Rank #1: Clearing Up the Concept of Risk Assessment
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?
Rank #2: Brian Greene - The Fabric of the Cosmos
Host: Chris Mooney
It's the beginning of a new year here at Point of Inquiry, and we've got a pretty good guest to kick it off.
He needs no introduction. He's Brian Greene—celebrity physicist, bestselling author, television star and all around science communication maestro.
Officially: Greene is co-founder and director of Columbia University's Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics, author of the bestselling books The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, and co-founder of the World Science Festival.
We caught up with Greene to discuss the recently aired four part NOVA special based on The Fabric of the Cosmos, as well as, well, sciency things in general.
Rank #3: Bill Nye - In Praise of Reason (and Skepticism)
Host: Chris Mooney
Recently in New Orleans, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry held the very first CSICON—the conference dedicated to scientific inquiry and critical thinking.
The main honoree: Bill Nye the Science Guy, who was given CSI's premiere "In Praise of Reason" award.
The next day, Point of Inquiry caught up with Nye, a guest who really needs no introduction... at least not to the thousands upon thousands of kids who saw a little show called Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Since then, Nye has has been involved in many other endeavors and television programs to improve science teaching and understanding in our country, including his latest show on Planet Green, "Stuff Happens".
Nye is an engineer, inventor, author, comedian—a supporter of clean energy, and above all a skeptic.
Rank #4: Richard Dawkins: LIVE at the Reason for Change Conference
This week, Point of Inquiry welcomes Richard Dawkins for a special episode recorded before a live audience at the Center for Inquiry’s Reason for Change conference in Buffalo, New York on June 13, 2015. Dawkins is easily one of the world’s most influential and controversial scientists; a pioneer in evolutionary biology, science communication, and the public visibility of atheists. He is the author of several bestselling books including The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion, and Unweaving the Rainbow, and he is founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
Dawkins is joined by Point of Inquiry host Josh Zepps, discusses how he found his love for science and evolution, the importance of secular values, and how we can inspire people to appreciate and embrace science. It’s not all serious and lofty, of course, as Dawkins cops to being “pretty condescending and bossy,” and displays his remarkable proficiency with an outlandish American accent.
Dawkins, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award from CFI at this conference, brings the audience to its feet with his wit and insight.
Rank #5: Lawrence Krauss - A Universe from Nothing
Host: Chris Mooney
We had Lawrence Krauss on Point of Inquiry less than a year ago, to discuss his recent book on the scientific works of Richard Feynman.
But in order to keep up with him, we had to have him on again. Already.
You see, Krauss has a new book out that's causing quite a stir right now—A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing.
Here's a hint as to why: Krauss's answer to this age-old question isn't God. In fact, as discussed on the program, Krauss has arguably written the book that "kicks God out of physics."
And along the way, he also manages to explain a heck of a lot of science.
Lawrence Krauss is an the internationally known theoretical physicist and popular author. He has published hundreds of scientific papers, as well as acclaimed books like the bestselling The Physics of Star Trek and Fear of Physics. He's director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University.
Rank #6: Daniel Dennett - The Scientific Study of Religion
Guest Host: John Shook
Recently, the Center for Inquiry held a conference titled "Daniel Dennett and the Scientific Study of Religion: A Celebration of the Fifth Anniversary of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon". During that conference, John Shook, CFI's Director of Education, sat down with Dennett for this interview.
Rank #7: Bill Nye The Science Guy
Famed educator, engineer and "Science Guy," Bill Nye Joins our host Josh Zepps for this week's Point of Inquiry. They discuss Bill's start as an Engineer and part time stand up comedian to his groundbreaking work in television educating a generation on science. They also delve into Bill's view into the future of science, science education, as well as how to become excessively rich using the tools of science to change the world.
Rank #8: Neil deGrasse Tyson - Space Chronicles
Host: Chris Mooney
This week, Point of Inquiry is thrilled to welcome back one of our most popular guests: Neil deGrasse Tyson, the famed astrophysicist and Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
Last time we had him on, Dr. Tyson engaged in a wide ranging discussion about science communication and the place of science in America.
This time, we focus in on his new book—Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier—and his call for revitalizing NASA and letting it play a central role in reconnecting America and science.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's most pre-eminent science communicator. In addition to his work at the Hayden Planetarium and his books and television appearances, he is also the host of Star Talk Radio.
Rank #9: Daniel Dennett - Tools for Thinking
Host: Indre Viskontas
Having spent 50 years as an influential thinker, Daniel Dennett has earned the right to tell us how to think. His latest book is a collection of 77 tools for thinking, which every self-respecting critical thinker should consider, if not actively use.
American philosopher and author Daniel C. Dennett is perhaps best known in cognitive science for his multiple drafts (or "fame in the brain") model of human consciousness and he is among the most influential philosophers of our day. He is the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, and the author of 16 books including Elbow Room; The Intentional Stance; Consciousness Explained; Darwin's Dangerous Idea and most recently, Intuition Pumps and other Tools for Thinking. Prof Dennett has also published more than 300 scholarly articles and was awarded the Erasmus Prize for his contributions to society in 2012.
Rank #10: David Niose - Nonbeliever Nation
Host: Chris Mooney
Can people who care about secularism take America back from the religious right?
Of all the questions that concern us on this show, this is perhaps the most important, the most central, of all.
And David Niose has an answer to it. Simply put, he thinks we can.
In his new book, Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans, Niose outlines the damage the religious right has done, and how the growing forces of secularity stand poised to finally effectively counter them.
Central to the strategy? Embracing the atheist, or at any rate, the secular identity, and wearing it proudly on one's sleeve.
David Niose is an attorney and president of the Washington-based American Humanist Association. He has appeared widely in national and international media advocating for secularism and humanism, and serves as vice president of the Secular Coalition for America.
Rank #11: Jonathan Haidt - The Righteous Mind
Host: Chris Mooney
Why is it that some of us are religious, some of us not... some of us liberal, some of us not?
If you've been paying attention, then by now you might have noticed that this doesn't really have a lot to do with the intellectual validity of religious, or irreligious, or liberal, or conservative ideas.
So what causes it? And why can't we all get along?
To get at this, Point of Inquiry invited on a scholar and thinker who has become famous for his scientific approach to this question—Jonathan Haidt, author of the new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Jonathan Haidt is a professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia, and a visiting professor of business ethics at the NYU-Stern School of Business. Haidt's research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, and how morality varies across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, and he and his collaborators conduct research at the website YourMorals.org.
Rank #12: Oliver Sacks - Hallucinations
Host: Indre Viskotnas
Despite our individual differences, highlighted especially during an election, much of what we see, hear, smell or feel is shareable: that is, when standing in front of an object, we can more or less agree that it has a particular color, shape, texture, size and so on. But what if I tell you that I see an object clearly which you do not? Or hear a voice that doesn't have a physical source? Now we enter the world of hallucinations.
Hallucinations, or perceptions of objects without an external reality, are not confined to the minds of people with schizophrenia or those who take hallucinogenic drugs. In many cultures, visions are considered a privileged state of consciousness; the trait of a special person chosen by some supernatural force to pass along an important message. But in our western worldview, hallucinations are often associated with a malfunctioning brain. What causes the startling, unbidden perception of something that seems very real, but has no material existence outside of our own minds?
With reference to his own mind-altering experiences, the 'poet-laureate of medicine', Dr. Oliver Sacks, takes us through the looking glass and into the fascinating world of hallucinations.
Oliver Sacks, M.D. is a physician, a best-selling author, and a professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine.
He is best known for his collections of neurological case histories, including The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (1985), Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (2007) and The Mind's Eye (2010). Awakenings (1973), his book about a group of patients who had survived the great encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the early twentieth century, inspired the 1990 Academy Award-nominated feature film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.
Dr. Sacks is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His new book, Hallucinations (2012), has just been released.
Rank #13: Chris Hayes - Twilight of the Elites
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC's Up With Chris Hayes and editor at large of The Nation.
Hayes has come out with a much anticipated new book that makes a surprising argument. It's called Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, and in it, he attributes the stunning loss of trust in American institutions to, well, the system by which we chose who runs them.
That system is a meritocracy—and it's supposed to be a fair one in which people get ahead or fall behind based on their own inherent abilities. But in reality, Hayes says, inequality in, inequality out.
It's an intriguing and unexpected thesis, and after reading it, we wanted to ask Hayes about what this means for science in particular—which is, after all, a meritocracy. We also wanted to ask Hayes why people at the top of the totem pole—supposedly so smart, supposedly so well-trained and cultured—are in fact so poor at reasoning about those below them.
Rank #14: D.M. Murdock - The Christ Conspiracy
Host: Robert Price
D.M. Murdock, who also goes by the pen name "Acharya S.," is the author of The Christ Conspiracy, the most controversial of modern treatments of the Christ Myth theory. She has had to field flack from both apologists and atheists.
An independent scholar of comparative religion and mythology, Murdock was educated in Classics and Greek Civilization, at Franklin & Marshall College and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece. She has traveled extensively around Greece, participating in the archaeological excavation at Corinth, in addition, probably, to eating loads of squid.
Her other books include Suns of God, Who Was Jesus? and Christ in Egypt. Her articles and books can be found at her websites TruthBeKnown.com, StellarHousePublishing.com and FreethoughtNation.com. Point of Inquiry is happy to feature an interview with Acharya by fellow Jesus Mythicist Robert M. Price (assuming, of course, that both of them exist!).
Rank #15: Daniel Dennett: The Magic of Consciousness…Without the Magic
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.
Rank #16: Julia Sweeney on Atheism, Saturday Night Live, and Me Too
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.
Rank #17: Peter Montgomery - 12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics
Host: Chris Mooney
Our guest this week is Peter Montgomery, senior fellow with People for the American Way and author of a new report entitled Twelve Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics, released last week with a new introduction by Bill Moyers.
Point of Inquiry invited Montgomery on the show to discuss these very useful rules of the road, but also to ask a key question: Will the religious right ever consent to follow them?
Peter Montgomery oversees the People For the American Way Foundation's research and writing on the Religious Right. Before joining the group in 1994, he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause, and also wrote and edited for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.
Rank #18: Islam, Paris, and Polarization - with Michael Brooks
After the Paris attacks, tensions are running higher than they have in many years over the threat posed by Islamism, how we should talk about it, and how policy should respond to it. One of our most difficult cultural challenges is distinguishing the acts of violent Islamists from public attitudes towards Muslims in general, and specifically how heated and often ugly rhetoric impacts how we confront the massive refugee crisis.
To discuss this thorny and emotionally charged issue, Josh Zepps talks with Michael Brooks, contributor for the award-winning daily political talk show, The Majority Report. It is a lively discussion of a highly polarized issue, revealing just how complicated and nuanced Islam’s role in these crises truly is.
Rank #19: Trying to Throw Science at Them: Yvette d'Entremont and Kavin Senapathy on Food, Fads, and Fear
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.
Rank #20: Dan Ariely - The Honest Truth about Dishonesty
Host: Indre Viskontas
There is no doubt that our world is populated with cheats and liars. Most of us, slaves to the availability heuristic, think of major cheaters like Bernie Madoff, Tiger Woods, and Barry Bonds as inflicting the most damage onto society. But just how honest are we, with others and with ourselves? The surprising finding from several studies conducted by Dan Ariely and his collaborators is that we all cheat. What's worse, the consequences of these little everyday deceptions can sometimes far outweigh the ill effects of even the biggest lies. Following up on his previous books demonstrating our irrationality, this week on Point of Inquiry Dan walks us through his account of the irrational forces that determine whether or not we behave ethically.
Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, with appointments at the Fuqua School of Business, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Department of Economics, and the School of Medicine. Dan earned one PhD in cognitive psychology and another PhD in business administration. He is the founder and director of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. His work has been featured in many outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and others. His two previous New York Times best-selling books are Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality.