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Rationally Speaking Podcast

Rationally Speaking is the bi-weekly podcast of New York City Skeptics. Join host Julia Galef and guests as they explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense, likely from unlikely, and science from pseudoscience. Any topic is fair game as long as we can bring reason to bear upon it, with both a skeptical eye and a good dose of humor!
We agree with the Marquis de Condorcet, who said that in an open society we ought to devote ourselves to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them."Rationally Speaking was co-created with Massimo Pigliucci, is produced by Benny Pollak, and is recorded in the heart of New York City's Greenwich Village.

Rationally Speaking #43 - Women in Skepticism

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 710 views
  • almost 13 years ago
  • 51:02

No, this episode is not about "elevatorgate" or the Watson-Dawkins debacle, but we do use these recent (in)famous events as a springboard for a broader discussion of women in skepticism and science. Is there a misogyny problem in the skeptic and atheist communities? Why aren't there more more women involved in these communities? Also, Julia tells us about her own experience as a young woman skeptic.

Rationally Speaking #42 - On the Limits of Reason

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 740 views
  • almost 13 years ago
  • 51:13

Following up on their interview with Robert Zaretsky on the dispute between David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau about the limits of reason, Julia and Massimo expand the topic to include a discussion of the failure of “foundational” projects (e.g., the quest for the ultimate bases of scientific reasoning, or of logic and mathematics). Also, our take on a recent paper on the evolutionary psychology of reasoning that has made mainstream news.

Rationally Speaking #40 - Q&A With Massimo and Julia

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 720 views
  • almost 13 years ago
  • 01:05:11

Massimo and Julia answer listeners' questions. In this installment the topics include: what would they teach in a class in critical thinking, their view of analytics vs. continental philosophy, the ethics of profiteering from a drought in examplistan, how do they compartmentalize their rationality, how does modern technology affect the way we think about things, and what is or should be the primary purpose of our species. Also, is there really a rational argument to prove the divine origin of the bible?

Rationally Speaking #39 - The Science and Philosophy of Free Will

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 710 views
  • almost 13 years ago
  • 48:12

In this episode we tackle the never ending debate about free will, which David Hume famously defined as “a power of acting or of not acting, according to the determination of the will.” We do this with a couple of twists. We begin by examining the concept of free will from the standard philosophical perspective, then ask what — if anything — modern neuroscience can tell us about it, and come back to the interface between philosophy and science to explore how the two approaches may complement each other.

Rationally Speaking #38 - Holden Karnofsky on Evidence-based Philanthropy

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 710 views
  • almost 13 years ago
  • 43:36

Our guest Holden Karnofsky joins us to discuss Givewell, the nonprofit organization he founded. Givewell is devoted to investigating charities and NGOs to determine how much of an impact they’re having. You could call it “evidence-based philanthropy.” He discusses how Givewell evaluates charities, and what the research has to say about various controversies as well as the conventional wisdom in the nonprofit world: Can large charities be efficient? Is the percentage of the donation that goes to expenses really a useful metric? Should we focus on problems closer to home instead of giving to foreign countries? Do microfinance NGOs like Kiva or Grameen Bank live up to their claims? And should or can charities be evaluated objectively?

Rationally Speaking #37 - The Science and Philosophy of Happiness

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 720 views
  • almost 13 years ago
  • 48:31

Debates over what’s important to happiness — Money? Children? Love? Achievement? — are ancient and universal, but attempts to study the subject empirically are much newer. What have psychologists learned about which factors have a strong effect on people’s happiness and which don’t? Are parents really less happy than non-parents, and do people return to their happiness “set point” even after extreme events like winning the lottery or becoming paralyzed? We also tackle some of the philosophical questions regarding happiness, such as whether some kinds of happiness are “better” than others, and whether people can be mistaken about their own happiness. But, perhaps the hardest question is: can happiness really be measured?

Rationally Speaking #36 - Why Should We Care About Teaching the Humanities?

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 690 views
  • about 13 years ago
  • 50:54

Universities all around the country are closing programs in the humanities, at least in part because of the increasing widespread attitude that higher education should be treated as a business, and that programs that bring in money in the form of high tuitions from students and external grants are to be prioritized. SUNY Albany, for example, announced in the Fall of 2010 that the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts were being eliminated. So, what is the point of studying languages, literature, history or philosophy? Can we, and perhaps more importantly, should we quantify their value? Can we have universities that focus only on science and marketable skills?

Rationally Speaking #35 - What is Philosophy of Science Good for?

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 730 views
  • about 13 years ago
  • 48:57

In this episode we explore philosophy of science: What is it about, and should it matter to scientists? Massimo and Julia also discuss some of the most important questions in philosophy of science now, and some historical debates between leading philosophers of science, like Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, over how science should or does work. So is philosophy of science, as Richard Feynman famously quipped, "as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds?" Or was philosopher Daniel Dennett closer to the truth when he said, "There is no such thing as philosophy-free science, only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on-board unexamined?"

Rationally Speaking #34 - Celebrities and the Damage They Can Do

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 710 views
  • about 13 years ago
  • 50:30

If the recent hoopla about the royal wedding wasn’t enough to remind you, we live in a culture of celebrity, one where famous people command our attention and often pontificate on things they know nothing about. Obvious examples include the nonsense spewed out by Prince Charles about alternative medicine, and the former model Jenny McCarthy and her dangerous notion that vaccines are harmful because they cause autism. But these, of course, are easy targets. What are we to make of Ray Kurzweil (he of Singularity fame), who recently co-authored a book with a homeopath? Or of otherwise savvy political commentator Bill Maher, who doesn’t trust vaccines or anything coming from “Western” medicine? And then there are highly respectable intellectuals, like Stephen Hawking, who write off entire fields of inquiry (philosophy, in his case), without apparently knowing much about them. So what is going on here? Why do so many people listen to Jenny McCarthy? And why do so many bright minds go public with ridiculous notions? Is there a pattern? Can we do something to defend ourselves and the public from the celebrity attack on reason?

Rationally Speaking #33 - Live at NECSS: New Dilemmas in Bioethics

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 730 views
  • about 13 years ago
  • 01:04:16

In this one hour episode, recorded live at the 2011 Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, Massimo and Julia discuss bioethics with two special guests: Jacob Appel, doctor, author, lawyer and bioethicist; and Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet and historian of science. Topics covered included: Should parents be allowed to select the gender and sexual orientation of their babies? Should pharmacists and physicians be allowed to refuse to provide treatments that violate their own religious or ethical principles? And when is assisted suicide acceptable?

Rationally Speaking #32 - Value-free Science?

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 710 views
  • about 13 years ago
  • 49:58

We all think that science is about objectivity and “just the facts, ma’am.” Not so fast, philosophers, historians and sociologists of science have been arguing now for a number of decades. To begin with, there are values embedded in the practice of science itself: testability, accuracy, generality, simplicity, and the like. Then there are the many moral dimensions of science practice, both in terms of ethical issues internal to science (fraud) and of the much broader ones affecting society at large (societal consequences of research and technological advances). Then there is the issue of diversity, where until very recently, and in many fields still today, science has largely been an affair conducted by white males. Finally, the issue of which scientific questions we should pursue and, often, fund with public money. And to complicate things further, should scientists consider the societal consequences of their research before deciding to publish?

Rationally Speaking #31 - Vegetarianism

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 760 views
  • about 13 years ago
  • 51:49

Vegetarianism is a complex set of beliefs and practices, spanning from the extreme “fruitarianism,” where people only eat fruits and other plant parts that can be gathered without “harming” the plant, to various forms of “flexitaranism,” like pollotarianism (poultry is okay to eat) and pescetarianism (fish okay). So, what does science have to say about this? What is the ethical case for vegetarianism? And, is it true that vegetarians are more intelligent than omnivores? Not unexpectedly, the answers are complex, so the debate will rage on.

Rationally Speaking #30 - Cordelia Fine on Delusions of Gender

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 780 views
  • over 13 years ago
  • 49:26

Cordelia Fine joins us from Melbourne, Australia to discuss her book: "Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences." Sex discrimination is supposedly a distant memory, yet popular books, magazines and even scientific articles increasingly defend inequalities by citing immutable biological differences between the male and female brain. That’s the reason, we’re told, that there are so few women in science and engineering and so few men in the laundry room — different brains are just better suited to different things. Drawing on the latest research in developmental psychology, neuroscience, and social psychology, Fine sets out to rebut these claims, showing how old myths, dressed up in new scientific finery, are helping to perpetuate the sexist status quo. Cordelia Fine studied Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, followed by an M.Phil in Criminology at Cambridge University. She was awarded a Ph.D in Psychology from University College London. She is currently a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Agency, Values & Ethics at Macquarie University, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne. Her previous book is "A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives."

Rationally Speaking #29 - Q&A Live!

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 720 views
  • over 13 years ago
  • 01:06:44

In a continuation of episode 28, Massimo and Julia sit down for a Q&A session in front of a live audience at the Jefferson Market Library in New York City. The audience's questions include whether economics and evolutionary psychology are really science, what's the deal with the placebo effect, the influence of corporate money on scientific research, and how can some scientists publish legitimate research and still believe in pseudo-science. Also, vegetarianism: is it about science, ethics, or both?

Rationally Speaking #28 - Live! How To Tell Science From Bunk

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 690 views
  • over 13 years ago
  • 49:14

Massimo and Julia sit down in front of a live audience at the Jefferson Market Library in New York City for a conversation about science, non-science, and pseudo-science. Based on Massimo's book: "Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk" the topics they cover include whether the qualitative sciences are less reliable than quantitative ones, the re-running of the tape of life, and who is smarter: physicists, biologists, or psychologists? Also, why are evolutionary psychologist so fixated on sex? The live Q&A follows in episode 29

Rationally Speaking #27 - The Perihelinox Episode, With Historian Timothy Alborn on Anniversaries

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 710 views
  • over 13 years ago
  • 47:17

In honor of our first anniversary we invited Historian Timothy Alborn to help us understand the arbitrary nature of anniversaries, both those that mark events of personal significance and those that have a wider societal impact. We chose to record this episode on a very special "holiday": Perihelinox. If you've never heard of it it's because it was recently made up by our producer, Benny Pollak, to celebrate the night of the year when the earth is closest to the sun. Nothing is sacred in this episode, from Christmas to Kwanza, to Hanukkah, to Royal Jubilees. And, the Sex Pistols? Timothy Alborn is a historian and the Dean of Arts and Humanities at the City University of New York—Lehman College (and, incidentally, Massimo's boss). He has a Ph.D. in History of Science from Harvard University. His recent publications include "Regulated Lives: Life Assurance and British Society, 1840-1920" and "Conceiving Companies: Joint-Stock Politics in Victorian England."

Rationally Speaking #26 - Is Anthropology Still a Science?

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 670 views
  • over 13 years ago
  • 46:21

In a recent article in the New York Times, Nicholas Wade reported that the American Anthropological Association had decided “to strip the word ‘science’ from a statement of its long-range plan.” Is this just a reflection of the long standing division between physical and cultural anthropology or is there more here? The revised statement says that “the purposes of the association shall be to advance public understanding of humankind in all its aspects,” a wording that opens the possibility for cultural anthropologists to engage in public advocacy on behalf of cultures they are studying. So, what kind of discipline is anthropology, after all? And, more broadly, should scientists cross the line from research into public advocacy?

Rationally Speaking #25 - Q&A With Massimo and Julia

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 720 views
  • over 13 years ago
  • 01:03:04

Massimo and Julia answer listeners' questions, as they try to stay away from politics. In this installment the topics include: is quantitative research more scientific than qualitative one, can philosophers really claim to have expertise on something, is skepticism just another name for intelligence, what about feminist philosophy, bayesian reasoning, and what are M&J's anti-akracia strategies?

Rationally Speaking #24 - Memetics!

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 690 views
  • over 13 years ago
  • 47:30

The term meme was introduced by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 bestseller "The Selfish Gene."Dawkins was trying to establish the idea that Darwinian evolution is a universal, almost logically necessary phenomenon. He couldn't, however, point to exobiological examples to reinforce the concept of universal Darwinism, so he turned to cultural evolution, renamed “ideas” as “memes” (in direct analogy with genes), and voilà, the field of memetics was born. Despite staunch support by authors such as Susan Blackmore and Daniel Dennett, among others though, serious questions can be raised about memes and memetics as a viable concept and field of inquiry. To begin with, how is this different from classical studies of gene-culture co-evolution? Second, what, exactly are memes, i.e. what is their ontological status? Third, how do memes compete with each other, and for what resources? Is it even possible to build a functional ecology of memes, without which the statement that the most fit memes are those that spread becomes an empty tautology? Could this explain why the "Journal of Memetics" closed shop, or is it that they discovered everything there was to discover about memes?

Rationally Speaking #23 - Carol Tavris on Everybody Making Mistakes, Except Us...

Rationally Speaking Podcast

  • 690 views
  • over 13 years ago
  • 48:02

Our guest, Carol Tavris discusses her book (co-authored with Elliot Aronson) "Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts." In it they describe how our powerful cognitive dissonance engine of self-justification gives us the incredible ability to rationalize events and beliefs so that we always end up being better than average at being right. Also, how we are forced into these rationalizations by our absolute need to somehow square our most dearly held opinions of ourselves with the nasty tendency of some facts to contradict them. Carol Tavris is a social psychologist who has tought at UCLA. She has written for many publications, including the NY Times and the LA Times. She is the author of a number of books, including "The Mismeasure of Women" and the recently re-released, "Psychobabble and Biobunk."