In this week’s episode, I talk with Michael Mann, Nobel Prize-winning climatologist for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We cover a lot of ground. How to talk about climate change to your crazy right-wing climate-denying uncle. “Uncle Hal, sea level is rising. For two reasons. Ice is melting. And water expands when it gets warmer.” If Uncle Hal insists sea level is rising because of all the rocks falling into the ocean, then just give up. We talk about how climate used to be a bipartisan issue, but since Citizens United, the Koch Brothers have threatened to primary any Republican who acknowledges the science. Addressing climate change has become a victim of our tribal politics. The answer right now? Win.
It sounds a lot like two hands clapping, but quieter, because you can only do it by slapping your thumb against a couple of your other fingers and not to hard. This, of course, leaves open another important philosophical question. Is a thumb a finger?
A while back my friend Massimo Pigliucci took Neil deGrasse Tyson to task for, among other things, equating philosophy with asking the question, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” That was a dig, of course, made in the context of suggesting that philosophy had no real utility, and that the real thinking was all about science, not philosophy. This seems to be a difficulty NdGT has, this thing with philosophy. I believe that when Neil was a child, in the crib, a philosopher came along and scared him. He does not remember this event, but ever since then, he’s had this idea that philosophy is a bad thing, a worthless enterprise. (Until recently, anyway, see below.)
And that would be of little consequence were it not for the fact that approximately 23.41% of people who are not scientists (or philosophers) who also love science believe whatever Neil deGrasse Tyson says. Much of what he says is, of course, wonderful and insightful and even inspiring. But, he is not always correct, and he is sometimes abysmally wrong. For example, when he says that GMO agriculture is exactly the same as traditional agriculture because we’ve been manipulating genes for thousand of years, he belies a misunderstanding of genes, plants, history, and GMO technology. We have been manipulating traits for thousands of years, not genes, and GMO technology allows us to move genes between organisms that we can not interbreed in the agricultural setting, thus providing potential opportunities heretofore unimagined. Equating GMO technology to prior traditional agriculture, in asking what can come of it, is like equating space travel to horse and buggy travel. Yes, there is a link, no, they are not the same.
By the way, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” is not a question of philosophy. It is a K?an. A K?an is a question or statement posed as part of Zen practice designed to challenge a student or to represent a salient belief. Many are references to well known stories. Collectively they form the basis for meditation. They may be other things. I’m not an expert on that. What they are not, however, is philosophy.
A Zen K?an is a touchstone to Zen thought and belief. A philosophical question is one engendering enquiry about meaning, value, knowledge, reality, etc. but typically one that is not subject to direct scientific interrogation.
It is quite possible for a question or subject to shift between the scientific and philosophical realm (though not always retaining relevance). For example, the question “what am I really seeing when I look at something” was addressed by early philosophers such as Plato, and later became a matter of scientific inquiry. The founder of Anthropology, Franz Boas started out as a physical scientist looking into an aspect of this question (with sea water) but there were all these interesting Indians around and he shifted focus. Eventually physicists got on to explaining what happens when light illuminates something and we see it. Recently, I asked some physicists about the difference between light bouncing, reflecting, off a mirror like surface vs. any other sort of object, and I’m pretty sure we ran into the philosophical realm when the question came up, “is a photon that reflects the same photon after reflection?” It turns out that physicists can’t agree and/or don’t know, and then they seem to get a little embarrassed, then they claim it is a philosophical question. Probably not a very interesting one.
Philosophers may ask about meaning. A behavioral neurobiologist may also explore meaning, and actually pin down what meaning is physically without having a clue what meaning actually means. Meanwhile, a semiotician may come to understand meaning as a process and even a non-physical entity that can be measured and described, which makes that meaning not very philosophical because it is being directly observed scientifically, but a semiotician is a kind of philosopher, usually, and they don’t give up on their subject matters so easily. The field of “linguistics” sits astride philosophy and science in such as way that we, fortunately, don’t have to ask if a given question is philosophical or scientific so often. One might ask if the determination of a question being philosophical vs. scientific is itself a philosophical or scientific question. I’m pretty sure, though, if you do that, you’ve got a Zen K?an on your hands!
Anyway, this topic got Mike Haubrich and me thinking, a while back, that it would be a good idea to scientifically address philosophy, or get into some of the philosophy of science, to amplify Massimo Pigliucci’s comment born of his critique of NdGT:
I hope you can see, dear Neil, that it isn’t just that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, but also that there is more active, vigorous, interesting, and intellectually respectable philosophy to be explored than you and some of your colleagues have been able to dream of so far. Please, keep that in mind the next time someone asks you about it. Or ask them to give me a call.
To which Neil replied:
“I generally reply to things if, and only if, they are writing about something that I judge to be untrue about me, or that they have misunderstood about what I have said. Neither is the case with you.”
How very Zen of everybody.
Anyway, we address and update the question of science and philosophy, and what they may mean to each other, by interviewing philosopher Dan Fincke on Ikonokast. Dan is well known to many of the readers of this blog as an outspoken and active member of the Atheist community, with ties to the science and skeptics community. This is one of those interviews where I ask about three questions and the interviewee gives us a lot of great stuff, well sorted out and well said. You will not want to miss this interview. Check it out!
Ikonokast interviews Don Prothero.
Don Prothero is the author of just over 30 books and a gazillion scientific papers covering a wide range of topics in paleontology and skepticism. Mike Haubrich and I spoke with Don about most of these topics, including the recent history of the skeptics movement, the conflict and potentials between DNA and fossil research, extinctions and impacts, evolution in general, and the interesting projects Don is working on now.
The interview is here. Please click through and give this fascinating conversation a listen!
“As Thanksgiving ebbs into memory and Christmas looms on the horizon, Eat This Podcast concerns itself with the turkey. For a nomenclature nerd, the turkey is a wonderful bird. Why would a bird from America be named after a country on the edge of Asia? The Latin name offers a clue; the American turkey is Meleagris gallopavo, while the African guineafowl is Numida meleagris. But why did the first settlers adopt a name they were already familiar with, rather than adopt a local indigenous name such as nalaaohki pileewa for the native fowl. Simple answer: nobody knows…”
I’ve been a guest or interviewer on Minnesota Atheist Talk radio a number of times. I never talk about atheism because I’m nothing close to an expert on that or related issues (though I do have a chapter in a book about it, here!). And, of course, I’m very involved, professionally, in certain church-state separation issues (like this and this). But on Atheist Talk Radio I mainly engage in either science (lately climate change science but also evolution) or the afore mentioned church-state separation issues vis-a-vis the evolution-creationism “debate.”
Anyway, I’ve been meaning to finally organize the list of Atheist Talk Radio spots I’ve done, and here it is, with links to the podcasts. Sorry if something is missing, but I’m pretty sure I got them all:
Lois Shadewald on Pseudoscience and Greg Laden on Academic Freedom – Atheists Talk #017 May 4, 2008
Wed, 07 Dec 2011 01:51:32 –0700
div class=”itemcontent” name=”decodeable”>Cynthia Egli talks with Lois Shadewald about pseudo science, including perpetual motion machines, and the Flat Earth Society which are mentioned in “Worlds of Their Own.” Greg Laden steps in to talk with Mike Haubrich about legislation which is hoping around the country, proposing “Academic Freedom,” that would require the teaching of Creationism in public schools yeast infection treatment.
Greg Laden on Food and Evolution and John Coy on Box Out – Atheists Talk #032 Aug 17, 2008
Wed, 07 Dec 2011 03:02:26 –0700
Few things connect atheists better then reading and food. This week, Lynn Fellman interviews anthropologist blogger Greg Laden who talks to us about how human food has impacted human evolution. Later, Grant Steves speaks with John Coy on “Box Out.” Coy has written a novel targets to adolescent boys, an audience which has been a long ignored group. It focuses on how schools and sports can marginalize teens who may not fit a stereotype or expectation.
