6/20/2013 | Download File (14.12 MB) - right click to download
Host: Chris Mooney One thing we often forget about great scientists, especially as they are lionized and mythologized: they made mistakes. Sometimes big ones. Sometimes, even, brilliant ones. Charles Darwin, for instance, didn't understand genetics. He and Gregor Mendel were as ships passing in the night. Granted, Darwin eventually realized that he needed a better theory of heredity in order for his idea of natural selection to work—so he came up with "pangenesis," a completely wrong idea that... well, the less said about it the better. But Darwin isn't the only one. From Linus Pauling to Albert Einstein, many of history's greatest thinkers have blundered badly on occasion. They've made major mistakes—sometimes outright embarrassing ones. And now, acclaimed scientist and science writer Mario Livio has compiled these cases together into an intriguing narrative that helps us understand the importance of mistakes to science itself, and to how we think about it. Mario Livio is a senior astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute, and the author of more than 400 scientific papers. On top of that, he's also a popular science writer, author of books including The Golden Ratio, The Equation that Couldn't Be Solved, and Is God a Mathematician? His latest book, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein, Colossal Mistakes By Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe, is the subject of our interview.
6/11/2013 | Download File (20.75 MB) - right click to download
Host: Indre Viskontas Having spent 50 years as an influential thinker, Daniel Dennett has earned the right to tell us how to think. His latest book is a collection of 77 tools for thinking, which every self-respecting critical thinker should consider, if not actively use. American philosopher and author Daniel C. Dennett is perhaps best known in cognitive science for his multiple drafts (or "fame in the brain") model of human consciousness and he is among the most influential philosophers of our day. He is the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, and the author of 16 books including Elbow Room; The Intentional Stance; Consciousness Explained; Darwin's Dangerous Idea and most recently, Intuition Pumps and other Tools for Thinking. Prof Dennett has also published more than 300 scholarly articles and was awarded the Erasmus Prize for his contributions to society in 2012.
6/4/2013 | Download File (21.55 MB) - right click to download
Host: Chris Mooney From 9-11, to the death of Osama bin Laden, to the Boston Bombings, there's been a consistently bizarre and troubling reaction by some members of the public. We're referring to the people—a minority, to be sure, but a surprisingly large one—who always seem to think there's some kind of cover up. The U.S. government, they feel, was really behind the attacks on, uh, itself. And as for Bin Laden—well, he isn't really dead. These people are called conspiracy theorists, and, their particular form of irrationality is uniquely befuddling. It has been often denounced, but rarely understood. That's too bad, because conspiratorial thinking clearly plays an important role in science denial, on matters ranging from the connection between HIV and AIDS, to the safety of vaccines, to global warming. Fortunately, conspiracy mongers are now becoming the subject of research and study—and our latest guest is helping to lead this inquiry. His name is Stephan Lewandowsky, and he's a professor at the school of psychology at the University of Western Australia, and at the University of Bristol in the UK. And he's the author of a recent study with the delicious title "NASA Faked the Moon Landings, Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science (PDF)"—which drew some small amount of attention, especially when it was followed by a second study of the conspiracy theorists who rejected the first study for, yes, conspiratorial reasons.
5/23/2013 | Download File (14.50 MB) - right click to download
Host: Chris Mooney Over the weekend, the Center for Inquiry's Women in Secularism II conference unfolded in Washington, D.C.—and we caught up with one of the event's most distinguished speakers, the feminist poet and author Katha Pollitt. You probably know her "Subject to Debate" column in the Nation—always both insightful and also hilarious to read. It has been called, by the Washington Post, the "best place to go for original thinking on the left." The column won the National Magazine Award in 2003. Pollitt is also the author of four essay collections—most recently, Learning to Drive and Other Stories—and two books of poetry, the latest being The Mind Body Problem. In this interview, she discusses her talk at "Women in Secularism II" on the subject: "Sexism and Religion: Can the Knot Be Untied?"
5/14/2013 | Download File (13.54 MB) - right click to download
Host: Chris Mooney A few months back on this show, we heard from Bill McKibben, the celebrated environmental writer and, more recently, leader of a mass movement around preventing climate change that has focused on blocking the Keystone XL pipeline. McKibben makes a compelling case that our climate system is at dire risk. But many thinkers who fully accept the science of climate change nonetheless take a very different approach to climate and energy policy. And as someone who personally sees strengths on both sides of this question, today I want to feature one of them. So today we feature one of the smartest and most thoughtful of these environmental moderates: Michael Levi. He's author of the new book The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America's Future—in which he talks favorably about natural gas drilling through "fracking" and even, yes, the Keystone XL Pipeline. Michael Levi is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and director of the CFR program on energy security and climate change. He holds an MA in physics from Princeton University, where he studied string theory and cosmology, and a PhD in war studies from the University of London (King's College).
5/8/2013 | Download File (18.58 MB) - right click to download
Note: You can watch this episode on Youtube. In this special episode of Point of Inquiry, Chris and Indre speak with the Pulitzer Prize winning Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel. Dr. Diamond is Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles and has traveled extensively to New Guinea for his research. His observations there form the foundation of his new book, The World Until Yesterday: What We Can Learn from Traditional Societies, which is the subject of this interview. Afterwards, Chris and Indre debate aspects of Diamond's new book that they found both surprising and, on occasion, frustrating.
5/1/2013 | Download File (17.73 MB) - right click to download
Host: Indre Viskontas In the science section at your local bookstore, you'll find plenty of books on everything from the brain, to the climate, to the cosmos. But how many books will you find that take you on a tour of the digestive tract—from our mouths, to our stomachs, to our intestines? Popular science writer Mary Roach's new book, Gulp, does just that. Decoding the science of taboo topics like vaginal weight-lifting, amputee bowling leagues, and how much food it takes to burst a human stomach has become the signature style of Roach, who has been described by the Washington Post as "America's funniest science writer." Mary Roach writes about human bodies in unusual circumstances and does not shy away from things that are gross. Her previous best-selling books include: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void but today we’ll be discussing Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.
4/23/2013 | Download File (18.96 MB) - right click to download
Host: Chris Mooney Back in the summer of 2011—just before the 10 year anniversary of 9/11—this show welcomed on Scott Atran, an anthropologist who is a leading expert on terrorism and violent extremism. Now, in the wake of the Boston bombings and the dramatic capture of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we called Atran back to discuss the first large scale U.S. terrorist bombing since 9/11. As Atran's research shows, the Tsarnaev brothers share many parallels with other young, disaffected men who opt for extremist violence around the world. But Atran's broader conclusion from the past week may be an unsettling one: When we devote such massive societal attention to a few homegrown terrorists, we may not ultimately be doing ourselves any favors. Scott Atran is an anthropologist and an expert on terrorism with appointments at John Jay College, the University of Michigan, and Oxford. He is author of the book Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (un)Making of Terrorists, and in his research has personally interviewed mujahidin, Hamas, and the plotters behind the Bali bombing.
4/16/2013 | Download File (13.50 MB) - right click to download
Host: Chris Mooney We've all heard the claim: Academia is liberal. And it indoctrinates students. It kills their religious faith and basically—or at least, so the allegation goes—transforms them into unkempt, pot-smoking hippies. As it turns out, this claim is precisely half true. Yes, academia is really liberal. But no, this has virtually nothing at all to do with ideological brainwashing. That's the provocative claim of a new book by Neil Gross of the University of British Columbia. It's entitled Why Are Professors Liberal? And Why Do Conservatives Care? And basically, it's a powerful data analysis to bandy about whenever Ted Cruz, or Rick Santorum, start talking about liberal academic indoctrination mills. Neil Gross taught at the University of Southern California and Harvard University before joining the University of British Columbia faculty in 2008. Trained at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Ph.D., 2002), and holding a BA in Legal Studies from the University of California, Berkeley (1992), Gross has special interests in sociological theory, politics, the sociology of ideas and academic life, and the sociology of culture. He is the editor of Sociological Theory, a quarterly journal of the American Sociological Association.
4/9/2013 | Download File (15.46 MB) - right click to download
Host: Chris Mooney Remember all the greatest hits of religious apologists—the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments for God's existence? You may have learned how to refute them in college—but not, perhaps, with the zest and humor shown by renowned philosopher A.C. Grayling in his new book The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and For Humanism. But Grayling isn't just making a negative case—his book is about how to live, and flourish, without religion in your life. It's about how to be good—and in the end about why, to find meaning, it's important most of all to think. A.C. Grayling is master of New College of the Humanities, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford. He has written and edited over thirty books on philosophy and other topics—including The Good Book, Ideas That Matter, Liberty in the Age of Terror, and To Set Prometheus Free.