Showtime began airing a reality television program devoted to exposing unproven claims, pseudo-science, supposed “psychics” and “spirit mediums,” amongst other assorted and/or apparent mumbo-jumbo.

Las Vegas magicians Penn & Teller are the hosts and they promise to debunk everything from claims about the dangers of second hand smoke, to global warming.

The show is titled, “Penn & Teller: Bulls—t.”

Some journalists already have begun sniping or snickering, such as LA Times reviewer Brian Lowry and NY Times critic Ron Werthemir.

The two journalists didn’t seem to like the show. Lowry called it “humbug,” while Werthemir describes the program as only “mildly interesting.”

Let’s face it, titillating and sensational claims often draw better ratings than a dose of reality. And this type of “Reality TV” may just be a little too real for many within the viewing audience.

But maybe its time for a show that features some cynical scrutiny? Shouldn’t it be a welcome addition to the growing roster of reality-driven TV programming?

The debunking team’s first target was the so-called “performance art” known as “cold reading.” That is, someone sifting around and asking general questions, then holding forth and giving even more general answers, until someone is convinced they posses “psychic power” or “paranormal ability.”

Sound familiar?

Pen and Teller went after the likes of cable guru John Edward and his show “Crossing Over.”

But pessimistic former magician and fellow debunker Randi said, “No amount of evidence is going to shake them,” a reference to the diehard fans of such sensational paranormal shows.

Maybe so, but it’s good to see some semblance of balance coming to television in this area.

First the Raelians hand picked Michael Guillen as their “expert” to coordinate DNA testing, which would supposedly prove their cloning claims. Later, Guillen was exposed as Clonaid CEO and Raelian bishop Brigette Boisselier’s “friend.”

Skeptics see Guillen as largely an apologist for paranormal claims. He received a “Pigasus” award (“when pigs fly”) from noted debunker James Randi.

Have the Raelians found another friendly “expert”?

Newsweek recently quoted Susan Palmer, a professor at Dawson College in Montreal and the author of a forthcoming book on the Raelians, in an article about the “cult” called “Spaced Out.”

Palmer described Claude Vorilhon or “Rael,” founder and leader of the Raelians, as a ” a playboy and a sportsman and a social satirist.” And she characterized the group as “benign.”

Palmer is also the author of an article which appeared in the Montreal Gazette titled “No sects – please we’re French.” She essentially attacked the French effort to identify and monitor destructive cults. Palmer prefers the politically correct term “new religious movements” (NRMs).

According to Palmer the “Moonies,” Scientologists, Hare Krishnas and of course the Raelians, are all NRMs. She likes to take her college students on “field trips” to the Hare Krishna temple and to witness Raelian baptisms.

Palmer admits, “If I were a French sociologist…I would be out of a job. I would be called a ‘cult lover.'”

Palmer also has defended an anti-Semitic cult group called the “Twelve Tribes,” which was fined for child labor violations in New York and has been the focus of frequent allegations regarding child abuse.

Professor Palmer appears to be more of a cult apologist than an objective observer or “expert.”

Serious questions have been raised about the research of academics like Palmer.

Benjamin Zablocki a professor of sociology at Rutgers University lamented, “The sociology of religion can no longer avoid the unpleasant ethical question of how to deal with the large sums of money being pumped into the field by the religious groups being studied…in the form of subvention of research expenses, subvention of publications, opportunities to sponsor and attend conferences, or direct fees for services, this money is not insignificant, and its influence on research findings and positions taken on scholarly disputes is largely unknown. This is an issue that is slowly but surely building toward a public scandal.”

How has Professor Palmer’s Raelian research and coming book been funded and/or supported? And what fees, money, expenses and/or sponsorships has she received from groups called “cults”?

Maybe James Randi should consider Susan Palmer for a “Pigasus”?

Michael Guillen, the so-called “independent journalist” recruited by Clonaid CEO and Raelian bishop Brigette Boisselier to verify her clone claims, turns out to be an old friend, reports the Boston Globe.

Guillen is a Ph.D. and former ABC science reporter for “Good Morning America.” He joined Boisselier at a recent news conference in Florida to announce his role as a supposedly objective expert, who would organize a “scientific team” to verify Clonaid’s claims.

However, in a recent interview Boisselier’s “spiritual leader” Rael (a.k.a Claude Vorilhon) said, ”I know he is very good friends with Dr. Boisselier. I think they communicated from the beginning. He was the first to make a positive interview about the project. I think that’s why she gave him priority.”

“Positive interview”? This appears to be Rael-speak for a “puff piece.”

Have Boisselier and the Raelians essentially stacked the deck?

Cult groups frequently recruit supposedly “independent experts,” that are often “friends,” to report about them and present papers. These academics have been called “cult apologists.”

Many “cult apologists” eventually cash in, either as expert witnesses defending destructive cults in court cases, or through future funding of book projects and “research.”

Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard said Guillen “crossed a line of independence by appearing to be part of the team that is making the announcement.”

The former ABC reporter says he is “unpaid,” but is there some understanding between this self-described “free lance journalist” and the Raelians? If so, he certainly wouldn’t be the first Ph.D. recruited by a “cult” to provide cover and/or some “positive” spin.

Giles observed, ”It always raises ethical questions when a journalist works under the auspices of an organization such as this group.”

So far Guillen has not identified the supposed “world class experts” he expects to include on his “team” to verify Clonaid’s specious claims.

How will this verification be done? Supposedly by sending blood samples to “world class” DNA labs for testing. Guillen says he has already picked the “expert” to draw the blood, but some observers are skeptical and raising serious questions about the process and Guillen’s past performance.

Robert Park, author of a book on pseudo-science said, “How can they be sure that the samples really came from the mother and the child?”

A pathology professor at Washington University in St. Louis reiterated this point; “An absolutely neutral party has to obtain the samples. From point zero on, the arbitrator must be involved in the whole process. He or she must actually choose the laboratory that is going to do the analysis,” reports Knight Ridder Newspapers.

Giles inferred that without hard scientific evidence made public any alleged “verification” the journalist offers should not be taken too seriously.

Is Guillen simply preparing another “puff piece” for his “friends”? Is this another foray for the former ABC reporter into the realm of “Voodoo Science,” or is it a serious scientific inquiry to establish the facts?

Michael Guillen may have a Ph.D., but he has been “derided in Scientific circles for being overly fond of the paranormal,” reports Desert News.

Guillen’s past work is scrutinized within Park’s book, “Voodoo Science.” The author says the former science reporter has labeled astrology and psychokinesis “as open scientific questions, which they are not.”

It seems now that the real story emerging isn’t the “first human clone.” Increasingly it seems instead to be how Clonaid’s groundless claims became the focus of hard news coverage. Cloning may be part of Boisselier’s bizarre belief system, but why did a cable news network run her Raelian rant as “breaking news”?

CNN seems to have essentially given away 30 minutes of network time for a “cult” infomercial.

Rael must be pleased. What would that time have cost him if the “cult leader” had to pay for it? And there wasn’t even a disclaimer.

The so-called “press conference” seemed like little more than brazen self-promotion for the Raelians and their for-profit company Clonaid. And only those reporters approved by Boisselier were allowed to attend. Half of the media-representitives that came to cover the announcement at the Holiday Inn in Hollywood, Florida were “banned,” reports the Globe and Mail.

One couple has already stepped forward to call Clonaid “nothing more than a slick con,” after being taken for $500,000.00 by Boisselier who promised the parents a clone of their dead son, reports the Sunday Mail.

What’s next for CNN? Will they give a Unification Church spokesperson 30 minutes to announce that Rev. Moon’s mission has been confirmed in heaven? That story was run as paid ad in newspapers, not a news item.

CNN has lost credibility by providing a platform for the Raelians to make their claims without scientific evidence.

Who vetted this story?

The followers of Rael can be expected to uncritically accept whatever their leaders say, but what’s CNN’s excuse?

The announcement of the “first human clone” was clearly not a legitimate news story. Without peer-reviewed supporting proof first verified by the scientific community, all Boisselier’s statements amounted to was little more than prattle about her fanciful beliefs and “spiritual leader.”

And as for Boisselier, she is a major stockholder in Clonaid and stands to personally benefit from recent media exposure. The Clonaid CEO is also a member of the “Order of Angels” waiting to be a “hostess” for humanity’s space alien creators when they land on Earth, reports the Miami Herald.

How could someone like this be taken seriously as a credible source by a news network?

Obviously, CNN should have done the necessary research before giving Clonaid airtime. And by failing to do so CNN appears to be more like a supermarket tabloid than a cable news network.

What’s next on CNN, “Woman impregnated by outer space alien through artificial insemination gives birth”? Wait a minute, that’s Rael’s other story.

Sonya Fitzpatrick says she can talk to dogs and cats too. And now the heavily promoted “Pet Psychic” has her own show on “Animal Planet.”

Fitzpatrick claims she communicates with household pets through mental pictures and wild animals through body sensations. She also speaks with dear departed doggies. Is that another market share? Sonya seems to have convinced at least one reporter at the LA Times.

A so-called “pet psychic” is improbable, but like other paranormal types Sonya makes people feel good. Lonely for your old pet? Sonya will hook you up. Concerned about a messy litter box? Fitzpatrick will work it out, or at least seem to.

The ratings for such shows are good, so expect to see more.

What about an insect psychic? Can cockroaches be reasoned with and an infestation arbitrated? Perhaps some network will offer a plant psychic for gardening buffs? Those pesky weeds could stand a good talking to.

Skeptic Michael Shermer pitched a concept for a TV show, its theme would be debunking psychics and paranormal practitioners who are now so popular on American television. But there were no takers, according to the LA Times. Perhaps Shermer now gets it. That is, TV executives know fantasy sells better than reality.

There might be a market for contrived “reality TV,” such as CBS’s “Survivor” or MTV’s “Real World,” but apparently a dose of the real thing is not what the public wants.

TV ratings for shows about communicating with the dead or reading the future are good and that translates to revenue from advertisers. Apparently, there is little interest in skepticism, which would be a downer for viewers and thus bad for ad sales.

Let’s face it, paranormal promoters make people feel good. The dead usually have something nice or comforting to say in the current pop format and that’s reassuring. Most psychics can almost always find a silver lining, even within the darkest future. Professionals in these lines of work know how to keep their ratings up too.