The Michael Shermer Show is a series of long-form conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.
291. Rob Ashton — Silent Influence and the Science of Writing, Reading, and Communicating
Shermer and Ashton discuss: what it’s like advising Google and Buckingham Palace on how to communicate • what makes writing appealing and effective • how to write better emails and social media posts • why the messages we write often backfire • why emails so often make us angry • How has written communication changed in the last five years? • What makes Donald Trump such a powerful communicator that he can seemingly hypnotize tens of millions of people and dictate entire news cycles with a single statement? • when you should stop writing and pick up the phone to talk instead • How much information is too much?
Rob Ashton is a writer, editor, and a former research scientist (a molecular biology researcher who helped develop the first tests for HIV). For the last six years, he’s been on a quest to discover the science of how the words we read and write affect what we think and do. His experience includes 24 years advising some of the biggest names in commerce, such as Google, as well as working with national governments, charities and even the Royal Household at Buckingham Palace, all in an effort to help their people communicate more effectively in writing. He calls writing ‘the invisible medium’. And he believes much of the misunderstanding in the world stems from our increasing reliance on our keyboards and phone screens to ‘talk’ to each other. But he says it’s always frustrated him that so much of the communication advice on the web and pushed by consultants is based on a mixture of pseudoscience, hearsay and wishful thinking. Read more at: robashton.com/influence
290. Anastacia Marx de Salcedo — Eat like a Pig, Run Like a Horse
Shermer and de Salcedo discuss: her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at age 27 • her long-term psychological strategy for living with a serious illness • what “eating like a pig” actually means • our 70-year-old “diet detour” • the obesity crisis • how dietary studies are conducted • the baseline health of lab rats • static vs. dynamic metabolism • diseases you can treat, manage, or prevent with exercise • cholesterol and statins • why exercise is more important than diet • how you can have your cake and eat it, too.
Anastacia Marx de Salcedo is a food writer whose work has appeared in Salon, Slate, the Boston Globe, and Gourmet magazine and on PBS and NPR blogs. She’s worked as a public health consultant, news magazine publisher, and public policy researcher. She is the author of Combat-Ready Kitchen and lives in Boston, MA.
289. James Kirchick — Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington
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Shermer and Kirchick discuss: archives and secret sources of secret histories • the cause of homophobia, and how and why homosexuality was thought of as a “contagious sexual aberrancy” • why there is no lesbian history of Washington • J. Edgar Hoover, Clyde Tolson and gay mythmaking • FDR and Sumner Welles • why at the height of the Cold War, it was safer to be a Communist than a homosexual • Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss • the McCarthy hearings and how the Lavender Menace became inextricably linked with the Red Menace • astronomer Franklin Kameny and the Mattachine Society • JFK and his tolerance of homosexuality • Richard Nixon’s notorious homophobia • Ronald Reagan’s conflicting attitudes toward homosexuality • George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and real progress in acceptance of homosexuality • the trans movement and its homophobic consequences.
James Kirchick has written about human rights, politics, and culture from around the world. A columnist for Tablet magazine, a writer at large for Air Mail, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, he is the author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age. Kirchick’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the New York Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement. A graduate of Yale with degrees in history and political science, he resides in Washington, DC.
This episode is also sponsored by Wondrium.
288. Lucy Cooke — Bitch: On the Female of the Species
Since Charles Darwin, evolutionary biologists have been convinced that the males of the animal kingdom are the interesting ones dominating and promiscuous, while females are dull, passive, and devoted. In her new book Bitch, Cooke tells a new story. Whether investigating same — sex female albatross couples that raise chicks, murderous mother meerkats, or the titanic battle of the sexes waged by ducks, Cooke shows us a new evolutionary biology, one where females can be as dynamic as males. This isn’t your grandfather’s (or Darwin’s) evolutionary biology. It’s more inclusive, and truer to life.
Shermer and Cooke discuss: the definition of male and female across the animal kingdom • male bias in the history of science • genes involved in sex determination and how they work • natural selection • sexual selection • adaptationism vs. non-adaptationism in evolutionary theory • Why do men have nipples? • Why do women have orgasms? • why female animals are just as promiscuous, competitive, aggressive, dominant and dynamic as males • what humans can learn from non-human animals • maternal and paternal instincts • patriarchy and matriarchy across the animal kingdom • and why the sexes are far more alike than they are different.
Lucy Cooke is the author of The Truth About Animals, which was short-listed for the Royal Society Prize, and the New York Times bestselling A Little Book of Sloth. She is a National Geographic explorer, TED talker, and award-winning documentary filmmaker with a master’s degree in zoology from Oxford University. She lives in Hastings, England.
