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Very Bad Wizards

Very Bad Wizards is a podcast featuring a philosopher (Tamler Sommers) and a psychologist (David Pizarro), who share a love for ethics, pop culture, and cognitive science, and who have a marked inability to distinguish sacred from profane. Each podcast includes discussions of moral philosophy, recent work on moral psychology and neuroscience, and the overlap between the two.

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Episode 75: A Golden Shower of Guests

Dave and Tamler celebrate their 75th episode by welcoming six BFFs of the podcast and asking them to share the biggest thing they've changed their minds about in their professional careers. You'll hear Dan Ariely on our moral duty to take science into the real world, Laurie Santos on the the role of neuroscience in explaining psychological findings, Yoel Inbar on what it means to do good science as a psychologist, Eric Schwitzgebel on his metaphysical epiphany about materialism, Nina Strohminger on breaking-up with priming research, and Sam Harris on Artificial Intelligence and its perils, and his recently changed views about vegetarianism. (Sadly, we had a technical glitch with the audio when we recorded our most-frequent guest Paul Bloom, but we'll bring him on again soon.) Plus we play some hilarious mash-ups, raps, and voicemails sent in from listeners.Links to info about our GuestsDan ArielyLaurie SantosYoel InbarNina StrohmingerEric SchwitzgebelSam Harris Listener-Created Music in this EpisodeSpecial Guests: Dan Ariely, Eric Schwitzgebel, Laurie Santos, Nina Strohminger, Sam Harris, and Yoel Inbar.Support Very Bad Wizards

2hr 29mins

6 Oct 2015

Rank #1

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Episode 169: A Bug's Life (Kafka's "The Metamorphosis")

David and Tamler try to control their emotions (with varying success) as they go deep into Franz Kafka's masterful novella "The Metamorphosis." What kind of a story is this? A Marxist or religious allegory? A work of weird fiction? A family drama? A dark comedy? Why does a story about a man who turns into a giant insect get under our skins so much? Plus a study that links insomnia to our fear of death. What a cheerful summer episode! (Actually we're fairly proud of this one... As always we suggest reading the text before you listen or soon after). This episode brought to you by Prolific.co, and by the support of our listeners.Sponsored By:Prolific: Just for listeners of Very Bad Wizards-get $100 added on to your account when you start an account and top it off at $250 or more! Support Very Bad WizardsLinks:Life is short, stay awake: Death anxiety and bedtime procrastination. - PubMed - NCBI2nd Annual BEworks Summit for Behavioural Science in BusinessThe Metamorphosis - WikipediaOn Translating Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” | The New YorkerFranz Kafka - Wikipedia

1hr 50mins

30 Jul 2019

Rank #2

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Episode 84: Lifting the Veil

David and Tamler talk about the perils of trying to step outside of your own perspective in ethics, science, and politics. What do Rawls' "original position" thought experiment, Pascal's Wager, and Moral Foundations Theory have in common? (Hint: it involves baking.) Plus, what movies (and other things) would serve as a litmus test when deciding on a potential life partner? What might liking or not liking a certain film, book, or TV series tell you about a person, and whether or not the relationship would work? And what sexual position is it rational to choose under the veil of ignorance? (It's a night episode...)LinksPart 1: Litmus TestsThe Bad News Bears (1976) [imdb.com]A Confederacy of Dunces [wikipedia.org]Drive [imdb.com]Every Frame A Painting--Drive: The Quadrant System [youtube.com]Ferris Bueller's Day Off [imdb.com]The Far Side [wikipedia.org]Frank [imdb.com]Hustle and Flow [imdb.com]Jackie Brown [imdb.com]Key and Peele [imdb.com]Miracle of Morgan's Creek [imdb.com]The Office (UK) [imdb.com]Pulp Fiction [imdb.com]Spaghetti Western [wikipedia.org]ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement/Dubbing) [wikipedia.org]Sullivan's Travels [imdb.com]Spellbound [imdb.com]Slapshot [imdb.com]What We Do in the Shadows [imdb.com]Part 2: Williams, B. (1981). Rawls and Pascal’s Wager. Moral Luck, 94-100. [verybadwizards.com]Moral Luck [amazon.com affiliate link]Moral Foundations Questionnaire (30-item) [moralfoundations.org]Support Very Bad Wizards

1hr 33mins

23 Feb 2016

Rank #3

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Episode 189: The Anality of Evil (Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents")

David and Tamler dive into Sigmund Freud’s world of unconscious drives, death instincts, and thwarted incestuous urges in his classic text “Civilization and its Discontents.” If society has made so much progress, why are human beings perpetually dissatisfied? Can religion help us or is it a big part of the problem? What’s really going on when you piss on a fire to put it out? Also: how seriously should we take Freud today given some of his wackier ideas? And is he a psychologist, a philosopher, or something else entirely? Plus we select the finalists from a huge list of suggested topics for the Patreon listener-selected episode!Sponsored By:BetterHelp: You deserve to be happy. BetterHelp online counseling is there for you. Connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Our listeners get 10% off the first month by visiting Betterhelp.com/vbw. Promo Code: VBWSupport Very Bad WizardsLinks:Anal retentiveness - WikipediaAnal expulsiveness - WikipediaPsychosexual development - WikipediaCivilization and Its Discontents - Wikipedia

1hr 37mins

26 May 2020

Rank #4

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Episode 176: Split-Brains and the (Dis)Unity of Consciousness

David and Tamler discuss famous 'split brain' experiments pioneered by Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga. What happens when you cut off the main line of communication between the left and right hemispheres of our brain? Why under certain conditions do the the left and right brains seem like they have different abilities and desires? What does this tell us about the ‘self’? Do we have two consciousnesses, but only that can speak? Does the left brain bully the right brain? Are we all just a bundle of different consciousnesses with their own agendas? Thanks to our Patreon supporters for suggesting and voting for this fascinating topic! Plus, physicists may be able to determine whether we’re living in a computer simulation – but is it too dangerous to try to find out? Sponsored By:GiveWell: This holiday season, open your heart to those in need, and consider donating through Givewell.org. Givewell.org is an organization that cares about finding the most effective charities in the world, so that you can make each charitable dollar work as hard as possible. And for our listeners who are first time donors, Givewell.org will match your donation (up to $1,000). Promo Code: VerybadwizardsOutlier.Org: Enrich your mind and earn college credits with one of the new courses from Outlier.Org. From the co-founders of MasterClass, Outlier.Org brings you beautifully crafted and filmed courses taught by some of the top professors in the world. Spaces are limited, so sign up today for classes beginning in January 2020. Support Very Bad WizardsLinks:Opinion | Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? Let’s Not Find Out - The New York TimesPhysicists find we’re not living in a computer simulation | CosmosNagel, T. (1971). Brain bisection and the unity of consciousness. /Synthese/, /22/(3), 396-413. CGP Grey video - You Are Two Split brains - Routledge Encyclopedia of PhilosophyGazzaniga, M. S. (1995). Principles of human brain organization derived from split-brain studies. /Neuron/, /14/(2), 217-228. Split brain: divided perception but undivided consciousness | Brain | Oxford AcademicInteraction in isolation: 50 years of insights from split-brain research | Brain | Oxford AcademicDennett, D. C. (2014). The self as the center of narrative gravity. In /Self and consciousness/ (pp. 111-123). Psychology Press.

