Point of Inquiry is the Center for Inquiry's flagship podcast, where the brightest minds of our time sound off on all the things you're not supposed to talk about at the dinner table: science, religion, and politics.Guests have included Brian Greene, Susan Jacoby, Richard Dawkins, Ann Druyan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eugenie Scott, Adam Savage, Bill Nye, and Francis Collins.Point of Inquiry is produced at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, N.Y.
How well do you think you can assess risk? The evidence is clear that humans are innately poor at assessing risk in our personal lives, in part due to how our brains are wired, and that can make it challenging to make informed decisions about everything from vaccines and medicines to diet and children’s safety. Errors in risk perception can be a problem when we worry more than the evidence says we need to, or less than the evidence says we should. On this week’s episode, Kavin Senapathy speaks with neuroscientist Alison Bernstein and biologist Iida Ruishalme, who teamed up to write a series of articles titled “Risk In Perspective.” The interview takes listeners through key concepts in risk and risk perception, including the difference between hazard and risk, and whether zero risk is ever really possible. How can putting risk into perspective inform regulatory actions? How does environmental justice tie into health and risk perception? How are marketers taking advantage of our inability to accurately assess risk? One thing is clear—you won’t want to risk missing out on this conversation. ison's piece on how "Safety" is defined in a regulatory setting. What was that great music you heard? "Wahre" by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0 “Building the Sled” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0 “Vittoro” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0
This week, Point of Inquiry welcomes comedian, monologist, and atheist, Julia Sweeney. Many may know Sweeney from her time on Saturday Night Live, her appearances on NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, and from her current roles on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Hulu's Shrill. Jim Underdown sat down with Sweeney at CFI West to discuss her time working on SNL, dealing with her catholic faith after the passing of her brother to cancer, how Carl Sagan, Michael Shermer, and CFI helped her become an atheist, her experiences navigating Hollywood as a non-believer, and her conflicting opinions surrounding the Me Too movement after her good friend, Al Franken was accused of misconduct. If you've never seen it before, Sweeney's, "Letting Go of God" talk is highly recommended for those who became atheists after living with a religious point of view. You can find Sweeney on twitter: @JIsbackintown.
Why do people love the taste of Umami but avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is the purest form of Umami on Earth? In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapathy speaks with experts on MSG— which was first isolated by Japanese chemist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda— to explore this culinary and scientific disconnect. Tia Rains, PhD, is currently Senior Director of Public Relations at Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition (Ajinomoto was founded in 1907 to manufacture and sell Ikeda’s MSG). She has over 20 years of experience in the fields of food and nutrition. Mary Lee Chin MS, RD, has been involved in dietetics for over 40 years. She consults with food industry and commodity groups; including Monsanto, Ajinomoto, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. In 1968, a letter was published in the New England Journal of Medicine about “numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, and general weakness and palpitation” after eating food from Chinese restaurants. The letter spurred decades of research into the so-called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” What does the science say about MSG, what roles do marketing and branding play, and what do mice have to do with all of this? Links Mentioned in this Episode The Truth About MSG and Your Health - Written by Kavin Senapathy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERVRjAYBOp0 Accent Flavor Enhancer - https://www.accentflavor.com/product/flavor-enhancer Does monosodium glutamate really cause headache? : a systematic review of human studies - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4870486/
The Center for Inquiry has filed a lawsuit against Walmart for deceiving its customers with marketing, labeling, and product placement that present homeopathic medicines as equivalent and effective alternatives to science-based medicines with tested active ingredients. The lawsuit argues that this is not only consumer fraud, but also endangers the health of the people who purchase homeopathic remedies thinking that they contain actual medicine. The suit against Walmarts comes just a few months after the Center for Inquiry filed a similar lawsuit against CVS for fraud over the sale of fake homeopathic drugs. In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapathy speaks with Nick Little, Center for Inquiry's legal director and general counsel, on the history of homeopathy and how it differs from other kinds of alternative medicines, and why CFI is bringing a suit against the nation's largest retailer. They also discuss the responsibility retailers have to provide truthful information to their consumers, and what exactly is in the homeopathic flu remedy Oscillococcinum. Continue below to find the links mentioned in this episode. Links Mentioned in this Episode McGill Homeopathy Study Fast Company profiling the Center for Inquiry's suit against Walmart NPR interview with Nick Little New music heard on this episode "Wahre" by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0 “Building the Sled” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0
Science for the People began as a group in 1969 that grew out of the anti-war movement and lasted until 1989. SftP has been rebirthed for a new generation of SftP members to explore the history of radical science and to rebuild the movement for today. In this week's episode of Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapathy speaks with two SftP members, biologist, Ben Allen and neuroscientist, Katherine Bryant. If science is a form of knowledge production and the knowledge being produced only focuses on a particular set of people, that knowledge can then tend to become skewed towards those groups and lead to reinforcing biases. This is only one of the topics explored on this week's episode as these two representatives from the radical science organization, Science for the People explore the problems with science, why there needs to be more inclusivity in the field, and why the people who support pseudoscientific beliefs like genetic determinism and climate denial are much more harmful to us all than flat earthers and those who believe in healing crystals. Learn more about Science for the People by visiting their website: scienceforthepeople.org If this work interests you and you'd like to read more you can purchase one of the books mentioned on the show, Science for the People: Documents from America's Movement of Radical Scientists or visit Science for the People's new magazine that's full of informative articles and news at magazine.scienceforthepeople.org You can find Science for the People on Twitter: @sftporg
On this week's episode of Point of Inquiry, Jim Underdown speaks with longtime friend, actor, writer, and comedian Matt Walsh. This episode may be different from what you're used to as we take a break from examining science, culture, and religion and instead give you the chance to get to know one of Point of Inquiry's new hosts. Underdown has been close friends with Matt Walsh for over 30 years. Many may know Walsh from his role as Mike McLintock on the show Veep, which recently aired its series finale. The two grew up in Chicago where they both performed improv comedy before Walsh went on to form the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York City along with members Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, and Ian Roberts. Walsh has appeared in numerous films, television shows, and has toured the country performing. He also is involved with various charities and socially impactful causes like The Awesome Foundation and Defy Ventures, which aims to end mass incarceration and the recidivism rate. You can find Walsh on Twitter: @mrmattwalsh
On this week's episode of Point of Inquiry, Dr. Jenny Yip discusses OCD and anxiety and the widespread impact these can have on our lives as well as how they're exhibited in different people. Kavin Senapathy and Dr. Yip share their own experiences with OCD and anxiety disorders and Dr. Yip shares her insight into effective and ineffective treatments for OCD and anxiety. You can find out more about Dr. Yip's work by listening to her podcast, The Stress-Less Life. You can also follow her on Twitter: @DrJennyYip
This week’s episode of Point of Inquiry Jim Underdown speaks with Carol Tavris, social psychologist and author of Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) and Avrum Bluming, hematologist, medical oncologist, and emeritus clinical professor at USC about the common myth in the medical field surrounding the link between breast cancer and estrogen. The talk centers around their recent book, Estrogen Matters which examines the practice of administering estrogen to women suffering from symptoms of menopause and the push back they received due to a long-held misconception that estrogen leads to an increased chance of contracting breast cancer. Tavris and Bluming's work illustrates the important need for critical thinking, especially in the area of health where people's well-being is constantly at stake and how people will often times not accept information when it is in their best interest to do so.
This week's episode of Point of Inquiry is our final episode recorded from CSICon 2018. We're closing this series of interviews with Professor Massimo Pigliucci who discusses his ideas on scientism and how it's used by people like Sam Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Richard Dawkins with host Kavin Senapathy. Also featured on this episode is Professor Susan Blackmore who discusses her out of body experiences and whose research has centered around consciousness, memes, and subjectivity. Prof. Massimo Pigliucci has a PhD in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He currently is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. His research interests include the philosophy of biology, the relationship between science and philosophy, the nature of pseudoscience, and the practical philosophy of Stoicism. Susan Blackmore is a psychologist, lecturer, and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She is a TED lecturer, blogs for the Guardian, and often appears on radio and television. The Meme Machine (1999) has been translated into 16 other languages; more recent books include Conversations on Consciousness (2005), Zen and the Art of Consciousness (2011), Seeing Myself: The new science of out-of-body experiences (2017) and a textbook Consciousness: An Introduction (3rd Ed 2018). New music heard on this episode "Paper Feather" by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0 Sign up for the Point of Inquiry email newsletter and receive updates on brand new episodes and special POI updates.
On this week's episode of Point of Inquiry, we are thrilled to have friend of the Center for Inquiry, Susan Gerbic to talk about the recent New York Times featured story that detailed Gerbic and her team's work exposing celebrity psychics. Kavin Senapathy and Gerbic also explore why exposing fake psychics and mediums is important, the methodologies Gerbic and her team employ in these kinds of sting operations, how psychics performed hot reads before the days of the internet (and exactly what a hot read is), and the issues that arise from companies giving mediums and psychics platforms. Susan Gerbic is the cofounder of Monterey County Skeptics and a self-proclaimed skeptical junkie. Susan is also founder of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project. She is a frequent contributor to Skeptical Inquirer (CSICOP) and Skepticality Podcast. She is the winner of the CSI In the Trenches Award from 2012, James Randi Award for Skepticism in the Public Interest 2013. In 2018, Susan founded and manages About Time a non-profit organization focusing on scientific skepticism and activism.
Mark Boslough is a Caltech-trained physicist and CSI Fellow who spent 34 years at Sandia National Laboratories doing research on hypervelocity impacts, energetic materials, explosions, and global risk from asteroid impacts and climate change. He has participated in many science documentaries with field expeditions to airburst locations including the Libyan Desert of Egypt in 2006, Tunguska in 2008, Chelyabinsk in 2013, and the Nevada Test Site in 2017. Underdown sits down with Boslough to refute the ridiculous beliefs over climate change and what we can do now to counter the Earth's warming. They also spend time speaking about the impact asteroids have had on the Earth and clearing up definitions between asteroids and meteoroids, and comets. New music heard on this episode "Wahre" by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0 "SuzyB" by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0 Receive alerts on new episodes and special updates by signing up for the Point of Inquiry email newsletter.
We find ourselves in the information age among many who, although have the access to proper and accurate scientific information, choose not to believe it. What causes the parents of a newborn to avoid vaccines? Where do the misconceptions of genetics originate? Today on Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapathy talks with Carl Zimmer and Dr. Paul A Offit while at CSICon 2018 about their research into vaccinations, science denial, and how some groups in the US have tried to use genes and heredity to argue in favor of white supremacy. Carl Zimmer is an award-winning New York Times columnist and the author of 13 books about science. His newest book is She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity You can find Zimmer on twitter: twitter.com/carlzimmer Paul A. Offit, MD is the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as well as the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and a Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Offit has published more than 160 papers in medical and scientific journals in the areas of rotavirus-specific immune responses and vaccine safety. He is also the co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq. You can find Offit on twitter: twitter.com/DrPaulOffit Receive alerts on new episodes and special updates by signing up for the Point of Inquiry email newsletter. New music heard on this episode "Wahre by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0
The world of skeptical investigation is full of interesting personalities full of stories about their run-ins with ghost chasers, debunking charlatans, and dealing with "magic". Today on Point of Inquiry, Jim Underdown talks with Massimo Polidoro and Kenny Biddle while at CSICon 2018 about what they've been through as two of the top investigators in the skeptic movement. In this episode, Massimo speaks about the fascinating details around the life of genius, Leonardo da Vinci and about his new book, Leonardo. Jim and Massimo also speak about Massimo's training under James Randi to be a magician and about Sherlock Holme's creator, Arthur Conan Doyle and his fascination with the occult and spiritualism, specifically Conan Doyle's fascination with The Cottingley Fairies and Princess Mary's Gift Book. Jim and Kenny speak about Kenny's work with Skeptical Inquirer, The Independent Investigations Group, and Kenny's previous life as a ghost chaser. Massimo Polidoro is a writer and an internationally recognized “mystery detective.” He began his career as James Randi’s apprentice and is the cofounder and head of the Italian skeptics group CICAP. He is a TV personality in Italy, a research fellow for CSI, and a longtime columnist for its magazine, the Skeptical Inquirer. He is starting a new series, “Stranger Stories”, on his YouTube channel. You can find Massimo on twitter: twitter.com/massimopolidoro Kenny Biddle is a science enthusiast and skeptical investigator of paranormal claims. He’s been involved in photography for over twenty years. He applies his knowledge, experience, and critical thinking skills to analyzing alleged paranormal photographs and video to determine the most plausible causes. His work has been featured in several skeptical publications. Find him on twitter: twitter.com/kennybiddle42 New music heard on this episode "The Time To Run (Finale)" by Dexter Britain / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 "Wahre by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0
Dr. Jen Gunter is an OB/GYN, pain medicine physician, and Twitter's resident gynecologist. She blogs and also writes The Cycle, a column on the intersection sex, science, and society, for the New York Times. One day she hopes to ask Gwyneth Paltrow for the physics equation that explains how a jade egg can be recharged with lunar energy. Abby Hafer is an author, scientist, educator, and public speaker. Her scientific career includes a doctorate in zoology from Oxford University and teaching human anatomy and physiology at Curry College. She has recently broadened her scope to include crushing the gender binary using biology, and giving the same treatment to morality based on the supernatural. This week on Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapthy speaks to Jen Gunter and Abby Hafer (recorded during CSICon 2018). Jen chats about how she combats misinformation from Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop and the settlement the company had to pay for fraudulent health claims linked to their magical Jade Eggs. She also points us to theGoopJadeEgg best resources for accurate, evidence-based information on women’s reproductive health and birth control. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists World Health Organization Planned Parenthood National Library of Medicine U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Kavin and Abby recount their experiences at California Freethought Day, talk about the Tetrahymena thermophila microbe, and and how the Pulse nightclub mass shooting and various bathroom bills around the US led to her CSICon 2018 gender binary talk, which you can watch here.
As science standards across the country improve to include middle school standards on evolution, more and more teachers are teaching evolution for the first time and the battle to teach sound science moves into the individual classrooms themselves. The Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) is a program of the Center for Inquiry. TIES seeks to helps teachers teach evolution by providing them with the content and resources to do so effectively. In just three and a half years, TIES has grown from a powerful idea shared by Richard Dawkins and Bertha Vazquez to a network of over fifty teachers who have presented over 100 professional development workshops in over 40 states. TIES Director Bertha Vazquez has been teaching middle school science in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for 27 years. An educator with National Board Certification, she is the recipient of several national and local honors, including the 2014 Samsung’s $150,000 Solve For Tomorrow Contest and the $5,000 Charles C. Bartlett National Excellence in Environmental Award in 2009. Bertha sits down with one of Point of Inquiry's new hosts, Jim Underdown, to talk about her experiences with teaching science and evolution in the classroom, meeting Richard Dawkins, and her favorite TIES moment.
Adam Conover is the creator and host of Adam Ruins Everything, an informational comedy show that debunks common misconceptions and encourages critical thinking. The New York Times calls it “one of history’s most entertaining shows dedicated to the art of debunking” and refers to Adam as a “genial provocateur”. He is a founding member of the sketch group Olde English, who performed at HBO’s Comedy Fest in Aspen and was named “Best Sketch Group on the Web” by Cracked.com. As a standup comedian, he performs at colleges and theaters across the country. Timothy Caulfield is a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, a Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health, and Research Director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta. His interdisciplinary research on topics like stem cells, genetics, research ethics, the public representations of science and health policy issues has allowed him to publish over 350 academic articles. He has won numerous academic and writing awards and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Trudeau Foundation and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. On this episode of Point of Inquiry, Kavin speaks to Adam and Tim about their CSICon talks, Tim's new Netflix show A User's Guide to Cheating Death, and Adam's TruTV show Adam Ruins Everything and his interest in Gameboys.
In July of 2015, a spacecraft called New Horizons gave humankind its first close-up view of a small, misunderstood world called Pluto. It took almost 10 years for New Horizons to soar across more than 3 billion miles of space and give us our first meeting with Pluto and its family of moons. But that journey is just a small part of a much bigger and more harrowing story of how New Horizons came to be. It was a mission that was decades in the making, an endeavor that endured several near-death experiences, from its early planning stages all the way to the eve of its encounter with Pluto. Our guests are now telling this incredible story in the new book Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto, having experienced this adventure first-hand and from two very different perspectives. Alan Stern is the principle investigator of the New Horizons mission, and his co-author, David Grinspoon, is an astrobiologist, author, and advisor to NASA who witnessed the New Horizons saga as it unfolded and helped to bring its story to life.
We are living in a land of confusion, as the band Genesis warned us back in 1986, but even they could not have predicted just how much more confusing things would get 31 years later. With a storm of misinformation engulfing almost every field of human endeavor, 2017 was ripe with confusion. And one of the most bewildering subjects is also one of the most personal: our health. With celebrity gurus pitching pseudoscientific nonsense, conflicting news stories about what will and won't kill you, and an entire culture of hyper-privilege teaching people to be suspicious of science, people are being made to be afraid of their food. And there's a lot of money to made off of that fear. To help us navigate these choppy waters, Point of Inquiry host Paul Fidalgo is joined by two brilliant science communicators; Kavin Senapathy, a science and parenting columnist and co-author of The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House; and Yvette d'Entremont, better known as the SciBabe, whose writing has appeared in a variety of outlets such as The Outline, Gawker, and Cosmopolitan. The two of them will guide us through this land of confusion, and maybe, with their of smarts and humor, make this a place worth living in. Bonus for Point of Inquiry listeners: Get a special discount to purchase the new documentary Science Moms, featuring Kavin, when you use the promo code "CFI" (without quotes) at checkout.
In the post-truth world, the mainstream media is beset on all sides. Peddlers of propaganda, misinformation, and conspiracy theories seek to strip the media of its authority by creating parallel realities and fomenting anger and mistrust. At the same time, poor editorial judgments and a toxic culture of sexism have landed countless self-inflected wounds. How can a reality-based press ever hope to fulfill its mission to seek the truth, hold power accountable, and leave the public more informed? There may be no one better positioned to answer these questions than Margaret Sullivan. She's the media columnist for The Washington Post, and previously spent three and half years at The New York Times as its Public Editor, and as the first woman to be chief editor of The Buffalo News. She joins host Paul Fidalgo to talk about the crises facing journalism today, and why the reality-based press now finds itself at an inflection point: Its flaws have been exposed, and yet it is also producing some of the best journalism in ages. Can the press still deliver us the truth, or is the truth a sad casualty of a media landscape gone haywire?
It’s a big cosmos out there. It wasn’t too long ago that we couldn’t be sure that any planets existed anywhere outside of our own solar system. But in just the past handful of years, we’ve learned that planets orbiting stars are the rule, not the exception, which suggests that there may be 200 billion planets just in our galaxy alone, and trillions upon trillions of planets throughout the known universe. Surely, many of the planets in the Milky Way must be home to life forms, and even technologically advanced civilizations. So where the heck are they? Why can’t we find them? Why won’t they talk to us? Would we even know it if they did? To talk about the prospects for life on other worlds, intelligent and otherwise, Point of Inquiry host Paul Fidalgo talks to journalist Lee Billings. Lee is a reporter and editor for Scientific American covering space and physics, as well as the author of Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars. Billings explains how this quest, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has become increasingly daunting even as our knowledge of the cosmos grows richer. It is a quest rife with pitfalls, paradoxes, and plain old speculation, and so far, it has proven fruitless. But despite our apparent solitude, we keep looking. We keep listening. And we keep reaching out. Do we have the patience and the will to continue searching and waiting for a sign that may never come?
The modern conception of secular humanism arose in large part as a response to the horrors of Nazism and the Holocaust, and the evils of racism and bigotry. Humanist Manifesto II, written in 1973, called for “the elimination of all discrimination based upon race, religion, sex, age, or national origin,” and envisioned a world in which all human beings were given equal dignity within a global community. It is now two weeks since newly emboldened white supremacists, including Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen, marched on Charlottesville, attacked counter-protesters, and murdered Heather Heyer. President Trump has exacerbated the ensuing tension and fear by refusing to assign full responsibility to the white supremacists, and insisting that the blame be shared by some contingent of an alleged “alt-left.” It is time for humanism to respond once again. Our guest for this episode of Point of Inquiry is James Croft of the St. Louis Ethical Society, who encourages us to fully live out the values of humanism, not just as an academic philosophy but as an urgent call to act on behalf of others. “Be not restrained,” he advises, as he and host Paul Fidalgo discuss how humanists can lead the way in healing our national wounds, but that the process must begin by honestly acknowledging and addressing the injustices that have permeated American society from its very beginnings.
The U.S. space program is both beloved and neglected. It brings us breathtaking pictures from distant worlds and drives the human species to push itself farther out into the cosmos. But at the same time, it is subject to terrestrial political concerns, and without the urgency of a Cold War-era “moonshot” to galvanize the public’s enthusiasm, U.S. space policy is at times directionless, and always underfunded. To talk about the state of space exploration, Point of Inquiry host Paul Fidalgo talks to Loren Grush, space reporter for The Verge, and previously of Popular Science. They discuss space policy in the Trump era, the challenges NASA faces to realize its ambitions, the grand promises of the private space industry, the prospects and perils for a human mission to Mars, the hostility women continue to face within the space community, and much more. Oh, and we’ll also find out what it was that Mike Pence touched at the Kennedy Space Center that he was told not to touch. Links: Loren Grush’s work at The Verge Loren’s Popular Science piece, “How You’ll Die on Mars” Loren on Twitter: @lorengrush
We want to believe that climate change can be stopped, that humanity can summon the political will to take decisive and meaningful action to avert disaster and save civilization. But the difficult reality is that even if we make our very best efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, climate change is coming. The real question now is how bad are we going to allow it to get? There is perhaps no one better suited to discuss humanity’s unwitting impact on the planet than this episode’s guest, Elizabeth Kolbert. As the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and as a staff writer at The New Yorker she has chronicled the agonizing but undeniable realities of the ecological damage wrought by humans and the complicated politics of confronting — or ignoring — that damage. Kolbert talks to Point of Inquiry host Paul Fidalgo about how we as a society and as individuals think and talk about climate change and the inevitable environmental and political disruptions to come. BONUS FEATURE: Point of Inquiry bids a fond farewell to Nora Hurley, the show’s producer since 2014, with a kind of “exit interview.” Nora and Paul discuss what’s next for her, as well as what working on (and listening to) Point of Inquiry has meant to them both.
