Contrary to Popular Belief: Challenging Misinformation with Skeptoid
Let’s talk fact-checking.
At Clearer Thinking, we share interactive activities to help people incorporate important insights from psychology into their own lives.
That’s why we were interested in Skeptoid, an educational podcast about science literacy and skepticism that helps you question popular beliefs. Skeptoid’s goal is to correct common misinformation, especially when it comes to beliefs that contradict science, and it does this in weekly episodes that are usually 20 minutes or less.
Some topics they cover are controversial in nature, but the host of Skeptoid, Brian Dunning, tries to share research from all sides to challenge your beliefs and encourage you to look at issues from different perspectives.
His take is also refreshingly apolitical: he sometimes challenges conservatives on their beliefs, and other times challenges liberals, attempting to follow the truth wherever it leads. Of course, the truth can be very hard to figure out, and we don't necessarily agree with all of their conclusions. But much to their credit, in their 727 episodes (and counting!) Skeptoid seems to be genuinely working hard to try to figure out what's true on debated topics, and even does episodes devoted to correcting their own past mistakes.
Because we believe that challenging your beliefs is critical for becoming a clearer thinker, we've summarized several Skeptoid episodes that we found especially interesting, and we've also included our opinions on what we think is valuable about the podcast. So, without revealing too many spoilers, here are some Skeptoid discussions you might find surprising!
Skeptoid Episode #717: “Rethinking Plastic Straw Bans”
This episode explores the efficacy of plastic straw bans and the reusable straw trend’s true potential impact on the overall environment. It explains the number of straws used per day before calculating its effect on the planet, compared to other pollutants. The educational science podcast also reveals the story of how the trend behind plastic straw bans began. While the host of Skeptoid corrects some of the existing statistics on straw usage in the world today, he doesn’t condemn reusable straw users for intending to help the environment and instead encourages them to accomplish the environmental movement’s goals in the most effective way.
Skeptoid Episode #712: “Apple Cider Vinegar Woo”
We’ve heard about the “amazing health benefits” of apple cider vinegar all over the internet, and this episode covers Skeptoid’s take on the truth behind apple cider vinegar. After sharing the details on the general vinegar making process, Brian discusses how apple cider vinegar is different from other kinds of vinegar. Then, pulling information from key studies you won’t exactly find on generic health sites like WebMD or Healthline, the episode answers common questions about apple cider vinegar such as:
“Does apple cider vinegar help you lose weight?”
“Does apple cider vinegar prevent cancer?”
“Can apple cider vinegar help people with diabetes control blood sugar?”
Skeptoid Episode #709: “Wind Turbines and Birds”
This episode of Skeptoid was fascinating because we didn’t realize that the main opposition to wind turbines comes from...the environmentalists. Specifically, the environmentalists who want to protect birds that may get injured in the turbines.
Skeptoid delves into the debate over wind farms and points out that the National Audubon Society, the largest bird conservation group, actually has an official stance on wind turbines that we were surprised to hear. The science podcast also shares data on the affected bird species and the number of wind turbines in the world to try to calculate how many and which kinds of birds are killed by wind turbines each year.
Skeptoid Episode #690: “Video Games and Violence”
Whether video games cause violence has been a popular debate topic among psychologists and parents for many years now, so this episode of Skeptoid is particularly interesting for those who grew up with video games.
An intriguing feature of this episode is that many of the contemporary sources Skeptoid shares actually disagree with one another. The podcast carefully defines and differentiates between violence and aggressive behavior in the studies cited, and also explains the media’s coverage on the effects of video games.
Unlike the information from many sources of popular media, this Skeptoid podcast introduces a more nuanced view and summarizes the effects of video games from a scientific perspective.
Skeptoid Episode #647: “All About Mindfulness”
For this episode, Skeptoid shares research that has been done on mindfulness, and it makes an engaging listen for anyone thinking about whether to implement mindfulness techniques in their own lives.
Defining and discussing the history and psychology of mindfulness, the podcast takes a perspective on the particular circumstances in which mindfulness can be helpful, and it even goes into the details of where in the brain certain acts of mindfulness occur. Learning more about the scientific research done on mindfulness may help you decide if mindfulness is worthwhile to explore for yourself.
Is the Skeptoid podcast worth a listen?
It depends on your goals. Skeptoid is a great science podcast for those who are looking to fact-check their own beliefs or learn something new about a popular topic, and its educational podcast episodes are designed to use the information from all sides of an issue to seek truth and correct the misinformation that might be quickly spreading on the internet.
We think that Skeptoid would be an especially good fit for listeners who are okay with challenging what they already know and can broaden their minds for honest, open discussion about the topics at hand. The podcast also covers topics in religion, politics, and conspiracy theories, so we suggest that listeners be comfortable with sometimes feeling uncomfortable in their own views and opinions. Genuine curiosity is the key to getting the most out of Skeptoid.
On the other hand, much of the existing criticism that Skeptoid faces has to do with how they can’t cover all the details on a topic in 20-minute episodes, and some of the information Skeptoid shares may become incorrect over time. Plus, attempting to research so many complex, hotly debated topics, Skeptoid is bound to be wrong some of the time (a lesson we learned when we created our Common Misconceptions Test).
We respect Skeptoid for trying to figure out the truth on complex topics when so many others are not. We think the best way to listen to Skeptoid is to also do your own research on the topic (if the topic you care about is one you care a lot about) - just like a true skeptic would.
Many of the topics Skeptoid covers are controversial or debated by many experts in the field for a reason, and to be a good truth-seeker, we must look for information from multiple sources and question their validity before coming to an informed decision. Overall, the Skeptoid podcast is a good place to start learning about these new topics in a short amount of time before our curiosity drives us to find more information.
If the Skeptoid podcast sounds appealing to you, you might also want to check out the Common Misconceptions test, which quizzes you on whether you can spot the falsehoods among common “truths,” or our Skeptical Seekers Test, which evaluates to what extent you have two important personality traits for discovering true things about the world.