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RS100 - Live Q&A: Massimo and Julia Answer Everything!

Release date: January 26, 2014

On this episode, recorded live at the Jefferson Market Library in New York City, Rationally Speaking podcast celebrates its 100th episode! The show features a full hour of audience Q’s and Julia & Massimo’s A’s. Topics range from science, philosophy and the borderlands between the two. The questions push the  hosts to think on their feet, and even to admit their ignorance on stage!


Reader Comments (103)

Massimo mentioned Francis Bacon as the start of scientific thought. Can he recommend a good book that describes the evolution of thought about how science should work? I recall that a lot of the discussion happened in correspondence between some of the significant figures in scientific history.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Esres

This podcast was somewhat of a turning point for me. I have been listening to all the Rationally Speaking podcasts and generally enjoyed them. However, when I finished listening to this one I was furious. I became convinced that philosophy and science are natural enemies and that Julia's critical thinking abilities leave much to be desired. My reason for these conclusions can summarized in two words that were repeated several times by Massimo and implicitly bu Julia: "animal rights". I would like it very much to refute the arguments put forward by Massimo and Julia in favor of animal rights, but there is a small problem: there weren't any. They just threw the words at us as if taking for granted that we would agree with them. This is a pure propaganda tactic and therefore the antithesis of the critical thinking so revered by Julia. More evidence that Julia is NOT a critical thinker was her little dog = pig = pork chop equation, which I found faulty in the premises, the reasoning and the conclusion.

The elephant in the room, which Massimo and Julia have been carefully avoiding since the beginning of Rationally Speaking, is that you cannot support animal rights and science at the same time. The reason for that is that roughly 80% of all science done these days is animal research, that is, is based directly on the use of animals. If you think animals have rights (to life? to freedom?) then is going to be really hard for you to support that kind of research. And if people who oppose stem cell research (which is less than 1% of biomedical research) are considered anti-science, shouldn't we consider anti-science people who oppose 80% of scientific research? On top of that, while we revile creationists, they have never physically attacked scientists, while animal right supporters have, in many occasions. Add to that all the pseudoscience preached to support animal rights (have you guys heard of Ray Greek?) and maybe you'll begin to understand why scientists like me get a little emotional on this issue. But, by all means, let's forget emotions and have a rational discussion! I look forward to hearing you guys putting forward evidence and profound ideas supporting the notion that roaches, ticks and bedbugs have rights... and then following up on your conclusions in your real life, of course! And please, don't try to tell us that roaches, ticks and bedbugs are not animals.

April 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIon Smasher

@Ion Smasher :

I don't gather that Massimo and Julia are totally on board with the animal rights movement, but I'm sure they have some sympathy towards the movement, as most of us probably do. As for arguments for it, of course they exist, in the same way that arguments for the rights of other human beings exist.

It's also a non sequitur to say that you can't be in favor of animal rights and science at the same time. Of course science presently makes use of animal testing, but that's not an inherent part of science, any more than dissecting live human bodies is, even though that has been done in the past.

It also doesn't follow that the animal rights concept is invalid just because animal rights activists have conducted acts that we might consider immoral.

Really, I found your comment devoid of any substantive critique of Julia or Massimo, and guilty of the very flaws that you falsely attributed to them.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Esres

@Greg Esres:

I don't know if you are aware that there are two ethical positions regarding the use of animals:

1. Animal welfare - It is ethical to use animals as long as we don't cause them unnecessary or excessive harm and suffering. Animals don't have rights because they don't have the same moral status as humans. They also don't recognize themselves as having those rights and cannot reciprocate with the responsibilities that are associated with those rights. This is the principle that guides society and laws this day.

2. Animal rights - Animals have rights, particularly to life and freedom, and therefore is not ethically acceptable to use them in any way. Consequently, it is immoral to eat meat or any other animal product, to wear clothes made from animals, to have pets, to use animals for scientific research, for entertainment or for any other purpose. “Animals are not ours to use”, proclaim the animal right activist.

Most people that engage in this debate, both in the animal rights and animal welfare camps, agree with these definitions. You can read more about this in the Speaking of Research website (, written by scientists in defense of animal research . According with these generally accepted definitions, it is absolutely impossible to defend animal rights and accept that scientific animal research is ethical. The animal rights position is extremist and absolutist and does not allow much flexibility at this regard.

Regarding Massimo and Julia, it is possible that they are ignorant of this heated debate, in which case they should be ashamed of discussing animal rights without informing themselves first on an issue so important for science. Or it could be that they know about the debate (after all, they have read Peter Singer and know him well) and they are being intellectually dishonest by taking the animal rights conclusion for granted and ignoring the enormous repercussion that it has for biomedical science. Again, not a position to be very proud of.

I challenge them to take the issue face on in a Rationally Speaking podcast very soon, preferably by inviting a scientist from Speaking of Research to argue the pro-science, animal research position.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIon Smasher

@Ion Smasher

"t there are two ethical positions regarding the use of animals:"

Nah, you're being way too rigid. Those two positions may summarize the extremes, but there is a continuum of views on the subject.

This looks to be an emotional issue for you and because of that, I think you're judging Julia and Massimo way too harshly. A bit of charity is appropriate, I think.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Esres

@Greg Esres:

There is a continuum of views on ANY subject, but statistically opinions on this matter cluster heavily on those two positions. It may be a matter of logic - animals either have rights or don't have rights, they either belong in the same category as humans or in a different category (ethically speaking). This is very similar to the abortion debate: a embryo either has a right to life or doesn't have a right to life. What we are discussing in both cases is to extend our precious human rights to beings that are not persons in any obvious way.

Yes, some issues are "emotional", but I would rather say that a lot is a stake in this matter. If we recognize animal rights and hence stop animal research, biomedical research will come to a screeching halt. Which mean all the cures we have been hoping for, for cancer, Alzheimer's, AIDS, chronic pain, etc, will never be obtained. I do care about these things, how about you?

As for Massimo and Julia, I only say about them what they say about other people that oppose science and propose pseudoscience. I'm just holding them to their own standards. Aren't they all about critical thinking and defending science? We'll, there seems to be here a major inconsistency here with those claims.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIon Smasher

I find it very odd that a group of people who purport to being open minded and all about scientific inquiry would purposely not only delete my previously posted comments but also delete parts of the audio recording of this event.

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