100 episodes

In the tradition of the Enlightenment salons that helped drive the Age of Reason, 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.

Science Salon Michael Shermer

    • Natural Sciences

In the tradition of the Enlightenment salons that helped drive the Age of Reason, 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.

    103. Robert Frank — Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work

    103. Robert Frank — Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work

    Psychologists have long understood that social environments profoundly shape our behavior, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. But social influence is a two-way street — our environments are themselves products of our behavior. Under the Influenceexplains how to unlock the latent power of social context. We are building bigger houses, driving heavier cars, and engaging in a host of other activities that threaten the planet — mainly because that's what friends and neighbors do. In the wake of the hottest years on record, only robust measures to curb greenhouse gases promise relief from more frequent and intense storms, droughts, flooding, wildfires, and famines. Robert Frank describes how the strongest predictor of our willingness to support climate-friendly policies, install solar panels, or buy an electric car is the number of people we know who have already done so. Frank and Shermer also discuss:
    luck and how lives turn out circumstances of behavior peer pressure and pressures on peers free will, volition, and self-control positive behavioral exernalities, e.g., solar panels happiness vs. purpose/meaning/comfort utilitarianism vs. natural rights theory abortion, capital punishment, polygamy, prostitution, and the selling of organs behavioral contagions: smoking, problem drinking, obesity, tax cheating, bullying, and wasteful energy use. same-sex marriage and other areas of moral progress arms races: good and bad climate change belief in god and religion in decline, and UBI (universal basic income) Robert H. Frank received his M.A. in statistics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1971, and his Ph.D. in economics in 1972, also from U.C. Berkeley. He is the Goldwin Smith Professor of Economics at Cornell University, where he has taught since 1972 and where he currently holds a joint appointment in the department of economics and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. He has published on a variety of subjects, including price and wage discrimination, public utility pricing, the measurement of unemployment spell lengths, and the distributional consequences of direct foreign investment. For the past several years, his research has focused on rivalry and cooperation in economic and social behaviour.
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    • 1 hr 49 min
    102. Christopher Ryan — Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress

    102. Christopher Ryan — Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress

    Most of us have instinctive evidence the world is ending — balmy December days, face-to-face conversation replaced with heads-to-screens zomboidism, a world at constant war, a political system in disarray. We hear some myths and lies so frequently that they feel like truths: Civilization is humankind’s greatest accomplishment. Progress is undeniable. Count your blessings. You’re lucky to be alive here and now. Well, maybe we are and maybe we aren’t. Civilized to Deathcounters the idea that progress is inherently good, arguing that the “progress” defining our age is analogous to an advancing disease. Prehistoric life, of course, was not without serious dangers and disadvantages. Many babies died in infancy. A broken bone, infected wound, snakebite, or difficult pregnancy could be life-threatening. But ultimately, Ryan argues, were these pre-civilized dangers more murderous than modern scourges, such as car accidents, cancers, cardiovascular disease, and a technologically prolonged dying process? In Civilized to Death, Ryan makes the claim that we should start looking backwards to find our way into a better future. Ryan and Shermer also discuss:
    human nature: peaceful or violent? humans: spectrum or binary? what hunter-gatherers were really like and why it is so hard to know hunter-gatherers and…children, women, the elderly, sex, religion, politics and economics how egalitarian were hunter-gatherers? why hunter-gatherers don’t think of work as “work” in the way we do the lottery test: if you won the lottery would you work at your job, live in your neighborhood, live your life? was civilization the biggest mistake humans ever made? the “Big Gods” theory of religion vs. the communal theory of religion, and how we can learn from our ancestors to lead more balanced and healthier lives. Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., and his work have been featured on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, NPR, The New York Times, The Times of London, Playboy, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Outside, El Pais, La Vanguardia, Salon, Seed, and Big Think. A featured speaker from TED to The Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House to the Einstein Forum in Pottsdam, Germany, Ryan has consulted at various hospitals in Spain, provided expert testimony in a Canadian constitutional hearing, and appeared in well over a dozen documentary films. Ryan puts out a weekly podcast, called Tangentially Speaking, featuring conversations with interesting people, ranging from famous comics to bank robbers to drug smugglers to porn stars to authors to plasma physicists.
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    • 1 hr 44 min
    101. Hugo Mercier — Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe

    101. Hugo Mercier — Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe

    Not Born Yesterday explains how we decide who we can trust and what we should believe — and argues that we’re pretty good at making these decisions. Hugo Mercier demonstrates how virtually all attempts at mass persuasion — whether by religious leaders, politicians, or advertisers — fail miserably. Drawing on recent findings from political science and other fields ranging from history to anthropology, Mercier shows that the narrative of widespread gullibility, in which a credulous public is easily misled by demagogues and charlatans, is simply wrong.
    Why is mass persuasion so difficult? Mercier uses the latest findings from experimental psychology to show how each of us is endowed with sophisticated cognitive mechanisms of open vigilance. Computing a variety of cues, these mechanisms enable us to be on guard against harmful beliefs, while being open enough to change our minds when presented with the right evidence. Even failures — when we accept false confessions, spread wild rumors, or fall for quack medicine — are better explained as bugs in otherwise well-functioning cognitive mechanisms than as symptoms of general gullibility. In this lively and provocative conversation Shermer and Mercier discuss:
    If we’re not as gullible as we’ve been led to believe, then why do so many people apparently believe in ESP, astrology, the paranormal, the supernatural, conspiracy theories, and the like? Epistemic Vigilance and skepticism why most Germans did not believe in Nazi ideology honest signaling, costly signaling, and virtue signaling Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers and why the “default to truth” theory is wrong. folk biology and why creationism is intuitive and evolutionary theory counterintuitive conspiracy theories and why we believe them (or not) the real meaning of conformity experiments in which people appear to go along with the group why people join cults … or ISIS. why people belong to religions, and why we are not living in a post-truth era, and why access to accurate information has never been so good. Hugo Mercier is a cognitive scientist at the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris and the coauthor of The Enigma of Reason. He lives in Nantes, France. Twitter @hugoreasoning
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    • 1 hr 59 min
    100. Episode Special: Ask Me Almost Anything

    100. Episode Special: Ask Me Almost Anything

    In this 100th episode of the Science Salon podcast Dr. Shermer gives a brief overview and history of the salon and how it evolved from the Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, which began in 1992, along with the founding of the Skeptics Society, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit science education organization, and it’s publication Skepticmagazine. Following this brief history Dr. Shermer answers questions sent to him on social media, on such topics as:
    ETIs and the chances we’ve been visited by aliens Generic Subjective Continuity, a secular version of reincarnation, and what happens after we die Trump-style propaganda and how to deal with it Should we separate artist from artwork, e.g., Michael Jackson’s music or Adolf Hitler’s paintings? Eliminative Materialism (a type of determinism) and its implication for moral progress How reliable are eyewitnesses, particularly those in the Bible, particularly with regard to stories about miracles? When did you first learn that we are made of stardust and how did this change your thinking? How much power do Christian Nationalists have in the U.S. today? Have you changed your mind about science, religion, health, and politics in the past ten years? Will we ever reach an end of scientific knowledge and understanding? Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

    • 1 hr 1 min
    99. Bobby Duffy — Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding

    99. Bobby Duffy — Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding

    What percentage of the population are immigrants? How bad is unemployment? How much sex do people have? These questions are important and interesting, but most of us get the answers wrong. Research shows that people often wildly misunderstand the state of the world, regardless of age, sex, or education. And though the internet brings us unprecedented access to information, there’s little evidence we’re any better informed because of it. We may blame cognitive bias or fake news, but neither tells the complete story. In Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything, Bobby Duffy draws on his research into public perception across more than forty countries, offering a sweeping account of the stubborn problem of human delusion: how society breeds it, why it will never go away, and what our misperceptions say about what we really believe. We won’t always know the facts, but they still matter. Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything is mandatory reading for anyone interested making humankind a little bit smarter. Duffy and Shermer also discuss:
    cognitive biases and how they distort what we think about the world do men really have more sexual partners than women (and if so, who are they having sex with?) why we lie to ourselves and others about almost everything fears about immigrants and immigration Brexit: leave or remain and why people vote each way why we are more polarized politically than ever before (and what we can do about it) the “backfire effect”: the bad news and the good why we are not living in a post-truth era why facts matter and why free speech matters, and kids these days… Bobby Duffy is director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London. Formerly, he was managing director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute and global director of the Ipsos Social Research Institute. He lives in London.
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    • 1 hr 33 min
    98. Robert Pennock — An Instinct for Truth: Curiosity and the Moral Character of Science

    98. Robert Pennock — An Instinct for Truth: Curiosity and the Moral Character of Science

    An exploration of the scientific mindset — such character virtues as curiosity, veracity, attentiveness, and humility to evidence — and its importance for science, democracy, and human flourishing. Exemplary scientists have a characteristic way of viewing the world and their work: their mindset and methods all aim at discovering truths about nature. In An Instinct for Truth, Robert Pennock explores this scientific mindset and argues that what Charles Darwin called “an instinct for truth, knowledge, and discovery” has a tacit moral structure — that it is important not only for scientific excellence and integrity but also for democracy and human flourishing. In an era of “post-truth,” the scientific drive to discover empirical truths has a special value. Taking a virtue-theoretic perspective, Pennock explores curiosity, veracity, skepticism, humility to evidence, and other scientific virtues and vices. Shermer and Pennock discuss:
    the nature of science why Intelligent Design creationists are not doing bad science — they’re not doing science at all what to do with anomalies not explained by the current paradigm the role of outsiders in science what scientific training does to develop the virtues of science how authority is different from expertise when experts pronounce on ideas outside their field fraud in science and why it happens why scientists are skeptical of UFOs, ESP, bigfoot, and the like falsification of a scientific hypothesis vs. positive evidence in support of a scientific hypothesis the naturalistic fallacy and the Is-Ought problem, and the ethics of autonomous vehicles and the trolley problem. Robert T. Pennock is University Distinguished Professor of History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science at Michigan State University in the Lyman Briggs College and the Departments of Philosophy and Computer Science and Engineering. He is the author of Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism.
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    • 1 hr 59 min

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