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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, is produced by Benny Pollak and recorded in the heart of Greenwich Village.

Current Episodes


Thursday
Jun252015

RS137 - Marc Lipsitch on, "Should scientists try to create dangerous viruses?"

Release date: June 28, 2015

Marc LipsitchA controversial field of research is "gain-of-function," in which scientists take a virus (like a strain of flu) and attempt to make it more dangerous, for example by making it transmissible in mammals when it had previously been solely an avian flu. The motivation is to learn how viruses might mutate in nature so that we can be prepared -- but what if those engineered "superbugs" escape the lab and start a pandemic? In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Harvard professor of epidemiology Marc Lipsitch argues that the risks outweigh the benefits, and that we should halt gain-of-function research as soon as possible.

Marc Lipsitch is Professor of Epidemiology with primary appointment in the Department of Epidemiology and a joint appointment in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. He directs the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, a center of excellence funded by the MIDAS program of NIH/NIGMS. He is also the Associate Director of the Interdisciplinary Concentration in Infectious Disease Epidemiology.

Marc's pick:  "Driving in the Dark: Ten Propositions About Prediction and National Security" 

NEW: Full Transcripts 

Friday
Jun122015

RS136 - David Roodman on Why Microfinance Won't Cure Global Poverty

Release date: June 15, 2015

David RoodmanCan we pull the world's poor out of poverty by giving them access to financial services? This episode features a conversation with economist David Roodman, formerly a fellow at the Center for Global Development and senior advisor to the Gates Foundation, currently senior advisor to the Open Philanthropy Project, and the author of Due Diligence: An Impertinent Inquiry into Microfinance.

Roodman casts a critical eye on the hype about microfinance as a panacea for global poverty. He and Julia explore why it's hard to design a good study, even a randomized one; three different conceptions of "development,"; and why Roodman doesn't think we should give up on microfinance altogether.

David's pick:  "Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy" 

NEW: Full Transcripts 


Thanks to Rationally Speaking listener Brent Silk, for help with post-production.

Saturday
May302015

RS135 - Robin Hanson on: "Most human behavior is signaling"

Release date: May 31, 2015

Robin HansonIn this episode, economist Robin Hanson explains the signaling theory of human behavior: That our motivations for our choices, about school, shopping, medical care, and so on, evolved primarily to shape other people's perceptions of us. In the process Robin and Julia discuss what makes a good theory: How to decide what you should (a priori) expect to see, and why simplicity is a virtue.

Robin Dale Hanson is an associate professor of economics at George Mason University and a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University. He is known as an expert on idea futures and markets, and he was involved in the creation of the Foresight Exchange and DARPA's Future MAP project. he blogs at Overcomng Bias.

Robin's pick:  "The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature" 

NEW: Full Transcripts