I’m heading into the final proofs and formatting of an anthology I’ve been working on for a while, featuring transcripts from the Token Skeptic podcast. This segment is from Episode Sixty-Nine, On Miracle Detectives – Interview With Dr Indre Viskontas; head there to listen to the entire interview.
The reason why I’m transcribing select interviews for my book is two-fold: firstly, I’ve always enjoyed reading as well as listening to interviews in general. The book ‘Lunch of Blood’ by Antonella Gambotto-Burke and the Enough Rope series conducted by Andrew Denton are particular favorites of mine.
Secondly, as someone who has used transcripts for aural exams, along with basic training in sign language, I thought that these could prove useful as an educational tool in some form. Since there are few modern anthologies that investigate current figures in skepticism – why not write one? I took up the challenge and it should be out by the end of the month.
I’ve got a lot of interviews that I’ve done over the years and I’m tempted to fit in one or two more… who do you think I should aim to interview in the future?
As for this one? Dr. Viskontas holds a PhD from UCLA in cognitive neuroscience, focusing her studies on how memories and other cognitive processes are supported by neural networks. Aside from being the Associate Editor of the journal Neurocase and performing in contemporary and classical operas as a soprano, Dr. Viskontas co-stars in the television program “Miracle Detectives”, which aired its first season on the Oprah Winfrey Network. You can find out more about Dr Viskontas’ career, and art by visiting her online at www.indreviskontas.com.
Kylie Sturgess: There must have been some pretty intensive discussions about going forth to be a co-host on a TV show on the Oprah Winfrey Network. What was everyone’s response, and what was your initial response when you were first asked to be on the Miracle Detectives?
Dr Indre Viskontas: Well, I have to admit that when I first got the email I thought it was spam and almost immediately deleted it. I actually had just signed with a talent agent, because I was looking to use my presentational skills within science or industry. So I sent along to my agent, and she came back and said, “No, no. This is real. This is a great production company, and you should follow up with them.”
I did, and for a long time I just didn’t think that I had a chance of landing the part, because I figured, “Who am I?” There are so many other people who are seemingly more qualified, who have experience in television or who do this for a living or have been doing this for twenty years.
There was a series of rounds that we had to go through. First I had to make a five minute video about why I thought I would be good at doing the show. Then they flew out to San Francisco where I lived to film me for fifteen minutes, asking me certain questions. Then finally I made the final four, and they flew me down to LA for a two hour screen test.
Every step of the way I thought, “Well, I’m not going to get into the next round.” Yet every time they called me and I would move forward, I got more and more excited about it. It became more real to me. It really wasn’t until pretty late in the game that I told my family about it.
Sturgess: Good for you!
Viskontas: I’ve been known as the black sheep! I think they rolled their eyes and then thought, “Well, we’ll see if this ever gets off the ground.” Then, of course, when it did get off the ground and they were able to see the show, they were very, very proud and happy.
But there’s another side part of the story which I think is interesting to people. I actually found out that I got the job just as I was coming into the Namache Bazaar, which is a town that’s 11,000 feet above sea level in Nepal! It was because my uncle had decided that he was turning sixty-five, and he really wanted to get to Mount Everest Base Camp while he still could. I was there with a whole bunch of physicians. It was actually a continuing medical education course on wilderness medicine. I get this phone call saying they’ve hired me to do this job, and here I was, in a roomful of physicians: “Now I’m going to be spending the summer investigating miracles!” It was an amazing experience.
Sturgess: I can imagine. Your family was supportive… What’s the general feedback been like from the public? How well has the show been received?
Viskontas: I think it’s mixed. I think everyone that I meet that has seen the show loves it, and they tell me why they love it. It’s very polarising. A lot of my friends will say, “We love you on the show, but we can’t stand listening to your co-host.”
Then on the website there’s a lot of the opposite, because the target audience is women who are primarily between the ages, I think, of 25 and 50 who believe in miracles, who want to believe in the supernatural. I’m foreseen as the downer, as the dream killer, even though, obviously, I don’t think of myself that way.
Sturgess: Yeah, they’ve said comparisons to The X-Files, the Scully to the Mulder, as it were.
Viskontas: Yeah. I like that comparison a lot because I feel like, yes, although Scully needed proof, she was a compassionate and an interesting character. I feel like that’s an important part of… When we show skepticism or science on TV, we need to show our human side, too. Because so often we hide behind arguments, and it’s then very easy for people to just throw us away and say, “Well, you don’t have a heart,” or, “You’re close minded.”
I worked very hard during the filming of the show to try to demonstrate that I am empathic and I do sympathise with the people who have had these life experiences. But I’m just not willing to, necessarily, go out and make an extraordinary claim if the evidence isn’t all that extraordinary or without investigating it.