Whose side are you on, Flatow?

I’ve been listening to Bethell vs. Mooney on Science Friday, and I’ve come to one conclusion: I really need to slap Ira Flatow. Repeatedly. And maybe kick him a few times, too.

He was playing right into Bethell’s hands. Bethell was rambling and vague, and he went on and on, and Flatow fed into it. Mooney had to interrupt several times and demand a chance to rebut (and good for him—he was on the attack, as he needed to be), and at least once Flatow stopped Mooney for a commercial and then asked Bethell to follow up afterwards.

Worse, Flatow wouldn’t allow any depth. They’d start getting into HIV and Bethell’s denial, and just as Mooney was getting into it, he’d say, “Now we need to talk about global warming!” Come on, FOCUS. The strengths of science come into play when we have a chance to dig deep and actually grapple with the issues; Bethell is a superficial flibbertigibbet who knows nothing, and this show gave him a forum for his usual unsupported pronouncements of doubt.

Grrr. Mooney was appropriately assertive, but it sounds like we need to go to new levels of aggression: next interview, bring duct tape and a clothesline. Shut the interviewer up, and charge right into the data. I can’t believe Flatow let Bethell get away with that crap.


  1. says

    It still came off to my ears like Bethel was rambling and incoherent and Mooney wiped the floor with him even if he only got a small touch on the subjects interviewer aside. But you’re right it would have been nice to get some depth on at least one subject.

  2. says

    Oh, I agree — when he could get a word in, Mooney was walking all over Bethell. It’s still annoying that Bethell got more credibility than he deserves by being on Science Friday, and Flatow was doing a Jodi Wilgoren imitation.

  3. chrisj says

    I’ve found Ira to a pretty bad interviewer for a while now, but that was unforgivable. Full marks to Mooney for keeping his cool – I couldn’t have done that.
    Bethell? Oh boy. Since when did ignorance become a valid viewpoint?

  4. Carlie says

    I agree, but at least Ira did butt in on Bethell a couple of times with his own incredulous “WTF???” exclamations. Boo on not letting Chris speak more, though. I think that the slow, stuttering voice Bethell has lends itself to dominating conversations like that – take long enough to make your point, and it looks rude to try and interrupt someone who’s stuttering, and before you know it they’ve run out the clock.

  5. BlueIndependent says

    LMAO! I’ve been refreshing my browser for 10 minutes waiting for you to put up a post about this.

    PZ, I think you’re looking at this the wrong way. Bethell took the wheel and drove off the nearest cliff from the first word out of his mouth. I thought this hour was going to be centered on evolution vs. ID, but I think Bethell’s mental blindness derailed everything. To me, both Ira and Chris seemed confused as to what he was going on about.

    Seriously: you dont go on NPR to talk about how much it sucks that senators’ names get on the sides of buildings, which is what he essentially opened with.

    I consider it a perfectly skillful hour by Mooney, who jumped on Bethell any time he broke from what his book says. I think this was probably the best thing Chris could’ve done even, as it will maybe stem a few books sales. But Chris had Bethell well in hand regardless of the subject.

    Bethell seemed to imply that his book wasn’t published how he intended, and that liberties were taken that he had no control over. That seemed to be what he was saying, and if that is indeed what he is saying, I’m raising the BULLSHIT flag. If you don’t mean what the front of your book says, then why is it on there? At least we can credit AC for being less wishy-washy on her book jackets.

    It was probably the single worst Science Friday in NPR’s history, but trust me, we won that one, however ugly it was. Ultimately, it’s obvious who was to blame for such a terrible “debate”.

    I had never heard Bethell before, and now I am certain my torture would be listening to him stumble on for hours about subjects he has not the wit to trouble himself with reading about.

    I sent Chris a congratulatory email.

  6. Lixivium says

    Like I wrote in an earlier thread, I like the way Flatow introduced the show:

    “Tom Bethell…thinks liberals have hijacked science long enough. Chris Mooney…disagrees.”

    Despite Flatow’s stammering interruptions and Bethell’s rambling, Mooney did an awesome job.

    Bethell got PWNED, as they say on the internets.

  7. says

    Hmmm. I wonder if I should even bother listening to the Science Friday podcast, given that I missed it due to work…

  8. Grumpy says

    …Flatow stopped Mooney for a commercial…

    If so, that’s the worst part: NPR airing commercials!

  9. says

    I thought Bethell came across as a rambling, shallow thinker unable to organize his thoughts. Which made him a dramatic contrast to Chris Mooney, who was incisive, quick on his feet, and articulate. Mooney is a huge asset.

    It wasn’t good radio for one reason, really: because Bethell was a bore who took the conversation down several irrelevant dead ends before sputtering out in incoherence. I’m not sure there’s anything Flatow could have done about it other than cutting him off repeatedly. Flatow tried to pin him down on specific points, but Bethell seemed confused about what he himself was trying to say. Watcha gonna do?

  10. Unstable Isotope says

    I thought Flatow was o.k. I think both Flatow and Mooney were kind of having a WTF moment when Bethel was going on about government funding for science being bad. Flatow did let Bethel ramble on way too long, but Bethel was his own worst enemy. He came across was really kooky. I think it was Flatow who asked if Bethel thought one skeptic should get equal weight to many scientists who have reached concensus. Bethel seemed to think concensus was proof the scientists were wrong!

