Sunday, January 6, 2008

The predictions for 2007

I haven't listened to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe for a long time. I have had this before: there is only so much I can stand from this panel style podcast. Even though the news items and interviews are always new, I feel there is a certain repetitiveness to the show. In addition, the studious poking between the panel members, becomes very tedious after some time. Third and not least, Perry DeAngelis is sorely missing among the speakers. His death remains a serious blow.

As a new year resolution, I returned to the Skeptics and gave them another run. Last week I dropped out, but this week I stayed on. Befitting the new year, there was the subject of 2007 predictions. What had the psychics in store for 2007 and how well did they do. The panel can't come up with one successful prediction apart from someone who has been predicting Anna Nicole Smith's death ever since 2003 and finally in 2007 got it right.

Even though personally I can't put up with this podcast time and again, generally it is a good recommendation. I think SGU is among the science podcasts with the widest audience and probably the most successful skeptical podcast in the world. Where I am put off by too much eager to please banter, the formula proves to be catching for a wide audience and that is exactly what skepticism needs. Kudos to SGU, even if I do not listen.

Previously on SGU:
In memoriam: Perry DeAngelis,
Barry Glassner,
Interview with Jimmy Carter,
Brian Trent,
Scott Lilienfield.

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What main stream language use won't show

I have finished the linguistics course from the University of Arizona by Amy Fountain. I cannot generally recommend this lecture series as a podcast (feed). It is too difficult to put up with missing out on visuals and it is highly technical, which may be interesting to some people, but I assume, not for the whole wide audience. When I mailed Ms. Fountain my previous reviews, she wrote me back:
You're very right about my not taking into account enough the podcast listeners in terms of the visuals in the lectures, that's something I'll think about in subsequent efforts.

So, the next series will be better. In the mean time, when looking back, some lectures stand out as more accessible to the average user. The story of English and the lecture about language families are less technical and contain a lot of interesting facts. As noted in the first review, the first lecture is also good for everybody, especially those who need to be freed from their grammar angst. There is this thing 'descriptive grammar' - it is serious grammar, describing what native speakers experience as correct use of their tongue, without the smart gits dotting the i's and squaring the t's.

I'd like to especially praise the lecture about taboo language. (Don't listen if you cannot stand the references to all kinds of swear words.) The most amazing thing about the lecture is how Fountain shows that the study of bad language can teach serious things to linguists. If you wonder whether English allows for infixes (bits of words inserted in other words), you'll find the positive answer only in swearing. And what about pig-Latin: the way this scrambles words (like 'scram' turns 'amscray') teaches linguists how English syllables are constructed. Never bash a foul mouth again. You may earnlay something new.

The two previous reviews: A new adventure and Prescriptive and descriptive grammar.

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