287. Bobby Azarian — Life, the Universe, and Cosmic Complexity
In this conversation based on his new book, The Romance of Reality, cognitive neuroscientist Bobby Azarian explains how for centuries the question Why do we exist? was the sole province of religion and philosophy. According to the prevailing scientific paradigm, the universe tends toward randomness; it functions according to laws without purpose, and the emergence of life is an accident devoid of meaning. But Azarian argues that out of complexity science and the phenomenon known as emergence, a new cosmic narrative is taking shape: Nature’s simplest “parts” come together to form ever-greater “wholes” in a process that has no end in sight, and that life is moving toward increasing complexity and awareness. Carl Sagan was right when he said of humanity that “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
Shermer and Azarian discuss: laws of thermodynamics and directionality • how complexity formed after the Big Bang • laws of nature: discovered or created or both? • Stephen Jay Gould and contingency vs. necessitating laws of nature • convergent evolution and directionality in evolution • the left wall of simplicity • leading theories for the origin of life • complexity theory and emergence • consciousness, the self, and other minds • free will, determinism, compatibilism, panpsychism • Is there purpose in the cosmos?
Bobby Azarian is a cognitive neuroscientist (PhD, George Mason University) and a science journalist. He has written 100+ articles — many reaching millions of views — about science, technology, and philosophy for publications including The Atlantic, New York Times, BBC Future, Scientific American, Slate, Huffington Post, Quartz, Daily Beast, Aeon, among others. Azarian has authored numerous academic papers, published in peer-reviewed journals such as Human Brain Mapping, Cognition & Emotion, and Acta Psychologica. His blog “Mind in the Machine,” hosted by Psychology Today, has received over 8 million views. Azarian worked with The Atlantic and Huffington Post to create viral videos, which he helped write the scripts for and narrated.
286. Kevin McCaffree — How Societies Change and Why
Since the dawn of social science, theorists have debated how and why societies appear to change, develop and evolve. Today, this question is pursued by scholars across many different disciplines and our understanding of these dynamics has grown markedly. Yet, there remain important areas of disagreement and debate: what is the difference between societal change, development and evolution? What specific aspects of cultures change, develop or evolve and why? Do societies change, develop or evolve in particular ways, perhaps according to cycles, or stages or in response to survival necessities? How do different disciplines — from sociology to anthropology to psychology and economics — approach these questions? After 10,000 years of history, what does the future hold for culture and society?
Shermer and McCaffree discuss: McCaffree’s experience being trained as a cop, his research on crime, and his thoughts on the recent spike in crime and violence • Is there any way to solve the problem of gun violence? • how sociologists think about human and social action • diversity, equity, and inclusion • Is the current political polarization really worse than it’s been? • cultural evolution vs. biological evolution • horizontal/equalitarian vs. vertical/hierarchical societies • human selfishness and the problem of altruism • between-group and within-group competition and cooperation • fission-fusion in primate bands • Oscillation-Infrastructural Theory of Cultural Evolution • and what the future holds for humanity and society, and more…
Dr. Kevin McCaffree is a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas. He is the author or co-author of five books, co-editor of Theoretical Sociology: The Future of a Disciplinary Foundation and series co-editor (with Jonathan H. Turner) of Evolutionary Analysis in the Social Sciences. In addition to these works, he has authored or co-authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and handbook chapters on a variety of topics ranging from cultural evolution to criminology to the sociology of empathy. His two books include Cultural Evolution: The Empirical and Theoretical Landscape, and The Dance of Innovation: Infrastructure, Social Oscillation, and the Evolution of Societies. Along with Anondah Saide, he is one of the two chief researchers for the Skeptic Research Center, and Michael Shermer had the honor of serving on his dissertation committee for his Ph.D. thesis on the rise of the Nones — those who hold no religious affiliation.
Terrific podcast with Helen Joyce. She is very fair, thoughtful and she had fascinating insightful regarding transgenderism.
Helen Joyce makes some good points - but I’m afraid they are mixed up with poor research, often seemingly none. She presents opinion as fact, which breaks any credibility she may have started off with. Connections are made with leaps and bounds without sighting evidence. I’d expect much more from Shermer who seemed rather mushy in this discussion. Can it be that he agreed with her every point, even the ones she pulled out of her biases and put together with little logic? Just because trans men may not belong in women’s sports doesn't mean they are presenting as trans just so they can get in women’s restrooms for the sake of scaring women. I agree this stuff is tricky but let’s recognize it as such and go from there. Joyce simply wants it black and white, dusted and done. This approach will lead to no good.
Ol Sherm is a great public intellectual who dismisses the boneheaded conspiracies. He is a well reasoned atheist and he really cranks out the content. My only gripe is that he often fails to ask a question. He makes a statement and his guest reacts or affirms what he said. He’s actually getting better of late on that. If you are a conspiracy believing religious moron, you should listen to this show, but you will not listen.