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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


Friday
Sep242010

RS18 - Evolutionary Psychology

Release date: September 26, 2010



You’ve heard the claims: men are inclined to cheat on women because natural selection favors multiple offspring from multiple mates, especially if you don’t have to pay child support. Even rape has been suggested to be the result of natural selection in favor of “secondary mating strategies” when the primary ones fail. Welcome to evolutionary psychology, a discipline curiously situated at the interface between evolutionary science and pop psychology, where both wild and reasonable claims seem to clash against the wall of an incredible scarcity of pertinent data.

The issue is not whether it makes sense to apply evolutionary principles to the study of human behavior. Of course it does, human beings are no exception to evolution. But the devil is in the details, and the details deal with the complexities and nuances of how exactly evolutionary biologists test adaptive hypotheses, as well as with the nature of historical science itself.

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "Stumbling on Happiness"

Massimo's pick: "A Short Course in Intellectual Self-Defense"

Thursday
Sep092010

RS17 - Transhumanism

Release date: September 12, 2010


What's so great about being human, anyway? The transhumanist movement -- epitomized by organizations like Humanity+ and blogs like Accelerating Future -- advocate the pursuit of technologies to fundamentally change the human condition, tinkering with our brain, bodies and genomes to make ourselves smarter, stronger, happier, and longer-lived.

But many people worry that tampering with human nature could have dire consequences for individuals and society alike. In Our Posthuman Future, political theorist Francis Fukuyama sums up the position of the bioconservatives when he warns that new technologies may "in some way cause us to lose our humanity -- that is, some essential quality that has always underpinned our sense of who we are and where we are going," he writes. In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Massimo and Julia ask, first, are the goals of transhumanism realistic, and second, are they desirable?

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?"

Massimo's pick: "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error"

Thursday
Aug262010

RS16 - Deferring to Experts

Release date: August 29, 2010


At a talk he gave at TAM 8, Massimo argued that non-experts in a field aren't qualified to reject an expert consensus, such as that on anthropogenic climate change.  Most recently, he has taken Jerry Coyne to task for making a philosophical argument without having the necessary expertise. This raises a number of questions: Are there fields that have no experts, or that have pretend experts?  If there is a lot of disagreement among experts on a topic, should we take any individual expert's opinion less seriously? How much consensus is required before a non-expert should say, "OK, looks like this question really is settled"?

Perhaps noted expert George Carlin had it right when he said: "I have as much authority as the pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it."

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion"

Massimo's pick: "Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes"