Penn & Teller
Penn Jillette and Teller (born Raymond Joseph Teller) are a team of professional magicians who, in the vein of James Randi, have become debunkers of various irrational concepts. Outside of their longtime Las Vegas stage show, they are best known for their Showtime series Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, in which they investigate and debunk topics of interest. The show began in 2003 and concluded its eighth season in 2010, ending too abruptly for them to do the promised "Bullshit of Bullshit" finale. Their new ongoing show, Tell a Lie, does not appear to be based on skepticism.
For the uninitiated, Penn is "the big one with the long hair who talks," and Teller is "the short one who doesn't talk," although there do exist videos of Teller speaking if you are willing to plumb the depths of YouTube. As a general rule, Teller only speaks when he's not in character, but there are exceptions to that, such as the end scene of "Penn & Teller Get Killed"
Penn and Teller are controversial figures in the skeptic community because of their libertarian political views. A good rule of thumb to use may be that their episodes and discussions on religion, pseudoscience, and conspiracy theories are great, but that your mileage may vary on episodes dealing with politics and economics.
 The good stuff
Several episodes of Bullshit! have become classics. One episode that ripped the Catholic Church and the Pope a new hole ended up being so controversial that it was not included on that season's DVD set and is never rerun. However, why the episode was "disappeared" has never been explained. Other episodes dealing with topics of interest to rational skeptics include debunkings of creationism and intelligent design, the Bible as a source of historical accuracy and morals, New Age crap, homeopathy, 9/11 conspiracy theories, and Moon landing conspiracy theories. Another popular episode deals with the myth of video game violence.
Aside from religion, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, politics, and economics, some episodes of Bullshit! deal with societal trends, like bottled water or stress. The veracity of these episodes varies.
 Bullshit on Bullshit!
The pair have been criticized for using appeals to emotion, especially on topics related to libertarianism. For example, in an episode about the Endangered Species Act, the show uses a highly disabled woman in a wheelchair who cannot build her dream house on a specific lot because it is also a habitat for an endangered bird as an argument against the Act. Whatever valid criticisms they may have of a subject are sometimes obscured by over-reliance on shock and emotion instead of logic and facts. However, Penn and Teller at least have the decency to openly admit both their usage of emotional appeals and their bias.
Some episodes of the show, such as Environmental Hysteria and World Peace, feature individuals from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank funded and founded by the Koch family, heavy libertarians that have opposed almost every form of regulation of business, to argue Penn and Teller's position. Penn and Teller are both fellows at the Institute but the potential conflict of interest is never mentioned.
Penn is best known for his humorously rude ad hominem attacks against people who support the position being questioned by the show. The format of Bullshit! is such that individuals on both sides of an issue are interviewed by themselves, not in a debate format, allowing Jillette to take potshots at them (through post-production narration) without their knowledge. Jillette has explained this is a comedy tactic (also intended to cast him as the polar opposite of Teller, who never speaks) and that he does not really support insulting a person if you debate them, and it also forms part of their apparent defence against libel as it's fine to insult people quite dramatically, but you can't call them charlatans, as explained on the show.
 Gun control
Bullshit! tends to run into the most trouble whenever it wades into environmental issues, as the duo tends to take an anti-environmental stance, either by explicit denialism or implicitly by cherry-picking actual bullshit surrounding environmental issues and the gullible hippies who buy into it while failing to mention that the actual science itself is not bullshit. An example is Season 1 Episode 13 "Environmental Hysteria", where they dismiss outright global warming, and use an expert witness for their position a writer from the Cato Institute, who (among other things) is a DDT denialist.
 Global warming
Perhaps their most controversial opinion is that they were originally global warming denialists. Penn originally claimed that there was not enough evidence to make a decision, saying "we don't know." In the episode "Environmental Hysteria" in the first season of BS!, the pair present Bjorn Lomborg as an "expert" to "debunk" environmental hysteria, but neglect to mention the fact that his work has been excoriated by actual scientists and not just eco-nuts. Jerry Taylor of Cato is also trotted out to repeat some PRATTs like the mythical "global cooling" consensus of the 1970s and make up some figures about warming trends to conclude that future warming will be less than one degree Celsius. A later episode, "Being Green," recycles some of their earlier bullshit, and adds in criticism of carbon offsets (which are often, but not always, bullshit), commits the Argumentum ad Gorem, and pulls off the classic dihydrogen monoxide hoax. The general "expert interview" format for these episodes consists of hippies vs. think tank hacks -- the fact that scientists are ignored should set off your own bullshit detector. However, in 2008, Penn stated in an interview that anthropogenic global warming is real and that his reluctance to "come out" was due to the political climate surrounding the issue.
 Second-hand smoke
In the episode "Second-hand Smoke/Baby Bullshit," P&T rely on another Cato "expert" (detecting a pattern here?) to declare that second-hand smoke is harmless. Their main objection is to a 1993 EPA report, which they say shows no statistically significant risks but claims that there are anyway. This claim relies on a technicality surrounding the cut-off for significant p-values -- although 0.05 is the most common number used, different kinds of studies and experiments may use a different significance level. Epidemiological studies sometimes use 0.1, and the results were significant at this level. In addition to this, the critics of the report falsely claim that a risk ratio of 2 or 3 is generally considered significant, but it's actually 1.1-1.3 P&T later issued a correction when pressed on this.
The "Recycling" episode also contains some misleading information. In fairness, they do point out that recycling aluminum is justified and there is some bullshit surrounding recycling, but they misrepresent some cost-benefit analysis numbers and seem to imply that recycling paper pollutes more than creating new paper. In the episode on recycling (Season 2 Episode 5) they commented that it costs more energy to recycle than it is to make a new plastic bottle. They include in the list of reasons for this the cost of transportation. This is a pretty classic fallacy in economics, because the cost of transportation is going to be there regardless, since you'll still have to transport it to a landfill. They also comment that cities often make a net loss on recycling, while failing to mention that this is also true of landfills, and that the recycled material is often then given or sold to manufacturers, so the city takes a loss, and you end up paying less for recycled goods. It should be noted that in a 10 questions asked by Reddit interview Penn expressed a shift in personal belief while researching the recycling episode, saying "it's not that we're not open minded, it's just that we're working on it. So our opinions don't change when we do the show, they change when we're working on the show." 
 Animal rights
The "PETA" episode again invites on questionable experts, such as David Martosko of the Center for Consumer Freedom, an organization that lobbies on behalf of the fast food, alcohol, and tobacco industries. The show dismisses the animal rights movement by pointing out a few extremists who believe in using violence to achieve their ends and attempting to establish a spurious link between them and PETA (PETA officially opposes the use of violence), and interviewing a few hippies who make illogical arguments for animal liberation rather than intellectuals in the movement.
 See also
- ↑ Penn and Teller's Vatican Episode Missing: Self-Censorship?, richarddawkins.net
- ↑ See Tim Lambert's debunking of More Guns, Less Crime.
- ↑ Logical Science's review of the episode.
- ↑ Massimo Pigliucci's review of the episode.
- ↑ Penn Jillette discusses anthropogenic climate change
- ↑ Mea culpa: Secondhand smoke and the politics of science, The Skeptic's Dictionary newsletter
- ↑ Penn and Teller Second-Hand Smoke Correction
- ↑ Recycling paper pollutes more than making new paper, De-Fact-O
- ↑ Bullshit!, Waste360
- ↑ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57r5xEsvftM&t=11m29s
- ↑ http://www.consumerfreedom.com/about/
- ↑ http://www.debate.org/peta/
- ↑ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inFtOMx8nDU