1hr 48mins

12 Nov 2019

Rank #5

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Episode 85: A Zoo with Only One Animal (with Paul Bloom)

Philosophers can be funny and funny movies can be philosophical. David and Tamler welcome frequent VBW guest and arch-enemy of empathy Paul Bloom to discuss their five favorite comic films with philosophical/psychological themes. Groundhog Day was off-limits for our top five (we would've all chosen it) so we start by explaining why it's the quintessential movie for this topic.Links[all movie links are to imdb.com]Paul's Top 5The Big LebowskiShaun of the DeadThe Man with Two Brains/All of MeStranger than FictionBeing ThereTamler's Top 5Defending Your Life/Lost in AmericaModern TimesSeven Psychopaths/In BrugesBarton Fink/Sullivan's TravelsPurple Rose of CairoDavid's Top 5Office SpaceDr. StrangelovePinker, S. (1999). "The Doomsday Machine" in How the mind works. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 882(1), 119-127.BrazilTrading PlacesMr. SkinThe Princess BrideSpecial Guest: Paul Bloom.Support Very Bad Wizards

1hr 9mins

12 Mar 2016

Rank #6

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Episode 78: Wizards Uprising

David and Tamler return to the minefield of campus politics and talk about recent events at Yale, Missouri, and Amherst. Are the protests are long overdue response to systematic oppression and prejudice? Or is this new generation of students coddled, hypersensitive, and hostile to free speech? A little bit of both? Can our hosts get through this episode without fighting?   LinksThe New Intolerance of Student Activism by Conor Friedersdorf [theatlantic.com]President Peter Salovey's statement to Yale community [news.yale.edu]2015 University of Missouri Protests [wikipedia.org]Amherst College Uprising (with list of demands) [amherstuprising.com]Vlad Chituc (@vladchituc) [vladchituc.com] Support Very Bad Wizards

1hr 8mins

24 Nov 2015

Rank #7

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Episode 81: Domo Arigato, Mr. Robot (With Yoel Inbar)

Hello, listener. Hello, listener? That's lame. Maybe I should give you a name, but that's a slippery slope. You're only in my head. Or maybe we're in your head. Are you listening to this with headphones?Shit. It's actually happened, I'm talking to imaginary listeners.  What I'm about to tell you is top secret, a conspiracy bigger than all of us. There's a powerful group of people out there that are secretly running the world. I'm talking about the guys no one knows about, the guys that are invisible. The top 1% of the top 1%, the guys that play God without permission. That's right, it's the Partially Examined Life guys. And now I think they're following me.Special guest Yoel Inbar joins us to talk about the best show of last year. Warning: This episode is full of spoilers. Do not listen until you've seen Season 1 of Mr. Robot.LinksMr. Robot IMDBWikipediaSpecial Guest: Yoel Inbar.Support Very Bad Wizards

1hr 47mins

12 Jan 2016

Rank #8

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Episode 106: American Grandstand

David and Tamler take a break from moral grandstanding to talk about moral grandstanding. How often do we moralize to make us look respectable? Does grandstanding make us more cynical about ethical debates? Does it contribute to outrage exhaustion and increased polarization? Most importantly, who does it more, David or Tamler? Plus: some of our favorite answers to this year's Edge.org question. (You can read the paper by Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke on the links page.)Support Very Bad WizardsLinks:What Scientific Term or Concept Ought to Be More Widely Known? | Edge.orgEdge.org - Brian Eno "The Confirmation Bias" Edge.org - Daniel Rockmore "The Trolley Problem"Edge.org - Michael Gazzaniga "The Schnitt"Edge.org - Sean Carroll "Bayes' Theorem"Edge.org - Lisa Randall "Effective Theory"Tosi, J., & Warmke, B. (2016). Moral Grandstanding. [full text preprint]Gross Anatomy: In This Political Climate, When Are We Right to Feel Disgusted? | News & City Life | HoustoniaMinson, J. A., & Monin, B. (2012). Do-gooder derogation disparaging morally motivated minorities to defuse anticipated reproach. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(2), 200-207.Acknowledgement of Traditional Aboriginal Territory in British Columbia | Safe Harbour - Respect for AllLeave Britney Alone (Complete)Newman, G. E., & Cain, D. M. (2014). Tainted Altruism When Doing Some Good Is Evaluated as Worse Than Doing No Good at All. Psychological science, 25(3), 648-655.

