our kids. 

I think that I don’t have a problem with kids being on screens per say, like, you know, I’m not afraid of the screen as opposed as well. 

I don’t have kids, A.J. I don’t plan to have any. So it’s a little bit easy for me to say. And, you know, so I don’t want to make too many statements, but what other people should do. But what are my actual concerns? Right. I’m not concerned about all these kids you’re spending all day on their screens. You know, that’s that’s not that big a deal for me. But it’s a question of what they’re consuming on the screens. Right. 

And YouTube is this is letting your kids into a slot machine. Right. This is letting your kids use a slot machine because these are the algorithm that they’re using is specifically designed to get you to watch as long as possible to get to watch video after video. After video with ads. Yeah. With ads. And it shows you things that in that will that’s why they want to watch these vessels go the ads. 

And, you know, they show you wait five seconds and it shows you another video, read another researcher. 

And so, you know, you hit play once. They’ll just go for ever. Right. 

Oh, yeah. And it’ll start showing you weirder and weirder and weirder things, but. More importantly, it’s tuning it to get you to not look away. Right. 

And so it’s the videos are sort of tuning to get children to lock in and watch as long as possible, no matter what is on the screen. 

And what what is on the screen ends up being really fucking strange. And so in terms of like, should the kids be on the screens or not? Well, again, it just depends on what they’re watching. 

If your kid is watching, there’s a there’s a big difference being if your kid is watching PBS and if they’re watching YouTube, right? 

Yeah. PBS, at least we know, you know, there’s at the at the other end of there, there’s a child educator who is, you know, had some training ideally. 

Right. And so that’s what I’d say to people. But the fact that we’re putting children in front of YouTube is going to be one of those things where in a couple of decades. But we can’t leave. 

All right. And, you know, I. 

I don’t judge anyone for giving their kids YouTube, but it got pretty creepy and we uninstalled it on our kids device. 

And of course, we don’t give them for your own devices, but e yeah. 

I mean, there’s such differences. Look, I mean, I’m a I’m a Nintendo fan, right? I was my son. Oh, is he Ma. Yeah. He loves Marge. She was Mario like three years in a row. The Halloween is it. Does he have an intend to switch. 

He’s he’s probably going to get one. 

OK. So I won’t let him listen to this. Good, good, good. OK. 

So what I’d say about that is you need to look at what your media is trying to get you to do. Right. So in terms of games. Right. There are games that where the whole point is to get you to spend more money on the game. 


And what if your game makes you want to go to the next level? But the only way to the next level really is either play for one hundred hours or to spend spend money on money. 

Right. Nintendo, at least on the Nintendo switch. They don’t do that. Nintendo’s model. 

And it’s the old fashioned way. We’ve heard that way, too. We is the same way you spend forty dollars a 60 dollars to buy the game one time and then you just have a nice time, you know. And there’s no dark patterns. There’s no design that’s trying to get you to do something right. 

There’s no dude making videos and trying to get trying to get kid to watch examiner whatever he’s doing. 

Exactly. And so I would actually say if your kid is like, you know, hey, my kid needs to be on the screen, you know, like this is I’m sorry. Like we’re on a long road trip. I’ve got to get my kid the screen giving it into switches, have an iPod. OK. Right. Because I just think Nintendo. I mean, look, I love again because I grew up with it, but. But Nintendo is like the content on the switch is more wholesome than what’s on an iPod. Right. Because an iPod has access to a lot of dark, weird shit. 

Right. We have more control over what happens with Nintendo and our children. I guess is what you’re saying. Yeah. OK. I can see that now. 

Another question that was raised by your talk is you you come from a family of science. I sure do. I also come from a family of science. Oh, cool. Do you think that coming from science or from scientists makes a person more immune to bullshit? 

Well, that’s a very good question. Bullshit of all types. Sure. Let’s let’s go. Bullshit about types, you know. 

Oh, you mean as opposed to bullshit that is within the realm of scientific or yallah of like what their parents specifically did. 

You know, like I, I have, you know, my parents who are biologist’s right. My, my mom as a to a botany, my dad a species marine biology. 

My sister became a nuclear physicist and now she’s a science reporter for Science News. Just an awesome publication. 

You know, I developed an interest in evolution and I have, you know, a pretty strong foundation in that field. 

And I can sort of detect, you know, so I’m pretty good at, like, sussing out, like, evolutionary psychology bullshit. 

You know what I mean? You know, that kind of thing where it’s like a civic. Yeah. Like, oh, humans were evolved to do this or that one. 

That’s that’s you know, anytime you see someone on TV saying humans to this or that, they’re it’s probably bullshit as maybe some pop to pop psych stuff. 

