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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


Sunday
Jun092019

Happy Summer!

Rationally Speaking will be taking a break this week, but we'll be back in two weeks with your regularly scheduled dose of reason. Have a nice summer!

Tuesday
May282019

RS 234 - Dylan Matthews on “Global poverty has fallen, but what should we conclude from that?”

Release date: May 27th, 2019

Dylan Matthews

The global poverty rate has fallen significantly over the last few decades. But there's a heated debate between people like psychologist Steven Pinker and anthropologist Jason Hickel, over how to view that fact. Is it a triumph for capitalism? Should we celebrate it, or lament the fact that rich countries aren't doing more to close the poverty gap faster? Vox journalist Dylan Matthews explains the disagreement. He and Julia discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each side's argument.

Links 

Dylan's Vox article explaining the debate over the falling global poverty rate

Jason Hickel responds to Dylan's article

Our World in Data responds to the critique of the poverty estimates

Dylan's past Rationally Speaking episode on kidney donation

Future Perfect podcast

Scott Alexander's blog post on Conflict Theory vs. Mistake Theory

John Nerst's analysis of the disagreement between Ezra Klein and Sam Harris over IQ and race, through the lens of decouplers vs. non-decouplers

"Reasons and Persons" by Derek Parfit

"Gang of Five: Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Crusade" by Nina Easton

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Monday
May132019

RS 233 - Clive Thompson on "The culture of coding, and how it’s changing the world"

Release date: May 13th, 2019

Clive Thompson

Technology writer Clive Thompson discusses his latest book, "Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World". Topics Clive and Julia cover include:

  • Why coders love efficiency so much
  • Are there downsides to efficiency?
  • Do coders have particular blindspots when it comes to human nature?
  • What is a "10x Coder," and why do people disagree about whether they exist?
  • Does Clive still agree with his older book, "Smarter Than You Think," which argued that technology is making us smarter?

Links 

"Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World" by Clive Thompson

"Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better" by Clive Thompson

"The Real World of Technology" by Ursula Franklin

"The Great Code: The Bible and Literature" by Northup Frye

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Monday
Apr292019

RS 232 - Tyler Cowen on “Defending big business against its critics”

Release date: April 29th, 2019

Tyler Cowen

Economist Tyler Cowen discusses his latest book, "Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero." Why has anti-capitalist sentiment increased recently, and to what extent is it justified? How much are corporations to blame for wage stagnation, climbing cost of living, or the slow response to climate change? Tyler and Julia also explore their various disagreements: on how to communicate, whether people should bet on their beliefs, and whether we should increase public optimism about technology.

Links 

"Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero" by Tyler Cowen

Marginal Revolution blog

Conversations with Tyler podcast

Axios Harris 2019 poll on people’s attitudes about corporations

"The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream" by Tyler Cowen (2017)

Tyler's 2008 Bloggingheads interview with Will Wilkinson

"On Bets and Bullshit," a round-up by Adam Gurri of the debate over betting, between Tyler, Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan and others

Tyler's "prisoner’s dilemma-style" podcast interview with Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles

Rob Wiblin's 80,000 Hours podcast interview with Tyler Cowen

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

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