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Science Salon Archives

Science Salon is a series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, scholars, and thinkers, about the most important issues of our time. Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloud, or using the audio or video players below.

SCIENCE SALON # 53

Adam Higginbotham — China Syndrome II: The True Story of What Happened at Chernobyl

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster (book cover)

In this discussion with the author of the newly published book Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, Adam Higginbotham tells what really happened at Chernobyl, by far the worst nuclear disaster in history, and why it took so long to discover what really happened. Human error and technological design flaws in the reactor are only proximate explanations for the core meltdown and explosion. The ultimate explanation is to be found in Soviet secrecy and lies. The book reads like an adventure novel, but it’s a richly researched non-fiction work by a brilliant storyteller. Don’t wait for the motion picture based on the book, which is years down the line. Get and read this gripping account to understand why people are still so afraid of nuclear power.

Adam Higginbotham was born in England in 1968. His narrative non-fiction and feature writing has appeared in magazines including GQ, The New Yorker and the The New York Times magazine. He is the author of A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite, named one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2014 and optioned as a film by Warner Brothers. He recently completed Midnight In Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, which will be published in the US by Simon & Schuster on February 12th 2019. The former US correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph magazine and editor-in-chief of The Face, he lives with his family in New York City.

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This Science Salon was recorded on February 5, 2019.

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SCIENCE SALON # 52

Bruce Schneier — Hacked! Security and Survival in a Hyper-Connected World

Click Here to Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-Connected World (book cover)

Bruce Schneier is a fellow and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society. He is a special advisor to IBM Security and a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access Now, and the Tor Project. You can find him on Schneier.com and on twitter at @schneierblog

He is the author of Data and Goliath, Applied Cryptography, Liars and Outliers, Secrets and Lies, and Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World. His new book is Click Here to Kill Everybody, which we discuss at length, as well as:

  • How to protect yourself from being hacked and what to do if you are hacked
  • Why companies do not invest more in software security
  • The motivation of hackers: money, power, fun
  • The probability of your car being hacked and driven into a wall
  • The probability of planes being hacked and felled from the sky
  • Edward Snowden and Wikileaks: hero or villain
  • The Pentagon Papers and Daniel Ellsberg
  • What would happen if the electrical grid was hacked
  • Cyberdeaths (homicides done remotely over the Internet) and how the government will respond with regulations when it does
  • If the government were to set a policy for the security level of an IoT device that can kill people, is there a maximum allowed probability that it could be hacked?
  • The North Korean hack of Sony
  • The Russian hack of the 2016 election and how to prevent that from happening again
  • Why we’re still using paper ballots in our voting system rather than computers and ATMs like banks use.
  • The lessons of Y2K for the coming AI apocalypse
  • What keeps him up at night

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This Science Salon was recorded on January 21, 2019.

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SCIENCE SALON # 51

Gregg Hurwitz — Into the Light: Myths, Narratives, Archetypes, and Trump

Out of the Dark: An Orphan X Novel (book cover)

In this wide-ranging dialogue Michael Shermer and Gregg Hurwitz discuss being a public intellectual, how to convey ideas through fiction vs. nonfiction, the role of myths and archetypes in narrative stories, Jordan Peterson and religion, Shakespeare and tragedy, the role of life experience and suffering in the development of a successful novelist, screenwriter, or filmmaker, the role of narrative in politics, especially the 2016 election in which Trump’s narrative was surprisingly compelling to tens of millions of people, even over other highly qualified conservative candidates in the primary election campaign, and what democrats needs to do to recapture the White House in 2020.

Gregg Hurwitz is the New York Times #1 international bestselling author of 20 thrillers, including his latest novel Out of the Dark. His novels have won numerous literary awards, graced top ten lists, and have been published in 30 languages. He has also written screenplays for or sold spec scripts to many of the major studios, and written, developed, and produced television scripts for various networks. He is also a New York Times bestselling comic book writer, having penned stories for Marvel (Wolverine, Punisher) and DC (Batman, Penguin). He has published numerous academic articles on Shakespeare, taught fiction writing in the USC English Department, and guest lectured for UCLA and Harvard. He earned a BA from Harvard where Jordan Peterson was his thesis advisor, and a Master’s from Trinity College Oxford where he studied Shakespearean tragedy.

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This Science Salon was recorded on January 23, 2019.

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SCIENCE SALON AMA

Dr. Michael Shermer — Ask Me Anything # 3

The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon

In this short AMA Michael Shermer answers a single question: “What is your opinion of Jordan Peterson?”

Dr. Shermer is asked this question in nearly every public appearance he makes, along with regular emails and social media queries he receives. At a November 2018 public event with Richard Dawkins, in the Q&A, he and Shermer received no less than four questions about Jordan Peterson, even though Jordan was not the topic of the dialogue between Dawkins and Shermer. Watch that edited clip reel from that dialogue.

Clearly there is much interest in Jordan Peterson and the phenomenon surrounding him, so Dr. Shermer thought he would issue his opinion in the form of an essay he penned for Skeptic magazine 23.3: “Have Archetype — Will Travel: The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon”. Purchase back issue 23.3 online.

See also Steven Beckner’s brilliant analysis of Jordan Peterson in the same issue: “Thought Crimes Jordan Peterson and the Meaning of the Meaning of Life”. (Some have said this is the best and fairest article ever written about Peterson.)

In Science Salon AMA # 3, Dr. Shermer offers a brief summary of his current opinion of Peterson and then reads his essay: “Have Archetype — Will Travel: The Jordan Peterson Phenomenon”.

Watch previous episodes of AMA.

Listen to Science Salon Podcasts and AMAs via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloud.

You play a vital part in our commitment to promote science and reason. If you enjoy the Science Salon Podcast, please show your support by making a donation, or by becoming a patron.

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SCIENCE SALON # 50

Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld — A Savage Order: How the World’s Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security

A Savage Order: How the Worlds Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security (book cover)

In this episode of the Science Salon Podcast, Michael Shermer speaks with Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she focuses on issues of rule of law, security, and governance in post-conflict countries, fragile states, and states in transition. As the founding CEO of the Truman National Security Project, she spent nearly a decade leading a movement of national security, political, and military leaders working to promote people and policies that strengthen security, stability, rights, and human dignity in America and around the world.

In 2011, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton appointed Kleinfeld to the Foreign Affairs Policy Board, which advises the secretary of state quarterly, a role she served through 2014. Dr. Kleinfeld has consulted on rule of law reform for the World Bank, the European Union, the OECD, the Open Society Institute, and other institutions, and has briefed multiple government agencies in the United States and abroad.

She is the author of Advancing the Rule of Law Abroad: Next Generation Reform (Carnegie, 2012), which was chosen by Foreign Affairs magazine as one of the best foreign policy books of 2012. Named one of the top 40 Under 40 Political Leaders in America by Time magazine in 2010, Kleinfeld has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and other national television, radio, and print media.

Her new book is A Savage Order: How the World’s Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security. In this conversation we discuss her new book, specifically:

  • What it says about human nature that people so easily turn to violence when there is no central authority.
  • What she learned about law and order growing up in libertarian Alaska, and how she got interested in studying violence in failed states around the world.
  • Why studying history and reading the classics (like Thucydides) was the best preparation she had for her job.
  • Lessons from The Godfather on what happens when governments become corrupt—strong men promising security and protection from corruption rise up.
  • Pace the Godfather, what happened in the Republic of Georgia after the fall of the Soviet Union, and why violence spiked and then declined.
  • Why dictators like Saddam Hussein do not actually keep violence down in their countries because state-sponsored violence goes unrecorded.
  • Her experiences living and working in Russia and other countries undergoing turmoil.
  • Putin and Russian today and what they want.
  • Columbia as a model of a failed state and what the U.S. did there to help turn things around.
  • How the Wild West of the United States was tamed.
  • Why violence is higher in the southern United States, and why lynching and other hate crimes were driven more by political power and expediency than by racial hatred (data shows that such crimes peaked before elections).
  • How the 21st century is so different from the 20th century’s battle of “isms”: communism, socialism, Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, liberalism, individualism, idealism, humanism, etc. We’re living in a different world today.
  • We’re about to colonize Mars and establish a new society there. What parts of government should we take with us there, and what parts should we leave behind? That is, what have we learned over the millennia in terms of good vs. bad governance.

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This remote Science Salon was recorded on January 4, 2019.

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SCIENCE SALON AMA

Dr. Michael Shermer — Ask Me Anything # 2

In his second Ask Me Anything, recorded on the final day of 2018, Dr. Shermer reviews the latest issue of Skeptic magazine, introduces upcoming podcast guests Rachel Kleinfeld (A Savage Order: How the World’s Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security), Bruce Schneier (Click Here to Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-Connected World), Mark W. Moffett (The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall), and Jared Diamond (Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis).

Dr. Shermer also discusses his book publishing plans for 2019, including an essay collection of his last 70 Scientific American columns, which he is sad to report is coming to an end with the January 2019 issue of that august magazine, along with that of other popular contributors, such as the popular tech columnist David Pogue. Dr. Shermer reflects on his 18 years and reads aloud the final column, titled “Stein’s Law and Science’s Mission”.

If you missed AMA # 1, you can listen to it now. If you have a question you’d like to ask Michael, please email it to us and we’ll try to get it into the next AMA.

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(more…)

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SCIENCE SALON # 49

Dr. Gad Saad — Doing Gad’s Work

In this episode of the Science Salon Podcast, Michael Shermer talks to the renowned evolutionary behavioral scientist and Concordia University professor Dr. Gad Saad. Starting with his escape to Canada from war-torn Lebanon, Dr. Saad recounts how he got interested in the study of human nature in general and consumer behavior in particular through the evolutionary lens, why people make the choices they do in the marketplace, why evolutionary psychology is an equal-opportunity offender to both the political left and right, what’s wrong with the Blank Slate model of human nature, what it means to hypothesize that something evolved “for” an adaptive reason, how evolutionary psychologists test their claims, the consilience of human knowledge, epistemological humility, postmodernism and how it has corrupted the academy, and the vital importance of free speech and free inquiry in science and society.

Dr. Gad Saad held the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption from 2008 to 2018. He is the author of The Consuming Instinct (2011, Prometheus Books) and The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption (2007, Lawrence Erlbaum), editor of Evolutionary Psychology in the Business Sciences (2011, Springer), and is finishing his next book on idea pathogens and how they have spread like a contagion in the academy, now spilling out into government and corporations. He is the host of the popular podcast The Saad Truth, which focuses on science, religion, political correctness, multiculturalism, postmodernism, third-wave feminism, Islam, safe spaces, trigger warnings, and many other topics.

Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloud.

This Science Salon was recorded on December 26, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 48

Sir Martin Rees — On the Future: Prospects for Humanity

On the Future: Prospects for Humanity (book cover)

In this wide-ranging dialogue Michael Shermer talks to Martin Rees about: his early education and how he got interested in astronomy and cosmology • how the Big Bang theory won out over the Steady State theory • origin of life, SETI, and the search for a second genesis • Fermi Paradox (if life is abundant in the universe…where is everyone?) • space exploration (human or robotic or both?) • future of humanity as sentient A.I. (to the stars…inside computers!) • limits of scientific knowledge (are we nearing the “end of science”? No says Dr. Rees!) • threats and challenges facing humanity (nuclear weapons, climate change, overpopulation, sustainable energy sources, artificial intelligence, income inequality, political instability, and others) • role of religion in modern society (why Dr. Rees is an atheist but not a “new atheist”) • do we need to replace religion with a secular equivalent?

Sir Martin Rees is a leading astrophysicist as well as a senior figure in UK science and a public intellectual in England and America. He has conducted influential theoretical work on subjects as diverse as black hole formation and extragalactic radio sources, and in the 1960s his research provided key evidence to contradict the Steady State theory of the evolution of the Universe. Dr. Rees was also one of the first to predict the uneven distribution of matter in the Universe, and proposed observational tests to determine the clustering of stars and galaxies. Much of his most valuable research has focused on the end of the so-called cosmic dark ages —a period shortly after the Big Bang when the Universe was as yet without light sources.

As Astronomer Royal and a Past President of the Royal Society, Martin is a prominent scientific spokesperson and the author of seven books of popular science. After receiving a knighthood in 1992 for his services to science, he was elevated to the title of Baron Rees of Ludlow in 2005. His latest book is On the Future: Prospects for Humanity. His other books include: Before the Beginning: Our Universe and Others (1997) • Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe (1999) • Our Cosmic Habitat (2001) • Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning —How terror, error, and environmental disaster threaten humankind’s future in this century —on earth and beyond (2004) • What We Still Don’t Know (2009) • From Here to Infinity: Scientific Horizons (2011).

Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloud.

This Science Salon was recorded on December 12, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 47

Dr. Susan Blackmore — Altered States and Conscious Beings

Dr. Susan Blackmore is no stranger to skeptics. Dr. Shermer has known Dr. Blackmore since the early 1990s. When the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine were founded in 1992 she was already a rock star in the skeptical movement, having moved from believing in the paranormal, ESP, telepathy, and all the rest, to being an arch skeptic of all such claims. After earning a Ph.D. in the paranormal she devoted a decade to testing various phenomena under rigorous laboratory conditions, and continually found null results. That is, the tighter the controls she implemented and the more rigorous the research protocols, the weaker the paranormal effects became until they disappeared entirely. She went on from there to develop a theory about the neural correlates of such altered states of consciousness as Out of Body Experiences and Near Death Experiences, and after that wrote her bestselling book The Meme Machine, in which she developed a theory of how memes can be replicated and selected in a manner first proposed by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, when he coined the term. Dr. Blackmore went on to publish one of the leading textbooks on consciousness and is now working on a theory of tremes, or technological memes and how they can be replicated and selected in machines without human input.

Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloud.

This Science Salon was recorded on November 7, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 46

Zac Sechler interviews Michael Shermer about Why People Believe in God

In this unusual Science Salon we bring you an interview of Dr. Shermer by Zac Sechler, a high school senior at Grace Prep High School in State College, PA. Zac is interested in studying areas such as religion, science, and history. He plans on studying history in college and hopes to work in the education field. This interview was for his Senior Project, on studying different worldviews that people hold on religion, and why they believe what they believe. Dr. Shermer’s contribution was as an atheist and skeptic, although as he points out to Zac, atheism and skepticism are not worldviews. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in God, full stop. Skepticism is just a scientific way of exploring the world and confronting claims about it.

Listen to Science Salon via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Soundcloud.

This Science Salon was recorded in audio format only on October 10, 2018.

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