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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


Tuesday
Mar162010

RS05 - Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Need For a Space Program

Release date: March 28, 2010

 

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson joins Massimo and Julia to discuss the need for a space program. Many scientists (and most people in the skeptic community) simply assume that funding outlets like NASA are a good idea. But, can scientists justify the enormous expense involved, not just in terms of their personal curiosity, but as a matter of tangible and intangible benefits to society at large? Should we go back to the Moon and establish a permanent base? Is it worth the expense and likely risk to human life to attempt a mission to Mars? What is a space station for, anyway?

Dr. Tyson is an astrophysicist by training and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. He is also the host of PBS's science NOW. His latest book is “The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet.”

Comment on the episode teaser.

Dr. Tyson's surprising "un-pick": The movie Avatar

Thursday
Mar112010

RS04 - The Great Atheist Debate Over the Limits of Science 

Release date: March 14, 2010


"Accommodationist" is a word that began to appear in recent months during public debates over science and religion. The derogatory term has been applied to atheists and rationalists like Eugenie Scott, at the National Center for Science Education, and Chris Mooney, science writer at Discover Magazine, who maintain that science and faith are not necessarily incompatible. Although the debate is frequently framed as a practical one, about what the tactics of the secular movement should be, it is also a philosophical one, hinging on the question of the epistemic limits of science. In this episode, we examine the arguments being made by and against the so-called "accommodationists," and ask: Can science disprove religious and supernatural claims?

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick: The book Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human

Massimos pick: The website of the National Center for Science Education

Saturday
Feb272010

RS03 - Can History Be a Science? 

Release date: February 28, 2010


Guest, Prof. Peter Turchin from the University of Connecticut, joins Massimo and Julia to discuss whether history can be studied and understood in a scientific manner. In an article in Nature (3 July 2008) on what he termed “cliodynamics,” he discusses the possibility of turning history into a science.  In it, he proposes that history,  contrary to what most historians might think -- is not just one damn thing after another, that there are regular and predictable patterns, from which we can learn and that we can predict. Of course, he is not the only scientist to have turned to history in an attempt to make that field more scientific, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse immediately come to mind. And naturally, many historians vehemently object to what they perceive as a crude scientistic attempt at interdisciplinary colonization.

Prof. Turchin is a biologist by training, with interests ranging from theoretical ecology to population biology to biostatistics. In particular, much of his work has focused on what determines population cycles, a problem to which he has applied an array of statistical and conceptual tools, including chaos theory. He has published three books on the topic: Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall (Princeton University Press, 2003), War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations (Pi Press, 2006), and Secular Cycles (co-authored with S.A. Nefedov, Princeton University Press, 2009).

Comment on the episode teaser.

Prof. Turcin's pick: Victor Lieberman's book "Strange Parallels"