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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


RS138 - Ian Morris on, "Why the West rules -- for now"

Release date: July 12, 2015

Ian Morris For several centuries, historians have tried to answer the question: "Why is Western Europe (and later, North America) the dominant world power?" Past explanations cited culture, or "great men" who influenced the course of history. Stanford historian Prof. Ian Morris casts doubt on those explanations, instead taking a data-driven approach to the question that attempts to measure "social development" over history and find explanations for it. In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Julia delves into Morris' method and conclusions, and asks: can we make causal inferences about history?

Ian Morris is Willard Professor of Classics and Fellow of the Archaeology Center, Stanford University. He is a historian and archaeologist. He has excavated in Britain, Greece, and Italy, most recently as director of Stanford's dig at Monte Polizzo, a native Sicilian site from the age of Greek colonization. He is also the author of a number of books, among them: "Why the West Rules--for Now". "War! What Is It Good For?", and "Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels."

Ian's pick:  "Violence: A Modern Obsession" 

 Full Transcripts 


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 


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.