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SCIENCE SALON # 103

Michael Shermer with Robert Frank — Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work

Psychologists have long understood that social environments profoundly shape our behavior, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. But social influence is a two-way street — our environments are themselves products of our behavior. Under the Influence explains how to unlock the latent power of social context. We are building bigger houses, driving heavier cars, and engaging in a host of other activities that threaten the planet — mainly because that’s what friends and neighbors do. In the wake of the hottest years on record, only robust measures to curb greenhouse gases promise relief from more frequent and intense storms, droughts, flooding, wildfires, and famines. Robert Frank describes how the strongest predictor of our willingness to support climate-friendly policies, install solar panels, or buy an electric car is the number of people we know who have already done so. Frank and Shermer also discuss:

  • luck and how lives turn out
  • circumstances of behavior
  • peer pressure and pressures on peers
  • free will, volition, and self-control
  • positive behavioral externalities, e.g., solar panels
  • happiness vs. purpose/meaning/comfort
  • utilitarianism vs. natural rights theory
  • abortion, capital punishment, polygamy, prostitution, and the selling of organs
  • behavioral contagions: smoking, problem drinking, obesity, tax cheating, bullying, and wasteful energy use
  • same-sex marriage and other areas of moral progress
  • arms races: good and bad
  • climate change
  • belief in god and religion in decline, and
  • UBI (Universal Basic Income).

Robert H. Frank received his M.A. in statistics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1971, and his Ph.D. in economics in 1972, also from U.C. Berkeley. He is the Goldwin Smith Professor of Economics at Cornell University, where he has taught since 1972 and where he currently holds a joint appointment in the department of economics and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. He has published on a variety of subjects, including price and wage discrimination, public utility pricing, the measurement of unemployment spell lengths, and the distributional consequences of direct foreign investment. For the past several years, his research has focused on rivalry and cooperation in economic and social behaviour.

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Michael Aisner presents a vintage slice of history, science, and skepticism about UFOs in this interview he recorded in 1966 with UFOlogist Dr. J. Allen Hynek, his photo analyst cohort Fred Beckman, and then repackaged in the early 1970s with contributions from Sherman J. Larson, of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomenon.

Image: J. Allen Hynek in Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation (2019) [Source]

Are We Alone?
J. Allen Hynek & UFOs

It was 1966 and I was living a dream working at my high school 10-watt FM radio station. Radio was a childhood passion and finally I had my own show; I was even the board operator recording shows like the monthly 15-minute update, Your Congressman Speaks, with our local congressional rep, a fellow named Donald Rumsfeld. I also was enraptured by astronomy and space and created an hourlong radio special called Are We Alone?, a look at the question of extra-terrestrial life and UFOs.

In March of that year Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Chair of Astronomy at Northwestern, came to national prominence as a lead investigator of mysterious sightings in Michigan when he introduced the notion that swamp gas could be the culprit for the illusion. Hynek had a storied career as the globally respected UFOlogist, consulting the famed Project Blue Book, the US Air Force and NASA, and founded CUFOS, The Center for UFO Studies. While he was very much sought after then, Hynek granted this 17 year-old an hour plus with himself and cohort Fred Beckman, a renowned University of Chicago photo analyst, to dig into this subject.

The show also includes a discussion with Sherman J. Larson, the President of the Chicago affiliate of NICAP—the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomenon.

Now after 50+ years, this historic content has been restored from badly deteriorating reel to reel tapes. It was originally broadcast on the high school station WNTH and later re-aired on Denver radio.

Enjoy a vintage slice of history, science, and skepticism about UFOs. Listen to Part 1 and 2 of the radio show below.

Listen to the radio show

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Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

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