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Related Readings
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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


Friday
May202011

RS35 - What is Philosophy of Science Good For?

Release date: May 22, 2011


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?"

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "The End of Discovery: Are We Approaching the Boundaries of the Knowable?"

Massimo's pick: The blog entry 10 Important Differences Between Brains and Computers

Friday
May062011

RS34 - Celebrities and the Damage They Can Do

Release date: May 8, 2011


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?

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's un-pick:  "Proust Was a Neuroscientist"

Massimo's pick: "Science Fiction and Philosophy: From Time Travel to Superintelligence"

Friday
Apr222011

RS33 - Live at NECSS: New Dilemmas in Bioethics

Release date: April 24, 2011


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?

Saturday
Apr022011

RS32 - Value-free Science?

Release date: April 10, 2011


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?

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "What Is History?"

Massimo's pick: Slate Magazine's What John Tierney Gets Wrong About Women Scientists

Tuesday
Mar152011

RS31 - Vegetarianism

Release date: March 27, 2011


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.

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "WARNING: Physics Envy May Be Hazardous To Your Wealth!"
              "... get your uncertainties right ..."

Massimo's pick: PhilPapers

Sunday
Mar062011

RS30 - Cordelia Fine on Delusions of Gender

Release date: March 13, 2011


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."

Comment on the episode teaser.

Cordelia's pick: "Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal"