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Passing through my third-life crisis peacefully in South London, finding out new stuff, and then getting cross and excited about it.

Friday, 8 January 2010

DJ Grothe on the Pod Delusion

It may be hard to believe, but I do have a life outside the Pod Delusion. However, today’s episode is the most exciting for me so far, as it contains a world exclusive interview I did yesterday with DJ Grothe, in his first week as President of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).

He was previously at the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and I first came across him via their podcast, Point of Inquiry, which he has hosted for around 4 years. It was my first route into skepticism, an increasingly major part of who I am and what I do. For those reasons, the interview was an absolute joy for me to do.

Here’s the episode

But I’d encourage you to listen to the full interview which is around 20mins long. It has a lot more on the Randi & global warming issue, as well as DJ’s background as a magician, the announcement of the next TAM London, his experience of Rebecca Watson’s drinking ability and the Million dollar challenge.

I wanted to offer some reflections on the experience, and also some of the things DJ said.

-         DJ is an absolute delight to talk to. He rightly attracts praise for the intelligence and subtlety of Point of Inquiry, and it comes across when he is the interviewee as well. He was willing to talk about any topic, and generous to a fault. I can’t think of many other figures with his profile who’d give 5 exclusives* to a small but upcoming podcast

-         His comments on Randi and global warming were, to me, spot on, as I blogged a few of weeks ago. He rightly takes skeptics to task for fanning the flames and playing into the real deniers hands, but also states that it would have been better if Randi had done some research before his first post (this bit is in the longer interview, so make sure you listen to it).

-         The Randi section and DJ’s general comments on the future of the JREF are fascinating. They show that DJ has enormous respect for Randi and understands what the JREF’s role and mission have been, but that he has his own ideas and priorities. It is his first interview since taking the job less than a week ago, yet he disagrees with his new boss, and has clear ideas about how the organisation will expand and connect with the wider skeptical community. This is not a man who wants to bask in the glory of the JREF’s founder. This is a man with a vision, who will be one of the leading voices in skepticism over the next 20 years.

-         DJ talks about CFI, the JREF and their roles in skepticism, something he spoke about at length on the SGU in July. Taking both interviews together, I sense frustration about the direction that CFI has taken over the last few years. Clearly, DJ has advocated they take a less controlling, top down attitude, and this is something the JREF is more comfortable with and better placed to action.

-         Given this, it will be fascinating to see how the big players in skepticism develop over the next couple of years, particularly as both are doing more work in the UK now (last year saw both the first TAM London but also the launch of CFI London). There are a number of middle sized organisations in the UK who work in skepticism or closely aligned areas, and it’s my hope they can work in their own fields to complement one another, rather than entering into competition. As it goes, I think the signs are excellent – witness the libel reform campaign, where Sense About Science has joined forces with English PEN and Index On Censorship. I hope to blog about this in more detail next week.

And now some more personal comments:

-         Interviewing is bloody hard, especially when it’s someone you agree with. In the original recording I kept commenting “Yep” on everything DJ said, which made me sound like a very positive idiot. The main problem is the things we didn’t have time to ask, but will have to get to next time:

o       who were his favourite interviews over those 4 years?**
o       will he be at TAM Australia?
o       what were his thoughts on the controversy about CFI’s blasphemy day?
o       what will be the main differences between him and Phil Plait at the JREF?
o       can he really outdrink PZ Myers?
o       what does DJ stand for?

-         However, editing is even harder. I say “er” an awful lot, and so to get the time down, had to do a million little cuts. The interview took 30 mins to record, and 4 hours to edit, and even now I wish the quality was better and that I’d edited the shorter version differently.

-         All this, of course, just adds to my respect for DJ’s work on Point Of Inquiry, but also Thomas Donnelly whose work on editing is completely invisible and therefore exceptional.

-         I will be at TAM London 2010 if I have to claw the ticket from Richard Wiseman’s cold dead fingers (sorry, Richard. - yours was just the first name I thought of). I desperately hope Randi is well enough to make it over this time.

That’s all really except to say: please do check out the full interview if you can - it’s well worth it.

Finally, my enormous thanks to DJ for agreeing and being so generous with his time, and to Bart Farkas at the JREF for his perseverance and humour in helping to set it up. Also to James O’Malley and Salim Fadhley for their technical help and patience.

* I counted as follows: TAM London 2010, his comments on Randi & AGW, the future of Point of Inquiry, his new podcast For Good Reason, the future of the Million dollar challenge.

** Out of interest, mine were Jennifer Michael Hecht whose books should be much better known, Michael Behe from the Discovery Institute and Eugenie Scott just after the Dover trial.

1 comment:

  1. It was a really great interview mate, enjoyed it greatly.


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