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2010 Episodes

December 31st:Today’s News is Tomorrow’s Skeptic History

This week on Skepticality, Tim Farley wraps up the year in skepticism and Swoopy treats listeners to a splash of monkey news.

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December 14th: Education at the JREF

Most skeptics are familiar with the James Randi Educational Foundation — a not-for-profit organization founded in 1996 that offers a $1,000,000 prize for testable proof of paranormal ability. This world-renowned skeptical organization promotes critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural claims. But besides the Foundation’s famous founder and the Million Dollar Challenge, the JREF is notable for its commitment to education.

This week on Skepticality, science educator and grassroots skeptical organizer Michael Blanford discusses his role as Director of Educational Programs for the JREF. Michael describes ongoing and upcoming educational programs — and how skeptics can help.

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November 30th: Inside Consumer Reports

One of the most positive aspects of the skeptical movement is advocacy for consumer awareness about the claims made by producers and advertisers of all sorts of products, from the outlandish to the commonplace.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Robert Tiernan, Managing Editor of Consumer Reports magazine, the monthly publication produced by The Consumers Union. For nearly 75 years, the Consumers Union has utilized rigorous scientific testing to separate hype from fact and good products from bad ones — empowering consumers to think more critically about everything from cars to health care.

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November 16th: The Nature of Existence

What if you could travel the world to ask scientists, artists, spiritual leaders, gurus, and everyday people why we exist? Documentary film-maker Roger Nygard (best known for his films about Star Trek fandom, Trekkies One and Two) did just that, conducting over 170 interviews to explore The Nature of Existence.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Roger about his journey across the globe, and what he discovered during his compelling conversations with people of faith and science (including Richard Dawkins, Leonard Susskind, and Skeptics Society founder Michael Shermer).

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November 2nd: Faith, Science — and Bad Religion

Over the years Skepticality has featured many science educators, and more than a few musicians. This week, Swoopy talks with Dr. Greg Graffin, a professor of life sciences at the University of California at Los Angles who also happens to be the lead singer and songwriter for the legendary punk band Bad Religion.

As well as touring in support of The Dissent of Man, Bad Religion’s 14th studio album, Dr. Graffin has just released his memoir Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God (co-authored with Steve Olson).

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October 26th: The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics

Professor James Kakalios, a mild-mannered physics professor at the University of Minnesota, has something in common with the characters he chronicled in his 2005 book The Physics of Superheroes — he has a super power. In fact, in his new book The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics: A Math-Free Exploration of the Science That Made Our World Kakalios reveals that all humans have a super power: our intelligence. With that power (and with a little help from quantum mechanics), we have created the greatest technologies the world has ever known.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Kakalios (a science consultant on the 2009 Warner Brothers film Watchmen) about his latest book. Not only does he explain how quantum mechanics enables your Blu-ray player; he also explores the similarities between the young physicists who developed quantum theory and the pulp science fiction writers of the 1920s and 1930s — blending pop culture and hard science to reveal the physics behind our world. Check out the Publisher’s promotional video.

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October 12th: The Earth Moves

Eppur si muove is Italian for “and yet it moves.” These are perhaps the most famous words attributed to the Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher Galileo Galilei. While this quote makes for a dramatic climax to the story of Galileo’s condemnation for heresy in 1633, there is no proof that the great scientist ever said it.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with author Dan Hofstadter, whose book The Earth Moves paints a unique picture not only of Galileo the heliocentrist, but also of Galileo the humanist.

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September 21st: The Calculus Diaries

In her new book, The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help you Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse, author and science blogger Jennifer Ouellette reminds readers that the common resistance to calculus is not entirely rational. In fact, most people do a little calculus every day, whether they know it or not.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Jennifer about inspiring the math-phobic — and about how The Calculus Diaries explains complex concepts using simple, real world applications (like theme park rides, shopping for real estate, and even fortune-telling).

Be sure to catch Jennifer’s lecture at Caltech, Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 2 pm in Baxter Lecture Hall. LEARN MORE about the lecture…

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September 12th: BANG! The Universe Verse

In keeping with Skepticality’s tradition of highlighting artists, illustrators, and filmmakers who bring great stories of science to their genres, this week’s episode welcomes James Lu Dunbar, author and illustrator of BANG! The Universe Verse. The first book in an educational series of graphic novels about the history of the universe, BANG! is crafted for children of all ages.

