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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
Dec162018

RS 223 - Chris Fraser on "The Mohists, ancient China's philosopher warriors"

Release date: December 16th, 2018

Chris Fraser (Photo: Chan Kang 詹康)

Not enough people know about the Mohists, a strikingly modern group of Chinese philosophers active in 479–221 BCE. This episode features Chris Fraser, expert on Mohism and professor of philosophy at the University of Hong Kong. Chris and Julia discuss how the Mohists put their philosophy into practice and got Chinese leaders to hold off on starting wars; how their philosophy was similar to and different from modern consequentialism; why their movement died out, and what modern groups like Effective Altruists can learn from their story.

Links 

"Heaven and Earth Are Not Humane" by Franklin Perkins

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Sunday
Dec022018

RS 222 - Spencer Greenberg and Seth Cottrell on "Ask a Mathematician, Ask a Physicist"

Release date: December 2nd, 2018

Spencer Greenberg and Seth Cottrell

This episode features the hosts of "Ask a Mathematician, Ask a Physicist," a blog that grew out of a Burning Man booth in which a good-natured mathematician (Spencer Greenberg) and physicist (Seth Cottrell) answer people's questions about life, the universe, and everything. Spencer and Seth discuss the weirdest and most controversial questions they've answered, why math is fundamentally arbitrary, Seth's preferred alternative to the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics, how a weird group of parapsychologists changed the field of physics, and whether you could do a Double Slit Experiment with a Cat Cannon.

Links 

"Ask A Mathematician, Ask a Physicist" blog

"Do Colors Exist?" by Seth Cottrell (book and ebook)

"Bell Inequality for Position and Time" by J. D. Fransen

"On the Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin

"The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th Century Science, including the original papers" by Alan Lightman

"Can you do the double-slit experiment with a cat cannon?"

Spencer's website

Spencer's startup foundry, Spark Wave

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Tuesday
Nov132018

RS 221 - Rob Reich on "Is philanthropy bad for democracy?"

Release date: November 13th, 2018

Rob Reich

This episode features political scientist Rob Reich, author of "Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy, and How it Can Do Better". Rob and Julia debate his criticisms of philanthropy: Does it deserve to be tax-deductible? Is it a violation of the autonomy of recipients to attach strings to their charitable gifts? And do philanthropists have too much power in society?

Links 

Rob's book: "Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy, and How it Can Do Better"

"Famine, Affluence, and Morality" by Peter Singer

"Doing Good Better" by Will MacAskill

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Sunday
Oct282018

Rationally Speaking #220 - Peter Eckersley on "Tough choices on privacy and artificial intelligence"

Release date: October 28th, 2018

Peter Eckersley

This episode features Peter Eckersley, an expert in law and computer science, who has worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Partnership on AI. Peter and Julia first delve into some of the most fundamental questions about privacy: What are the risks of losing privacy? Do we have more to fear from governments or industry? Which companies do a good job of protecting their users' privacy? Are there tradeoffs between supporting privacy and supporting competitive markets? Next, they discuss Peter's work measuring recent progress in AI, and debate to what extent recent progress is cause for optimism.

Links 

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Partnership on AI

Peter's survey of AI progress

"Debt: The First 5,000 Years" by David Graeber

"The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined" by Steven Pinker

Aceso Under Glass, the blog that does epistemic spot checks

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Sunday
Oct142018

RS 219 - Jason Collins on "A skeptical take on behavioral economics"

Release date: October 14th, 2018

Jason Collins

In this episode, economist Jason Collins discusses some of the problems with behavioral economics: Why governments have started to rely too much on the field, and why that's bad; why it's suspicious that there are over 100 cognitive biases; when "nudges" are problematic; and more.

Links 

Jason Collins' Blog

"MacArthur 'Genius' Angela Duckworth Responds To A New Critique Of Grit" by Anna Kamenetz

"Angela Duckworth on Grit" from Econtalk

"On the Reality of Cognitive Illusions" by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky

"How to Make Cognitive Illusions Disappear: Beyond 'Heuristics and Biases'" by Gerd Gigerenzer

"On Narrow Norms and Vague Heuristics: A Reply to Kahneman and Tversky" by Gerd Gigerenzer

"Putting nudges in perspective" by George Loewenstein and Nick Chater

"Much Ado About Nudging" by Tony Hockley

"Do people really want to be nudged towards healthy lifestyles?" by Robert Sugden

"'Better Off, as Judged by Themselves': A Comment on Evaluating Nudges" by Cass R. Sunstein

"‘Better off, as judged by themselves’: a reply to Cass Sunstein" by Robert Sugden

"Nudging and the Problem of Context Dependent Preferences" by Jason Collins

"Overrepresentation of extreme events in decision making reflects rational use of cognitive resources." by Lieder, Falk,Griffiths, Thomas L.,Hsu, Ming

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Sunday
Sep302018

RS 218 - Chris Auld on "Good and bad critiques of economics"

Release date: September 30th, 2018

Chris Auld

In this episode, economist Chris Auld describes some common criticisms of his field and why they're wrong. Julia and Chris also discuss whether there are any good critiques of the field, and whether economists think that people with an addiction to alcohol or drugs are behaving rationally.

Links 

"18 Signs You're Reading Bad Criticism of Economics" by Chris Auld

"The Price of Inequality" by Joseph E. Stiglitz

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts