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Rationally Speaking is the official podcast of New York City Skeptics. Join Julia Galef and guests as they explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense, likely and unlikely, science and pseudoscience. Rationally Speaking was co-created with Massimo Pigliucci.

Current Episodes


Monday
Apr152019

RS 231 - Helen Toner on "Misconceptions about China and artificial intelligence"

Release date: April 15th, 2019

Helen Toner

Helen Toner, the director of strategy at Georgetown's Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), shares her observations from the last few years of talking with AI scientists and policymakers in the US and China. Helen and Julia discuss, among other things:

  • How do the views of Chinese and American AI scientists differ?
  • How is media coverage of China misleading?
  • Why the notion of an "AI arms race" is flawed
  • Why measures of China's AI capabilities are overstated
  • Reasons for optimism and pessimism about international cooperation over AI

Links 

"Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China" by Evan Osnos

"The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present" by John Pomfret

Center for Security and Emerging Technology

A recent article co-authored by Helen, in Foreign Affairs: "Beyond the AI Arms Race: America, China, and the Dangers of Zero-Sum Thinking"

Follow Helen Toner on Twitter

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Monday
Apr012019

RS 230 - Kelsey Piper on “Big picture journalism: covering the topics that matter in the long run”

Release date: April 1st, 2019

Kelsey Piper

This episode features journalist Kelsey Piper, blogger and journalist for "Future Perfect," a new site focused on topics that impact the long-term future of the world. Kelsey and Julia discuss some of her recent stories, including why people disagree about AI risk, and how she came up with her probabilistic predictions for 2018. They also discuss topics from Kelsey's personal blog, including why it's not necessarily a good idea to read articles you strongly disagree with, why "sovereignty" is such an important virtue, and the pros and cons of the steel man technique.

Links 

Future Perfect

Kelsey's blog, "The unit of caring"

Andrew Gelman's blog

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Monday
Mar182019

RS 229 - John Nerst on "Erisology, the study of disagreement"

Release date: March 18th, 2019

John Nerst

This episode features John Nerst, data scientist and blogger at everythingstudies.com, discussing a potential new field called "erisology," the study of disagreement. John and Julia discuss why Twitter makes disagreement so hard; whether there's anything to learn from postmodernism; John's "signal and corrective" model that explains why disagreement persists even when people agree on the key facts; and how the concept of "decoupling" helps explains Sam Harris and Ezra Klein's debate last year about IQ.

Links 

John’s website

John’s Twitter

"Defenders of the Truth: The Sociobiology Debate" by Ullica Segerstrale

"The Signal and the Corrective"

"A Deep Dive Into the Harris-Klein Controversy"

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Monday
Mar042019

RS 228 - William Gunn and Alex Holcombe on "Is Elsevier helping or hurting scientific progress?"

Release date: March 4th, 2019

William Gunn and Alex Holcombe

In the wake of the University of California's decision to end their contract with Elsevier, the world's largest scientific publisher, a lot of people have been talking about the effect that publishers like Elsevier have on the progress of science. William Gunn, director of scholarly communications for Elsevier, and Alex Holcombe, cognitive scientist and open science advocate, discuss their differing perspectives on the question. The discussion includes: What are scientists' main complaints about Elsevier? What value does Elsevier add? Is the academic publishing market a functioning one? Can Elsevier be a force for innovation?

Links 

William Gunn's website and Twitter

Alex Holcombe's website and Twitter

Psychology in Open Access

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Monday
Feb182019

RS 227 - Sarah Haider on "Dissent and free speech"

Release date: February 17th, 2019

Sarah Haider

This episode features Sarah Haider, the president of Ex-Muslims of North America. Julia and Sarah discuss why it's important to talk about the challenges of leaving Islam, and why that makes people uncomfortable or angry. They also explore whether being intellectually honest helps or hurts your effectiveness as an activist; Sarah's concerns with the Intellectual Dark Web; and whether Sarah would draw any lines when it comes to giving offensive views a platform.

Links 

Sarah's Twitter

Ex-Muslims of North America

"Crises of The Republic" by Hannah Arendt

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Monday
Feb042019

RS 226 - Rob Wiblin on "An updated view of the best ways to help humanity"

Release date: February 4th, 2019

Rob Wiblin

If you want to do as much good as possible with your career, what problems should you work on, and what jobs should you consider? This episode features Rob Wiblin, director of research for effective altruist organization 80,000 Hours, and the host of the 80,000 Hours podcast.
Julia and Rob discuss how the career advice 80,000 Hours gives has changed over the years, and the biggest misconceptions about their views. Their conversation covers topics like:

Should everyone try to get a job in finance and donate their income?

The case for working to reduce global catastrophic risks

Why reducing risk is a better way to help the future than increasing economic growth

What percentage of the world should ideally follow 80,000 Hours advice?

Links 

Rob's Personal Page

Rob's Podcast: "80,000 Hours"

  • Episode #45 – Prof. Tyler Cowen's stubborn attachments to maximising economic growth, making civilization more stable and respecting human rights
  • Episode #10 – Dr. Nick Beckstead on how to spend billions of dollars preventing human extinction
  • Episode #29 – Dr. Anders Sandberg on three new resolutions for the Fermi Paradox and how to easily colonise the universe
  • Episode #6 – Dr. Toby Ord on why the long-term future matters more than anything else and what to do about it
  • Episode #15 – Prof. Tetlock on how chimps beat Berkeley undergrads and when it’s wise to defer to the wise

"Making Sense of Long-Term Indirect Effects" by Rob Wiblin

"Broad versus narrow approaches to shaping the long-term future" by Nick Beckstead

Calculator for whether it’s better to speed up or slow down growth: "Differential technological development: Some early thinking"

"On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future" by Nicholas Beckstead

"Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States" by James C. Scott

"Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?" by Graham Allison

"Science Is Getting Less Bang for Its Buck" by Patrick Collison and Michael Nielsen

"Why despite global progress, humanity is probably facing its most dangerous time ever" by Benjamin Todd

"Presenting the long-term value thesis" by Benjamin Todd

"The Aestheticising Vice," Paul Seabright's review of Seeing Like a State, by James Scott

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts