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Science Salon Archives

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SCIENCE SALON # 32

Nina Teicholz — The Big Fat Surprise About Diet and Nutrition

The Big Fat Surprise (book cover)

In this fascinating conversation with Michael Shermer, the investigative journalist Nina Teicholz reviews the scientific literature on diet and nutrition, the link (or lack thereof) between dietary cholesterol and heart disease, the history of the government’s recommendation of what constitutes a healthy diet and why they got it so wrong, statins and heart disease, exercise and nutrition, an update on what has happened since her book, The Big Fat Surprise, was published in 2014, and most importantly what you should eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner tomorrow (hint: it’s okay to have meat, butter and cheese without feeling guilty).

Nina Teicholz is an investigative science journalist and author. Her international bestseller, The Big Fat Surprise has upended the conventional wisdom on dietary fat—especially saturated fat. The executive editor of The Lancet wrote, “this is a disquieting book about…ruthless silencing of dissent that has shaped our lives for decades…researchers, clinicians, and health policy advisors should read this provocative book.” The Big Fat Surprise was named a 2014 Best Book by The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Mother Jones, and Library Journal. Teicholz is also the Executive Director of The Nutrition Coalition, a non-profit group that promotes evidence-based nutrition policy. She is a graduate of Stanford and Oxford Universities and previously served as associate director of the Center for Globalization and Sustainable Development at Columbia University. Teicholz now lives in New York city with her husband and two sons.

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This remote Science Salon was recorded on July 19, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 31

Amy Alkon — Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence

Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence (book cover)

In this unique conversation Michael Shermer talks with the science writer and weekly advice columnist Amy Alkon about her new book, Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence. She calls her book a “science-help” book, instead of “self-help” because she grounds her recommendations in solid science. Her hilarious anecdotes are there just to illustrate a scientific point. She also debunks widely-accepted but scientifically unsupported notions about self-esteem, shame, willpower, and more and demonstrates that:

  • Thinking your way into changing (as so many therapists and self-help books advise) is the most inefficient way to go about it.
  • The mind is bigger than the brain, meaning that your body and your behavior are your gym for turning yourself into the new, confident you.
  • Fear is not just the problem; it’s also the solution.
  • By targeting your fears with behavior, you make changes in your brain that reshape your habitual ways of behaving and the emotions that go with them.

Shermer and Alkon also get into the #metoo movement, evolutionary psychology, politics, depression, suicide, Jordan Peterson, and other fascinating topics.

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This remote Science Salon was recorded on July 5, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 30

Dr. Ralph Lewis — Finding Meaning in a Meaningless Universe

Finding Purpose in a Godless World (book cover)

In this wide-ranging conversation Michael Shermer talks with the author of the new book Finding Purpose in a Godless World: Why We Care Even if the Universe Doesn’t, Dr. Ralph Lewis. Dr. Lewis is a psychiatrist at the University of Toronto who works with cancer patients and others facing death. They often face existential crises, so Dr. Lewis—himself an atheist—has developed techniques to help people cope that do not depend on any one religion. His new book is about how human purpose and caring, like consciousness and absolutely everything else in existence, could plausibly have emerged and evolved unguided, bottom-up, in a spontaneous universe. He and Shermer discuss how a random world is too often misconstrued as nihilistic, demotivating, or devoid of morality and meaning. Drawing on years of wide-ranging, intensive clinical experience as a psychiatrist, and his own family experience with cancer, Dr. Lewis helps listeners understand how people cope with random adversity without relying on supernatural belief. In fact, as he explains, although coming to terms with randomness is often frightening, it can be liberating and empowering too.

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This remote Science Salon was recorded on July 2, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 29

Colin McGinn — Mysterianism, Consciousness, Free Will, and God

This remote Science Salon, recorded on July 9, 2018, was initiated after McGinn commented publicly, and critically, on Shermer’s latest Scientific American column on the mysteries of consciousness, free will, and God.

The philosopher Justin Weinberg at the University of South Carolina, who runs the DailyNous website ( @DailyNousEditor on Twitter) posted a dozen tweets admonishing Shermer and Scientific American for publishing such a mischaracterization of several philosophical subjects, even referencing the film Annie Hall, where Woody Allen’s character is irritated in a movie line by some bloviator yammering on about Marshall McLuhan, reaches behind a big movie poster and pulls McLuhan out of line, who then upbraiding the blowhard “I heard what you were saying! You know nothing of my work! You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing!” To which Woody says, “Boy, if life were only like this.”

Well, life can be like this, but in this case Shermer invited McGinn on the show to discuss the topics in detail in order for everyone to glean a deeper understanding. A fruitful conversation ensued on these and other important topics.

Related Material

In an illuminating thought experiment that supplements Science Salon # 29, McGinn penned an essay (“What is it like to be a human?”) to help clarify what, exactly, Thomas Nagel meant in his famous paper “What Is It Like to be a Bat?

In their second conversation (Science Salon # 34), Michael Shermer and Colin McGinn discuss paradoxes and puzzles of philosophy, pseudo-questions, realism v. antirealism, how to deal with unknown unknowns, immortality and the nature of the self and soul.

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SCIENCE SALON AMA

Dr. Michael Shermer — Ask Me Anything # 1

In this first Ask Me Anything (AMA) Dr. Shermer attempts to answer as many questions as possible in a reasonable time among the hundreds submitted by readers. There were so many good ones, in fact, that he will produce a second AMA on these, as well as new ones submitted when we put out a call shortly. In AMA # 1 the questions are roughly grouped in the following categories:

  • Science and Skepticism
  • God, Jesus, and Religion
  • Free Will
  • Jordan Peterson
  • Human Nature
  • Future of Humanity
  • Miscellaneous

(more…)

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SCIENCE SALON # 28

Dr. Edward J. Larson — On Faith and Science

On Faith and Science (book cover)

Throughout history, scientific discovery has clashed with religious dogma, creating conflict, controversy, and sometimes violent dispute. In this enlightening and accessible volume, distinguished historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Larson and Michael Ruse, philosopher of science and Gifford Lecturer, offer their distinctive viewpoints on the sometimes contentious relationship between science and religion. The authors explore how scientists, philosophers, and theologians through time and today approach vitally important topics, including cosmology, geology, evolution, genetics, neurobiology, gender, and the environment. Broaching their subjects from both historical and philosophical perspectives, Larson and Ruse avoid rancor and polemic as they address many of the core issues currently under debate by the adherents of science and the advocates of faith, shedding light on the richly diverse field of ideas at the crossroads where science meets spiritual belief.

In addition to these topics, Dr. Shermer and Dr. Larson discuss: the Scopes Monkey trial and how legal complications shaped its outcome, along with that of other creationism-evolution trials; what Darwin believed about God and religion; why biblical literalism took off in America in the 1960s and 1970s leading to creationist movements to rewrite science textbooks; what really happened in the Galileo trial; how so many prominent scientists throughout history believed in God but did not actually use their science to prove God’s providence; why atheism became so prominent in the early 21st century but not before, even though atheist arguments against God’s existence have been around for centuries; Gould and Dawkins and different approaches to science and religion; the rise of the nones and the decline of religion in the West (but its increase in other areas); the limits of human knowledge.

This remote Science Salon was recorded on June 20, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 27

Dr. Charles S. Cockell — The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution

The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution (book cover)

We are all familiar with the popular idea of strange alien life wildly different from life on earth inhabiting other planets. Maybe it’s made of silicon! Maybe it has wheels! Or maybe it doesn’t. In The Equations of Life, astrobiologist Charles S. Cockell makes the forceful argument that the laws of physics narrowly constrain how life can evolve, making evolution’s outcomes predictable. If we were to find on a distant planet something very much like a lady bug eating something like an aphid, we shouldn’t be surprised. The forms of life are guided by a limited set of rules, and as a result, there is a narrow set of solutions to the challenges of existence.

In addition to these topics, Dr. Shermer and Dr. Cockell discuss: the origins of life on earth; the possibility of finding life on Mars and, if we did, would it have something like DNA, albeit with different base pairs?; Fermi’s paradox: if the laws of physics and evolution are so common throughout the universe, and there are so many earth-like planets in our galaxy alone (estimated to be in the billions), where is everyone?; humanity becoming an interplanetary species (possibly the first), and if so what type of governing system we should employ for, say, the first colonies on Mars.

This remote Science Salon was recorded on June 20, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 26

Dr. Stephen T. Asma — Why We Need Religion

Why We Need Religion (book cover)

In this dialogue Dr. Michael Shermer talks with philosopher Stephen T. Asma, a Professor of Philosophy and Founding Fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science, and Culture at Columbia College, Chicago. His new book is Why We Need Religion, in which he argues that, like art, religion has direct access to our emotional lives in ways that science does not. Yes, science can give us emotional feelings of wonder and the sublime—we can feel the sacred depths of nature—but there are many forms of human suffering and vulnerability that are beyond the reach of help from science. Different emotional stresses require different kinds of rescue. Unlike secular authors who praise religion’s ethical and civilizing function, Asma argues that its core value lies in its emotionally therapeutic power. Asma and Shermer also discuss the relationship of science and religion, why people believe in God, atheism vs. agnosticism, the “new atheists”, humanism and the need for social and spiritual community, and other hot topics.

This remote Science Salon was recorded on June 3, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 25

Richard Rhodes — Energy: A Human History

Energy: A Human History (book cover)

This is one of the best dialogues Dr. Shermer has ever had in his quarter century of talking to the leading scientists and scholars of our time. Listen in as he and Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning author Richard Rhodes discuss nuclear weapons, North Korea, Iran, and Russia, the psychology of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), human violence and its causes, the “Bullet Holocaust” (the millions of Jews and others shot to death in Eastern Europe before the death camps ramped up their killing by gas), how people become serial killers (the socialization of violence), and his new book Energy: A Human History, which reveals the fascinating history behind energy transitions over time—wood to coal to oil to electricity and beyond. People have lived and died, businesses have prospered and failed, and nations have risen to world power and declined, all over energy challenges. Ultimately, the history of these challenges tells the story of humanity itself.

In Energy, Rhodes highlights the successes and failures that led to each breakthrough in energy production; from animal and waterpower to the steam engine, from internal-combustion to the electric motor. He addresses how we learned from such challenges, mastered their transitions, and capitalized on their opportunities. Rhodes also looks at the current energy landscape, with a focus on how wind energy is competing for dominance with vast supplies of coal and natural gas. He also addresses the specter of global warming, and a population hurtling towards ten billion by 2100.

Order Energy: A Human History from Amazon.

This remote Science Salon was recorded on May 16, 2018.

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SCIENCE SALON # 24

Dr. Alan Stern & Dr. David Grinspoon — Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

Chasing New Horizons (book cover)

Listen in on this remarkable conversation with mission leader Dr. Alan Stern and co-author of the spell-binding new book Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto, Dr. David Grinspoon, as they recount the story of the men and women behind this amazing mission: of their decades-long commitment and persistence; of the political fights within and outside of NASA; of the sheer human ingenuity it took to design, build, and fly the mission; and of the plans for New Horizons’ next encounter, 1 billion miles past Pluto in 2019.

Alan Stern and David Grinspoon (photo by Henry Throop)

Alan Stern (left) and David Grinspoon (right). Photo by Henry Throop.

Told from the insider’s perspective of mission leader Dr. Alan Stern and others on New Horizons, and including two stunning 16-page full-color inserts of images, Chasing New Horizons is a riveting account of scientific discovery, and of how much we humans can achieve when people focused on a dream work together toward their incredible goal. Nothing like this has occurred in a generation―a raw exploration of new worlds unparalleled since NASA’s Voyager missions to Uranus and Neptune―and nothing quite like it is planned to happen ever again. The photos that New Horizons sent back to Earth graced the front pages of newspapers on all 7 continents, and NASA’s website for the mission received more than 2 billion hits in the days surrounding the flyby. At a time when so many think that our most historic achievements are in the past, the most distant planetary exploration ever attempted not only succeeded in 2015 but made history and captured the world’s imagination.

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