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EPISODE # 169

Jeff Hawkins — A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence

Michael Shermer speaks with Jeff Hawkins, cofounder of Numenta: a neuroscience research company, about his new book A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence in which Hawkins explains how simple cells in the brain create intelligence by using maplike structures to build hundreds of thousands of models of everything we know. Listen to this in-depth dialogue about the discoveries that allow Hawkins to answer important questions about how we perceive the world, why we have a sense of self, and the origin of high-level thought.

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“Governments love pandemics for the same reason they love wars. It gives them the ability to control the population that the population would otherwise never accept.” —Robert F. Kennedy Jr., speaking to an audience of thousands in Berlin on August 28, 2020

Today’s leaders of the anti-vaccination movement, including Dr. Andrew Wakefield in England and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the United States, have been alleging over the past two decades that vaccination is injurious to human health. Now the movement has a new target: vaccines for COVID-19. The development of these vaccines, Kennedy claims, has been driven not by concern for health but by corporations seeking profit and “government totalitarian elites.” On Kennedy’s anti-vaccination website, “herd immunity” is dismissed as a “dishonest marketing gimmick.”1 This anti-vaccination messaging has not yet had much impact, since demand for COVID-19 vaccination so far this year has been outrunning supply. But that could change when the amount of available vaccine increases to the point that vaccination becomes available to everyone.

When that happens, the path to herd immunity may encounter a major obstacle: large numbers of people who decline to be inoculated. In early March of this year, an NPR/PBS/Marist poll2 found that 38% of unvaccinated adults in the U.S. answered “No” to the question: “If a vaccine for the coronavirus is made available to you, will you choose to be vaccinated or not?” And in late March a Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported that nearly 30% of Republicans and 30% of white evangelical Christians are saying they will “definitely not” get the vaccination.3 It’s true that public opinion may change as more people get vaccinated, and if over time vaccination becomes a less politically polarizing issue. On the other hand, at least in some states, vaccination rejection is likely to remain substantial.

Resistance to COVID-19 vaccination is also strong internationally: low rates of vaccine acceptance have been reported in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africa, and European countries that include France and Italy.4 Regions of sparse or absent vaccination may host new COVID-19 variants that disseminate globally, thereby slowing or halting progress toward herd immunity.

Vaccination is today standard medical practice, and globally 80% of infants are vaccinated during the first year of their lives against some disease. Yet vaccination has always faced resistance based on fear. Edward Jenner pioneered smallpox vaccine in England in 1796 and worked tirelessly to communicate its value to the public. But half a century later in that country, the Anti Vaccination League and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League were still trying to convince people that vaccination was dangerous. Despite its manifest benefit, smallpox vaccination had to overcome substantial popular opposition worldwide, and it took nearly two centuries to eliminate the disease. 
 […]

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Retrospective

Skeptic cover art by Pat Linse

Art of the Skeptic

In celebration of Skeptic magazine’s 100th issue, we present sage graphic art advice for skeptical groups and a gallery of art reflecting more than 47 years of skeptical activism from Skeptic’s long time Art Director, Pat Linse

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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…

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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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