    Bethel really hurt himself with the AIDS denial. Flatow really had a WTF moment about that? Bethel also kind of slipped by with his remark on homeosis (small amounts of bad things are good for you), which is complete pseudoscience. Chris realized that he just had to talk over the guy to get a word in edgewise. I’m not sure if Flatow was just fascinated with the kookiness of Bethel or if he was bending over backwards to give him “equal” time (equal = more).

    Kudos to Chris. He could beat Bethel in a debate with half his brain tied behind his back.

  11. BlueIndependent says

    No kidding about the AIDS thing: Bethell was atrociously bad. Denying the AIDS epidemic is nothing short of an OMG. Even the religious right knows that’s not false.

    I look forward to more interviews with anti-evolution know-nothings. This one wasn’t a debate so much as it was an experiment to see how far Bethell could dig himself down. He ended up making it about half way to China.

  12. Furlong says

    Oh, I think Bethell at least poked his head up in China and had a look around, saw the fossil of the latest T. rex ancestor and scurried back down his hole. Two more years of winter.

  13. says

    Ok, I’m doing some online research on cosmology and non-Euclidean geometries, and I stumble across an audio of an interview Flatow did for Science Friday with a physicist named Lisa Randall. About halfway through the show he informs Dr. Randall that she’s a Jodie Foster look-alike and then leads her on a five minute discussion of how she should use that to popularize her ideas on string theory. Because, he says, “that’s the problem, right? How do you make string theory as popular as string bikinis?” As she laughs uncomfortably at all this, he assures her he meant the comparison as a “backhanded compliment” and he’s just saying, “look, this is a woman whose got brains, but she’s got incredible beauty too.”

    So I retract my earlier defense of the man. Ira Flatow is an idiot.

  14. Laurence Jewett says

    I did not catch the program, but I have listened to Science Friday a few times over the years and the main problem with the show — like most other NPR shows over the last 6 years — is that “BALANCE” now drives everything.

    If the topic was the geometry of the earth, NPR would undoubtedly give a Flat Earther “equal” time (actually MORE time, to be “Fair and Balanced”, since Flat Earther’s brain works much slower than that of most people.)

    Tom Bethel, who has denied AIDS is killing people in Africa
    should NEVER have been given a platform for his idiotic ideas on national radio to begin with .

    Those who donate to NPR should really think about this the next time they write a check. Is this REALLY where you want your dollars going?

  15. says

    A few years ago a friend and I compared lists of our most-hated public radio personalities. Once Steve Roberts was disqualified on a technicality, Flatow topped both lists.

  16. Laurence Jewett says

    PZ Myers: “Flatow was doing a Jodi Wilgoren imitation.”
    (“When did the NY Times decide that porosity, permeability, and flocculence were important job qualifications?”)

    Far too many “journalists” these days seem to think that journalism is ALL about starting with equal concentrations of “left-ink” (blue) and “right-ink” (red) on either side of a permeable membrane and then allowing the system to equilibrate.

    The end result is a perfect “balance” of the two colors: not too red and not too blue. Just right — and very pretty.

    That’s all there is to it.

  17. says

    Flatow was annoying but he nailed Bethell with “it’s right on the cover: liberals have hijacked science for long enough” and Bethell was strangely defensive with “you’re quoting dust-jacket copy…”

    It’s his dust-jacket!

    Kudos to Mooney for letting him have it on a couple of key points. I thought I could detect a shake in Bethell’s voice for a moment there.

  18. Laurence Jewett says

    David Appell said “It’s also not Ira Flatow’s job to take sides with anyone”

    It really depends what one means by “taking sides”.

    While it is not his job to takes sides with individuals based on opinion alone, it is certainly his job to side with “reason based upon the facts” when his guests make outlandish claims (eg, “AIDS is not killing people in Africa”) that conflict with practically all available (and credible) evidence. In such a case, he should, at a minimum, demand evidence from his guest for the outlandish claim(s).

    If the latter version of “taking sides” is not part of Flatow’s job description, it certainly should be. Otherwise, his people are allowed to make all kinds of wacky claims (“I was abducted by aliens one day and whisked away at 100 times light speed to a far galaxy and then returned on the previous day”) without any challenge whatsoever.

  19. slpage says

    Laurence wrote:

    “I did not catch the program, but I have listened to Science Friday a few times over the years and the main problem with the show — like most other NPR shows over the last 6 years — is that “BALANCE” now drives everything. ”

    Exactly true – a bit off topic I suppose, but this ‘balance’ crap has filtered down even into the local public radio broadcasts. A week or so ago, Vermont Public Radio had a story about a move by the Vermont legislature to declare a big swath of state forrest ‘wilderness’, which I gather gives it some sort of ‘hands off’ legal standing (no logging, no roads, no motor vehicles, etc.). The program had a lobbyist for a logging company, which, of course, opposes the measure, on opposite a state environmentalist. A little background – a poll was done and it showed that something like 70-80% of Vermonters favored the declaration. The lobbyist carried on about jobs and families and such, and the environmentalist pointed out how few jobs would be affected and so forth.

    At one point, a caller asked a very interesting question – he asked the environmentalist how he felt having to sit across from a hired gun for the logging industry who will do and say whatever he has to, including spreading disinformation, all in the name of ‘balance’ despite the fact that overwhelming majority of Vermonters favored the move. Great question, but the host took great umbrage to it, claiming that this was an important issue and both sides deserved a hearing, blah blah blah.

    Every issue does NOT have two equally valid sides. When is the “liberal media” going to learn this?