Yeah. You know, I think I developed that, but I do think that I don’t think scientists are immune from bullshit. 


I think that we are all extremely fallible as reasoning creatures, that we all have a fantasy that we. 

You are perfectly rational and know the truth and that we can always solve every puzzle know, and that every question out there is just a math problem that we can figure out, especially those of us who have a science background or identify as skeptics, you know, and that we can really get it. And the truth is, we are all small, limited minds that are subject to bias that, you know, can never see the full picture. 


And the great thing about science is that in science, all the small minds combined into a structure that works. Right. Called science. Right. Where we publish. And then other people evaluate. And then we come to a consensus. And then even when the science gets it wrong, we know it evolves and we learn more, you know? I mean, we overturn old paradigms and et cetera. 

And so science moves forward, even though the individual scientists are flawed, unreasoning, you know, messed up people who are subject to bullshit. 


Oh, yeah, I, I do think scientists are, you know, the greatest people and and our scientists are very cool and are generally great critical thinkers. Right. But at the same time, I mean, go go look at the you know, the various methodological crises that almost every field is having. 

Right. Right. It is replication or in terms of, you know, systemic biases in their field or, you know, there it’s all over the place. 

Right. And, you know, you realize that, you know, p hacking and whatnot, you know, which is that’s an incredible one, right. Where it’s just like you. 

I mean, you could be the smarter scientist in the world, but if your if your department head is like you got to publish mother fucker. Yeah. Right. You’re going to publish Angel. You have a bias being exerted on you. And guess what? That’s stronger than you know. And you will almost certainly end up making decisions or seeing facts in a certain way because of that pressure that you’re under, because you’re a human at the end of the day. 

Right. So but you’re part of a greater structure that hopefully is, you know, is a course correcting course overall. 

But no individual left. But what that means is we have to be very mindful of the structure. 

Right. So. So because these are sugar at this point, so often so many issues are not individually addressable. 

They’re only structurally addressable. Right. That, like the structure of our society, is the problem. So science is structural issues as well. And so when I say like you’re part of this wonderful structure called science, that is always moving forward, moving forward. Well, let’s not take that for granted. Right. It only moves forward because we have structured it in such a way. You know, the the the literal infrastructure of this field. Right. How people do their work. How they read each other’s work. 

Right. How how how the consensus is formed that moves knowledge forward. Right. But it’s possible to structure it poorly. 

It is possible. And if it’s structured poorly, you’re not going to get to the truth. 

You’re going to be misled, you know. And so it’s very, very important to make those structural critiques and to respond to them. 

Right. And because it seems like once there’s a there’s a structural issue in any specific field of inquiry. It can snowball. 

Right. If you start with bad data, then and then you cycle that bad dead end. 

More mottling just goes and goes and goes. 

Did you have anything else you wanted to add? It is late and it is Las Vegas time. 

No, I can’t think of that much else. It was very, very happy to be here. 

Thank you for being here again. Check out Adam Ruins everything now on Netflix. Yes, please do. Please do. All right, guys. Thanks, Adam. Thank you. 

Spoiler alert. My son did get in tendo switch for Xmas, which is especially cool because I so love having another thing to negotiate about with my five year old, though he is a better negotiator than his big sister. That’s a story for another day, I guess. But up next, I talked to Tim Caulfield about a bunch of fun stuff from the impact that pop culture has on people’s health decisions. To insider details on the advice that Tim got straight from Gwyneth Paltrow was personal doctor. 

I am here from Sai Khan in Las Vegas with Tim Caulfield, which is really fun and exciting. I got to see him talk today. And we’ve been buddies on Twitter for a while now, so it’s very cool to have you here. Thank you for talking to me. Well, thanks for having me on. 

So you talked today a little bit about science placation. Did you come up with that? I think I did. 

And I came up with that term. 

I think you did, too. I’ve heard it before. It’s a good term. So congrats. And pop culture is assaults on science and why that assault matters. So you say that a growing body of research actually shows that popular culture has a profound influence on people’s health decisions. Why? It really does. And you know what? 

I actually think it is underplayed the degree to which pop culture has has an impact. You know, there are actually a lot of studies that have shown, for example, the impact that celebrities can have on cancer screening and they have increasing the rates for better or worse. Right. They’ve had an impact on diets, obviously, obviously, and even on things like vaccination rates. So there’s lots and lots of empirical evidence. You actually can measure the impact that celebrities are having. So then it invites the question why? Right. Because they know. Do people really trust celebrities? And I think that’s an interesting question. 

Do you think it’s always a detriment for people to listen to sell celebrities, or have there ever been, I guess, positive examples of this? 

So I think that’s a really interesting point, because people would bring that up all the time, Wolf. Celebrities are having all this impact. Our pop culture is having this impact. Let’s use them. Right. And I think it’s important to recognize that pop culture can have a really constructive impact on society. I think they’ve helped with tolerance. Right. I think they’ve helped with, you know, different kinds of family structures to create it, to normalize those things. I think the during the early AIDS epidemic, I think people like Magic Johnson, you know, it really helps destigmatize those things. So, you know, I think we need be careful to say that all pop culture is having this horrible impact in the context of health. That’s not the case. But even something as straightforward as cancer screening. Like you’d think you could have slept thinking. 

Angelina Jolie. Zach Jolie. Yeah. 

So, in fact, we’ve done studies on on the media portrayal of the Jolie effect. And, you know, as you know, the Jolie effect was profound. So, you know, this is the result of she wrote, you know, the two op ads, The New York Times, as a result of that utilization of genetic testing and prophylactic surgery, went up and it has been fairly maintained. Right now, there’s a lot else going on. It wasn’t all Angelina Jolie. But is that good or is that bad? That’s actually a complex question, right? 

So seems like a mixed bag, right? It’s my perspective. Yeah. 

Quick reminder to my listeners, men can get breast cancer, too. 

Just deafly. I will add more on that in my show notes. But yeah, I do see that it be see it being a mixed bag. But I think sometimes we have skeptics might forget that it’s not just vaccines. 

Oh, you’re right. I think when people think of celebrities screwing up the thinking. 

Jenny McCarthy, Jenny McCarthy and the all the noise that she’s made around vaccination. But I think it’s much broader than that. And I think it’s also important to recognize, because people will say, do you think we know why do people trust Gwyneth Paltrow more than they trust a scientific expert? And I don’t really think they do. 

You know, if we went on the street and we asked people, you know, do you trust Gwyneth Paltrow and our society, you know, he’s going to say, yes, I think she’s a yes, but she’s my goat. Yes. 

She’s no go to for scientific knowledge with their they’ll probably say no. But we know that despite those answers, we know that they have an impact. And I think that’s because, you know, for a number of reasons and they don’t just impact the people, you know, fans, et cetera, they can have an impact on all of us. 


So your book is called Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything? Can you name a couple things for us that she is not wrong about? 

I mean, outside of like, OK, I guess her taste in clothing, that’s that’s subjective. 

But is there anything, in fact, based that she’s right about? 

She does have great style. I mean, I’ll give her that. She and I actually. She’s a good actress. There are very few things that she’s doing right now at all. She’s wrong about almost everything. Let me do. Let me flesh that out a little bit. 

Because some people say, you know, you’re too hard on her, you know, cause she’s pushing exercise and good night’s sleep and she’s talking about real food. All of those things are good, right? The problem is, even in those domains, the sheet makes it complicated just to, you know, inject a little bit of superfood. And it has me this. So it’s a step too far. Yeah. It’s all wrapped in a blanket of science. Right. So if she makes healthy Lee living seem difficult, expensive and exclusive. And I think that that is problematic. 

Yeah, sure. Definitely. The fruits and vegetables thing is a great organic. Not so much though with her two. It’s a mixed bag. But speaking of Gwyneth Paltrow, you said during your talk that you got to meet with Gwyneth Paltrow as doctor as you were researching your book. 

Number one, how how did you make that happen? Number two, I know you said that he advised that you get colonics often. Right. What’s another juicy thing that happened during that meeting? 

So here’s a little bit of gossip. What? I was doing it first. I can’t believe that he agreed either. But you know what I think? I think it was a screw up because one of his handlers came after I was interviewing him and I could see the wheels turning. And then as I as I walked away with his handler to go look at something he was showing me and there their industry or whatever. I looked back and I and I could see him on the phone, I swear to God. He was Googling me and I cracked. I took a picture, Sharlie, getting to that area. He was Googling me to find out who the hell is this guy. Interview me. And an interview was over. So I came back. So obviously, you figure that no good is going to come to talking with him. What did you tell it? 

Yeah. So. So did you call? 

Yes, he called up the handler and somehow you got it. 

So I got in. Yeah. Exactly right. So you didn’t say I’m writing a book about how she’s. I want to hear about your clean cleanse and now your health philosophy. And that is how we got in the door. 

That’s great. I love those kind of messed up. I mean, I, I guess I should say I love them, but, you know, those are always nice, fortunate circumstances that you pinch yourself about. Right. So colonics. Anything else he wanted you to do? 

He was big on adrenal fatigue. Great. Which is a.. When it was Internet diseases. Right. 

And so I wasn’t allowed to drink coffee for three weeks, which almost killed me. 

So I actually did the diagnosis that he gave you. 

So he he just thinks that everyone’s, you know, everyone’s adrenal glands or else everyone has adrenal fatigue because to stress. They drink too much coffee. And so we’re all supposed to. But that’s where we’re supposed to do his cleanse. And, you know, one of the many reasons why we so do the cleanse. 

And so I actually did because I wanted to experience it. And that’s helped me about that. Holy crap. Was it a first for Gwyneth Paltrow? Was way tougher than I am if she actually really does this a couple times year. 

It was not easy. It was three weeks of, you know, really restricted calories. 

Obviously, I had a shake in the morning, shake at night. And you can have some real food for lunch. No coffee, no alcohol, you know, very restricted. And so basically, it’s a crash diet. So I didn’t lose weight. And did you get it back? 

Of course I did. I think it came back. 

It came back faster than it when it left me. So that’s one of the ways these things work. Right. So, you know, people go on these these cleanses, they lose weight. They love the glands work. It’s awesome. And then when the weight comes back, it’s your fault. 

You know, when I spoke to Jan fault for not having the discipline to eat and you are maybe like obese actions and when you start eating, not real food again. 

Are there any diets that work? I’m just wondering because personally, I’ve lost about fifteen, 20 pounds recently. I’m trying to lose 15 or 20 more because I’m prediabetic. And so I really need some form of like accountability. 

So I started Weight Watchers and it’s been working gradually and it doesn’t seem like a diet diet to me. But in some ways it does. Some ways I think I don’t know how long I can sustain this. I guess I could do this every now and then. What do you think? Do you think I’m going to keep it off? 

So that is the data. Are you probably know this or the data around. Weight loss is grim. You look at the numbers, it’s grim. So but you are on the right path because you’re thinking exactly the right way. 

If you look at the data, the most successful diets are the diets that you can maintain forever. Right. It’s got to be something that you say you got to live life. Right. So that’s one of the reasons these give me diets don’t work because no one can maintain them forever. And as soon as you go off the diet, the weight comes back on. So you have to find some way of eating that you can enjoy it forever. That’s what the successful diets orderings evidence to back that out. 

That’s why this has been working for me, I think, because it allows a lot of. Abilities on days when you’re out with friends or special occasions. 

So I think that I should be able to keep this up. By the way, I’m not a shill for Weight Watchers. 

I just happen to be worthy of the commercial diets healthy. We know this. It has. It has some evidence behind it. 

Do you ever get jaded? Ask people this. Do you feel like this is too much of an uphill battle? 


Yeah, I do like I do get a lot of of hate mail and my my you get sick of hearing the same thing over and over again and you get sick of people constructing straw man about you than attacking. Yeah. And I also you know, I do get sick of the legitimization that’s happens in institutions. So where you have evidence based hospitals, evidence based research institutions that seem to legitimize some of the stuff they do. And that really irritates me. So those kind of things think what you know, why the heck am I doing this? If if you can’t even be on the science team, who’s going to be on the science team? So I do. But but there are great communities like this one, right, where you really feel like there’s a there’s a team out there. 

It’s your people. And you can meet. There are people to help. And their support wouldn’t get that hate mail, right? Yeah. 

And I actually think from a complete community, you’re speaking with me from a community perspective, it’s getting better. I feel like there’s more diverse voices. You hold in this, you know, such as cranky old people. 

Yeah, I really feel like. And people are coming at it from different directions. 

I was raised to be home, but I do see I mean, I’ve only been part of this movement for, say, the last seven or eight years. But over that time, even I think I’ve seen an improvement. So it’s promising. But speaking of hate mail, you said that in your opinion and I think this is backed up by some data, too, that the letters that you get often start with the issue of trust. 


And it seems true to me as the other side moms and I have learned, people, especially other moms, trust moms more than they trust leading scientific institutions, especially celebrity moms. And we’re pretty much nobody in that, you know, in the realm of the celebrity mom. 

For better or worse, the reasons that people trust other people are not necessarily, you know, based in reason or logic, even though science has proven time and time again that you don’t give birth to APHC when you have a kid. 

So what are some other arbitrary identities sort of outside of motherhood and celebrity that you think give people reason to trust a public figure or an institution, I guess, without any real justification? 

Well, I do think, you know, there’s you know, from my talk, even there is evidence to back up exactly what you write, what you’ve said. 

You know, people trust someone like them, right? They’ll say, I trust experts. I also trust someone like me. And so that idea of being able to identify with someone I think is important. And that touches on another part of the equation. And this is the idea of of your personal brand. Right. So you and I think this is one of the reasons celebrities have so much force, but also their brands or other kinds of lifestyle choices. So what I mean by that is people will choose activities in food that suits how they want the world to see them. It’s called the Prius effect. Right. 

And so people drive, you know, and there’s actual data to back this up. My husband has a Prius and we laugh about it all the time because he’s telling the world, yeah, I’m the kind of guy that drives it. Yes. Right. So I don’t mean that a majority. Right. 

And we all do it. We all make decisions. And and so that’s what you get someone who, you know, will say, I can’t believe that my neighbor doesn’t believe in climate change. How can that person be so ignorant? And that same exact person will say they don’t believe that GMOs are safe despite scientific consensus statement. 

They pick and choose belief systems and products and lifestyle choices that fit their personal brand and how they want the world to see them. And that, I think, has a huge. And that’s why there is I think people like Gwyneth and Tom Brady, for example, on a huge patriots, and he’s got this lifestyle brand. People may identify with the brand more than they identify with the rationality behind it that compels them to buy. 

And I think that’s crucial for us as a skeptics community to understand and educate ourselves about. 

I mean, and there’s so much information out there about how all of this works. But I mean, at least it’s fascinating. Right. So I wrote a while back in Forbes an article entitled America We Need to Break Up with Dr. Oz. And it seems in the last couple of years that his popularity has waned of late, according to Nielsen data, at least, although, of course, we know that Nielsen data is not the only important information to look at. 

Here, but he still seems to have a grip on us. Right. So what should we do with him? Should we just, like, cancel him? What should we do as a team? 

Should we, like, talk to the other moms in the playground? What do we do? 

I think that, you know, I would love to see all of those kinds of voices, not just Dr. Oz, sort of fade or become radically more science based rate. So I do think that we need to be constantly inviting our friends to think about these things critically. It’s hard to do that in the face to face conversation if you are not right. Yeah, it can be, really. It can be hard. But I do think we need to speak up and trying to nudge the world in the right direction. You know, and that sounds like, you know, we’re not. Not that I have the answers or just to invite people to think critically. Right. It’s not necessarily to come to a particular conclusion, but at a minimum to think critically. 

Mm hmm. Speaking of thinking critically. People. People want to prolong their lives, prolong their youth and do, as you call it, cheat death. And so your show users diet to cheating death. 

I actually just came out on Netflix a couple days ago. So you guys should definitely check that out. How’s the reception been for it? Are you disappointing? 

A lot of people would think if no one’s cheating death. You know what? Here’s newsflash. We all die. The reception has been fantastic. Now, now with Netflix that if you do this, it’s quite mysterious. 

Right? You know, you don’t know if the numbers are all I. So you don’t know the numbers. 

It’s it’s mysterious. The mothership. No. Right. So they’re not going to tell you. I guess you have to wait. Oh, wait. There’s a little bit of a but. But the response has been incredible. Right. Just. And and I’m really I you know, I get a lot of hate mail, as I said. I thought there’d be more even more of that in the context of this show. But in this show, we really try. So it’s very much rooted in science. 

Right. We still try to get other perspectives. And it’s not a gotcha show. Like we don’t try to embarrass people who have done this. We genuinely want to hear these other perspectives. And even if we don’t agree with them, say, look, the scientists support you. We’re still interested in what draws them to these beliefs. Right. And so I think we we can learn from that. And we also try to make it fun and we travel all over the world. Right. It’s a very international show. So I hope that we struck the right balance. You know, we don’t always get it 100 percent correct. And sometimes you can’t help but make fun of someone because what they’re saying is so absurd on the face. But in general, we try to keep it really balanced. 

Yeah, that’s that’s. That sounds like a good approach. 

Shows like yours going all over the world like they could be the new foodie thing. Except it’s not food, it’s skepticism. 

That was kind of that was kind of the idea. That was kind of the pitch. That’s the way I see it. I guess we are on the same page. 

Well, thanks so much for joining me, Tim. Thank you. We will stay in touch on Twitter. Excellent. 

Thanks, everyone, for listening. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, Spotify and at point of inquiry, Daud. 

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin is an author and public speaker covering science, health, food, parenting and their intersection. Her work appears regularly at various outlets including Forbes, SELF Magazine, Slate, her "Woo Watch" column for Skeptical Inquirer online, and more. When she’s not writing and tweeting, she’s busy being a “Science Mom”—also the name of a recent documentary film in which she’s featured. Follow her on Twitter @ksenapathy and Facebook.