“The View” is a discussion show, run by a changing group of women, that’s been going for 25 years. They invited John McWhorter on to discuss his new book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed America, and I read that there was some “friction” between McWhorter and the regular hosts. I managed to find two clips on YouTube, and here they are.
In this first clip, McWhorter explains the “third wave” of anti-racism (i.e., “woke anti-racism”) and why he thinks it’s ineffectual. The only pushback he gets is a confused question about whether, if McWhorter thinks that “woke anti-racism is a religion”, then is racism itself a religion? But the friction that supposedly occurred isn’t really in this clip. I think it dealt mainly with McWhorter calling anti-racism of the woke stripe a “religion”, which angers both the Woke and the religious.
Here McWhorter is asked about his supposed contention that the extreme right—the Capitol stormers—”don’t have real power.” This seems to be an accusation (one with which i’m deeply familiar), that you shouldn’t spend time calling out the Left when the Right can do so much more damage. I think I’ve answered this repeatedly, and needn’t do so here, but McWhorter’s answer is Luther’s “Here I stand; I can do no other.” Whoopi Goldberg seems to accuse McWhorter of denying the very existence of racism, or at least how serious racism is. McWhorter doesn’t deny racism, but he’s not given a chance to explain his fix before the segment ends.
I usually get bored listening to one person talk for an hour on video, but I found this interview of John McWhorter by Reason (a libertarian site) absorbing and thought-provoking. If you listen to the whole 65-minute interview, you’ll hear pretty much the entire panoply of McWhorter’s views on race, which are also in his new book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. I’ve listened to the whole video, but haven’t yet read McWhorter’s book (much of its draft, however, used to be on his Substack site).
I’m heartened that McWhorter describes himseslf as a “Sixties-style liberal”, which is how I see myself, too. He’s certainly not an “alt-righter” or conservative, but he’s often characterized that way as he doesn’t buy into the standard “progressive” Left views on racism.
Part of the YouTube notes:
That’s New York Times columnist and Columbia University linguist John McWhorter talking about his best-selling new book Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. He argues that the ideas of Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi, and The 1619 Project undermine the success of black people by sharpening racial divides and distracting from actual obstacles to real progress.
His shortlist for what would most help black America? “There should be no war on drugs; society should get behind teaching everybody to read the right way; and we should make solid vocational training as easy to obtain as a college education.”
Reason’s Nick Gillespie spoke with the 56-year-old McWhorter about what white people get out of cooperating with an ideological agenda that casts them as devils, what black people gain by “performing” victimhood, and what needs to change so that all Americans can get on with creating a more perfect union.
Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s 72-minute “Dishcast” conversation with Steve Pinker, who’s doing a lot of events related to his latest book on rationality. The video was advertised in an email to Sullivan’s subscribers, so it hasn’t yet gotten many views. Here are the YouTube notes:
Pinker’s new book is Rationality. It’s like taking a Harvard course on the tricks our minds play on us. We had a blast — and I pressed him on several points.
. . . If you’d [like to] watch the whole episode in living color — and see the most famous hair in academia — we videotaped the remote convo in the Dishcast studio. It even has the view from Pinker’s window in the background.
I don’t have the book yet, so I don’t know what Steve’s definition of “rationality” is, nor is it discussed very much in the video, so I’ll give the Oxford English Dictionary‘s definition of “rationality” and “reason” that seem to comport with this discussion:
I would amend the “reason” definition to add “and apprehension of truth” to “The power of the mind to think and form valid judgements by a process of logic.”
This is an excellent discussion between two smart people, one of whom (Sullivan) has a strong belief in the irrational tenets of religion (he admits they’re irrational), while Pinker is an atheistic rationalist. About 25 minutes in, this leads to a discussion that is conducted with such civility that you can almost miss it: “Can religion be rational?” Otherwise, the tenor and content of the discussion is at a very high level, and Sullivan does a terrific job of bringing out Steve’s ideas while challenging some of them.
Notice the big picture of Darwin behind Sullivan.
Some of the issues and questions covered:
Are we the only animals who are rational?
What might have been the selection pressures that gave rise to the evolution of rationality?
If we’re rational, why do so many people believe in paranormal phenomena, superstitions, and so on? Why do so many people reject vaccination when it seems the rational thing to do?
Re the above: how can rationality result in religious belief?
Since there are mathematical realists who believe that the structure of mathematics is “out there” somewhere, and that mathematical truths are in existence but waiting to be discovered, Sullivan wants to know if you can apply that same logic to God. (Pinker’s answer is “no”, but is very politely delivered.)
What does Pinker see as the most pervasive and problematic forms of irrationality in modern society? (#1: The “my side” bias.)
Can rational beliefs or action on the part of individual be irrational for their society?
Sullivan, speaking as a gay man, asks Pinker how to approach raising questions that could harm his community (i.e., the idea that homosexuality is produced by the behavior of one’s mother). Pinker raises two possibilities using the example of his own background, which is Jewish. (Pinker, by the way, mentions that his next book will involve the use of euphemisms, “genteel hypocrisy,” tact and taboo in producing a better society.)
A Kendi-inspired question: Is it rational to call people racists when they have no racist beliefs or intentions, but commit an act that some people see as racist (or, as Kendi might say, are not actively antiracist)? In other words, does intent matter?
Is it rational to ignore or oppose nuclear energy when it may be an important cure for global warming?
Why do iconic events like 9/11 or the murder of George Floyd lead to some irrational reactions?
How does Pinker maintain his composure in the face of continual attacks from the Left?
This will surely be taken down very soon (only clips of Maher’s shows can be shown), so I’m putting it up without having watched it. It’s Bill Maher’s entire show from last night. The interview with Pinker, discussing his new book Rationality, starts at 8:05 and ends at 18:26. (Note that he’s wearing his custom caiman cowboy boots.)
The panel includes reporter Robert Costa and musician Michael Render. Maher’s final solo comedy segment starts at 43:55.
UPDATE: As expected, the video of the whole show has been taken down. If a clip appears with the interview, I’ll post it here.
Yesterday we discussed the Guardian’s “long read” on the life of Steve Pinker and his new book, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why it Matters, which came out two days ago. We can expect a passel of publicity surrounding this book, including reviews, critiques, and interviews with Steve. I’m not going to highlight them all, of course, but the piece below, published in Quillette, is of interest because it’s an actual excerpt from the book and gives you a sense of its theme as well as its style. If you’re contemplating buying the book—which at 428 pages is a mere pamphlet compared to his bigger “doorstop” books—you’ll want to read it.
I for one thought the excerpt (probably the beginning of the book) was very good, though of course I’m biased. But I think anybody with a sense of prose has to admit that the writing is clear, succinct, and engaging, larded with Steve’s usual references to popular culture. Click on the screenshot to read for free.
One of his main points, which he’s alluded to before, is that we cannot justify using reason from some kind of theory or first principle. (The same goes for the toolkit of procedures we call “the scientific method”, which of course stems from reason.) We use reason mainly because it works in helping us find the truth, and that is justification enough. Here’s his definition of reason, which he sees as closely aligned with but not identical to “logic”. There is also no alternative to reason if you want to have a productive discourse.
My own position on rationality is “I’m for it.” Though I cannot argue that reason is dope, phat, chill, fly, sick, or da bomb, and strictly speaking I cannot even justify or rationalize reason, I will defend the message on the mosaic: we ought to follow reason.
To begin at the beginning: what is rationality? As with most words in common usage, no definition can stipulate its meaning exactly, and the dictionary just leads us in a circle: most define rational as “having reason,” but reason itself comes from the Latin ration-, often defined as “reason.”
A definition that is more or less faithful to the way the word is used is “the ability to use knowledge to attain goals.” Knowledge in turn is standardly defined as “justified true belief.” We would not credit someone with being rational if they acted on beliefs that were known to be false, such as looking for their keys in a place they knew the keys could not be, or if those beliefs could not be justified—if they came, say, from a drug-induced vision or a hallucinated voice rather than observation of the world or inference from some other true belief.
