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Related Readings
  • Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life
    Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life
    by Massimo Pigliucci
  • Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
    Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
    by Massimo Pigliucci
  • Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science
    Denying Evolution: Creationism, Scientism, and the Nature of Science
    by Massimo Pigliucci

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
May312010

RS10 - Nonsense on Stilts

Release date: June 6, 2010


The focus of this episode is Massimo's new book, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk. The book, broadly speaking, is about what philosopher Karl Popper famously called the demarcation problem: how do we tell the difference among science, non-science and pseudoscience?  We explore the complex relationship among these, ranging from solid science like fundamental physics and evolutionary biology to definite pseudosciences like astrology and creationism. In the middle are the more interesting borderline areas that include the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, evolutionary psychology, and even superstring theory, to name but a few.

We also discuss other topics covered in the book, including  the whole issue of expertise and Think Tanks, which plays such an important role especially in media presentations of issues such as evolution, climate change, HIV-AIDS, or the alleged connection between vaccines and autism.  Julia and Massimo also address the ultimate question about pseudoscience: why do we care?

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Julia's pick:  "Historians' Fallacies : Toward a Logic of Historical Thought"

Massimo's pick: The Ask a Philosopher! blog

Monday
May172010

RS09 - When Smart People Endorse Pseudoscience

Release date: May 23, 2010


It is very easy to make fun of not-so-educated people who reject evolution, but what happens when one of the most prominent contemporary philosophers, Jerry Fodor, writes a book about “What Darwin Got Wrong”? Similarly, we can dismiss extreme right wing politicians like Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who thinks global warming is a worldwide conspiracy of crazy scientists bent on destroying the American way of life. But what happens when two icons of the skeptic movement, Penn & Teller, do a whole show in which they completely deny all the well established evidence of anthropogenic climate change? And of course it is easy to laugh at Jenny McCarthy, the kook who claims (with Oprah Winfrey’s support) that she “just knows” that vaccines cause autism. But, what happens when a politically savvy atheist like Bill Maher says that people who get flu shots are “idiots?"

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Julia's pick:  "The Miracle Detective"

Massimo's pick: The It's only a theory blog

Monday
May032010

RS08 - The Anthropic Principle

Release date: May 9, 2010


The Anthropic Principle (AP), in its many forms, attempts to explain why our observations of the physical universe are compatible with the life observed in it. From the Weak AP (WAP), which in one form states that "conditions that are observed in the universe must allow the observer to exist", to the Strong AP (SAP) which in one version states that: “The Universe (and hence the fundamental parameters on which it depends) must be such as to admit the creation of observers within it at some stage,” they all try to answer the question of why there is life in the universe, or why the fundamental constants are the way they are. But, do any of these principles add anything to our understanding of the ultimate question of life and the universe?

Perhaps the best answer is embedded in Martin Gardner’s sarcastic proposal of the Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle (CRAP): “At the instant the Omega Point is reached, life will have gained control of all matter and forces not only in a single universe, but in all universes whose existence is logically possible; life will have spread into all spatial regions in all universes which could logically exist, and will have stored an infinite amount of information, including all bits of knowledge which it is logically possible to know. And this is the end.”

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "House"

Massimo's pick: http://andphilosophy.com/

Saturday
Apr242010

RS07 - Peter Woit Discusses Whether String Theory is "Not Even Wrong"

Release date: April 25, 2010


We are taking on fundamental physics! Our guest, Peter Woit, is a physicist in the Department of Mathematics at Columbia University and author of Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law. We discuss the apparently peculiar state of theoretical physics (see also Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next) and the rather startling possibility that superstring theory — the best candidate in decades as the elusive “theory of everything” — may actually have been a colossal dead end for the physics community. We also explore the meaning of theory in science, and what is the connection between theory, observation and experiment. As it turns out, superstring theory has not been able to make any empirically testable predictions, which supports the argument that perhaps it isn’t — as Peter puts it — “even wrong,” meaning that it just isn’t science.

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Peter Woit's pick: The book  The End of Science

Saturday
Apr032010

RS06 - Fluffy Thinking

Release date: April 11, 2010


Fluffy Thinking is a peculiar type of uncritical thinking that sounds sophisticated, and is next to impossible to criticize frontally both because it barely has anything to do with empirical evidence, and because it is hard to articulate what, exactly, these people are saying. These people include scientific luminaries like Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies. Also, Karen Armstrong, author of "The Case for God", and Krista Tippett, author of "Einstein's God" and host of National Public Radio's "Speaking of Faith", where scientific notions are regularly distorted and mixed up with barely intelligible mystical “insights” that are put forward as profound truths.

The question is not only whether there is anything interesting in what these people are saying, but rather the much more difficult issue of why it is that smart individuals, who make their living thinking and writing about science and philosophy, are attracted by fluffy thinking.

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Julia's pick:  "The Book of Genesis Illustrated"

Massimo's pick: The Omnipotence Paradox

Tuesday
Mar162010

RS05 - Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Need For a Space Program

Release date: March 28, 2010

 

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson joins Massimo and Julia to discuss the need for a space program. Many scientists (and most people in the skeptic community) simply assume that funding outlets like NASA are a good idea. But, can scientists justify the enormous expense involved, not just in terms of their personal curiosity, but as a matter of tangible and intangible benefits to society at large? Should we go back to the Moon and establish a permanent base? Is it worth the expense and likely risk to human life to attempt a mission to Mars? What is a space station for, anyway?

Dr. Tyson is an astrophysicist by training and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. He is also the host of PBS's science NOW. His latest book is “The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet.”

Comment on the episode teaser.

Dr. Tyson's surprising "un-pick": The movie Avatar