Category: Skepticism

New Point of Inquiry is Up: Michael Shermer–The Believing Brain

By Chris Mooney | June 7, 2011 9:04 am

The latest show is up, and I am confident it will be much discussed. Here is the write up:

Our guest this week is Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine and head of the Skeptics Society, and a longtime commentator on issues relating to science, critical thinking, and the paranormal.

Chris asked Michael on to discuss his new book, which is entitled The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies, How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them As Truths.

Clearly, much of what Shermer has to say here will be of great relevance to skeptics and freethinkers—and along the way, Shermer also discusses his views on global warming (real, but not such a big deal) and how to promote evolution in a religious America.

In addition to publishing Skeptic, Michael Shermer is  a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University. His other books include Why People Believe in Weird Things andWhy Darwin Matters.

In a series of posts this week, I’m going to say more about at least 3 parts of the interview that I think will prompt discussion–our exchanges on global warming, “accommodationism,” and the differences between liberals and conservatives.

In the meantime, you can listen to the show here and order Shermer’s new book here.

Latest Point of Inquiry: "Among the Truthers" — Jonathan Kay

By Chris Mooney | May 26, 2011 1:18 pm

I should have blogged this a day ago but I was too tied up at our communications training in Norman, OK. But the latest Point of Inquiry is up, and here’s the write-up:

From Birthers, to Truthers, to Deathers—to occasional Liars—America seems to be crawling right now with fevered conspiracy mongers. What’s up with that?

To find out, Point of Inquiry turns in this episode to Jonathan Kay, author of the new book Among the Truthers: A Journey into America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground. In it, Kay provides a fascinating look at some of our indigenous kooks, and why they seem to be thriving right now.

Jonathan Kay is the managing editor of Canada’s National Post newspaper and a weekly columnist for its op-ed page.

Kay’s writing covers a diversity of subjects, and he’s been published in a variety of outlets including Commentary, the New York PostReader’s Digest, and the New Yorker. In 2002, he was awarded Canada’s National Newspaper Award for Critical Writing, and in 2004 he won a National Newspaper Award for Editorial Writing.

Once again, you can listen to the show here and you can order Kay’s book here.

Announcing My Next Point of Inquiry Episode Topic: Among the Truthers

By Chris Mooney | May 19, 2011 12:36 pm

I’m pleased to announce my next Point of Inquiry guest for the show airing Monday: Jonathan Kay, a journalist with Canada’s National Post and author of the new book Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America’s Growing Conspiracist Underground.

I’ve been beating up on Birthers a lot lately (everyone has), so this is a bit of “balancing.” Of course, Kay knows a lot about Birthers too.

We did the interview last night and I think people are going to like this one. Airs Monday. If you’re interested, check out the book in the meantime.

I also appeared recently with Kay on MSNBC.

Delusions About Self-Healing

By Chris Mooney | January 25, 2011 1:11 pm

There is a powerful New York Times oped today by medical researcher Richard Sloan of Columbia, debunking the idea that positive thinking will help you overcome serious illnesses:

It’s true that in some respects we do have control over our health. By exercising, eating nutritious foods and not smoking, we reduce our risk of heart disease and cancer. But the belief that a fighting spirit helps us to recover from injury or illness goes beyond healthful behavior. It reflects the persistent view that personality or a way of thinking can raise or reduce the likelihood of illness.

Most powerful is the point that if we encourage the idea that certain people heal themselves through power of mind, we’re also in effect encouraging the idea that certain people who don’t get better have failed in some way:

Very early in my career, I participated in a study of young women who were hospitalized and awaiting the results of biopsies to determine if they had cervical cancer. While I was interviewing one of my patients, the biopsy results of the woman in the next bed came back to her — negative. The fortunate woman’s father, who was there with her, said in relief: “We’re good people. We deserve this.” It was a perfectly understandable response, but what should my patient have said to herself when her biopsy came back positive? That she got cancer because she wasn’t a good person?

It is difficult enough to be injured or gravely ill. To add to this the burden of guilt over a supposed failure to have the right attitude toward one’s illness is unconscionable. Linking health to personal virtue and vice not only is bad science, it’s bad medicine.

You can read the whole oped here. I was a bit surprised that Sloan does not expressly deal directly with the topic of stress. My understanding is that it really can be bad for you, and this is presumably something a change in mindset could help to reduce–it would be interesting to hear Sloan’s take.


New Point of Inquiry with Joe Nickell

By Chris Mooney | January 22, 2011 12:25 pm

Karen Stollznow has the latest show, with one of my all time fav characters from the skeptic movement–paranormal investigator Joe Nickell:

Joe Nickell is one of the world’s most prominent skeptical investigators of the paranormal. He has researched numerous historical, paranormal, and forensic mysteries, myths and hoaxes, including hauntings, crop circles, UFOs, psychic claims, the Shroud of Turin, and the purported diary of Jack the Ripper.

Joe is a Senior Research Fellow for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and writes the Investigative Files column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. He is the author of many books, such as Real-Life X-Files: Investigating the Paranormal, Secrets of the Sideshows and Real or Fake: Studies in Authentication.

In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Joe discusses his areas of expertise, and why investigation is an important and necessary part of skepticism. He talks about whether anyone can investigate the paranormal, and shares some of the mistakes made by investigators; not only paranormal investigators, but also skeptical paranormal investigators. Joe mentions some advances in the area of investigation, and the pros and cons of recreating paranormal claims versus trying to capture paranormal phenomena.

Most people know Joe as an investigator, however, there are many surprising sides to him. He speaks about his many careers, and how he infuses skepticism into all of his roles.

You can listen to the show here.

Charmed by Rebecca Watson

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | September 6, 2010 12:14 pm

I recently watched skepchick Rebecca Watson’s talk Don’t Be A Dick: Etiquette for Atheists and Skeptics from the Atheist convention in Copenhagen this year. She’s poised, eloquent, and funny. I encourage readers to watch her entire presentation. Here’s part 5 featuring the final Q & A:


Glenn Beck as Irrationality's Icon and Embodiment

By Chris Mooney | August 10, 2010 1:44 pm

Glenn Beck Alexander Zaitchik bookIt has been a while since I recorded a Point of Inquiry show–there were a lot of them in the can, I had a big backlog.

But I’m about to speak with Alexander Zaitchik, the author of Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance. I’ve been reading it and I must say, it is quite an indictment of the radically low standards of our modern media industry, and our national discourse–that this guy can be such a dominant force today.

I also think it is important for those of us who count ourselves skeptics, and critical thinkers, to examine people like Beck, and not just standard anti-science nonsense. His conspiracy mongering, his appeals to fear, his irrational nostalgia for a bygone era that never was–these, too, are pathologies of poor thinking.

So I’m looking forward to talking with Zaitchik about what we can learn from “Glenn Beck Nation”…and in the meantime, while you await the show (not sure yet when it will air), check out his book.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics, Skepticism

Why "ClimateGate" Is Something

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | December 2, 2009 1:46 pm

Once “ClimateGate” made the The Daily Show, it became abundantly clear to me that the CRU email hack has had a very negative impact on the credibility of climate science.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Scientists Hide Global Warming Data
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

While I agree with Chris and Phil that in reality, the science remains strong, public perception of global warming has suffered a major blow. Unfortunately, the mainstream media now has a hold on the story, and people will continue to jump to whatever uninformed conclusion best suits their agenda. But note, Stewart nails the real issue at the end:

“if you care about an issue, and want to make it your life’s work, don’t cut corners. It’s disheartening for people inclined towards the scientific method and it’s catnip to these guys who are going to end up celebrating tonight, drunk, roaming the Arctic Circle trying to scullf*ck polar bears. Which are quickly disappearing because of rising oceans. Caused now, apparently, by God’s tears.”

Unscientific America on Bloggingheads With Carl Zimmer

By Chris Mooney | July 11, 2009 6:56 am

Here it is, and I think it may be the best diavlog we’ve done yet:

These are the different segments of the conversation, and we actually had some significant disagreements about the role of education in solving our problem, and other matters. I think it was a great talk:

Science Saturday: The War on Ignorance
Chris’s new book, “Unscientific America” (02:23)
Carl vs. Chris on how to fight scientific illiteracy (16:03)
A brief history of science’s image problem (09:10)
Do we need another Carl Sagan? (04:46)
If bloggers can’t make science cool again, who can? (09:17)
The culture gap between Hollywood and the scientific community (08:38)

Carl is also going to be introducing me when I give a book talk in New Haven, CT, on July 21. Details here.

Jerry Coyne On The Adaptive Significance of Semen Flavor

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | April 28, 2009 3:18 pm

I head west for a couple days and Chris up and creates a commotion… Of course he’s absolutely correct to do so.  Coyne is entitled to his perspective, but in no way does he speak for science.  But since we’re on the topic of Jerry Coyne, it’s good reason to bring up another idea of his that hit my radar recently. Readers know I’m exploring science and sexuality for my next book, and earlier this month I received several emails alerting me when Coyne shared his theory about the adaptive significance of semen flavor.

It is the conventional wisdom in human sexuality that semen tastes bad. Anyone with minimal sexual experience knows that although many women will perform fellatio on their partners, most bridle at the thought of swallowing the ejaculate. Its flavor is frequently characterized as revoltingly bitter or salty. The “swallow or spit” dilemma faces any woman who performs such an act, and whose partner regards swallowing as a gesture of love.

I’ll admit I was a bit surprised when the post hit my inbox, but since we’re reading Bonk, it’s an appropriate subject and one I have not considered before. Coyne took an informal poll by enlisting Dr. Fawzia Rasheed to ask her female acquaintances:

Sperm…would you spit or swallow? In other words, can you abide by or do you hate the taste?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Evolution, Skepticism
MORE ABOUT: flavor, jerry coyne, semen, sperm

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