Swoopy chats with Jamie about the creative process for this series of self-published books — and explores how the second book in the series (It’s Alive, on the topic of evolution) is being funded by supporters via donations on Kickstarter.com.

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August 24th: Packing for Mars

Imagine you were talented enough, ambitious enough and lucky enough to be chosen to be part of a manned mission to another planet. What might you see out there? What might you learn? And, what about going to the bathroom, taking a shower, eating, drinking, sleeping, or even sex?

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with psychologist, journalist and bestselling author Mary Roach. Her new book Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void explores how space programs, scientists and astronauts (and even astro-chimps) tackle the unexpected complexity of performing everyday activities when in space.

As with her previous books Spook (the science of the search for the afterlife), Stiff (the science of the dead), and Bonk (the science of sex), Ms. Roach’s accessible investigation into the science of space travel sparkles with humor and insight.

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August 10th: Voodoo History

Historical precedent, eyewitnesses, academic experts — these are among the tools that critical thinkers use to verify facts and give credibility to their arguments. And yet, misuse of these same principles provides the foundation for widely accepted conspiracy theories.

Why does the public often prefer wildly improbable half-truths to the demonstrable facts of history? This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with award-winning journalist and author David Aaronovitch about his book Voodoo Histories: The Role of Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History. Deconstructing both well-known and obscure conspiracies, David illuminates how such far-fetched claims come to be believed.

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July 27th: Roundtable Discussion: Reflecting Upon The Amazing Meeting 8

This week on Skepticality, Derek & Swoopy join forces with other members of “Team Skeptic” for an informal roundtable discussion about The Amazing Meeting 8, the record-setting skeptic’s conference that recently took place in Las Vegas (co-sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Skeptics Society).

Joining the discussion are Daniel Loxton (Editor of Junior Skeptic), Blake Smith (creator of the podcast MonsterTalk) and Tim Farley (creator of WhatsTheHarm.Net and producer of “This Week in Skeptic History”).

The panel discusses the highlights of this conference, including the best of the presentations and workshops, and reflects on the evolution of TAM over the past several years. Especially in the spotlight: challenging TAM8 presentations about responsibility for those at all levels of the skeptical movement.

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June 29th: The Price of Altruism

From “survival of the fittest” to “the selfish gene,” familiar evolutionary themes advocate an amoral viewpoint that favors the individual. And yet, evolutionary biologists have uncovered countless examples of altruism in animals and humans — and learned that there is an evolutionary component to these selfless behaviors which can be quantified.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Professor Oren Harman, author of The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness. Both a history of the study of social evolution and a biography of George R. Price, this book explores a life which would become an illuminating experiment in altruism and lead to the development of the Price equation (a mathematical equation used to study genetic evolution).

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June 17th: The Arts and Sciences

Over the last five years Skepticality has been pleased to interview some of the world’s most interesting and noteworthy skeptics and scientists and some of those skeptics and scientists are also gifted artists.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy & Derek talk with George Hrab about the release of his new album Trebuchet, which he is kind enough to provide to our listeners in it’s entirety for free as a full album mp3. Among the many topics, and music clips, George talks about marketing this new album via his award nominated Geologic Podcast, and about the subject matter that is, as always relevant to his audience of skeptics and music lovers alike.

Additionally Derek chats with New York Times best selling author Scott Sigler, about the release of his book Ancestor (a sci-fi horror thriller that is steeped in hard science). Scott didn’t just stop by to chat, he also has some special giveaways for Skepticality listeners.

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June 15th: Decoding the Language of God

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with geneticist Dr. George C. Cunningham, author of Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? This book serves as a point-by-point rebuttal of the 2006 bestseller The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Dr. Francis S. Collins.

Dr. Collins was the head of the Human Genome Project during its final phases, presiding over one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time. And yet, some skeptics expressed unease about Dr. Collins’ 2009 appointment as the Director of the National Institutes of Health. At issue were the award-winning geneticist’s beliefs that our “genetic code is, after all, God’s instruction book” — and that God himself does not need an explanation since he is beyond the universe.

In this interview, Dr. Cunningham respectfully questions the proof Dr. Collins offers for his beliefs, including the Bible and the writings of C.S. Lewis. Additionally, Decoding the Language of God serves as a primer for good critical thinking, discussing points of conflict between naturalistic explanations of reality (which are anchored in scientific research) and supernatural interpretations (which are not). Cunningham’s well-reasoned discussion will appeal to people across a wide spectrum of belief and unbelief.

