I’ve always enjoyed the magic/humor of Penn & Teller. They certainly have a refreshing and intelligent schtick. I respect them even more after I learned that they are libertarians and consumate skeptics – promoters of good, rational thought. I even saw Teller speak (yes, he speaks) at length in an A&E documentary on the history of magic. He is quite an intelligent man.
But my respect jumped ten-fold after seeing [“Penn & Teller’s Bullshit!”](http://www.sho.com/site/ptbs/home.do?_requestid=33870 “Penn & Teller’s Bullshit! Home Page”), which airs on Showtime. A self-styled myth debunking show, “Bullshit!” takes down the sails of a plethora of popular myths. Like a humorous, popularized [Skeptical Inquirer](http://www.csicop.org/si/), or [Reason](http://www.reason.com/), Penn & Teller’s unique style takes on the most fervent believers and fanatical promoters of today’s most cherished and popular, well, bullshit. Episodes on communication with the dead (ala John Edwards), alien abduction, end of the world prophecy (ala Nostradamus), feng shui, hypnosis and [many more](http://www.sho.com/site/ptbs/topics_all.do).
One of my personal favorites is a thorough debunking of the myths surrounding bottled water. First, they dispell the claims about bottled water being cleaner and tasting better (via taste tests). They go on to construct a mock, and uttlery hilarious, restaurant featuring a “water steward” rather than a wine steward. The steward offers a swanky and pricey “water list” to the customers and proceeds to describe the various waters to the customers with the kind of poetic, vague nonsense used to describe wines. “Earthy with a sweet aftertaste. ” “Persuasive but not pushy.” Of course, all the bottles were filled from the garden hose in the back, but all the customers swear to be able to tell the difference in quality.
Penn ends the show with pithy comments on the amount of money we pay in taxes to make our tap-water the best in the world – also poignantly pointing out that clean water is a luxury that most of the world is without. This type of commentary gives the show incredible ethical honesty. A favorite is Penn’s commentary in the episode on communication with the dead; “Cold reading can be done accidently, that doesn’t mean the psychic is a better person. Lying to themselves does not make lying to others okay. It can make intellectually lazy scumbags more convincing and dangerous. But even if these fucks know their just making this shit up, and pushing people’s buttons, they tell themselves ‘at least I’m conforting the bereaved.’ Who the fuck are they to decide that lying about the universe and a dead loved one is what the bereaved needs? That’s condescending bullshit.” (The profanity is for legal reasons. They can call them “fucks” and have no legal liability, but not “cheats,” “frauds,” “hucksters” etc.)
The show could be accused of being “on the right.” Penn and Teller’s libertarianism leads them to debunk popular myths that proliferate the left; environmentalism, P.E.T.A., recycling. But they also take up thoroughly libertarian, not Republican, issues; the war on drugs, creationism, second-hand smoke. Either way, they make cogent arguments and offer up evidence that should be taken into consideration no matter what political side you call home. I view it as almost a “public service announcement” that many people should see. It is certainly worth a look. Download it or [buy it.](http://www.symbolicorder.com/store/us/product/B00019PDNY.htm)