The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

EPISODE # 291

Rob Ashton — Silent Influence and the Science of Writing, Reading, and Communicating

Shermer and Ashton discuss: what it’s like advising Google and Buckingham Palace on how to communicate • what makes writing appealing and effective • how to write better emails and social media posts • why the messages we write often backfire • why emails so often make us angry • What makes Donald Trump such a powerful communicator that he can seemingly hypnotize tens of millions of people and dictate entire news cycles with a single statement? • when you should stop writing and pick up the phone to talk instead.

Released August 9, 2022

EPISODE # 290

Anastacia Marx de Salcedo — Eat like a Pig, Run Like a Horse

Shermer and de Salcedo discuss: her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at age 27 • her long-term psychological strategy for living with a serious illness • what “eating like a pig” actually means • our 70-year-old “diet detour” • the obesity crisis • how dietary studies are conducted • the baseline health of lab rats • static vs. dynamic metabolism • diseases you can treat, manage, or prevent with exercise • cholesterol and statins • why exercise is more important than diet • how you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Released August 2, 2022

EPISODE # 289

James Kirchick — Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington

Shermer and Kirchick discuss: archives and secret sources of secret histories • the cause of homophobia, and how and why homosexuality was thought of as a “contagious sexual aberrancy” • why there is no lesbian history of Washington • J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson and gay mythmaking • FDR and Sumner Welles • why at the height of the Cold War, it was safer to be a Communist than a homosexual • Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss • the McCarthy hearings and how the Lavender Menace became inextricably linked with the Red Menace • astronomer Franklin Kameny and the Mattachine Society • JFK and his tolerance of homosexuality • Richard Nixon’s notorious homophobia • Ronald Reagan’s conflicting attitudes toward homosexuality • George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and real progress in acceptance of homosexuality • the trans movement and its homophobic consequences.

Released July 26, 2022

EPISODE # 288

Lucy Cooke — Bitch: On the Female of the Species

Shermer and Cooke discuss: the definition of male and female across the animal kingdom • male bias in the history of science • genes involved in sex determination and how they work • sexual selection • adaptationism vs. non-adaptationism • Why do women have orgasms? • why female animals are just as promiscuous, competitive, aggressive, dominant and dynamic as males • what humans can learn from non-human animals • maternal/paternal instincts • patriarchy/matriarchy across the animal kingdom • why the sexes are far more alike than they are different.

Released July 19, 2022

EPISODE # 287

Bobby Azarian — Life, the Universe, and Cosmic Complexity

Shermer and Azarian discuss: laws of thermodynamics and directionality • how complexity formed after the Big Bang • laws of nature: discovered or created or both? • Stephen Jay Gould and contingency vs. necessitating laws of nature • convergent evolution and directionality in evolution • the left wall of simplicity • leading theories for the origin of life • complexity theory and emergence • consciousness, the self, and other minds • free will, determinism, compatibilism, panpsychism • Is there purpose in the cosmos?

Released July 12, 2022

EPISODE # 286

Kevin McCaffree — How Societies Change and Why 

Since the dawn of social science, theorists have debated how and why societies appear to change, develop and evolve. Shermer speaks with sociologist Kevin McCaffree about: his research on crime and gun violence • diversity, equity, and inclusion • political polarization •cultural and biological evolution • horizontal/equalitarian vs. vertical/hierarchical societies • human selfishness and the problem of altruism, and what the future holds for humanity and society…

Released July 9, 2022

EPISODE # 285

Helen Joyce — Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality

Biological sex is no longer accepted as a basic fact of life. Shermer and Joyce discuss: What is a woman? What is a man? • conflicting rights: trans vs. women • sex vs. gender • gender dysphoria • social contagions • gender affirming care • puberty blockers, testosterone, hormone treatment • detransitioning • top surgery, phalloplasty, vaginoplasty • preferred pronouns: compelled speech ≠ free speech • trans sports • exclusive spaces, and more…

Released July 5, 2022

EPISODE # 284

Yoram Hazony on Traditional Conservatism vs. Enlightenment Liberalism

Political theorist Yoram Hazony argues that the best hope for Western democracy is a return to the empiricist, religious, and nationalist traditions of America and Britain. Shermer makes the case for Enlightenment liberalism, with its focus on science and reason, as the primary driver of moral progress over the centuries.

Released June 28, 2022

EPISODE # 283

Michael Strevens — The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

Shermer and Strevens discuss: irrationality and how it drives science • the knowledge machine • the replication crisis, what caused it, and what to do about it • verification vs. falsification • the iron rule of explanation • Bayesian reasoning vs. falsification • climate/evolution skeptics • model dependent realism • humanism • theistic arguments for: God, origin of life, morality, consciousness • known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns • how to evaluate media sources of science.

Released June 25, 2022

EPISODE # 282

Anil Seth on the Hard Problem of Consciousness, the Self, and the Essence of Volition

Shermer and Seth discuss: consciousness • controlled hallucinations • the self and other minds • Where does consciousness go during general anaesthesia? After death? • Are we living in a simulation that itself is inside a simulation? • Does Deep Blue know that it beat the great Gary Kasparov in chess? • Does Watson know that it beat the great Ken Jennings in Jeopardy!? • Is Data on Star Trek sentient, conscious, and with feelings? • Can AI systems be conscious? • free will, determinism, compatibilism, and panpsychism.

Released June 21, 2022

EPISODE # 281

Moneyball For Your Life: Seth Stephens-Davidowitz on Using Data to Get What You Really Want

Most people rely on their gut instinct to decide how to date, who to marry, where to live, what career path to take, how to find happiness, but what if our gut is wrong? Biased, unpredictable, and misinformed, our gut, it turns out, is not all that reliable. Michael Shermer speaks with economist and former Google data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz on using data to get what you really want in life.

Released June 18, 2022

EPISODE # 280

Sam Rosenfeld on Party Polarization in the Postwar United States

Shermer and Rosenfeld discuss: why we have a duopoly • gerrymandering • voting restrictions • how we know all elections are not rigged • abortion • immigration • US foreign policy • the rise of conservative and liberal think tanks • ideology • political polarization • political leanings of industrialists vs. tech billionaires and rural poor vs. urban poor • Trump and 2016, 2020, and 2024 (are we facing civil unrest as never seen before?)…

Released June 14, 2022

EPISODE # 279

Ian Morris on Deep Time and Big History

In this conversation on deep time and big history, Shermer and Morris discuss the history of Big History, the future of energy and civilization, China and the future of energy and political power, what Britain was like 8000 years ago, the major transitions in British history, counterfactual history, slavery and the abolition of the slave trade, the role of ideas in history (civil rights, rule of law, justice, etc.), reparations and making right the wrongs of the past.

Released June 11, 2022

EPISODE # 278

David Christian on Time, the Near/Far Future, Transhumanism, Interstellar Migrations, the Fate of Our Species, and the End of Time

The future is uncertain, a bit spooky, possibly dangerous, maybe wonderful. We cope with this never-ending uncertainty by telling stories about the future: future stories. How do we construct those stories? Where is the future, the place where we set those stories? Can we trust our future stories? And what sort of futures do they show us? David Christian is renowned for pioneering the emerging discipline of Big History, which surveys the whole of the past. In this conversation, he reveals what he thinks the future holds for our species.

Released June 7, 2022

EPISODE # 277

Michel Gagné — How to Think About Conspiracy Theories

As we approach the sixtieth anniversary of the violent public assassination of President John F. Kennedy, over half of all Americans surveyed continue to believe that he was killed by a conspiracy involving multiple assassins. Shermer and Gagné discuss: conspiracies and conspiracy theories; what role conspiracy theories play in society; who believes them and why; why conspiracy theorists rewrite the past; Trump and rigged election; Obama Birtherism; and more…

Released June 4, 2022

EPISODE # 276

Andrew Yang — Not Left. Not Right. Forward.

Michael Shermer speaks with Andrew Yang about the Forward Party, the future of politics in a party duopoly, political partisanship, and how to bring about the change we need. This conversation is based on Yang’s new book Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy.

Released May 31, 2022

EPISODE # 275

The Disrupted Mind: Noga Arikha on What Happens to Identity When the Brain Is Assaulted by Disease and Injury

Shermer and Arikha discuss: dementia, senility, Alzheimer’se • mental illness and the labeling problem • the social construction of mental illness • neurology and psychiatry • agency and volition • memory and amnesia • autobiographical memory • self and embodied self • brain modularity • brain as a machine • emotions and cognition • conversion disorder/hysteria • depression • metacognition • exteroception and interoception.

Released May 28, 2022

EPISODE # 274

Frans De Waal on Sex and Gender Across the Primate Spectrum

What is gender? How different are men and women? Are differences due to biological sex or to culture? How do they compare with what is known about our fellow primates? Do apes also culturally learn their sex roles or is “gender” uniquely human? Michael Shermer and Frans de Waal discuss sexual orientation, gender identity, and the limitations of the gender binary, exceptions to which are also found in other primates.

Released May 24, 2022

EPISODE # 273

Cathy Young — The Russian Riddle Wrapped in a Ukrainian Mystery Inside an American Enigma

Michael Shermer speaks with Cathy Young, a cultural studies fellow at the Cato Institute. She writes on a wide variety of cultural and political issues, including gender issues (equal opportunity in the workplace, sexual harassment policy, sexual assault and domestic violence law, child custody, etc.), freedom of speech and intellectual tolerance, diversity, education, and perspectives on American history, as well as Russia and U.S.-Russian relations.

Released May 21, 2022

EPISODE # 272

Stuart Vyse — The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to Be Rational

Michael Shermer speaks with psychologist and behavioral scientist, Stuart Vyse, about aspects of human nature that are not altogether rational but, nonetheless, help us achieve our social and personal goals. In his book, and in this conversation, Vyse presents an accessible exploration of the psychological concepts behind useful delusions, fleshing out how delusional thinking may play a role in love and relationships, illness and loss, and personality and behavior.

Released May 17, 2022
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