On Podcasting, Skepticism, Atheism… And Truffles

Podfade - “Podcasting has drawn thousands on the premise that anyone can create an audio program, build an audience online and even vault to stardom. Less celebrated is the fact that untold numbers of shows just wink out just as suddenly as they started.” – Podfading Takes It’s Toll, Wired, 2008.

We Should Totally Do A Podcast!” - Shit Skeptics Say.

One of the things I pretty much inadvertently did with the book The Scope of Skepticism (I know, I know – but it’s new and all and I’ve nearly sold 40 copies already, so go get one) was include more women than men in the final selection of interviews. If you look at the history of the Token Skeptic and other interviews I’ve conducted, you’ll see the influence of the likes of Dr Karen Stollznow, Dr Pamela Gay, Swoopy, Desiree Schell, on my approach to topics and the questions asked.

So, it seemed fairly inevitable that there’d be a tendency towards profiling women more than men in the book, even though I said in the introduction that I should make more of an effort to contact long-term contributors to skepticism – for example, at the World Skeptics convention, I introduced myself to James Alcock by saying “You’re the first person I cited in my thesis!“… but then I never got around to asking him for an interview.

Perhaps at a future event I’ll have the chance. The fact that the majority of those long-term skeptical contributors happen to be men won’t deter me from also seeking out similarly long-term contributors who are women; I’ve even had a great tip for a future interview in that regard.

Being forward and requesting interviews can sometimes be scary and I don’t really know why. Perhaps it’s the likelihood of a demoralising “No, thanks,“, or technical factors that can mess up an interview. I’m particularly wary of being one of half a dozen shows in a week that are all playing the exact same interview… I mean, seriously, James Randi gives great interviews, but five podcasts all in one week featuring him? I honestly find it impossible to be thrilled by the idea.

The Amazing Meeting is one event that makes shows tend towards carbon-copying the same content ["It's Ben Radford!... Again?" Yes, you're brilliant Ben - it's not you... it's us...Actually, you should blow everyone's brains and just interview yourself for Monster Talk and scoop all the shows to an exclusive!] – but it doesn’t mean that podcasters can’t think outside of the box. Stop, look at what the other shows in your category are doing… and do something different? Is that the key? Is there any space for anything new in podcasting anymore? I guess that’s another reason why I wrote the book of transcripts and essays in the first place… to do something new.

It’s something I remember having on a sticky-note over my recording equipment – “Get the un-gettable“. Well, it got an interview with Stephen Fry, so there must be something to this journalistic-approach I’ve developed…

Back when I did my first conventions as a podcaster (back in 2008, I think, at a convention in Adelaide, when sitting on the steps talking to fellow attendee Peter Ellerton) – I started the trend of interviewing the audience more often than the presenters. Once I got about four to five great interviews at Dragon*Con 2009 – by catching up with people in between shows. Often the audience will give fresher, more lively perspectives on how things are going at an event and have the additional fun buzz of knowing they’d guest-star on a future episode.

To be frank, I think the audience of podcasts should also step up in that regard and say “Well, X is a wonderful, well-known contributor, sure, but… have you considered…?” I wouldn’t be surprised if the low retention rate of many podcasts in the skeptical and atheist categories are due to once-keen podcasters realising that they tend to do the same kinds of interviews as every other show ["Ben Radford! Again!"] and the same kinds of news-panel-formats as other shows… and then wonder why their audience numbers are low, which then leads to eventually giving up altogether. If you count all the commercially based shows, many from radio stations and funded companies, it can become tough to be noticed [heard?] amongst the crowd anyway

All of these things are uppermost in my mind, as I brainstorm a future event I’ll be doing. So, any feedback on the topic of podcasting from my readers (and listeners?) would be great, as I’ll be adding these to my notes for discussion and diving into the research as I do so. This is, after all, an established media outreach too since the mid-2000s; even though “anyone can do a podcast”, there’s going to be studies into how/why/what for.

It’ll be my third time looking at the topic of science podcasting for an audience and what can a practitioner say to those who are interested in starting or wish to know what can still be done. So… what do you want to know?