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May 25th: Graphic Novel Science

Skeptic readers may suspect that there’s little to interest them in the pages of most graphic novels, dominated as they are by superheroes and the supernatural. However, a new generation of authors and artists are hard at work creating comics rooted in science fact — and even critical thinking.

This week Skepticality welcomes back Jim Ottaviani: nuclear engineer, librarian, lead author for GT Labs (which produces graphic novels about the history of science and prominent scientists). Swoopy talks with Jim about his most recent published works, T-Minus: The Race to the Moon; Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love; and, of special interest to skeptics: Levitation: Physics and Psychology in the Service of Deception.

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May 11th: The Sound of Science

This week Skepticality welcomes two of the members of the Los Angeles-based band “Artichoke”: Timothy Sellers (who pursued physics before deciding on music) and Steve Collins (an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory).

Artichoke is known to many eSkeptic readers for the song “Mary Anning,” their highly popular contribution to the “Skeptics Mix Tape 2009” project. (As Mix Tape curator Daniel Loxton explains, “Artichoke is really top tier science music. There are vanishingly few bands who can match their catchiness and scientific depth.”)

On this episode, Swoopy chats with Timothy and Steve about the special challenges in writing fun, accessible music that also portrays scientists accurately — as featured on the band’s albums 26 Scientists Volume 1: Anning – Malthus, and 26 Scientists Volume 2: Newton – Zeno.

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May 4th: The Heart of the Evangelical Church

In-depth inquiry is a central virtue in the realms of skepticism and investigative journalism. In both traditions, investigators immerse themselves into unfamiliar worlds in order to understand, inform and illuminate the truth.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with author Gina Welch about her first book In The Land of Believers: An Outsider’s Extraordinary Journey Into the Heart of the Evangelical Church. Recounting her two years as a member of Jerry Falwell’s “Thomas Road Baptist Church” in Lynchburg, Virginia, the book is an honest discussion by a nontheist of her extraordinary look into the lives of the evangelical Americans who became her friends.

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April 27th: Kids’-Eye View

Over the past five years, Skepticality hosts Derek & Swoopy have been inspired by noteworthy scientists and skeptics — and by the many podcasters producing popular programs about science and critical thinking.

This week’s guests are science podcasters with a little something extra. Aaron’s World and Princess Scientist’s Book Club< are both podcasts hosted by children under the age of nine. This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with both hosts (and their parents) about the unique challenges and rewards of creating online programming by and for young science enthusiasts.

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April 20th: Manga and Science

The hosts of Skepticality love opportunities to introduce listeners to innovative ways of communicating skepticism. This week’s guest is a perfect example. The award-winning creator of graphic novel Secrets of Sorcerers, Sara E. Mayhew is a professional illustrator who specializes in manga artwork that embraces critical thinking.

In 2009 Sara became a TED Fellow (“Technology, Entertainment, Design”) — part of a distinguished program built on the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. She spoke about her goal to use the art of manga to teach young readers about science and critical thinking through engaging stories and images. She spoke again at TED 2010, and recently spoke at the Center for Inquiry: Los Angeles on the topic of “Skepticism Through Manga.”

This week, Swoopy talks with Sara about her new manga, Legend of the Ztarr (the story of a young girl on a far off planet who must ultimately utilize critical thinking and science to help save her world) and about her popular critical thinking blog, There Are Four Lights.

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April 13th: Race and Reality

The concept of race continues to affect our world in undeniable ways. Sociologists tell us that people derive their attitudes about race from their family, culture, and education, with vast and persistent differences between the popular notions of race and the scientific view of human diversity. Even among scientists, who understand the current evidence, there is controversy about the definition of “race” — and about the usefulness of thinking in terms of race at all.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Guy P. Harrison, a part-time science and history lecturer and journalist about his latest book Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity. Harrison discusses scientific evidence that the human species has no races, and explores how that evidence could unite humankind.

Also featured is Atlanta Skeptic Taylor Proctor, on making this year’s Atlanta Skepticamp a celebration of “Critical Thinking for Everyone”.

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March 30th: The Animal Manifesto

This February, a panicked zebra ran loose down a major Atlanta freeway at rush hour, sustaining fatal injuries. That same month, a whale trainer was dragged underwater to her death by a 12,000-lb killer whale at Orlando’s SeaWorld. And this week in Mumbai an angry 56-year-old female elephant killed a man who entered her enclosure, picking him with her trunk and slamming him into a wall.