. . . With this definition the case for rationality seems all too obvious: do you want things or don’t you? If you do, rationality is what allows you to get them.
Steve also makes the case that even people who are irrational, like anti-vaxers with no good reasons or conspiracy theorists, are not always irrational (see interview below). The same is true of postmodernists who deny the existence of any real “truth” that isn’t just a narrative designed to buttress power.
And ultimately even relativists who deny the possibility of objective truth and insist that all claims are merely the narratives of a culture lack the courage of their convictions. The cultural anthropologists or literary scholars who avow that the truths of science are merely the narratives of one culture will still have their child’s infection treated with antibiotics prescribed by a physician rather than a healing song performed by a shaman. And though relativism is often adorned with a moral halo, the moral convictions of relativists depend on a commitment to objective truth. Was slavery a myth? Was the Holocaust just one of many possible narratives? Is climate change a social construction? Or are the suffering and danger that define these events really real—claims that we know are true because of logic and evidence and objective scholarship? Now relativists stop being so relative.
There’s a lot more to digest in the piece, so I’ll give just one more bit, where, clearly mindful of the Zeitgeist, he relates reason to social justice and takes a lick at universities that, by trying to suppress free speech, are at the same time denigrating reason, the basis for persuasive speech. These words follow directly after the paragraph above. The bolding is mine:
For the same reason there can be no tradeoff between rationality and social justice or any other moral or political cause. The quest for social justice begins with the belief that certain groups are oppressed and others privileged. These are factual claims and may be mistaken (as advocates of social justice themselves insist in response to the claim that it’s straight white men who are oppressed). We affirm these beliefs because reason and evidence suggest they are true. And the quest in turn is guided by the belief that certain measures are necessary to rectify those injustices. Is leveling the playing field enough? Or have past injustices left some groups at a disadvantage that can only be set right by compensatory policies? Would particular measures merely be feel-good signaling that leaves the oppressed groups no better off? Would they make matters worse? Advocates of social justice need to know the answers to these questions, and reason is the only way we can know anything about anything.
Admittedly, the peculiar nature of the argument for reason always leaves open a loophole. In introducing the case for reason, I wrote, “As long as people are arguing and persuading…,” but that’s a big “as long as.” Rationality rejecters can refuse to play the game. They can say, “I don’t have to justify my beliefs to you. Your demands for arguments and evidence show that you are part of the problem.” Instead of feeling any need to persuade, people who are certain they are correct can impose their beliefs by force. In theocracies and autocracies, authorities censor, imprison, exile, or burn those with the wrong opinions. In democracies the force is less brutish, but people still find means to impose a belief rather than argue for it. Modern universities—oddly enough, given that their mission is to evaluate ideas—have been at the forefront of finding ways to suppress opinions, including disinviting and drowning out speakers, removing controversial teachers from the classroom, revoking offers of jobs and support, expunging contentious articles from archives, and classifying differences of opinion as punishable harassment and discrimination. They respond as Ring Lardner recalled his father doing when the writer was a boy: “‘Shut up,’ he explained.”
I’ll be reading it soon (I get a free copy as a sort of “books for boots” reciprocity). If the words above intrigue you, I think you’ll want to read Rationality too, even if you dislike Pinker. The prose alone is worth the price.
Second, there’s an interview with Steve at Smashing Interviews Magazine (click on screenshot):
This deals with the topic broached in the title, and has a few provocative quotes. I’ll give just two. Here he’s talking about tribalism as an impediment to reason:
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Leaders of these “sides” are influencers as well. Doesn’t that compound the problem?
Steven Pinker: It does indeed. Whether the subject is vaccines or treatments or climate change, spokespeople should be chosen that are trusted by different political constituencies. So the best way of getting people to appreciate climate change is not to parade a bunch of leftists or Democratic Party spokespeople out there to tell people why they should act on climate change but find people who are libertarians or from the right.
Likewise, the best thing that could’ve happened for vaccines would have been if the press said, “Yeah. Donald Trump helped get vaccines developed and circulated quickly. So let’s give him credit for that, and everyone can take the Trump vaccine.” A lot of them would’ve rather died than said that, but it may have been more effective in getting the political right to be on board with the vaccines since so much is driven by tribalism.
and, related to that:
Smashing Interviews Magazine: In the book, you said, “We should care about people’s virtues when considering them as friends but not when considering the ideas they voice.” So we should try and separate the idiotic ideas from our friend who has high moral standards? I’m wondering how to do that (laughs).
Steven Pinker: (laughs) With friends, we’ve got to sometimes tell white lies and polite hypocrisies. But when it comes to evaluating public figures, what’s the best way to run a democracy, what’s scientifically true or false, then, yeah, we’ve got to forget who’s a nice guy and who’s a scoundrel and evaluate if what they’re saying is true or false, beneficial or harmful.
Here’s an obvious example. Thomas Jefferson was, in many ways, a despicable human being. On the other hand, he had some great ideas such as democracy. Conversely, an even more extreme example is that scientists who discovered smoking was harmful and could cause cancer were the Nazi scientists. For years, the tobacco companies said, “Oh, you can’t believe that smoking causes cancer. That’s Nazi science. Are you going to believe what the Nazis say?” Now, that was convenient for the tobacco companies, but it’s irrelevant to the question of whether smoking really does cause cancer. We did make a big mistake by discounting scientific facts because of where they came from. There is something called genetic fallacy that has nothing to do with genes or DNA. It’s an old term referring to the genesis or origin of an idea, how it was generated.
This reminds me of some readers who won’t read a post I write if the source is from the Right, and tend to discount everything from such a source.
At the end of this interview is a long disquisition by Pinker on what he thinks we need to do to “bring more people over to the rational side.” I’ll let you read that for yourselves. Enjoy; I’m going over to get my booster shot!
All I’m intellectually capable of doing today is summarizing other articles for you. I’d do a lot better with a good night’s sleep.
Anyway, on her Substack site, Bari Weiss interviews Brown University economist and contrarian Glenn Loury. The edited print version is below; I think access is free but you should subscribe if you read often. Click on the screenshot below to read the interview.
You can also hear the complete 1 hour, 42 minute video here, though I’m not sure you can hear it if you don’t subscribe. I haven’t yet listened to it.
Weiss, who also bucks the tide of wokeness, is a big admirer of Loury, who at one point—though he’s no longer religious—says that religion saved him from addiction problems.
She begins by pointing out a 1984 essay Loury wrote for The New Republic, “A new American dilemma” (see a pdf here), which partly blamed black poverty on black culture itself. When he read excerpts from that essay (which I haven’t read) at a meeting of civil rights leaders, it apparently made Coretta Scott King weep:
BW: Did it feel like you were saying something out loud and in public that many people you knew and probably many people you grew up with believed, but it just wasn’t allowed to be said out loud at a place like Harvard?
GL: I don’t want to get too partisan about it, but I just want to say I don’t think the people around that table who led those organizations were like: “Yeah, I agree with you. That’s the problem. But we can’t say it that way.” I think they were more like: “That’s not how we talk. That’s reactionary talk that gives aid and comfort to the enemy. We expected better of you than that.” That’s why I think Mrs. King was weeping. At the end of the day, I was standing right next to her. We’re only about 20 people in the room. And I’m standing up extemporaneously giving a 20 or 30 minute exposition. And I looked down and there are tears rolling down her cheek. And I think it was a disappointment. You know, I am this wunderkind, I’m 34 years old and I’m a tenured professor of economics at Harvard. I have all that cache. And there I am. That’s my message. That’s what I have to say.
Loury’s criticism of wokeness and his emphasis on education as a way of black empowerment, without lowering standards, resembles that of his friend John McWhorter (they often have discussions on Bloggingheads.tv). Also similar is Loury’s analogizing wokeness to a religion.
BW: I’d like for you to get specific. [About the decline in academic standards Loury perceives in American education]
GL: The diversity thing is going to be one of the things that I’m going to say. The hostility to American interest in the world is another thing that I could point to. The impatience with the fact that when you transform moral judgments about things like gender identity overnight in a country of 330 million people, where everybody is not going to be on the same page at the same time, and the way you decide to talk about that from some lofty, supercilious, self-righteous, sanctimonious moral posture and to condemn the people who are holding their bibles or holding on to their traditions as if they were know-nothings. That smugness infects the university. But I think the diversity thing is related to the standards thing.
Loury has some harsh things to say about newly appointed MacArthur genius grant recipient Ibram Kendi, but we’ll skip that to where Weiss asks Loury to envision a way for black lives to improve that differs from the program of Black Lives Matter (a movement Loury also disses pretty strongly)
BW: And yet corporations and the entire elite establishment has taken up the cause of Black Lives Matter. And the cynic in me would say it’s just about the cheapest and easiest thing that they could possibly do.
GL: Nothing that Black Lives Matter is about has any intersection with the things that actually matter in black lives. What about education? The gap in the cognitive development of the human potential of African-American youngsters relative to others in this country widens. It’s a yawning chasm.
BW: Glenn, if one really cared about black lives and wanted to insist on a movement that actually fulfilled the promise of black lives mattering, what would be the top three priorities of that movement?
GL: I think self-determination and taking responsibility for our lives. I’d say education. I’m sorry this is partisan, but the public-school unions are poorly serving, on the whole, the places where black students congregate and the intellectual needs of those students. Now, there are other people to be faulted as well. But opening up that system to innovation is absolutely imperative to improving the quality of black life in this country.
And the public safety piece of this narrative, that the police are out to get black people, this contempt for law, the lawlessness of the George Floyd protests, the celebration of that lawlessness, the silence in the face of it. Patriotism. And by that I don’t mean blind loyalty to a flag salute, I mean seeing yourself as an integral part of the American project. This is our country. We don’t stand off from it. There is no United Nations where black claims will be negotiated. We must make our peace with our fellow citizens. That has corollaries: two national anthems is a terrible idea, reparations for slavery is a mistake. It wrongly places the nature of the moral problem. It creates these parties as between which a negotiation and a deal is being cut. There are not two parties here. There’s only one party.
And then he makes a statement which I see as largely true but is rejected by much of the left: that race relations in America have improved markedly in the last eighty years. Of course we have a long way to go—the inequalities in education, wealth, and housing are glaringly obvious—but I suppose I’m also Pinkerian in also emphasizing the progress, as Loury does here, with an interesting take:
I could go down the litany of evidence to the effect that the race-relations situation in America in the 21st century is completely and radically different and improved relative to what it was in the mid 20th century. And I think we have to begin to entertain a possibility, which is that the actual success of American history, the fact that we overcame the warts, is the problem. Because the fact of that success in the face of the continuing failure of a large chunk of black society to get on the escalator of opportunity, which defines this country, is just too much cognitive dissonance for a lot of people to grapple with. It’s the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. It’s the fact that black women are the mayors of a half dozen big cities that I could name. It’s the fact that there are black billionaires. That Oprah Winfrey is Oprah Winfrey and that LeBron James is LeBron James. It’s the fact that every corporate office has an Ibram X. Kendi-loving executive running it. These are the realities of America. Now, in the face of that, you still got jails overflowing with black people. You’ve still got massive poverty and disparity. People do not know the goal in the 21st century with those facts. So they end up, like infants, throwing tantrums in the corner.
The first thing I have to say is that Richard Dawkins has stolen my signature garment: Hawaiian shirts. Why couldn’t he stick with the hand-painted biology ties he used to wear?
That aside, Richard has just been interviewed by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, co-presidents of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). It will be on some television stations today. The details are on their website, telling you which stations will be broadcasting it, and when, but since it’s already been posted on YouTube, you needn’t bother; just watch it here. It’s 28 minutes long.
Here are some of the questions they ask Richard (dressed in a Hawaiian shirt):
Why should we be proud to be atheists? Why is science superior to religion?
Why are terms “A Catholic child” and “Muslim child” (and so on) offensive?
Why is Richard somewhat offended by the ubiquity of the term “meme,” which he coined.
Why is science denialism so strong in the U.S.?
There are two ads for the FFRF at 13:27: a new version of Ron Reagan’s “not afraid of burning in hell” ad as well as a statement from a young woman, Gabrielle Hanahara.
Unlike the last one, this one has “everything to do with books”. Pieces include his forewords to books, book reviews, essays about books, and with people like Pinker, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Christopher Hitchens. (The audiobook version has the whole interview with Hitchens, recorded with an iPHone at dinner.
At the end, Richard, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, discusses his newest book that will come out in October, Flights of Fancy, about flying in animals and humans. They wind up with a discussion of The Clergy Project, a refuge and community of support for pastors who have lost their faith, and a project set up by the Richard Dawkins foundation.
A few weeks ago I recorded a 50-minute interview with Iona Italia on her “Two for Tea” podcast. Iona, who replaced Helen Pluckrose as host, has interviewed a number of people you’ve hard of, including Richard Dawkins, Andrew “Titania” Doyle, Jesse Singal, Katie Herzog, Tom Chivers, and Greg Lukianoff.
You can listen to the first half of my interview for free, but the rest requires that you subscribe to the channel on Patreon (there are 35 subscriptions left at only $1 per month!). I’ve listened to the first 25 minutes, which you can access by clicking on the screenshot below and then clicking “play episode”.
The first part is about evolution and my book Why Evolution is True; here are the timestamps on the site which tell you what comes later:
3:30 Why Jerry wrote Why Evolution Is True
5:45 Public misperceptions of evolution
8:52 Evolution as a tinkerer: the example of hernias
11:08 Turtles, rhinos and tradeoffs
14:38 How mutation works
16:33 How speciation works (with an excerpt from Why Evolution Is True)
23:46 What people (including Darwin) misunderstand about speciation
28:38 Faith vs. Fact: why evolutionary biology has become the main political battleground of religion vs. science
33:42 A creationist road trip.
36:36 Scientists allying with religious groups. The work of the Templeton Foundation.
42:08 Belief in belief.
46:36 The biggest threats to rationality other than religion.
47:10 The argument from evil; rejection of vaccines
49:59 A reading from Evolution Is True
Here’s another in Helen Pluckrose’s series of interviews with humanists and rationalists, presumably intended to bring attention to her new site Counterweight, part of whose mission is to defend those unjustly accused or mobbed. This interview is 17 minutes long and Sam is, as usual, extremely eloquent. The guy speaks in publishable paragraphs.
You should listen to it; it will hearten you.
The discussion begins with free speech, which Sam defends along John Stuart Mill-ian lines: as a general principle, not just as adherence to the First Amendment. Free and untrammeled speech is, he says (as did Mill), the only way we have of winnowing truth from falsehood, though sometimes it can’t do the job.
Here are a few of Sam’s quotes I’ve transcribed from the interview.
“Apparently we now have a generation of people who think that their capacity for outrage, their capacity to feel offended, is itself evidence for the rightness or wrongness of any given principle or idea or a set of values. The “Ick Factor” is ruling our epistemology now, and it’s getting so finely calibrated that we terms like ‘microaggressions’ and ‘speech is violence’ and this reconception of harm that has made everyone as thin-skinned as they can possibly be, and as performative as they could possibly be. . . “
On the effect of social-justice “mobs” in quashing speech:
“Grownups should be able to talk about more or less everything with a cool head and not endlessly castigate one another for merely thinking out loud.”
“One of the things that’s so pernicious about this silencing effect is that it creates an illusion of consensus where you have the most voluble and hysterical activists taking up most of the oxygen and successfully cowing other people into silence for fear of the reputational damage that awaits them if they open their big mouths on any number of topics, race being only one.”
He further discusses the “asymmetric advantage” of woke activists: it’s far more costly to be accused of being racist and transphobic acts or statements than to say the sensible things that “run counter to this moral panic.”
At 9:34 the discussion gets into race. Sam of course admits the existence of racism, but argues that our goal should be to eventually make skin color equivalent to hair color: a trait that nobody cares about and that needn’t be the object of “equity.” That day, I suspect, will be a long time coming.
Finally, there’s this quote:
“Racism exists in some places, but doesn’t exist everywhere, and it is being claimed to exist everywhere and is being found everywhere in what is clearly a mass hallucination. And this hallucination is being defended by people who are highly incentivized to defend it; and the level of dishonesty and callousness that surrounds this whole enterprise is just appalling. Genuinely good people, who everybody knows are not racist or sexist or transphobic, are being sacrificed to this new religion.”
In the end, he holds out the possibility that lawsuits against companies or institutions may be powerful ways to put the kibosh on the “mass hallucination” of the new religion.
After hearing this talk, I keep wondering why Sam is so demonized by a certain segment of the Left. Yes, I think he was wrong about objective morality, but he’s eminently sensible and surely does more good than harm. Yet he, and that other paragon of eloquence, Steve Pinker, are among the most demonized members of the anti-woke Left. Perhaps it’s just because they are anti-Woke, and won’t truckle to the mob.
This morning I was interviewed by Iona Italia on her “Two for Tea” podcast, designed to enlighten listeners as well as to support Areo Magazine, of which Iona is Editor-in-Chief. The podcast has featured guests with expertise on science, religion, humanism, philosophy, freedom of speech, and so on—much like the contents of Areo—and has been running for three years.
My interview should be out in a few weeks, but the last half of it will be for subscribers only. You can become a patron here; the $1/month memberships are sold out, so your minimum contribution is $5 a month, though I’m told that if you’re poor you can get a one-time $1 link. And, at any rate, the first half is free. I’ll post a link when it’s up.
While looking at who’s been interviewed, I saw that the latest episode (second link below), features Richard Dawkins, talking mostly about the themes of his new book on science writing (first link below). It’s Richard’s version of Pinker’s A Sense of Style, I guess, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to say on his philosophy of writing popular science. Some of his books, like The Blind Watchmaker, represent, to me, a near-perfect fusion of lyricism and science. And although I can’t aspire to write anywhere near as well as he, he’s been a role model of both clear and moving science exposition. You can order the book from Amazon by clicking on the link below.
I listened to the free 24 minutes of the podcast, and if you’re already very familiar with Dawkins you may not learn much that is new, but it’s a good way to spend an hour (or half hour) on a lazy Fourth of July. Here are the timestamps for Dawkins podcast, which unfortunately (if you don’t pay) stops right before the “literature and poetry” bit, which I’d much want to hear. I’d also like to know what his favorite book is.
At any rate, if you click on the screenshot below, you’ll go to the page where you can hear the first 24 minutes.
4:24 Why more non-scientists should take pleasure in science writing
6:15 Why it is important for scientists to write clearly
14:43 Continuously updated virtual reality
16:41 The genetic book of the dead
20:17 The extended phenotype
25:12 Literature and poetry
28:06 Misconceptions of the gene’s eye view
33:21 Misinterpretations of evolutionary biology and of Dawkins’ own work in particular
35:56 Defying our genes
36:16 Anti-Darwinian ethics
37:28 Threats to the understanding of science
39:20 Dawkins’ gift for satire
44:37 Dawkins’ own favourite work
While we’re at it, do note your favorite Dawkins book. If you’re into pure science, you might like The Selfish Gene or The Extended Phenotype, while if you favor popular science that’s a bit easier to read, you might like The Blind Watchmaker or Climbing Mount Improbable.