“Celebrating Darwin and Evolution at the Bell Museum” Atheists Talk #056 February 8, 2008
Wed, 07 Dec 2011 04:13:48 –0700
2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th year of this book “On the Origin of Species”. We’re celebrating by talking with Dr. Greg Laden, biological anthropologist, U of M. If you haven’t met Dr. Laden, you can get to know him through his nationally known blog. There you’ll find “Congo Memoirs”, his hilarious, hair raising, in-the-wild adventures while doing REAL science.
Similar to 19th century explorers Darwin and Wallace, Dr. Laden writes about tangling with the wild beasts (pythons), disease (malaria), pirates (real pirates) while deciphering how the world works — we know it as Evolution. One hundred fifty years later some of the issues are the same. Our 21st century scientist, Dr. Laden, will give us new insights into how radical the theory was, what’s new in our understanding of it and what to watch for in the future.
Also, on the first segment of the show is Don Luce, curator of exhibits at the Bell Museum of Natural History. Don will talk about the Darwin Day party on Feb. 12th at the Museum, the multimedia presentations by U of M scientists and the exhibit of Frans Lanting’s photography.
The Difference Between Science And Bunk: Massimo Pigliucci on Atheists Talk #059, March 1, 2009
Wed, 07 Dec 2011 04:19:19 –0700
Greg Laden, who has been a frequent and popular guest on “Atheists Talk,” is an evolutionary anthropologist and professor at the University of Minnesota. On Sunday Greg turns the tables and does the interviewing, talking to Massimo about Ken Miller and the role of God in tweaking the genome at strategic moments; whether or not man is some sort of elevated creature as according to biologists who should know better and the role of pseudoscience in weakening the public understanding of evolution.
NCSE: Genie Scott and Greg Laden on Atheists Talk #68, Sunday May 3, 2009
Wed, 07 Dec 2011 04:32:06 –0700
Greg and Genie will also be discussing the various approaches to religion in promoting and protecting science education. The NCSE is careful to assure religious leaders that science, properly done, is not necessarily dangerous to their faith (unless strict creationism is a cornerstone of their faith.) Many atheist scientists think that this is a dangerous approach because it dilutes science’s naturalistic methodology. They will discuss what the best approach may be, whether it is “New Atheism” or “Friendly Atheism.”
Greg Laden: “Missionaries in Africa” on Atheists Talk #76, Sunday, June 28, 2009
Wed, 07 Dec 2011 05:37:53 –0700
Biological anthropologist Greg Laden joins Stephanie Zvan to talk about his experiences with missionaries in the remotest parts of Africa and answer questions about what missions really offer the indigenous populations. He’ll tell us about the good and the bad and let us know where we need to step up to provide secular help uncomplicated by the religion of the missionaries.
This will be the final live Atheists Talk on the radio and the last podcast for a while, until we get the details of the ongoing podcast worked out. If you’re not attending the Pride Parade with the Minnesota Atheists delegation, please consider joining us at Q.Cumbers after the show to celebrate our long and successful radio run.
“Old Bones and Modern Genetics.” Greg Laden, Lynn Fellman. Atheists Talk #79 August 15, 2010
Posted: Wed, 07 Dec 2011 06:16:49 –0700
Who are these people and can we call them family? Listen to Greg Laden and Lynn Fellman discuss how recent fossil and tool discoveries are changing the shape of our family tree.
A report earlier this week showed evidence for stone tool use at 3.39 million years ago — much earlier than previously thought.
In addition to ancient bones and tools, genetics is filling some of the pre-historic knowledge gaps. For instance, genetic material from 40,000 year old bones show that some of us are one to four percent Neanderthal.
As a biological anthropologist, Greg Laden has insight into how the recent finds are challenging intrenched ideas. He’ll talk about what new trends are changing our understanding of human evolution. Taking us through past and recent discoveries, Greg’s engaging way of thinking critically about the mixing of bones and genes reveal a remarkable and controversial family story.
“Science in the Public Forum” Ira Flatow on Atheists Talk #89, October 24, 2010
Wed, 07 Dec 2011 06:37:56 –0700
Most know Ira Flatow as a science journalist, producer, and as the host of “Science Friday,” broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR) every Friday afternoon. But did you know about his Minnesota connection? He was the original host and writer for the Emmy award winning “Newton’s Apple,” which broadcast from the television studios at KTCA in St. Paul, Minnesota. Science communicators Greg Laden and Lynn Fellman will ask Ira about the major changes in delivering science news and the effectiveness of new media for science education. Science is changing our culture and Ira has insights on the value of communicating science through the humanities.
Ira Flatow is a national science journalist working in multiple media: TV, web, blogger, national speaker and book author, and most widely known as the host of the very popular radio show “Science Friday” which is a major stopping point for science geeks on their weekly rounds.
Greg Laden is a scientist, a science educator, author and Scienceblogs.com blogger focused on biological anthropology, the creation-evolution “debate” and human evolution.
Lynn Fellman is a visual artist who also speaks and writes about the intersection of art and science; most recently at the “Personal Genomes” meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Lab.
“Science and Reason 2011: Future Watch” on Atheists Talk, #98, January 2, 2011
Posted: Wed, 07 Dec 2011 08:37:04 -0700
div class=”itemcontent” name=”decodeable”>As 2010 rolls out, we all hope the future is bright for 2011. Along with hope, there’s always hype. Bringing us a reality check from their areas of expertise are these savvy thinkers:
Greg Laden, bio anthropologist and bogger for Scienceblogs.com, will give his top ten list of science stories for 2010, with commentary on the new field of paleogenomics Maggie Koerth-Baker, science journalist and writer for BoingBoing.net, will talk about the Future of Energy in the US.
Steve Borsch, media trend expert at Connecting the Dots, has insights for a year of accelerating change.
Will Steeger, WillSteeger.com, arctic explorer and eyewitness to the on-going catastrophic consequences of global climate change will tell us the latest observations.
Interviewer Lynn Fellman, FellmanStudio.com, is an artist communicating science through art, and a frequent science interviewer on “Atheist Talk”.
Host Brent Michael Davids, FilmComposer.us, is an award winning composer and creator of the music for the “Atheist Talk”.
“Zebrafish and Dictionary Atheism,” PZ Myers and Greg Laden on Atheists Talk #104, February 20, 2011
Wed, 07 Dec 2011 10:36:18 –0700
PZ Myers is not shy of controversy, as he seems to invoke and generate it at will through his blog, Pharyngula. He writes about atheism, science, politics from a liberal perspective, zebrafish, critical thinking, pirates, sexism and poorly reasoned e-mails. Greg Laden joins PZ for a question and answer session in our studios. Greg generates his own share of controversy at his own blog.
“Science Communication” with Neil deGrasse Tyson on Atheists Talk #110, April 3, 2011
Thu, 08 Dec 2011 02:03:12 –0700
Greg Laden is a frequent guest and interviewer for Atheists Talk. Dr. Laden is a biological anthropologist and lecturer at the University of Minnesota, and will talk to Tyson about science communication, science education and the role of magnetism in astrophysics (which is Tyson’s specialty.)
“I’ll Take Sweden, Ja Ja,” Martin Rundkvist and Yusie Chou on Atheists Talk #111, April 10, 2011
Thu, 08 Dec 2011 05:23:36 –0700
Rundkvist and Chou live and work in Sweden; a culture and a country in which atheism is the norm and the mention of god or Jesus by a politician is frowned upon.
On the show, Dr. Greg Laden and our guests will discuss atheism from this perspective, and contrast what it is like to live in a primarily atheist vs. a primarily theist society.
We will also discuss how atheism and atheists interface with the society in which they are embedded can be very different depending on context. In addition, we can find out if a nation transforming over to atheism actually does experience the doomsday scenario painted by many outspoken American religious leaders. We may also talk a bit about our guests’ reaction to Nordic culture in Minnesota and Swedish archaeology.
Greg Laden is a frequent guest and interviewer on our show. He is a biological anthropologist with field work experience in Africa.
“Skeptically Speaking;” Desiree Schell and Greg Laden on Atheists Talk #118, June 5, 2011
Thu, 08 Dec 2011 06:03:44 –0700
This episode will touch on a broad range of topics, including a preview of what Desiree will be talking about at this year’s Skepchick track at CONvergence.