On June 1, President Donald Trump declared that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord, an international agreement meant to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the global average temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. For those who accept the reality of the threat posed by climate change, the news has sparked a good deal of anger, outrage, and not a small amount of despair for the fate of our planet. Despair not, says our guest, Carl Pope, the former Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and the co-author of the optimistic new book Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses and Citizens Can Save the Planet, co-written with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In a timely conversation with Point of Inquiry’s new host Paul Fidalgo (in his first episode as host!), Pope rejects doomsday attitudes about global warming, insisting that the window to stop climate change has not closed. He’ll tell us why he’s so optimistic, and what he thinks about the president’s decision to reject the Paris accord.
Don’t touch that podcast! Yes, Lindsay Beyerstein and Josh Zepps have moved on to new endeavors, but a new chapter for Point of Inquiry is about to begin, with new hosts and a new format. In this quick update the hosts-to-be will tell us a little bit about themselves and preview what they have planned for Point of Inquiry’s new direction. So stay subscribed to Point of Inquiry in your podcast app of choice, and look for new episodes starting in June.
Jill Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA where she also served as the former director of the Center for SETI Research. She was also a Project Scientist for NASA’s SETI program and has conducted a number of observational programs at radio observatories worldwide. Since funding for NASA’s SETI program was cut in 1993, she has worked to secure private funding so that SETI may continue to explore. In this conversation with Point of Inquiry host Josh Zepps, Tarter discusses the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, how we go about looking for it, and why the search is so important to humanity. Zepps presses Tarter on the possible dangers of finding life outside our world, what it means to be alive in the first place, and the potential threats we face with artificial intelligence on our own planet. Special note from the Center for Inquiry: This is Josh Zepp’s final episode of Point of Inquiry. It has been a privilege having Josh cohost the program for more than three years. He is inquisitive, bold, witty, and never afraid to ask hard questions and hold guests accountable for their views. His conversations on Point of Inquiry exemplify the spirit of free inquiry we seek to advance at the Center for Inquiry. We of course wish him nothing but success, and look forward to opportunities to work with him in the future. You can hear Josh on his political podcast, WeThePeople LIVE. Thank you, Josh! Stay tuned in the coming weeks for news about what's next for Point of Inquiry!
How did a man living an ostensibly godless, hedonistic life become the champion of the very groups who one would expect to denounce his behavior? Being a real estate mogul and reality TV star, it’s no secret to anyone that President Trump has spent far more time in country clubs than churches. A man who’s had several wives, owned casinos and bars, and had multiple accusations of sexual assault leveled against him is hardly the pinnacle of virtue the religious right professes to yearn for. Trump’s aggressively nationalistic campaign rhetoric clearly appealed to the so-called “alt-right,” but he could not have won the election without simultaneously appealing to religious conservatives. So what happened? Today’s guest is investigative journalist Sarah Posner, whose expertise in reporting on religion and the conservative movement enable her to unravel the reasoning behind Trump’s success with evangelical Christians. Posner’s newest piece for The New Republic is "Amazing Disgrace,” which explores how “a thrice-married, biblically illiterate sexual predator” hijacked the religious right. While the alt-right and the cultural conservative movement have long been at odds, they shared common goals and prospects in the 2016 election, and that what unites them in terms of race and nationalism may be greater than even they would like to admit. Special note from the Center for Inquiry: This is Lindsay Beyerstein's final episode of Point of Inquiry. We are enormously proud of Lindsay's remarkable body of work with Point of Inquiry. She is smart, insightful, witty, and has always been a genuine pleasure to work with, having grown tremendously as an interviewer over her time with us. We wish her great success with her new endeavors, including her new podcast, The Breach. Thank you, Lindsay! Stay tuned in the coming weeks for news about what's next for Point of Inquiry!
While science was once the force that propelled humanity into an age of enlightenment, a pernicious fear of science and the unknown threatens to plunge society to into an age of darkness. So says Dr. Paul Offit, a groundbreaking immunologist, and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Offit’s new book, Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong, comes at a time when the fundamental concepts of evidence, facts, and truth itself are being smothered by a miasma of misinformation. Dr. Offit joins Point of Inquiry host Josh Zepps for a vital discussion about the prognosis for science under the Trump administration, the dangers of the anti-vaccination movement, the probability of future pandemics, and much more.
Often when we talk about privilege, we’re referring to the systemic advantages some groups of people have over others, by virtue of their race, gender, or orientation. Having social awareness of privilege like this is an important part of fostering a more equal and inclusive society. Why then do people who value inclusiveness feel insulted when their own privilege is pointed out? Writer and editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy joins us to discus her new book, The Perils of “Privilege”: Why Injustice Can’t be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage. Bovy explains that while “privilege” is meant to illustrate advantages placed on us by societal injustice, the word also has undertones suggesting economic wealth and a life free of hardship. She asserts that for this reason using the word provokes a lot of confusion and outrage. Bovy believes that because very few people’s lives are without hardship, being told they are privileged can be counterproductive.
People living at mountainous high altitudes account for only 10 percent of the world’s population, spread out over roughly 25 percent of the Earth’s surface, and yet they also are responsible for a huge portion of the world’s most violent and persistent conflicts. The reason for this correlation between altitude and violence isn’t entirely understood, but there are several factors contributing to the effect the geography of mountain living undoubtedly plays in conflict. Journalist and foreign correspondent Judith Matloff has spent her career covering conflict across the world. She has been a leading pioneer in safety training for journalist abroad and now teaches conflict reporting at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Matloff first noticed this geographical trend of violence when her 10-year-old son asked her to point out all the places she’s covered conflict on a globe. The boy quickly pointed out a curious pattern; that they all took place in mountainous regions. Since then, Matloff has thoroughly investigated the trend of violence in high altitude areas, which has led to the publication of her book No Friends But the Mountains: Dispatches from the World’s Violent Highlands. In this eye opening discussion with Josh Zepps, Matloff explains the various reasons why these relatively small and isolated areas see so much trouble, and shares her thoughts on the growing dangers to journalists around the world.
President Trump’s travel ban aimed at select Muslim-majority countries (with exceptions for Christian minorities) was first framed this past January as an urgent action to protect the nation from the imminent danger of foreign terror attacks. With airports in disarray over the unprompted and unclear executive order, the directive was quickly taken to court, and it became clear that Trump’s dire warnings about national security threats were lacking one very important thing: evidence. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the ban was likely in violation of the Constitution. Trump’s administration quickly began fine-tuning the ban in order to appease the court with a new order, claiming to be equally predicated on imminent danger to the nation. Here to offer insight on what we can expect with the new ban’s rollout is Slate senior editor Dahila Lithwick. She specializes in writing about courts and law, regularly contributing to Slate’s political columns Supreme Court Dispatches and Jurisprudence. Her most recent article on this topic is “The Bogus Logic of Trump’s New Travel Ban.” In this episode of Point of Inquiry she gives us a thorough overview of the new and original travel bans, and considers the many possible outcomes as we wait on the courts to rule.
Fate. Purpose. Design. These are words that hang over many of our heads as we navigate the everyday chaos of life. Religion is often given exclusive purview over the discourse surrounding these concepts, but what if science was able to answer some of these same deep existential questions? We may not always like the answers that science has to give us. Laurence Krauss is a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, professor, author, and science communicator, and an honorary member of the Center for Inquiry Board of Directors. His newest book is The Greatest Story Ever Told… So Far, a look at the standard model of particle physics and its implications for our existence. It’s a follow up to his critically acclaimed book A Universe From Nothing, in which Krauss not only delves into how we’ve reached our current understanding of the universe, but also celebrates the wonders and beauty of the natural world and our accidental existence. The universe, says Krauss, is not fine-tuned for life, but rather life is fine tuned for the universe.
Americans have a stereotype of being somewhat lawsuit-happy. Any disagreements, no matter how small, wind up in court and we will sue the pants off our neighbors at the slightest scrape or bump. David M. Engel, author and law professor at University at Buffalo, objects. His newest book is The Myth of the Litigious Society: Why We Don’t Sue, where he explains that contrary to popular belief, most American injury victims never so much as contact a lawyer, let alone file a claim. Engel lays out the reasons that Americans rarely sue and why it is that we think we do anyway. He believes that understanding the realities of the American legal system is the first step toward answering questions about what we should do about injuries and restitution as a society to prevent and mitigate pain and suffering.
Every significant turn towards progress has had its trailblazers, and history can easily forget these pioneering individuals who have helped get us to where we are today. One of the most important figures at the height of the civil rights movement was activist and journalist Ethel Payne, who played a pivotal role as a trailblazer for both women’s rights and civil rights in general, rising to become the first black female commentator employed by a national television network. James McGrath Morris is an American biographer whose newest book is Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, First Lady of the Black Press. Morris follows Payne’s career as a journalist at the Chicago Defender, an important black newspaper known for covering stories the mainstream media didn’t cover. She was one of the best journalists of her time and one of very few black female journalists. Morris tells of Payne’s tenacity and her reputation for asking questions that no one else thought to ask, thereby arriving at the truth without having to persuade or editorialize.
Diabetes and obesity are on the rise in America in epidemic proportions, but we don’t respond to it with the urgency of an epidemic. Sugar industry lobbyists work hard to keep regulations at bay, and today sugar can be found in everything from baby formula to cigarettes. There is no customer too young or too old for the sugar industry, and the earlier in a person's life a dependency is developed, the better. Renowned journalist and author Gary Taubes doesn’t sugarcoat how bad our sugar problem really is in his new book The Case Against Sugar. Taubes exposes common misconceptions about sugar and brings to light the research that suggests just how helpless we may be to its deadly impact. While the harms are clear, the sugar lobby has successfully embedded it into the fabric of our culture — which is why Taubes believes that sugar is the tobacco of the new millennium.
The United States leads the world in science and innovation, but there’s no guarantee that this will always be the case. The Trump administration’s orders to halt federal science publication and public communication has American scientists racing against the clock to back up their data in fear of it being eradicated. Meanwhile, the scientists who come to America from all over the world face new roadblocks, as the travel ban from select Muslim-majority nations is reeking havoc on scientists who are not only kept from visiting loved ones, but are unable to leave the country for academic work in fear of being barred from reentry. In this eye opening discussion, Point of Inquiry host Josh Zepps talks to Jen Golbeck, a computer scientist at the University of Maryland College Park. She speaks with first-hand experience about the blow American science is taking from the travel ban — not only in its immediate effects, but the long-term consequences these policies will undoubtedly have in putting America behind the rest of the world.
Ronnie Green is a Pulitzer-winning journalist and author whose latest book is Shots on the Bridge: Police Violence and Cover-Up in the Wake of Katrina. His book follows the true story of an innocent family seeking help and security in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but was instead ambushed by New Orleans police officers’ gunfire. Further outrage comes not just from the massacre itself but that the officers and their supervisors at the New Orleans Police Department planted evidence in an attempt to cover up the murders. In a city overtaken my chaos and police officers overcome by fear, catastrophe ensued, leaving the surviving family to pick up the pieces left by the hurricane that ran through their lives. The victims’ family endured over a decade of legal battles before the officers at fault pleaded guilty to the charges. This story is a clear account of how the very people meant to protect and serve citizens can break the law, cover their tracks, and manipulate the legal system.
Ted Conover is an American journalist and author, known for fully immersing himself in the world of the subjects he covers. Conover writes about the people we understand the least by attempting to live their lives. Whether he’s riding freight trains with the homeless or navigating the ethical pitfalls of being a prison guard, he walks a mile in their shoes so we don’t have to. His newest book is Immersion: A Writer’s Guide to Going Deep, and in this week’s episode of Point of Inquiry, Conover discloses to host Lindsay Beyerstein what some of the most difficult moments of his immersion-journalism career have been, and reveals some of the tricks of the trade for getting close to your subjects without losing yourself in the process.
Daniel C. Dennett is one of the most influential philosophers of our time, perhaps best known in cognitive science for his multiple drafts (or "fame in the brain") model of human consciousness, and to the secular community for his 2006 book Breaking the Spell. Author and co-author of two-dozen books, he’s the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, where he taught our very own Point of Inquiry host Lindsay Beyerstein. Beyerstein and Dennett catch up to discuss Dennett’s newest book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. It’s a fresh look at Dennett’s earlier work on the subject of consciousness, taken in new directions as he seeks a “bottom-up view of creation.” Join Dennett and Beyerstein as they discuss the how’s and why’s of consciousness, not just from an evolutionary and neurological standpoint, but also through the lenses of computer science and human culture.
With great power, comes great responsibility, so we are told by Voltaire and Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben. It’s something we learn anew with each presidency, as the person who holds the office must decide how they will wield the power they’ve been given. For Richard Nixon, power was something to be used in the service of itself, to be maintained and defended at all costs. Soon to be our 45th president, Donald Trump comes to the office with some striking similarities to the 37th, complete with “enemies lists” and paranoid vendettas against foes real and imagined. To give us some historical perspective about the comparison between Trump and Nixon, we welcome historian, author, and journalist Rick Perlstein. Peristein is the bestselling author of Nixonland and Before the Storm, about the conservative movement sparked by Barry Goldwater. His newest book is The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and The Rise of Reagan. Perlstein recently published his latest critical analysis of Trump and Nixon in The New Republic, in an expose entitled "He’s Making a List."
Tom Flynn is Executive Director of Council for Secular Humanism (a program of the Center for Inquiry), as well as a novelist, journalist, and editor of Free Inquiry magazine. Outside of the freethought universe, however, Flynn may be best known as a professional Christmas opponent “the Anti-Claus,” and author of the book The Trouble with Christmas. For decades, Flynn has argued against atheists taking part in the celebration of Christmas, saying it makes hypocrites of nonbelievers and validates Christians’ claims over the season. Point of Inquiry host Lindsay Beyerstein disagrees, and this week she and Flynn engage in a friendly debate over whether atheists should reject all trappings of the holiday, or claim its secular aspects for our own.
There's no question that Trump and his incoming administration have plans to take the country in a very different direction on a plethora of issues. To help us sort through what to expect, we welcome writer and political journalist, Amanda Marcotte. Marcotte currently blogs at The Raw Story and is a political contributor for Slate, Salon, and The Guardian. With Republican majorities in the House and Senate, Marcotte says we can expect drastic changes on a multitude of issues, and in areas such as immigration and climate change, Trump will not even require congressional approval. Labor rights, healthcare, and abortion rights, while vulnerable, will take more of an effort from Trump and Republican lawmakers to change. Marcotte urges progressives not to give up hope, as she lays out where Trump’s agenda can be most effectively resisted.
From the early isolationist policies of George Washington to Thomas Jefferson’s universal embargo on foreign trade, 19th century America had no plans to become an imperial power. How then does a nation with no navy and a commitment to not having a standing army become a global superpower? Andrew W. Cohen is an author and U.S. history professor at Syracuse University. His new book is Contraband: Smuggling and the Birth of the American Century. Cohen argues that looking at early 19th century American trade policies, and the effort to police smuggling goods and contraband, gives us some telling insight about the transformation of America into what it is today.
Michael Berube is the Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University where he teaches American literature, disabilities studies, and cultural studies. His newest book is Life as Jamie Knows it: An Exceptional Child Grows Up. The book follows Berube’s son Jamie as he grows into adulthood, eagerly navigating the world as a young adult with Down syndrome. Berube tackles the misconceptions about intellectual disability from the perspectives of both a scholar of disabilities and that of a father. He challenges the misconception that intellectual disability detracts from the value of a life, as exemplified by his son Jamie, who Berube describes as witty, inquisitive, and full of a love for life. Berube asserts that like most children, when given ample amounts of love and attention, kids with Down syndrome have the best fighting chance at meeting their full potential and living a successful, happy life. Berube calls upon bioethicists, politicians, philosophers, and all of us to rethink how we approach disability, and advocates for changes that will move us towards a more inclusive society.
This week we’re dusting off a favorite Point of Inquiry episode from three years ago: Josh Zepps' conversation with P.J. O'Rourke – humorist, cultural commentator and bestselling author of sixteen books. Originally broadcast in December of 2013, this episode's subject matter is remarkably relevant for this current political and cultural moment, as we prepare for the presidency of a man whose campaign was based on the promise to return America to a golden age that really never existed. O’Rourke is an early proponent of "gonzo journalism" and is a self described libertarian, he’s served as editor-in-chief of National Lampoon, and has spent 20 years reporting for Rolling Stone and The Atlantic as the worlds only "trouble spot humorist" going to wars, riots, rebellions, and other "Holidays in Hell" in more than 40 countries. O'Rourke is the H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute and a frequent panelist on National Public Radio's game show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! In this episode they discuss everything from abortion and privacy, to the party following the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the looting of the Baghdad Museum. They discuss American values both of individualism and the fundamental shared American mentality of dissatisfaction, and that things are never good enough. The same dissatisfaction that often has us yearning for the "good ol’ days" is also the American quality that propels us forward, hungry for a better life, and unwilling to settle.
There’s no getting around the fact that the alt-right has come out of the shadows to fully embrace Trump as their candidate. From Steve Bannon to David Duke, controversial support did not wait long to rush to Trump's side. It’s clear that for many “make America great again” may just mean to make America white again. To help us get to the root of this unprecedented following Trump has produced, we welcome author and award-winning journalist and blogger, David Neiwert. Neiwert is an expert on the radical right and a correspondent for the anti-hate group the Southern Poverty Law Center. He most recently coauthored an award-winning piece in Mother Jones titled, "How Trump Took Hate Groups Mainstream." Neiwert and coauthor Sarah Posner have thoroughly tracked Trump's social media engagement with the white nationalist movement from the start of his campaign. Neiwert suggests that while we can’t know for certain how many of these alt-right ideals are ones Trump personally adheres to, he undoubtedly shares alt-right rhetoric that has enticed a strength in the white nationalism movement we haven't seen in decades. Sarah Posner also appeared on Point of Inquiry last year in Sarah Posner: Trump, Carson and the Religious Right in 2016.
The religiously unaffiliated, also known as the “nones,” are currently the largest “faith” demographic in the country. Yet evangelicals beat them two to one in turnout at the polls. We live in an increasingly secular nation based on secular principles, but in government, the secular worldview is badly underrepresented. President-elect Donald Trump spoke to many American’s economic struggles, but his is also a victory for the religious right that rallied strongly behind him. Much of Trump’s platform and policy agenda is incredibly unpopular with the American people, which is part of what is so perplexing about his victory. Yet despite being a relative minority within the population, evangelicals reliably vote, and secular Americans overwhelmingly do not. Here to talk about how we got here and the effort to fix this voting disparity is Larry Decker, Executive Director of Secular Coalition for America. Decker believes that much of America’s core secular values are in grave danger with a Trump presidency. He asserts that SCA and its contributing members (which includes the Center for Inquiry, which produces this program) are preparing to fight relentlessly to make secular American voices heard in order to defend the wall of separation between church and state.
We live in a digital era in which science and technology have revealed new frontiers never before possible. In developing the complicated technologies that permeate our lives, is it possible that humans have failed to grasp the magnitude of the complexity they have created? This week’s guest is a complexity scientist, Samuel Arbesman, author of the new book Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension. Arbesman explains that the rate of technological expansion is growing too quickly for our intellects to keep up, and the dangers of not understanding the inner workings of our creations are already revealing themselves, whether it’s the New York Stock Exchange suspending trading without warning or Toyota cars accelerating uncontrollably to the surprise of their drivers. The complexity of the code behind much of what has become fundamental components of society are so far past the limits of human comprehension that oftentimes no one is even able to find the cause when these systems go awry. Arbesman lays out why it’s so difficult for even experts to keep up with technological progress and how we can make efforts to prevent our creations from destroying themselves…or us.
Joe Nickell is perhaps the world's foremost investigator of the paranormal, as well as a magician and author, and he joins us for this special Halloween episode to discuss his recent feature article in Skeptical Inquirer, "Creators of The Paranormal." According to Nickell, the term "paranormal" refers to things that lie beyond the normal range of human experience and scientific explanation. Nickell’s paranormal investigations have covered everything from spirits and psychic phenomena to less spectral phenomena such as UFOs and cryptozoology. Questions about the paranormal have haunted humans since ancient times, but much of our modern conceptions about the paranormal date back only as far as the 19th century. Nickell attributes the advent of modern day spiritualism and the proliferation of the paranormal to a handful of distinct individuals who, for better or worse, popularized paranormal beliefs that are still championed by believers to this day.
The cat. King of the jungle, emperor of the internet, overlord of our homes? Cats are easily among the most adaptable mesopredator, able to survive and thrive everywhere from the deserts of Australia, to the Arctic tundra, to a cramped studio apartment. Abigail Tucker is a contributing writer for Smithsonian and author of the new book, Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World. Tucker explains just how wild the beasts that live among us really are. Known for their independence and convenience, cats need little house training, if any. Tucker asserts that while cats don’t require training, they may actually be the ones training us, monitoring our behaviors and teaching us how to keep them happy. So who, exactly, is domesticating whom? Tucker delves paws-first into the feline mind, debunking cat myths and misconceptions, and shedding light on the role cats have played throughout history, as well as how we might be able to benefit from them in the future.