Interview: Evan Bernstein

Evan Bernstein has been an active participant in the skeptical movement since 1996, he is most commonly know for being a member of the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast. He has a particular interest for history and greets his listeners in a different language every episode before saying what has happened that day in the history of science and skepticism.



Sot.N: Hello, I’m Gabriel, from Skeptics On The Net. Evan Bernstein is a co-host of the popular Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast and it is a pleasure to have him with us today.

Evan, thank you for agreeing to do this interview and an early happy birthday to you. [August 27 is Evan’s birthday, this interview was done on August 25]

Evan: Oh, thank you very much, I appreciate that and it’s my pleasure to do this interview with you.

Sot.N: Well, first of all, I got to thank you, your podcast introduced me to the skeptical community and quite recently actually.

Evan: That’s great, I’m very happy that we were your gateway to a much much bigger world of skepticism out in the world.

Sot.N: How did you start being a skeptic?

Evan: It was the influence of both Steven Novella and our former co-host Perry DeAngelis, who passed away in 2007. We were friends back in the early 1990s and it was the two of them who informed me about the organization called CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer magazine. They had asked me if I knew what skepticism was, and I really had no idea. And I sat down with them, we had dinner one night, and they talked to me a little bit about it and made me think about a lot of different things.

Sot.N: Did you agree with those ideas right away?

Evan: No, not right away, not right away. It takes a little time, to kind of… seek things out for yourself, and also seek inside yourself as well, to try to get a grasp on what is real and what it’s not real.

So they did win me over with the arguments… well not so much that they were presenting, but they showed me where to go for the right material and the right information about paranormal and pseudoscience, and it was very very convincing. It sort of clicked in my mind that “Yeah, this feels right, this must… I think this is a much better way of analizing what’s going on in the world around us”.

Sot.N: How did you meet them?

Evan: I met Perry first and this was back in the 1980s. I went to High School with his sister and his sister introduced me to her brother Perry. So we were friends from back in the 1980s and then through Perry in the early 1990s I met Steve. Perry introduced me to Steve, we all became kind of fast friends.

Sot.N: This is something you don’t usually talk about on the show, what do you do outside of the SGU?

Evan: Well, that’s funny that you ask that. I recently left the television production industry. I was in it for eighteen and a half years and I enjoyed it very much but I kind of had my fill with it and I knew I was done with it and wanted to try out some different things. Last year when I left that job I became a martial arts instructor and that lasted just a little while until I found myself back in school. So, I’m a full time student again and I have a new job waiting for me at the end of this year, so I count myself fortunate for that and I’ll be going into business and accounting.

Sot.N: Oh, that’s interesting.

Evan: Yeah.

Sot.N: How was it when you guys were creating those first episodes? Did you start getting listeners right away or did it took time?

Evan: No, it definitely took time and we put the initial podcast together as a means of reaching out to our existing audience, which at the time was simply the membership of the New England Skeptical Society. Which had, at its peak, probably about four hundred fifty members or so, and this was kind of a way to replace the cumbersome printed newsletter that we used to put up. And we found that it took a lot of time and physical energy to put out newsletters on a regular basis. So instead with the new wave of podcasting that came along we figured that that would be a much, well, more time efficient means of getting the information out to our audience at the time, again, which was just our local group. And it stayed that way for, certainly the first several episodes, until we realized that the benefits of being part of the iTunes family and getting ourselves promoted on iTunes, so once we discovered iTunes, specifically, things really take off after that, we reached a national and international audience.

Sot.N: Were you surprised by the response?.

Evan: Yeah, I have to say we were pleasantly surprised. The thing about it is, we knew there were a lot of other smaller, local organizations out there, both in the United States and around the world. This was kind of before the web kind of took over the… being the main playing field for skeptics nowadays, which it certainly is. It was all small grassroots, very tight little local communities and there were a lot of them. So, we knew we would reach those other communities that we didn’t really have a means of reaching before, but we didn’t know that so many of them would take a liking to what we were doing so quickly, so it was very surprising.

Sot.N: How was the change for you when you started being recognized at events and the popularity of the show grew?

Evan: Yeah, you know, it’s a nice feeling. It’s nice for folks to come up to you and say that they think that, you know, your hard work is paying off and you are doing a very nice job with what you’re doing, to keep up the good work. That positive reinforcement is certainly key in us being motivated to continue to do what we are doing and try to make a better show. So, we are both humbled by it and encouraged, and it allows us to think forward about what more we can do and how we can continue to better ourselves and expand the message of skepticism out into other audiciences, especially those that aren’t as familiar with it, and that’s what we would like to accomplish, is bringing more people into skepticism and kind of giving them their first taste of it.

