The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

Adam Frank — Aliens: Real and Imagined

Shermer and Frank discuss: origin of Life • Drake Equation • Fermi’s Paradox • UFOs and UAPs • Projects Sign, Blue Book, Cyclops, Grudge • AATIP (Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program) • Alien Autopsy film • SETI & METI • technosignatures & biosignatures • aliens: biological or AI? • convergent vs. contingent evolution • interstellar travel • Dyson spheres, rings, and swarms • Kardashev scale of civilizations • aliens as gods and the search as religion • why aliens matter.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Converted to Christianity

On November 11, 2023, my friend, colleague, and hero Ayaan Hirsi Ali released a statement explaining “Why I am Now a Christian”. What follows is my response, “Why I am Not a Christian,” and why in any case the alternative to theistic morality is not atheism but Enlightenment humanism—a cosmopolitan worldview that places supreme value on human and civil rights, individual autonomy and bodily integrity, free thought and free speech, the rule of law, and science and reason as the…

Garrett Graff — UFO: The Inside Story of the U.S. Government’s Search for Alien Life

Shermer and Graff discuss: national security • how long government secrets can be kept • cultural context for UFO sightings • why David Grusch’s testimony could be accurate but still not represent alien contact • Kenneth Arnold • Roswell • The Fermi Paradox • why 90-95% of all UFO sightings are explainable • anomalies and how to treat them • Avi Loeb (Galileo Project) • President Clinton’s investigation into UFOs • UFOs as a modern myth or religion.

Yascha Mounk — Identity Politics and its Discontents

Shermer and Mounk discuss: the identity synthesis/trap • Israel, Hamas, Palestine • why students & student groups are pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel • the rise of anti-Semitism in recent years • proximate/ultimate causes of anti-Semitism • the rejection of the civil rights movement and the rise of critical race theory • overt racism vs. systemic racism • the problem of woke ideology • Trump and the 2024 election • the possibility of another Civil War • What should we do personally…

Dan Ariely — What Makes Rational People Believe Irrational Things?

Shermer and Ariely discuss: What is disinformation and what should we do about it? • How do we know what is true and what to believe? • virtue signaling one’s tribe as a misbelief factor • the role of complex stories in misbelief • emotions, personality, temperament, trust, politics, and social aspects of belief and misbelief • the funnel of belief • social proof and the influence of others on our beliefs • a COVID-23 pandemic • social media companies…

Image in background by Fars Media Corporation, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons. People in Iran burning the flags of the United States and Israel

Behnam Ben Taleblu — The Role of Iran in the Israel-Hamas Conflict

Shermer and Taleblu discuss: • Iran and Hamas • Hamas and Israel • Does Iran really want to wipe Israel off the map? • Islam, Islamism, Jihadism • Sharia Law • Hamas, Hezbollah, and terrorism in the Middle East • Would Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) work with Iran? • Do economic sanctions work against Iran? • Trump’s strategies in the Middle East: what worked, what didn’t and why • the Iran Deal, and why they support terrorists • U.S. support…

Liza Mundy — The Secret History of Women at the CIA

Shermer and Mundy discuss: • CIA research methods • a brief history of the CIA • the purpose of intelligence agencies • Misogyny and sexism in the early decades • the skills needed to be a spy • what women notice that men don’t in the spy business • Lisa Manfull Harper feminine approach to espionage, and finding Osama Bin Laden • how women worked around the restrictions on women advancing in the CIA • Lisa Manfull Harper and the…

Elan Journo — America and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Shermer and Journo discuss: who really owns land? • British Mandate • Theodore Herzl • Zionism, Judaism, and Israel • territorial disputes • Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement), Hezbollah (Party of God), and terrorism • Palestinian grievances • The Palestinian cause • Is Israel a colonial conquering empire? • Is Israel an apartheid state? • Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement • Gender Apartheid • Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians as separate identities • Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) • Islam and Islamism •…

Greg Lukianoff & Rikki Schlott — Cancel Culture and What to Do About It

Shermer and Lukianoff and Schlott discuss: • the definition of Cancel Culture • The Henny Youngman Principle: “Compared to what?” • Cancel Culture as imagined moral panic • Cancel Culture on the political Left/Right and on social media • free speech law vs. norms • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) • sensitivity training • bias hotlines and silencing of speech • pluralistic ignorance • The 4 Great Untruths • Jean Twenge’s theory of generational change • solutions to Cancel Culture.

Robert Sapolsky on Free Will and Determinism

Shermer and Sapolsky discuss: free will, determinism, compatibilism, libertarian free will • Christian List’s 3 related capacities for free will • how what people believe about free will and determinism influences their behaviors • the three horsemen of determinism: (1) reductionism (2) predetermination; (3) epiphenomenalism • dualism • punishment • retributive vs. restorative justice •Is the self an illusion? • game theory evolution of punishment • luck • and meaning (or lack thereof).

Armageddon in the Middle East? Rabbi David Wolpe on Israel, Palestine, Hamas, Gaza, and Anti-Semitism

Shermer and Wolpe discuss: what happened to Israel’s vaunted security apparatus, intelligence agency and military readiness? • Zionism, Judaism, and Israel • Palestine, Palestinians, and the Gaza strip • Hamas, Hezbollah, and terrorism • U.S. support for Israel • Iran, the Iran Deal, and why they support terrorists • The Biden Administrations culpability in releasing/sending $16 billion to Iran • Shia and Sunni similarities and differences • why students & student groups are pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel • The rise of…

Rose Hackman — Emotional Labor: The Invisible Work Shaping Our Lives

Shermer and Hackman discuss: • her journey to researching emotional labor • What is emotional labor? • sex/gender differences in emotions • equality vs. equity • income inequality between men and women • Richard Reeves’ book, Of Boys and Men • why women are more risk averse • sex and emotional labor • sex work and prostitution • pornography • #metoo • emotional capitalism • liberal vs. conservative attitudes about emotional labor and gender differences.

Daniel Dennett Looks Back on His Career

Preeminent philosopher and cognitive scientist, Daniel Dennett has spent his career considering the thorniest, most fundamental mysteries of the mind. Do we have free will? What is consciousness and how did it come about? What distinguishes human minds from the minds of animals? Dennett’s answers have profoundly shaped our age of philosophical thought. In his autobiographical I’ve Been Thinking, he reflects on his amazing career and lifelong scientific fascinations.

Matthew Dallek — How the American Right Became Radicalized

Shermer and Dallek discuss: the origin of the John Birch Society • the “right,” “conservatism,” “liberalism” • “mainstream” vs. “fringe” • Cold War context for the rise of the radical right • the link between the John Birch Society and radical right figures today like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and Donald Trump • COVID denialism, vaccine disinformation, America First nationalism, school board wars, QAnon plots, allegations of electoral cheating…

Polina Marinova Pompliano — Ways of Thinking That Power Successful People

Shermer and Pompliano discuss: personal journey from college to Fortune to The Profile • what distinguishes the truly exceptional from the merely great • What is genius? • hindsight bias • David Goggins: Do something that sucks every single day • stress-testing yourself through regular hardship • victimhood: “Suffering is universal but victimhood is optional” • fear • updating existing beliefs • pursuing meaningful goals • trust = consistency + time.

Lee McIntyre — Disinformation: How to Fight for Truth and Protect Democracy

Shermer and McIntyre discuss: default to truth theory • RFK Jr. • whether reason evolved for veridical perception or group identity? • How do we know what is true and what to believe? • worst case scenarios if Donald Trump wins in 2024 • trans issues, race issues, GMOs, nuclear power, climate doomsdayism • What went wrong during the COVID-19 pandemic? • disinformation about masks, vaccines • social media and disinformation.

Eddie Tabash — The Law vs. Separation of Church and State

Shermer and Tabash discuss: the history of the relationship between church and state • the founding framers of the U.S. Constitution and their arguments for separating church and state • Madison and Jefferson • how most of the 13 colonies had government-sanctioned religions and religious tests for office • the Constitutional Convention and the First Amendment • the push by some Republicans to hold a new Constitutional Convention and redesign the entire U.S. Constitution • the religious beliefs and attitudes of…

Nancy Segal — Twins, Behavior Genetics, Eugenics, and Human Behavior

Shermer and Segal discuss: her historical interest in twins research and behavior genetics • the many different types of twins and family arrangements • twins separated accidentally • twins separated intentionally • twins reunited • a brief history of twins research • Josef Mengele • Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart • the gay fathers and twin sons story • immigration and naturalization law related to IVF, twins, gay couples, etc. • abortion • eugenics and the Nobel Prize sperm…

Avi Loeb — Interstellar Meteors, Spherules, and Alien Origins

Did Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb discover the remnants of an interstellar meteor in the form of spherules on the ocean floor? Could they be of alien origin? The object, which he labels IM1—Interstellar Meteor 1—collided with Earth nearly a decade ago and was tracked by U.S. government satellites, which gave Loeb and his team coordinates of where to look. Most of the meteor burned up in the atmosphere but tiny spherules remained on the ocean bottom, which Loeb retrieved and…

America’s Original Sin — Ed Larson On Liberty and Slavery in the Birth of a Nation

Shermer and Larson discuss: Was America founded in 1619 or 1776? • What is/was an “American”? • Founding Fathers attitudes toward slavery • What was the justification of slavery? • constitutional convention and slavery compromises • U.S. Constitution and slavery • Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments • Atlantic slave trade • Fugitive Slave Act and Clause • Native Americans • monogenism vs. polygenism • slavery abolition • Quakers push for abolition • Three-fifths Compromise • The Dread Scott Decision and…

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