From food production to circus acts to scientific studies, animals have a long and controversial history in the lives of humans.

Skepticality welcomes back Dr. Marc Bekoff (Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado) who, alongside Jane Goodall, co-founded the organization “Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.” Dr. Bekoff discusses his book The Animal Manifesto, citing current scientific research in support of six guiding principles — each designed to increase awareness of the deplorable conditions animals experience across a broad spectrum of activities. Learn what those who are concerned can do to help.

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March 16th: Church State Update

This past week has been particularly troubling for secular humanists and freethinkers, as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the words “In God We Trust” on American currency and “Under God” as part of the Pledge of Allegiance are not in violation of the First Amendment rights of nontheists.

Meanwhile, the conservative majority of the Texas State Board of Education (whose sheer size and buying power influence textbook content nationwide) revised its curricula to reflect a less secular version of history, economics and sociology. Among other revisionist changes, this reduces the role of President Thomas Jefferson as a revolutionary author.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Sean Faircloth (the new Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America) about these troubling current events. Sean also talks about the Coalition’s recent historic meeting with White House officials to open a policy dialog with the Obama Administration — the first of its kind for American nontheists.

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March 2nd: Imagine Science

Imagine you’ve just completed your PhD in molecular biology and genetics. Would enrolling at NYU film school be your next logical career step? Unlikely as it may sound, that’s exactly what Alexis Gambis, creator of the Imagine Science Film Festival decided to do.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Alexis about the surprising and yet natural collaboration between scientists who dedicate their lives to studying the world we live in, and filmmakers — who have the power to interpret and share this knowledge with a broader audience than ever before.

This week also includes the debut of a new segment: “This Week in Skeptic History,” hosted by notable skeptical activist Tim Farley (creator of the WhatsTheHarm.net).

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February 17th: Welcome, Mr. President

Last week’s Skepticality featured Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, who told us about his decision to step down from his role as President of the James Randi Educational Foundation to take on an exciting new television opportunity.

In this episode, Derek catches up with the JREF’s incoming President, D.J. Grothe. Formerly host of the Point of Inquiry podcast at the Center for Inquiry, D.J. talks about his new role at the JREF and about his new podcast, For Good Reason.

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February 9th: Eyes to the Sky

For a myriad of reasons, NASA is in the news this week. For an update on everything astronomical, Skepticality is proud to welcome back The Bad Astronomer himself, Dr. Phil Plait (author of the popular books Bad Astronomy, Death from the Skies and his award-winning blog at DiscoverMagazine.com).

Swoopy chats with Phil about this week’s planned launch of the space shuttle Endeavor (one of five final missions marking the retirement of the shuttle fleet by the close of 2010); the surprising recent announcement of President Obama’s plans to increase NASA’s funding but cancel the Constellation program already five years underway; and, Phil’s own tough decision to step down as president of the James Randi Educational Foundation in order to extend his skeptical outreach to a global audience through television.

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January 26th: Skepticism’s Unknown Trailblazer

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with a true skeptical original: Skeptics Society co-founder Pat Linse, co-publisher and Art Director of Skeptic magazine. She is among skepticism’s most influential pioneers — and yet, she has rarely stepped into the public spotlight.

Among Pat’s many groundbreaking innovations was the creation of Junior Skeptic (the 10-page kids’ critical thinking insert bound within Skeptic magazine). Joining Pat in this interview is current Junior Skeptic editor and illustrator Daniel Loxton, here to talk about their latest creation: a full-color children’s book released this week by Kids Can Press, entitled Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be.

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January 5th: Worlds of Their Own

“The Universe does not bend itself to our ignorance.” This simple truism is just one of the many observations made by author, skeptic and former president of the National Center for Science Education Robert J. Schadewald (who died of cancer on March 12th, 2000).

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Robert’s sister Lois Schadewald, who compiled and published a humorous, insightful volume of her brother’s articles, essays and interviews in 2008. Entitled Worlds of Their Own: A Brief History of Misguided Ideas; Creationism, Flat-Earthism, Energy Scams, and the Velikovsky Affair, Robert Schadewald’s work reminds us that in order to understand the difference between science and pseudoscience we must investigate the unique claims and personalities of some of history’s most unorthodox thinkers. Only then can we begin to learn what leads some people to embrace critical thinking and science, while others cling to their own realities despite all the evidence in the universe.

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