“Let us provide you with a real ESP experience”

theESP podcast

“Let us provide you with a real ESP experience” – These were the closing
words of a trailer for the first European Skeptics Podcast (TheESP) done by András G. Pintér, vice president of the Hungarian Skeptic Society and co-host of the new, bi-weekly skeptic show. The first (pilot) episode came out on Wednesday 18th November and is available online on SoundCloud, iTunes and Stitcher.

I know, in many countries, the following paragraph would be completely unnecessary, but since this initiative set up the goal of reaching many people from many different countries, there’s a good chance you are not really familiar with the term ‘PODCAST’, so we might as well linger a bit over it. You can find a nice summary of the concept here, but let me try to sum it up for you: The term is coming from the words ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’, but it has nothing to do with the ‘i’ products (at least not any more). Practically we are talking about an “offline” radio program that is issued at regular intervals (daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly etc.) and can be downloaded using a simple internet browser. Regular podcast listeners generally install a free podcast reader to their PC or mobile phone and subscribe to an rss feed, generated by the provider. That app will automatically download any new podcast episodes for you to listen. You can find podcasts on basically any topic. But most of them are produced in English, just like the one this post is reviewing. After clarifying basic terminology, let’s jump onto reviewing the new podcast. As being an interviewee on the first episode, I am not really unbiased, that’s why I’ll start with the first reaction, that came from the skeptical activist, professional photographer and “Wikipediatrician”, Susan Gerbic on Facebook:

“Normally I would say that we probably don’t need
another English Podcast. There are so many excellent ones out there now, who has the time to listen to them all. But this is one that I think we need, it will work as a bridge to all the languages in Europe. Bring us needed
information from all over Europe, this is badly needed and I totally support this team: Jelena Levin, András.”

To be absolutely fair, Susan also has some connection indirectly to the launching of the podcast. Two of the hosts, András and Jelena met while working as editors in her Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project.

András is Hungarian. He is leading the Hungarian GSoW team and he is one of the vice presidents of the Hungarian Skeptic Society. Jelena was born in Riga (Latvia), but has lived in London for 11 years. Pontus is the international contact person of the Swedish Skeptics’ Association. Being a Hungarian skeptic myself, I’ve known András for many years. I also met Pontus several times at skeptic events already. During the 16th European Skeptics Congress in London this September I was watching the two guys from a distance as they tried to persuade Jelena about some “secret plan”. I made the assumption about what could possible have been going on and I was crossing my fingers.

They all regular podcast listeners, they are quite familiar with the lineup of shows available out there. This clearly comes across in the professional attitude they had started the project with. It’s also impossible not to recognize the similarities in the basic structure to that of The Skeptics
Guide to the Universe
 (SGU). I don’t see that as a problem. Learning
from the greatest and copying them in a way is probably the best way for a
beginner to start something good. The rest is up to them, what they build upon it. But what are those basic similarities? The podcast consists of several segments: On this day; What’s new in Europe; Interview; FAQ to skeptics; Logical Fallacies; Really Wrong; True or False; Quote etc. The short bloopers segment after the ending music reminded me of the ‘out-takes’ on the Canadian The Reality Check podcast. The hosts of TheESP did a good job in mixing all these great elements together.

I used to follow about a dozen podcasts regularly. These mostly have a long tradition, that comes with a lot of experience and a very professional attitude. SGU for example has been running for ten years and aired 540 episodes already. They have some 100 thousand downloads weekly. Comparing Jelena, András and Pontus to them seems a bit unfair, but I think they live up to the challenge. Their voice gets a bit theatrical
at certain points, but normally, they can speak in a more laid back manner. And I am sure these problems will disappear soon with
experience as they are very open and easy-going guys. Feeling a bit awed is totally understandable. They are really set out to speak to many people all around Europe and further. When listening them I felt like watching those worried people at the NASA flight control center during the seven minutes of terror of the Curiosity landing on Mars. Then, at the end I felt a mix of envy, happiness, pride and urged.

When listening to my favorite podcasts I have a kind of homey feeling. Of course, I’ve been listening to them for years, so I kind of treat the hosts as my friends or colleagues. I’m pretty sure everyone, being a regular podcast listener knows the feeling. I was wondering how I would react on TheESP from this aspect. Of course I am biased as I’ve known András for a long time, but there was something that brought the new podcastmmediately close to me. It speaks really about us, Europeans. Of
course there was the interview with me that brought Hungary into the picture, but Jelena was speaking about a Ukrainian-born physicist, Pontus
was coming with some Swedish poll data and with the statements of a Norwegian journalist, and Andras mentioned a Danish skeptic event. If the guys will keep pace, this podcast could serve as a real bridge among European skeptics.

If you are unfamiliar with podcasting, I should mention that running a podcast requires an unbelievable amount of time and dedication. There is no excuse, every second week on the same day you should air a new episode. It could be a freezing flue season or a sunny vacation time, the hosts should sit down in front of their computers to record a good 2-3 hours worth of  material, to edit it down to a one hour show. Then you have to advertise it on the web page, on Facebook and on Twitter. They might record sometimes multiple episodes at the same time to get some free weeks, but it runs against actuality and therefore it is something you should not do on a regular basis. So, let me express here my appreciation to anyone making a podcast. Among whom these guys will hopefully find their place soon.

Good luck Jelena, András and Pontus!

Author: Gábor Hraskó
Date: 21st November 2015