Monday, March 30, 2009

Fun with Skepticism

“The UltraMind Solution: The Simple Plan to Sharpen Your Mind; Boost Your Mood; Increase Your Memory; and Even Reverse Autism, ADD, Depression, Alzheimer’s and More…”

I was a little dismayed this past weekend to see such trash playing on my local PBS. As this article notes, PBS is discrediting itself by running such dubious claims. (Fair disclosure: the author disputes the article here.)

In a fit of mild rage, I wrote to WVPT. My letter follows:


I turned on WVPT this morning to see you were running a show by a man claiming to cure Alzheimer's, depression and ADD with some breakthrough vitamin method.

I don't have to do much research to realize that his claims are overblown, and thus, highly suspect. Surely if he had found a solution to deal with issues like Autism or dementia, he would have a Nobel prize by now.

I'm very disappointed to see my local PBS playing an infomercial like this. Most folks trust that PBS will air shows that are of a high quality and that have been, in a sense, "peer reviewed" for substance and factual content. By seeing this infomercial played on WVPT, viewers may assume it's a legitimate health program.

Assuming the cost of this show was very cheap or even free, and that this may have had a part in it being played, I would suggest instead filling that time slot with a re-run of Virginia Farming, an old movie, or even just the station call letters with music.

Thank you for your time,
Amanda Snyder
Charlottesville, VA

And they wrote back! (contact info removed to protect the writer from spammers and malcontents....)

Good morning, Amanda. Thank you for taking the time and interest to write.

I hear and understand your concern. It is true, Dr. Hyman would love for our viewers to buy his book – and of course, we would like viewers to do so through WVPT where the money will support the programming cost. The UltraMind Solution program fully outlines for viewers the ideas presented in his book and there is no attempt to sell viewers a specific vitamin or food for which he makes a profit. It is hard to turn on the news today without hearing someone proclaim that making more healthful life choices can improve many aspects of our lives. Dr. Hyman has earned the respect of many of his colleagues in making that point in a manner that most of us can do and understand.

Just like those who give news analysis, financial strategies or exercise tips, this is simply one more piece of information we can all use in making our own decisions about how we can live our best life.

Again, thank so much for writing.

I hope you always find many entertaining, educational and informative programs on WVPT.


Director of Programming
WVPT/WVPY - Virginia's Public Television
"Our job is to make the agony of decision-making so intense you can escape only by thinking." Fred Friendly

Only on WVPT! Only because of you!

I'm really disappointed in their response. It clearly indicates that the money takes precedence. I encourage everyone to write to PBS about this show.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Watch all of "Cosmos" online for free at Hulu

In 1980, the landmark series Cosmos premiered on public television. Since then, it is estimated that more than a billion people around the planet have seen it. Cosmos chronicles the evolution of the planet and efforts to find our place in the universe. Each of the 13 episodes focuses on a specific aspect of the nature of life, consciousness, the universe and time. Topics include the origin of life on Earth (and perhaps elsewhere), the nature of consciousness, and the birth and death of stars. When it first aired, the series catapulted creator and host Carl Sagan to the status of pop culture icon and opened countless minds to the power of science and the possibility of life on other worlds.

Click here to watch.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Nuns taking backseat to Nones

According to the American Religious Identification Survey 2008, available at, the percentage of Americans claiming no religion has now increased to 15 percent.

However, the acutal number of those who claim to be atheist is still small. The report stated that 1.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheist or agnostic, but based on stated beliefs, 12 percent are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unsure), while 12 percent more are deistic (believe in a higher power but not a personal God). The number of outright atheists has nearly doubled since 2001, from 900,000 to 1.6 million.

Additionally, within the Christian segment, the subset of "non-denominational Christians" increased to 2.5 million in 2008 from 200,000 in 1990. The report suggested that this growth is associated with increased megachurch attendance.

While many have wondered if the declining economy and hard times will cause folks to cling tight to religion, the Pew Forum notes that church attendance is largely unchanged.

In related news, one of UVA's own writes about how the Obama administration may contribute to the decline of religion at


Friday, March 13, 2009

"Why science should become an integral part of our lives"

Richard Dawkins' "Break the Science Barrier" is online in its entirety.

Though I resent the use of bluegrass music to introduce the section on creationism, this is a great show to help motivate you to preach the Good News ... of Science!