Sot.N: Well, it worked for me.

Evan: That’s good to know, that’s good to know.

Sot.N: Do you have any advice for the people who may want to participate in the skeptical community?

Evan: There is always something that someone can do. People should feel like they can be active participants on different levels. Go with what interest you and what your strengths are. If you can turn your practical, sort of every day, either job or experience into a tangible functioning means of promoting skepticism, you know, do that and there are people who do that. There are folks out there who are magicians for a living, there are folks out there who are artists, entertainers, musicians… You don’t have to be scientist, you don’t have to be a doctor. You know, a lot of those people are doing, really, the heavy lifting, in which the rest of us in skepticism can point people to as the examples of where to go to for their information, those scientists and people really need that time, and do devote that time to doing the real busy work, right? It’s beyond a full time job for them, they don’t have time to put on podcasts or to be media outlets in a sense. Some of them do, and some of them try to do a good job at that but it takes a team of people from all different walks of life to help spread that message. So what I would encourage people to do is: if you have a specific talent or a specific interest in something relating to skepticism, go forward with it. If you are an artist, draw a cartoon. If you are a cartoon artist come up with a cartoon that expresses skepticism. There’s many things that people can do, but go with what you know and I think you’ll make your best contributions that way.

Sot.N: I agree with that.

You have a section in the podcast called “Who’s that noisy?” where you play a sound and people have to guess who or what made that sound, it always surprises me that people can actually guess most of the sounds you play there, do you have any favorites?

Evan: Yeah, I have several favorites. It’s a little hard to remember them all just really off the top of my head without any notes or anything in from of me  but some of the ones that I enjoy the most are the older clips; the noises I can find that are either the first recording of something or someone who is involved in the sciences from the early part of the 20th century and they happen to capture their voice on whatever recording mediums were around at the time. Those rarer pieces of audio are the ones that always fascinate me the most, I think, because they are rare and they are just… we live in a world today obviously where recording everything is in a sense, almost taken for granted. You can pick up a cell phone, you can just start recording anything you want to. Recorders are ubiquitous. Not so way back when, and of course with time a lot of the footage and stock reels and all that, they go by the way side, they get destroyed or go missing, so they become very importat pieces of history of science, which I have a particual interest in, so those are the noises that captivate me the most.

Sot.N: Can you tell us about the big show that you guys are going to do, the SGU 24? Any ideas that you can reveal?

Evan: Yeah, yeah, just so your listeners know, that coming up on September 23rd and 24th, starting at eight o’clock, Eastern Standard Time we’ll be putting on a live twenty four hour non-stop show, which will be streamed both video and audio, and so people will be able to tune in to us and so many of the various things that we have planed for that show, I don’t really wanna give away any spoilers or anything, but I can tell you, we’re gonna have many guest from all around the world. Some very big names that people will recognize from the world of skepticism. There will be plenty of games that we’ll be playing with audience participation and we’re gonna be at certain points of the event asking people to either write in or skype in to us and we wanna make the audience as much part of this event as possible so we are extremely excited for it. It’s something that we had thought about for a while doing and here it is. We are about a month away from it so we are getting ready for it.

Sot.N: Sounds great and exhausting.

The whole Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe crew.

Evan: Very exhausting it will be. I’ve had experience in the past doing things in which I had to stay up for twenty four hours or longer. I used to run a series of action games which would take place over the course of an entire weekend out at various camp sites and so forth. This is a little hobby of mine from way back when, and as one of the directors of those events I would have to be awake pretty much a good amount of the time. So, certainly a twenty four hour stretch was not unusual back in those days when I was participating in those events, so I have a little bit of experience with this, and I think I may have a leg up on my other rogues that I do the show with, so you’ll probably see me for just about the entire show. At least that’s my guess.

Sot.N: How can our listeners find the SGU?

Evan: Easiest way to find us is at our website, it is, also, in a Google search obviously you’ll come up with us very easy, under “skeptics guide”, you can go to iTunes and look up “the skeptics guide” to get our podcast, we are very available and easy to find on the internet.

Sot.N: Well, thank you very much.

Evan: Oh, thank you very much, this was a great interview, I appreciate it very much.