1hr 17mins

10 Jan 2017

Rank #9

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Episode 180: Chekhov's Schrödinger's Dagger (Kurosawa's "Rashomon")

Eleventh Century Japan. A samurai and his wife are walking through the forest and come across a bandit. The bandit attacks the samurai and has sex with/rapes his wife. A woodcutter finds the samurai, stabbed to death. Who killed the samurai and with what? What role did his wife play in his death? Kurosawa gives us four perspectives, told in flashbacks within flashbacks. Who’s telling the truth? Is anyone? Can we ever know what really happened? A simple story on the surface becomes a meditation on epistemological despair. Plus, your lizard brain is out to get you and you only have 90 seconds to stop it!Sponsored By:Prolific: Prolific is giving away $50 to VBW listeners who want to give online sampling a go! Whether you’re a social scientist doing research, part of a marketing group, or even a high school student interested in doing a social science project, prolific can offer you fast, reliable, quality data to answer your research questions. Promo Code: verybadwizardsGiveWell: Givewell searches for the charities that save or improve lives the most per dollar. Consider a donation this holiday season--your dollar goes a lot further than you might think! Promo Code: verybadwizardsSupport Very Bad WizardsLinks:When Your Lizard Brain Burns You Out And Short-Circuits Your CareerTriune brain - WikipediaCesario, J., Johnson, D. J., & Eisthen, H. (2019). Your Brain Is Not an Onion with a Tiny Reptile Inside.David talks Watchmen on the Pretty Much Pop PodcastTamler Sommers Talks Honor on Stoa PodcastRashomon - WikipediaRashomon (1950) | The Criterion CollectionRashomon | The Current | The Criterion CollectionRashomon Analysis - Rashomon's Problem with Truth | TopicEvery Frame A Painting: The Bad Sleep Well (1960) - The Geometry of a Scene - YouTubeAkira Kurosawa - Composing Movement

1hr 56mins

14 Jan 2020

Rank #10

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Episode 187: More Zither

With a global pandemic and a collapsing economy upon us, it's time to ask ourselves some tough questions. Sex robots or platonic love robots - what are you more excited for? If you walked in on your partner with one of them, which would make you more jealous? Are you male or female? Can evolutionary psychology explain sex-linked preferences for sensitive, empathetic Alexas? We then dive into the shadowy echo-filled streets of post-war Vienna - and talk about one of our favorite movies, a true noir classic: The Third Man.Support Very Bad WizardsLinks:Frontiers | Friends, Lovers or Nothing: Men and Women Differ in Their Perceptions of Sex Robots and Platonic Love Robots | PsychologyBreak Music: Framed Your Eyes by peezThe Third Man - WikipediaAllied-occupied Austria - WikipediaDutch angle - Wikipedia

1hr 40mins

21 Apr 2020

Rank #11

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Episode 3: "We believe in nothing!" (Cultural diversity, relativism, and moral truth)

Tamler and Dave discuss recent work in philosophy and psychology about the differences in moral values and practices across cultures. We talk about the implications of moral diversity: does  it mean that we cannot criticize that practices of other cultures? How should we regard moral disagreement? Are there objective “truths” in ethics? Somehow we need to play clips from The Big Lebowski and Pulp Fiction in order to resolve these questions.Links"No Donnie, these men are nihilists, nothing to be afraid of."Interview with Jon Haidt."Pigs are filthy animals"Support Very Bad Wizards

1hr 1min

8 Sep 2012

Rank #12

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Episode 138: Memory, Pain, and Relationships (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

Award-winning screenwriter and medieval philosophy scholar Yoel Inbar joins us for a deep dive on the Charlie Kaufman/Michel GondREY masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. When relationships go bad is it better to believe they never happened? What is the nature of memory, how is it constructed, and is it possible to zap them out existence with an Apple IIe? Will Tamler have a more optimistic take on the ending of the movie than David? (Hint: yes) Also--only two more weeks to preorder Why Honor Matters and get your free bonus episode! Upload your receipt here Special Guest: Yoel Inbar.Support Very Bad WizardsLinks:Yoel Inbar Michel Gondry - IMDbEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - IMDbEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Movie Review (2004) | Roger EbertThe Science of Sleep (2006) - IMDbBe Kind Rewind (2008) - IMDbJay Electronica - Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge) (Full 15-minute version) - YouTube

1hr 45mins

24 Apr 2018

Rank #13

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Episode 160: Everything is Meaningless: The Book of Ecclesiastes

David and Tamler dive into the book of Ecclesiastes, an absurdist classic that is somehow also a book of the Bible. Is everything meaningless, vain, and a chasing after the wind? Are humans just the same as animals? Are wise people no better off than fools? Will God judge us after we die, rewarding the good people and punishing the shit-heels? What if there is no afterlife and this is all we get? How should we deal with our pointless, unjust existence? Plus we return to our opening-segment bible— Aeon—and talk about an argument for replacing jealousy with...wait for it…compersion.Support Very Bad WizardsLinks:Love without jealousy: consider the benefits of compersion | Aeon EssaysBreak Music: Back From Salina | SoundCloudJust to say thanks to the wizards : VeryBadWizardsEcclesiastes - WikipediaEcclesiastes 1 NIV - Everything Is Meaningless - The words - Bible Gateway

1hr 33mins

19 Mar 2019

Rank #14

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Episode 90: Of Mice and Morals

David and Tamler have their first real fight in a while over an article defending "social mixing"--distributing babies randomly across families such that no infant is genetically related to the parents who raise them.. Then they discuss a study published in Science in 2013 in which participants could earn money if they agreed to let mice be killed in a gas chamber.  Do free markets threaten our moral characters and cause us to abandon our principles? What are mechanisms behind this phenomenon when it happens? And why does David hate mice so much?Episode LinksMaus by Art Spiegelman [wikipedia.org]If babies were randomly allocated to families, would racism end? by Howard Rachlin and Melvin Frankel [aeon.co]Falk, A., & Szech, N. (2013). Morals and markets. Science, 340, 707-711. [sciencemag.org].pdf available here [gtcenter.org]Support Very Bad Wizards

1hr 20mins

25 May 2016

Rank #15

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Episode 122: Nothing but a "G" Thing (Intelligence Pt. 1)

David and Tamler do their best to talk frankly about intelligence and IQ research. (It's our Patreon listener-selected topic! We probably would never have chosen this one on our own...). Is intelligence a meaningful, definable concept? Can we reliably test for it? How much of the variability in IQ across individuals is due to heritable factors? Are people with higher IQ happier, wealthier, or healthier than people with lower IQ? And why is this topic so controversial anyhow? Plus in the intro segment Tamler and David discuss why you probably don't need fMRI to know what your dog wants, and why cognitive neuroscience seems to confuse otherwise intelligent folks. (Note: This is Part 1 of our discussion on intelligence. In Part 2 will delve into the slightly more controversial topics of IQ, race, and gender). Support Very Bad WizardsLinks:What Does Your Dog Really Want? - Scientific American Blog NetworkA Very Bad Wizard: Morality behind the curtain by Tamler Sommers [amazon.com affiliate link] — David does the links, so it's him telling you to support Tamler and buy his book!The Simpsons - Crayon in Homer's brain - YouTubeRitchie, S. (2015). Intelligence: All that matters. Hodder & Stoughton. [amazon.com affiliate link] — Stuart Ritchie's very well-written primer on intelligence. Accessible to a wide audience, but with all the nuance you'd expect from a clear-thinking academic. It's also a very quick read.Stuart Ritchie (@StuartJRitchie) | TwitterStuart Ritchie | The University of Edinburgh

1hr 40mins

29 Aug 2017

Rank #16

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Episode 119: A Brief History of Values

What happens when we discover why we believe the things we believe? What if we discover that our values are the product of our cultural tradition, or personal experience, or natural selection? Should we be more skeptical of our values once we learn their history? Plus, data on Google porn searches reveal that you're all a bunch of sick fucks. Support Very Bad WizardsLinks:Proof that Americans are lying about their sexual desires - VoxDoris, J. M. (2009). Genealogy and Evidence: Prinz on the History of Morals.Kahane, G. (2011). Evolutionary debunking arguments. Noûs, 45(1), 103-125.The Splintered Mind: Tamler SommersBreak Music: Everything Is Wrong by peez

1hr 26mins

12 Jul 2017

Rank #17

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Episode 175: At Least We Didn’t Talk About Zombies (Nagel’s “What is it Like to be a Bat?”)

We try (with varying success) to wrap our heads around Thomas Nagel’s classic article “What is it Like to be a Bat?" Does science have the tools to give us a theory of consciousness or is that project doomed from the outset? Why do reductionist or functionalist explanations seem so unsatisfying? Is the problem that consciousness is subjective, or is it something about the nature of conscious experience itself? Is this ultimately an epistemological or metaphysical question? What are we talking about? Do we even know anymore? Plus, the return of Mr. Robot! We talk about the big new mystery at the heart of the new season. Support Very Bad WizardsLinks:Mr. Robot - Season 4 - IMDbNagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat? The Philosophical Review, 83, 435-450. [pdf]What Is it Like to Be a Bat? - WikipediaMortal Questions by Thomas Nagel

1hr 42mins

29 Oct 2019

Rank #18

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Episode 94: Buttery Friendships

Dave and Tamler don’t agree about much, but one thing they do share is an affinity for character-based approaches to ethics. Using Tamler’s interview with Georgetown Philosopher Nancy Sherman as their guide (link to chapter included), they discuss two ancient perspectives on how to develop good character and live happy, virtuous lives: Aristotle's and that of the Stoics. Why did Aristotle focus so much on friendship and what happens when those friendships get too "watery"? Are emotions crucial for developing virtues or are they “so much mist on the windshield?” Are the stoics right that we shouldn’t get attached to things that are beyond our control? Plus, a new Twitter account has David and Tamler polishing their CVs, and a request for listener suggestions for our 100th episode.Note: We recorded this episode after the police shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis but before the shootings of the police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. We talk a bit about the violence, but not about what happened after Minneapolis.LinksVery Bad Wizards No Context (@vbw_no_context)Effective altruism [wikipedia.org]Nancy Sherman Homepage [nanycsherman.com]Nancy Sherman "Navigating our Moral World." In Sommers, T. (2016). A Very Bad Wizard: Morality behind the curtain. Routledge. [verybadwizards.com]Support Very Bad Wizards

1hr 36mins

19 Jul 2016

Rank #19

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Episode 91: Rage Against the Machines

Inspired by a recent ProPublica report on racial bias in an algorithm used to predict future criminal behavior, David and Tamler talk about the use of analytic methods in criminal sentencing, sports, and love. Should we use algorithms to influence decisions about criminal sentencing or parole decisions? Should couples about to get married take a test that predicts their likelihood of getting divorced? Is there something inherently racist about analytic methods in sports? Plus, David asks Tamler some questions about the newly released second edition of his book A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain.LinksMachine Bias by Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu and Lauren Kirchner [propublica.org]Mission Impossible: African-Americans & Analytics by Michael Wilbon [theundefeated.com]A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain [amazon.com affiliate link to the Kindle version of 2nd edition. Eight new interviews. And an all-new foreword by Peez.]Paperback version of the 2nd edition (currently only available on the publisher's website) [routledge.com]Support Very Bad Wizards

1hr 24mins

7 Jun 2016

Rank #20