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Rationally Speaking

New York City Skeptics


Podcast Overview

Rationally Speaking is the bi-weekly podcast of New York City Skeptics. Join host Julia Galef and guests as they explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense, likely from unlikely, and science from pseudoscience. Any topic is fair game as long as we can bring reason to bear upon it, with both a skeptical eye and a good dose of humor!
We agree with the Marquis de Condorcet, who said that in an open society we ought to devote ourselves to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them."Rationally Speaking was co-created with Massimo Pigliucci, is produced by Benny Pollak, and is recorded in the heart of New York City's Greenwich Village.

Podcast Episodes

Rationally Speaking #188 - Robert Kurzban on "Being strategically wrong"

In this episode, recorded live at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, Julia interviews evolutionary psychologist Rob Kurzban, author of "Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite." Rob describes the "modular mind" hypothesis, and how it explains hypocrisy, self-deception, and other seemingly irrational features of human nature. Rob and Julia argue about how useful these kinds of "strategic wrongness" really are.

Rationally Speaking #187 - Jason Weeden on "Do people vote based on self-interest?"

What determines which policies a person votes for? Is it their personality, their upbringing, blind loyalty to their political party? Or is it self-interest -- people voting for policies that will benefit themselves and the groups they belong to? This episode features psychologist Jason Weeden, arguing that self-interest is a much bigger determinant of voter behavior than most political scientists think it is. Jason and Julia talk about why researchers disagree over this question, and what "self-interest" even means.

Rationally Speaking #186 - Tania Lombrozo on "Why we evolved the urge to explain"

Humans have an innate urge to reach for explanations of the world around us. For example, "What caused this tragedy?" or "Why are some people successful?" This episode features psychologist and philosopher Tania Lombrozo, discussing her research on what purpose explanation serves -- i.e., why it helps us more than our brains just running prediction algorithms. Tania and Julia also discuss whether simple explanations are more likely to be true, and why we're drawn to teleological explanations (e.g., "Why does the sun shine? So that plants can grow.")

Rationally Speaking #185 - Hans Noel on "The role of ideology in politics"

We're used to conflating political parties (Republican and Democrat) with political ideologies (conservative and liberal), but the two were very distinct only a few decades ago. In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Julia talks with political scientist Hans Noel about why the Democrats became the party of liberalism and the Republicans the party of conservatism, whether voters are hypocrites in the way they apply their ostensible ideology, and whether politicians are motivated by ideals or just self-interest.

Rationally Speaking #184 - Gregory Clark on "What caused the industrial revolution?"

Nothing changed the course of human history as much as the industrial revolution. Yet its cause is a mystery: Why did it occur in the late 1700s, and not sooner (or later)? Why did it occur in Britain, a relatively small and geographically isolated country, and not somewhere much bigger like China, or elsewhere in Northern Europe like the Netherlands? This episode features economic historian Gregory Clark, author of A Farewell to Alms and one of the leading scholars of the industrial revolution. Greg and Julia explore different theories, as well as the epistemological challenges of answering this kind of causal question about history.

Rationally Speaking #183 - L. A. Paul on "Transformative Experiences"

What if you had the opportunity to become a vampire, irreversibly -- and everyone you knew who had become one said "It's utterly indescribable." Would you take the leap, not knowing what it would feel like, or how it would change your personality and values? That's an example of what philosopher L. A. Paul calls a "transformative experience," one that's especially hard to choose (or forgo) rationally, because of how unknowable it is and how it changes your very preferences. In this episode, she and Julia discuss real life examples of transformative experiences -- such as having children -- and debate how to deal with them.

Rationally Speaking #182 - Spencer Greenberg on "How online research can be faster, better, and more useful"

This episode features mathematician and social entrepreneur Spencer Greenberg, talking about how he's taking advantage of the Internet to improve the research process. Spencer and Julia explore topics such as: how the meaning of your research can change dramatically when you ask people *why* they gave the answers they did on your survey, how the sheer speed of online research can help us solve the p-hacking problem, and how to incentivize scientists to share their data and methods.

Rationally Speaking #181 - William MacAskill on "Moral Uncertainty"

This episode introduces "moral uncertainty," the idea that you shouldn't be overly confident in your moral judgments -- like whether it's okay to eat meat, for example, or whether it's okay to abort a baby. The episode's guest is Will MacAskill, a founder of the effective altruism movement and Oxford professor of philosophy. Julia and Will discuss how to take multiple moral systems into account when making a decision, and how to deal with "absolutist" theories that insist some actions have infinite badness, like lying.

Rationally Speaking #180 - David Roodman on "The Worm Wars"

In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Julia talks with economics and public policy expert David Roodman about the "Worm Wars" in social science -- the debate over whether deworming pills are an effective way to fight poverty. Along the way they discuss how to analyze a study, the differences between economists and epidemiologists, and how to make high stakes decisions when all your evidence is flawed.

Rationally Speaking #179 - Dani Rodrik on "Is economics more art or science?"

This episode features Harvard economist Dani Rodrik, talking about the epistemology of economics: Are there any general "laws" of economics that we can be really confident in? Do economists discard models if the data doesn't support them? And why do economists disagree with each other?

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