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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


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"

Sunday
Feb142010

RS02 - Love, a Skeptical Inquiry

Release date: February 14, 2010


Will science ever really be able to explain love? Science has already found correlations between particular hormones and certain forms or stages of love. However, no matter how many correlations we find between brain activity and love, correlation does not imply causation. And what does it mean to explain love scientifically -- would that change our attitude towards it?  We realize that raising this subject risks fueling the widespread and irritating misconception that “skeptic” = “cynical killjoy,” which is the last thing we want to do. As good skeptics though, what do we do when faced with a mysterious and unexplained phenomenon? We look for explanations!

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Julia's pick: The book What is this thing called science

Massimos pick: Making college 'relevant'

Friday
Dec182009

RS01 - Why Be Rational?

Release date: February 1, 2010


Why is "speaking rationally" a worthwhile goal, anyway? It’s not self-evident, at least not to many people. Human beings certainly don’t seem made for it. Aristotle may have famously dubbed us "the rational animal," but cognitive science tells a different story, with plenty of evidence that our brains blithely flout logic all the time and are excellent at rationalizing our irrational decisions after the fact. Indeed, it is reasonable to ask why fight our irrational natures to begin with? After all, some argue that irrationality can make us happier, at least in certain situations. Then again, perhaps there is a problem with the whole idea of arguing for irrationality...

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Julia's pick: Wikipedia's List of Paradoxes

Massimos pick: The Fallacy Files

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