In the meantime, I’ll have one more podcast episode out later today – and they once had a recipe on their blog which is sadly no longer accessible. So, in the spirit of gift-giving, passing on advice and good-natured feedback - with credit to Dr Brooke Magnanti – here’s some truffles that I’ll be making later today.

“For those who have read the books, you’ll already be familiar with my holiday gift-giving tradition of truffles.” – The Gyst of It, Dr Brooke Magnanti.

 INGREDIENTS
150g (5 oz) dark chocolate
2 tablespoons of dark rum
150ml (¼ pint) double cream
24g (1 oz) butter
Zest of 1 orange
2 cloves

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon of plain flour
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
toasted nuts (optional)

1. Break up the chocolate and melt in a saucepan on a low heat, along with the cream and butter, and the cloves.

2. Grate the orange peel directly into the saucepan; add a squeeze of juice if you like. After a few minutes, stir in the rum and add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.

3. Keep stirring for about 3 minutes, then pick out the cloves and transfer the mixture to a bowl, and place this in the fridge overnight.

4. The next day, dust a wooden board with the flour, and sprinkle some cocoa powder and the remaining cinnamon over it too. If you’re using toasted nuts, keep them on a plate nearby.

5. Take heaped teaspoons of the chilled truffle mixture and roll into small balls with your hands. Roll these in the flour/cocoa/cinnamon mixture (and then in the nuts if you like) and plop into petit-four cases.

Chill until ready to serve.

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • Pingback: …How Did The Truffles Turn Out? Token Skeptic On The Sex Myth Now Out! | Token Skeptic

  • linda b

    My question is that there was a reported 96 active skeptic podcasts said from the stage at TAM2012, is there really room for any more?

  • Uta F

    You mentioned fadeout with podcasts (podfade), are there things to do to stop this? I’m thinking of the skepchick podcast that had about five episodes and disappeared even though they weren’t making ti a science podcast but a culture podcast. Should skeptics be branching out into non-science, like Hrab’s comedy show, more?

  • Sorb

    Hi, love the show:

    How many active science (not skeptic) podcasts are there really?

    What are the factors that make them more popular than others (is it all in the advertising of them)?

  • Kylie Sturgess
  • http://scienceontop.com Ed Brown

    Hey Kylie,
    I was thinking the other day about the “Great Superheroes of Skepticism” panel at last year’s DragonCon. You might remember it – you were on it! I thought that was a great panel, since I didn’t really know much about the history of skepticism. Maybe you could do something similar to that – interviewing some of the ‘greats’ of skepticism but not so much about what they’re doing now, but what they have done or what their ‘heroes’ have done.

    I haven’t thought it through very well, obviously. But for example – I don’t mind hearing Ben Radford all the time but I’d like to hear him talk about something other than the Chupacabra. Does that make sense?

    It’s just a thought.

    Good luck!

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Yes, I think we’re well overdue in a history lesson!

      As for Ben – I like his monster investigations, it’s just it seems we podcasters tap into that and not his other fields! It’s why I took the approach with the interviews I did – the attachment to ‘monsters’ and then media myths re: women. He has SO much to talk about, and yet we podcasters get stuck with our ideas as to what to ask at times, I think? His panels at the last Dragoncon, for example, on conspiracy theories, was brilliant!

  • http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com Jonny Scaramanga

    I think one possibility is to go looking for skeptic stories that aren’t getting coverage. It’s obviously a very hard road to go. If you can get a reputation for being interesting (and I think you do), rather than for celebrity guests, then people will listen for you rather than for the famous speakers.

    Heat Magazine is dependent on the celebrity coverage. If Heat had a week where they didn’t cover any famous people, it wouldn’t sell. Whereas magazines like, I suppose, the Spectator or New Statesman, are famed for the quality of the writing more than the fame of the writers. That means I would read an article in those magazines without knowing who wrote it, because I expect it would be interesting.

    On the other hand, I think Seth MacFarlane would make an awesome skeptical podcast interviewee.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Now you’ve given me a goal… Seth MacFarlane, after I’ve found someone like that Jonny fellow who was recommended to me by Milton…


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