Some huge blinders

Penn Jillette’s assholeness goes way back. (I wasn’t paying attention to him then. I can’t pay attention to everything. I’m a nerd. Quit looking at me like that.) Massimo Pigliucci was pointing it out way back in 2009.

…as we have learned recently from the Atheist Alliance / Dawkins Foundation / Bill Maher fiasco, “skepticism” is sometimes too broad a label, as someone can be properly skeptical in politics but not about pseudoscience (Maher), while someone else may be great at debunking astrology and magnetic therapy, and yet also unable to shed some huge blinders when it comes to politically charged issues. The latter is, unfortunately, P&T’s case, as made excruciatingly clear by the 2008 (season 6) episode “Being Green” of Bullshit!

P&T’s libertarian blinders simply do not allow them to accept something that is so obvious to anyone who looks at the data and listens to the actual experts in atmospheric science: yes, Penn, global warming is happening; and yes, Teller, a good part of it is caused by human beings. Instead, the best P&T can do is to resuscitate a television weather man from the 1970s to assure us that global warming is a myth. And of course we have the predictable appearance of a guy from a libertarian think tank (the Cascade Policy Institute), who has no credentials that we know of, except being President of said think tank. (Note to self: create own think tank and declare yourself President. Make sure to have web site and business card. No thinking is actually necessary.) Needless to say, no one with a knowledgeable alternative viewpoint is presented during the show.

Instead, our libertarian heros keep telling us to relax, enjoy life, and drive SUVs, despite showing at the beginning of the episode a good number of frightening examples of all too real environmental destruction.

They’re right off my Christmas card list.


  1. catof many faces says

    The recycling episode was when i stopped watching them.

    They missed the whole point so hard it hurt to watch…

  2. says

    They were also assholes about the Americans with Disabilities Act, mocking the idea of having Braille on ATM buttons in drivethrough banks *as if the ADA actually mandated that* and *as if it were possible for banks to cut some costs if only they could purchase Braille-free ATMs for their drivethrough brances*,

    Gee P&T, is it cheaper for ATM component manufacturers to have *one* production line that stamps every button-pad with Braille since by far the majority of ATMs are in non-drivethrough locations, or is it cheaper to have *two* production lines just so that some machines that won’t be used by the visually impaired won’t have to have it on there? Show your figures, go on.

    Since a friend of mine drew my attention to that episode of Bullshit, I’ve discounted them as a potential source of useful information.

  3. says

    p.s. that episode also didn’t take into account the possibility of a visually impaired person being a rear-passenger in a car going through a drivethrough branch.

  4. Al Dente says

    Penn and Teller are excellent stage magicians. Since being a competent stage magician lets one see how frauds like Uri Geller and Peter Popoff do their tricks, some stage magicians think they’re expert in other fields of skepticism. Knowing how Geller can bend a spoon without using his mind doesn’t mean one knows anything about climate change or second-hand smoke.

  5. says

    The funny thing about this is that Penn, at least, now lamely accepts that anthropogenic climate change is real. His explanation for that? “Peer pressure and society wore me down.”

    That’s some top notch skepticism right there. Don’t accept something on the basis of scientific consensus, accept it because you’re tired of arguing!

    Moreover, he now claims that he never doubted it, just that the solution is not “big government regulations” but rather MOAR FREEDOM!

    The guy is a joke.

  6. says

    I saw a few episodes of Bullshit! a few years ago, when I had Showtime for a while.
    I remember even then getting turned off after coming to one where they declared ‘taxes’ to be bs… I don’t think that was the only thing, but that’s the one I remember clearly demonstrating they weren’t that well rounded at skepticism.

  7. Stacy says

    Speaking of Jillette’s assholism going way back–and of his defense of sophisticated epistemological humor–let’s not forget his lyrics to “My Boyfriend’s Back”:

    Yeah, my boyfriend’s back
    (La-day-la, my boyfriend’s
    Look out now, yeah, my boyfriend’s back
    (La-day-la, my boyfriend’s back)
    Let’s all slip her a roofie
    (La-day-la, my boyfriend’s back)
    And take turns fucking her
    (La-day-la, my boyfriend’s back)
    Stick your cock in her mouth now.
    (La-day-la, my boyfriend’s back)
    Just to shut her the fuck up, now
    (La-day-la, my boyfriends’s back)
    My boyfriend’s back now
    (La-day-la, my boyfriend’s back)

  8. Al Dente says

    Jillette has been a sexist for years and that hasn’t been worn off by “peer pressure and society.”

  9. Cuttlefish says

    My brother created a think-tank, and was the president of said organization when it had a total of 2 members, including him. Being “President of X” got him published in a great many publications, which was a good thing. It’s a tool, which can be used for bad as well as for good.

  10. says

    I liked a lot of Bullshit!, but yeah, those blinders.

    It would be one thing if in, say, the second hand smoking episode, that they said “Ok, here’s the evidence, and it’s fairly good as science, but it does not justify indoor smoking bans because…”. That might be an argument worth listening to, because at least they are starting from a solid basis in reality.

    But no. If government regulation is involved, or potentially involved, the standard of evidence they require for it to even be real goes way up. It’s almost like they believe that the government should regulate against all bad things- otherwise, why would they go to such insane lengths to disprove things that the government does or might regulate? Doesn’t sound very libertarian to me. Libertarianism, to hear it described*, you accept reality as it is and oppose government intervention anyways. You don’t have to disprove something to stand against the government regulating it.

    *- Of course, how libertarians actually behave is often far different from the lofty ideals they claim.

  11. johnthedrunkard says

    I saw a couple of episodes of Bullshit, certainly the first was worthwhile. I have not seen their triumphant debunkings of climate change and second hand smoke but there is NO surprise.

    None of the notes has mentioned RAND yet. PLEEEASE do a bit of digging. Rand was supposedly ‘atheist,’ though her irrational beliefs and messianic fervor are hard to match outside of fundamentalist cults.

    And the categorical rejection of environmental concerns, and the dangers of smoking, were CENTRAL dogmas for Rand. Most of her followers used to chain smoke through cigarette holders in order to ape her. And it used to be said that you could always tell you were in an Objectivist’s house because they would have a picture of skyscrapers prominently posted.

  12. Onamission5 says

    @Stacy #8

    WTF, those lyrics. Holy shit.

    I quit watching Bullshit after the recycling episode, too. That plus the incessant jiggling tits dotting each segment pretty much did me in. We get it, you guys like boobs, enough already and let’s hear some more about the HOA that wouldn’t allow a lady in OR to have a small clothesline in her own back yard.

  13. clamboy says

    I once knew an instructor at the University of Washington who used a short clip from Bullsh!t to teach a lesson about argumentation – specifically, how language can be used in such slippery, but convincing, ways.

    In the episode, P&T are talking about income inequality, looking at Wal-Mart and the complaints people have made about the wages received by their low-end workers. P&T confront the “myth” of low wages (compared to the very high wages of executives) by saying the “average” wage of a Wal-Mart employee is such-and-such, and that’s a VERY FINE WAGE INDEED for anyone.

    The instructor challenged the class to address the use of the word “average,” with the question, “Which meaning of the word ‘average’ do you think they are using?” With a little digging, it became clear that P&T were using the common definition – add up all the salaries, divide by the number of employees, and voila! The average wage at Wal-Mart. The instructor then went on to define the word “median,” and also said something like, “Were Bill Gates to walk into this room, the average wealth of everyone in the room, using the formula from the TV show, would suddenly increase by several orders of magnitude.”

    It was a pretty effective lesson, and also quite illuminating of P&T’s tactics.

  14. njuhgnya says

    I’ve always thought hardcore libertarians to be literally retarded, how naive and deluded do you have to be to not grasp the most basic aspects of game theory? Of course they are stage magicians so I guess we shouldn’t be too cruel, it’s not their fault they are histrionic, emotionally stunted children!

  15. suttkus says


    I’ve never understood people trying to use averages that way. Even if the distribution is balanced and the median and average are similar, so? “We keep 1/3 of our employees in 70 degree rooms, 1/3 in 40 degree rooms, and 1/3 in 100 degree rooms. On average, they’re all comfortable. I mean, hey, we’re only mistreating SOME of them, right? But the average! Look at the average! Everything is fine on average!”

  16. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Back in my “skeptic” days (*blush*) I bought the first tree seasons of Bullshit! on DVD (sorry… :-/), but even then I didn’t bother watching any of the episodes that got anywhere near a political subject. It’s pretty damn revealing that the most harmless pseudoscientific beliefs imaginable (in Bigfoot etc.) are universally considered incompatible with being a “skeptic”, whereas embracing an equally pseudoscientific and actively dangerous piece of nonsense like climate change denialism does not disqualify you from being considered a “though leader” among “skeptics”. It’s almost as if being a “skeptic” didn’t automatically make all your views “rational” or “scientific” after all…

  17. leni says

    WTF, those lyrics. Holy shit.

    I know. So fucking creepy.

    My internal god of jokes just threw up in her mouth. She is not jealous or wroth and has full veto power on all my comedy selections, but I think it might still be wise to limit her exposure to Penn Jillette’s “humor”.

  18. JoeBuddha says

    I continually read about how religion poisons everything; how for good people to bad things requires religion. I’m not going to comment on the validity of the above, only to note that it seems to apply to Libertarianism as well. It just feels like any other brand of fundamentalism.

  19. Marius says

    Well, I knew he was an arsehole, but those lyrics… fuck me

    What was the context there? I mean, what the fuck? How does this person still have admirers?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *