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Related Readings
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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
Jul162010

RS13 - Superstition, Is It Good For You?

Release date: July 18, 2010


Is it possible that superstition is actually good for you? Well, it turns out that superstition may, at least some of the time, have beneficial effects.  A paper published in 2008 in Science for example, suggests that lacking control over a situation increases people’s propensity to see illusory patterns — the implication being that the latter (a typical component of superstition) ameliorates stress when we feel that things are out of hand.  Also, a recent study published in Psychological Science shows that superstition improves people’s performance on certain tasks, presumably by making them more self-confident than they would be otherwise. Add to this a recent article in Scientific American to the effect that people with Asperger’s syndrome are less likely to project agency onto life’s events (and hence tend to be less superstitious), and suddenly the skeptic might not feel so cocky about being skeptical.

Of course we're not advocating in favor of superstition on the sole ground that it may be psychologically helpful. Still, what happens when something that we devote so much time fighting against turns out not to be entirely bad after all?

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like"

Massimo's pick: The Epistemelinks website

Thursday
Jun242010

RS12 - What About Thought Experiments?

Release date: July 4, 2010


Philosophers are often accused of engaging in armchair speculation, as far removed from reality as possible. The quintessential example of this practice is the thought experiment, which many scientists sneer at precisely because it doesn’t require one to get one’s hands dirty. And yet scientists have often engaged in thought experiments, some of which have marked major advances in our understanding of the world. Just consider the famous example of Galileo’s thought experiment demonstrating (rather counter intuitively) that two objects of different weight must fall at the same speed. And, perhaps more famously, Einstein's thought experiments on the nature of light.

And then, there are the other kind, like philosopher David Chalmers' famous thought experiment about zombies and the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness. Chalmers comes up with an (admittedly ingenious) little story, and we are supposed to deduce from it the momentous conclusion that there is more than matter/energy to the universe? Still, there are plenty of good thought experiments in philosophy, beginning with the so-called trolley dilemmas meant to probe our moral intuitions.

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Julia's pick:  "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior"

Massimo's pick: John D. Norton Goodies

Sunday
Jun132010

RS11 - Guest Eugenie Scott on the Status of the Creationism and ID Wars

Release date: June 20, 2010


Our special guest this episode is Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, the premiere organization fighting for sound scientific educational standards in this country, and a permanent thorn in the ass of creationists and IDers nationwide.

Genie updates us on the status of the ID and creationist wars, as well as other issues related to the intrusion of religion in science education.  We also recount how, in what may be a very rare event,  Genie made Massimo change his mind about something!

Genie is a physical anthropologist by training, and enjoyed an academic career at the University of Kentucky, University of Colorado and California State, before devoting her efforts full time to a constant front-line fight against irrationalism. For this she has been rewarded not just with six honorary degrees (at last count), but also with the first Stephen Jay Gould prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution, and most recently with the prestigious National Academy of Science Public Welfare Medal. She has also authored the excellent Evolution vs Creationism and co-edited (with Glenn Branch) Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools.

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Our guest's "un-pick": The website of the Institute for Creation Research