From I’m a Skeptic mini-bio of Desiree Schell:
"Desiree explores the connections between science and skepticism, and strategies for promoting critical thinking beyond the ranks of current skeptics. She is also known for delving into the slippery social issues surrounding skepticism. Her show has been near the forefront of conversations about gender issues in skepticism, and about “Skepticism 2.0’s” rebirth as a demographically broad social movement. “We really want to spread critical thinking to the broadest possible audience,” Desiree says. “In order to do that, we as skeptics need to discuss ways that we can make our message more inclusive.”
Greg Laden is a frequent guest on Atheists Talk, as well as a frequent interviewer. Greg is an evolutionary anthropologist and blogs at ScienceBlogs.
Skeptically Speaking – http://skepticallyspeaking.ca/
Skeptical Review Interview with Desiree Schell
“Look at All the Crazy Preachers.” Ed Brayton on Atheists Talk #119, June 12, 2011
Thu, 08 Dec 2011 06:18:20 –0700
Freelance writer Ed Brayton, who writes at ScienceBlogs’ Dispatches from the Culture Wars has been following and writing about religion and politics and highlighting the more stupid and insane conservative and fundamentalist preachers, priests, rabbis and imams. He and Greg Laden and I will highlight the funny, and yet scary people who use fear, bigotry religious certainty to attract followers, money and even influence public policy because of their fractured religious beliefs.
Greg Laden is a frequent guest on Atheists Talk, as well as a frequent interviewer. Greg is an evolutionary anthropologist and blogs at ScienceBlogs.
“The Science of Global Warming.” Science v Denialism on Atheists Talk #126, July 31, 2011
Thu, 08 Dec 2011 07:26:27 –0700
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has released new temperature norms based on 30 year historical data. These are the “normals” that meteorologists compare the days’ weather to the mean for any particular day. The temperature norms are higher than they were ten years ago, and ten years ago the norms were higher than those of the prior decade. Denialism has to be very strong in a person in order to pretend that the global climate is not getting warmer. The data accumulate in the air and in the sea, and on land and indicate with very little uncertainty that human activity is the leading cause of global warming. This is the scientific consensus. The seas are showing the effects of warmer water, as the level of carbonic acids absorbed into the water are having a dangerous effect on the biosphere under the waves. Reefs are bleaching.
At a time when solutions need to be discussed in the public, scientists are facing an increasingly shrill level of “debate” and denial from those who claim that they are alarmists who are crying fire in a crowded theater when there is no need to worry. Denialists claim the atmosphere is too big and chaotic for us mere humans to have an effect.
Those of us who are familiar with creationism’s means and methods recognize the tactical similarities between creationism and global warming denialism. Our guests for this show are Dr. John Abraham and Kevin Zelnio.
John Abraham is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering (Heat Transfer and Fluid Mechanics) at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, He responded to a presentation made by Chrisopher Monckton at Bethel University. Monckton is a leading denialist who has many convinced that scientists are lying about global warming, but Abraham showed how this charge is false. http://www.stthomas.edu/engineering/jpabraham/
Kevin Zelnio is a science journalist and blogger at Scientific American Blogs and at Deep Sea News. He has written on the effects of the change in climate on the ocean (and our fisheries,) in addition to far-ranging subjects involving sea invertebrates . Greg Laden and Mike Haubrich will co-host today’s show.
To Catch a Fallen Sea Angel by Kevin Zelnio
Climate-Science Smackdown, Pt 2 , by Casey Selix
Abraham Reply to Monckton by John Abraham
Donald Prothero on Atheists Talk #136, Sunday, October 9, 2011
Wed, 14 Dec 2011 07:17:44 –0700
Don is in town for the Geological Society of America meetings, and has agreed to come by the studio and chat with Greg Laden about dinosaurs, climate change, science denialism and, of course, the psychology of cryptozoology, which is the subject of one of his current writing projects.
Professor Prothero is Professor of Geology at Occidental College and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and the Paleontological Society.
Links of interest:
Donald Prothero – The Psychology of Cryptozoologists on Point of Inquiry – http://www.pointofinquiry.org/donald_prothero_the_psychology_of_cryptozoologists/
Skeptics Guide to the Universe Interview with Don Prothero – http://www.theskepticsguide.org/archive/podcastinfo.aspx?mid=1&pid=268
American Museum of Natural History Podcast – http://www.learnoutloud.com/Results/Author/Donald-R.-Prothero/14195
Don Prothero on the East Coast Earthquake – http://www.wypr.org/category/podcast-keywords/donald-prothero
A short list of some of Donald Prothero’s books:
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters
Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet
After the Dinosaurs: The Age of Mammals (Life of the Past)
The Evolution of Artiodactyls
h4>Shawn Lawrence Otto on Atheists Talk #142, November 20, 2011
Wed, 14 Dec 2011 07:48:54 –0700
Shawn Lawrence Otto has just launched his book, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, a richly documented and well-reasoned analysis of modern science denialism, especially addressing climate change. Shawn notes that scientists are inherently apolitical in their work, but that science itself is always political, and ties this important observation into recent patterns of partisan maneuvering, questionable journalistic ethics even among the upper echelon of the fourth estate, and religious distortion of scientific findings and science-based policy making.
Join us on air for what is guaranteed to be a lively and enlightening conversation, and then join us at Q. Cumbers for brunch. If you bring a copy of Shawn Otto’s book and a pen, you can get it signed!
Shawn Lawrence Otto’s website – http://shawnotto.com/
Activist Blogging, Jennifer McCreight on Atheists Talk #159, Sunday, March 18, 2012
Sun, 18 Mar 2012 17:33:35 –0600
"Atheist blogs are:
always stirring up controversy." mean." strident." an echo chamber." slacktivism."
A lot of things get said about atheist blogging, but most of them aren’t said by atheist bloggers themselves. With Jennifer McCreight in town to speak at the Minnesota Atheists monthly meeting, we take the opportunity to gather together a number of atheist bloggers to talk about what they do, why they do it, what they have accomplished, and what they hope to accomplish in the future. In addition to Jen, we will have Greg Laden, Brianne Bilyeu, and Stephanie Zvan in the studio this Sunday.
Human Evolution: John Hawks on Atheists Talk #164, Sunday, April 22nd, 2012
Sun, 22 Apr 2012 15:49:08 –0600
Most of you know John from his famous Internet site called “John Hawks Weblog: Paleoanthropology, Genetics and Evolution.” John is an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which is one of the better known and respected for this sort of research.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know that there are many interesting and exciting things going on in human origins research these days, and on Sunday morning, on Atheist Talk radio, John and Greg Laden will cover as many of them as they can. Were the Clovis people Solutreans? How many hominids were there in recent prehistory? And what do both ancient and modern DNA studies tell us about the Neanderthal side of the human family?
“Regenesis” George Church on Atheists Talk #194, November 18, 2012
Wed, 28 Nov 2012 18:06:02 –0700
What are they? They are artificially created biological organisms. Authors George Church and Ed Regis, in their new book, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Recreate Nature and Ourselves, tell us they are coming, and they tell us not to be afraid. Wary, perhaps, but not afraid.
Church is a molecular geneticist, who created many of the tools we use for genetic sequencing. He is also the founder of the Personal Genome Project, which looks to sequence the genomes of 100,000 volunteers and place the data in the public domain to facilitate research into the interplay of genetics and environment in determining how we become who we are. This Sunday, he will talk to us about what we may expect from this future in which we have this kind of information and this kind of power.
h4>“Denialism on a Large Scale” Greg Laden on Atheists Talk #214, April 14, 2013
Sun, 14 Apr 2013 17:15:47 –0600
Greg Laden stumbled onto climate denialism through a combination of concern for the environment and studying what climate history can tell us about human evolution. He has documented lies, threats and simple misinformation while working to get good information on climate change out to audiences on his blog and elsewhere. In the process, he’s received legal threats, death threats, and more factually incorrect comments than he can count.
This Sunday, Greg will join us in the studio to help us learn to spot denialism in the wild and to tell us what to expect from climate change denialists in the next few months.
Posted: Tue, 07 Oct 2014 13:46:12 -0600