Phil Plait – Death from the Skies

July 16, 2010

Our guest this week needs no introduction for those in the skeptical and secular world. After all, he has a frakkin’ asteroid named after him.

He’s Phil Plait—science blogger extraordinaire for Discover Blogs, where he authors “Bad Astronomy.” Recently, Plait joined Point of Inquiry for a wide ranging conversation about standing eggs on end, Apollo moon landing deniers, wacky yet endearing Hollywood bad science, something called “spaghettification,” … and the end of the world.

Phil Plait is a skeptic and an astronomer, and former president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. He lectures widely across the country and is the author of two books, most recently Death from the Skies: These Are the Ways the World Will End.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Friday, July 16th, 2010. 

Welcomed the point of inquiry. 

I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grassroots. My guest this week needs no introduction for those in the skeptical and secular world. He has a fracking asteroid named after him. He’s Phil Plait, science blogger extraordinaire for Discover Blogs, where he authors bad astronomy. Recently, I got on the horn with Phil. We had a wide ranging conversation about standing Exxon and Apollo moon landing deniers, wacky, yet endearing Hollywood bad science, something called spaghettification and the end of the world. I really think you’re going to enjoy it. Phil Plait is a skeptic and an astronomer and former president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. He lectures widely across the country and is the author of two books, most recently Death from the Skies. These are the ways the world will end. He also tweets like Mad makes some pretty cool YouTube videos and writes the bad astronomy blog for Discover magazine. 

Phil Plait, welcome the point of inquiry. 

Thanks, Chris. Great to be back on. 

You bet. Well, it wasn’t with me that you were last on, but since you were on, I think it’s fair to say you’re already a significant, if not dominant blogger about science and skepticism, but perhaps even more so now than you were. Then tell us the story of how the bad astronomy blog reached escape velocity. 

Wow. Dominant. That’s that’s a word and a half. Basically, it started like everything else in life. I just sighed. You know, here’s something that’s taking me off. I should write about it. And that was gosh, I was back in 1993 and it was about eg standing on and on the first day of spring, which is an old, you know, kind of silly legend, but people still stick with it. And I. I heard about this on the news. I started writing about it and turn that into a Web site. And then my friend Fraser Kane from Universe today, dot com, which is one of the premier space and astronomy news sites, talked me into a newsletter and more. You updating more often and that sort of thing, and then turned it into a blog. And then the next thing I know, Discover magazine is saying, we would like you to be part of our our our hive overmind, part of our world domination attempt. And I thought, okay, sure. And it’s just been it’s been while, I guess, uphill ever since. Is that right phrase. But it’s just like anything else in life, you just have to sit down and say, oh, I do this now and see where it takes you. Sometimes it works. 

I’m part of the hive overmind too. I guess people know. And we have a happy little hive. You you still work, though. You were more of a scientist. You worked for NASA, you worked on the Hubble. 

What made you sort of change to explaining science to the public? 

It wasn’t a change. I wouldn’t say that I worked on it when I got my P HDI. I’d been working on Hubble observations of a star that had blown up. And I got a job doing essentially the same thing, working on Hubble data, a new camera that they were building and the camera was being built. That had to be understood. You have to know what goes in one end and comes out the other. And so I was hired to help do that. And I was working with a contractor for NASA. And it was it was awesome working on Hubble data, especially after we launched and we’d get all this amazing observational data coming down from Hubble every day. But in the meantime, I was still working on the website, still writing about it, giving talks and things like that. And I just realized that I enjoyed it more. I like talking to people about it, being excited about this stuff versus twelve hours a day of staring at a computer screen trying to figure out why, you know, this pixel here instead of over there, which is basically what my job was. It was it was really I don’t I don’t want to downplay it. I mean, it really was truly amazing to work on that data and all that. But after a while, I realized that doing the research, I was okay at it. I wasn’t, you know, first rate or anything. But doing that research wasn’t as much fun to me, wasn’t it? Wasn’t why I was getting up in the morning. What was what was exciting me was talking to other people about it, getting them excited about it. So the two sort of parallel paths started to diverge. And when I got I started doing more educational work, moved out to California to do that. And basically, by the time I got a contract with a publisher to publish my second book, I realized this is what I wanted to do full time. 

I wanted to write and there are some dividends to that. You have had an asteroid named after you. I understand that. 

Yeah, it’s true. It’s a half mile wide rock out in the middle of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. That was pretty cool. A lot of astronomers do. A lot of people who do public outreach have asteroids named after him. You know, the first the first couple of hundred discovered were named after gods and famous people in history. But then as a. Started discovering tens of thousands of them, they were starting to be named after pets. And Star Trek characters and the Beatles. And now they finally worked their way down to people who blog in their home office and never wear pants. That’s the state of astronomy art now. 

Well, in the field that I write about, you don’t get anything named after you. 

Well, well, you know, they named Hurricane after you. 

Yeah, exactly right. No, but they already have a very, very rigid system for how they name hurricanes, so. Well, that won’t work. But I’ll keep thinking about it. 

I like Hurricane Mooney. I like that. That’s got a good sound. 

No. With last night, there will be Hurricane Kris’s. There have been. There will be so. 

Well, look, I want to let listeners know that fills Phil’s most recent book, Death from the Skies can be acquired through our Web site, Poonam Inquiry. I want to go on the talking about some topics in skepticism that you write about a lot. You are a noted skeptic. You’ve been president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. So one thing you get very worked up about, and I’m with you on this is, is vaccination. And you really hit that one hard. 

Yeah. That’s the one of these funny topics where people I still get e-mail about it, like, really vaccinations. Where are you talking about that? I’m an astronomer. What do I know about vaccines? And the answer is that as a as a scientist, I can look at the data and educate myself. I already have the background in science. So reading the reports, reading the studies isn’t as hard as it could be. I can at least grasp some of the math, some of the when they when they play statistics to the studies. As a skeptic, I understand where nonsense starts rearing its head, where people start to make claims that aren’t true. And as a human being, I could say as a parent, because I do have a daughter. But but just as a human being, seeing medical research, getting twisted, distorted, lied about to the to the detriment of public health. At what point do you finally have to say, I can’t take this anymore, I need to say something? And it was at first it was just a little bit of malarkey on on websites or the radio or whatever about vaccines causing autism or vaccines causing the diseases that they’re supposed to be preventing. But it got worse and worse. And Jenny McCarthy, the comedian and actress, stuck her head into this. And almost everything she says is totally wrong. And there’s it’s just gotten stronger and stronger with Andrew Wakefield, this British doctor, this recently disbarred doctor who basically started the anti vaccination move. And so he’s you know, he’s out there saying that vaccines cause autism. Jenny McCarthy saying the same thing. She’s claiming her kid had autism and she cured of this, which is all. You know, this is all just wrong. And they’re scaring people. We’re seeing preventable diseases like measles and whopping cough and all these other all these other vaccine preventable diseases. They’re coming back. We basically pushed them down into the basement, but now they’re starting to stick their heads back up. Kids are getting sick. There are lifelong ramifications of this, including kids dying. Kids are dying. And this is you can trace this directly or indirectly to the modern anti VAX movement, which is scaring people into not vaccinating their kids. It’s a disaster. 

It’s one of the worst kinds of. We had Michael Specter on the show. One of the worst kinds of denialism. There’s all kinds of the nihilism. And you specialize in certain ones. There’s kinds that are just more, well, less, much less mainstream. Like the people who deny Shakespeare was Shakespeare or something like that. You have have a specialty in the people who claim the Apollo moon landings were host. Tell us tell us about them. 

That one, very happily to me is is basically seen its day in the sun and appears to be shriveling up and dying. The idea that massive faked the moon landings has been around basically since NASA actually did make the moon landings. There were people out there saying, oh, this couldn’t possibly be real because, good heavens, you know, 40 or 50 years before that, we had just been testing out airplanes and now we’re landing on the moon. It seems like it’s too good to be true. But in fact, when you look at the history of rocketry and all that, it makes perfect sense. The deniers. And that would be a polite way of talking about them. At least the vocal ones basically claim that the radiation in space would kill the astronauts. The rocks were faked. The shadows on Obama in the lunar pictures don’t work. All of the stuff they say is basically nonsense. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s easy to show for the most part that they’re wrong and why they’re wrong. But despite that, sometimes because of that, they kept going strong. And I mean because of that, because as soon as they say, oh, that’s just the man trying to keep me down. That guy played is being paid by NASA, the CIA, the NSA. You know, name your three letter secret or. Or whatever the government and claiming that I’m hired to suppress this stuff like, no, I’m not. I’m a big fan of Apollo. I think it’s amazing. And you’re going out there saying stupid things about it. I’m. I’m going to cut you down. That’s the way I work. 

You say that they they’re not having their day in the sun or their day in the sun is over. What drove them? What inspired this strange belief? 

Let me let me backtrack a little bit and say, you know, I just use the word stupid and that’s my job is just railing there. It’s not really Stu, but a lot of these claims actually when you first hear them make sense. You see a picture on the lunar surface and you see the shadows are parallel and you think, wow, they really should be. If the sun is the only source of illumination, what’s going on? And it turns out it’s just perspective. When you stand in a parking lot, the parking lot lines that are painted on the ground, that really parallel either, you know, they are, but it’s just perspective. But if you’re not expecting that, it’s easy for these kind of people to fall. Smart people into, you know, otherwise smart, logical people into thinking what they’re saying is true. So sometimes the motivation is people just buy into it and they they they hear these arguments and think, wow, that makes sense, even though really when you investigate them more thoroughly, realize they don’t. As far as the vocal people out there who are claiming they’re making they’re making YouTube videos, they’re they’re they’re getting interviewed on TV, or at least they used to be back when this thing was a lot more popular. You know, their motivation could be any number of things. Some of them are craving attention. Some of them are getting money. They’re made they’re getting paid for the videos and books that they’re doing. Other people may just simply be honest. People who think that NASA faked these missions and they’re going on. You know, if I found out that NASA was faking the moon landing, I would be yelling it from my rooftop as well. So their motivation may be sincere. 

It’s wrong. And clearly, you know, if I show you exactly why all of the claims you’re making a wrong and yet you’re still saying that NASA faked the moon landings. There’s there’s something else going on here. 

Well, let’s talk about the end of the world. You’ve written a book about this enduringly entitled Death from the Skies. I don’t know where to begin, but I will ask. Maybe it was the scenario in that movie. Knowing with Nicolas Cage is really terrible. Is that even remotely plausible? 

You know what you have asked me about the one movie I have not seen, Nicolas Cage. You know, back in his raising Arizona days when he could do no wrong. That was a long time ago. And then he’s made a series of just awful movies. And I gave up. So I know this movie has something to do with aliens and the destruction of the world and and something. And. And I thought, really? That sounds like a great flick. And then basically 100 people flooded me with e-mail saying that they wouldn’t want to use the the film reel to fill a landfill with that movie. So I never actually saw it. But look, you know, disaster movies are a dime a dozen. There was 2012 last year, which was a true stinker. That movie was awful. And they’re always asteroid impact movies, supernova movies, whatever. There are a million of these things coming out and most of them are grossly inaccurate. 

Well, let’s talk about Hollywood’s end of the world science and its accuracy. I mean, it is fiction. So it’s not going to be fully accurate. Can it still serve some educational role or are these things so radically off base that there’s no hope? 

I certainly feel that the science that Hollywood puts in movies is a two edged sword for you. It’s clearly inaccurate. If you tried to make a movie that had completely accurate space travel in and it would be the most boring movie ever made and that was done. It was called 2001 A Space Odyssey. And you know, that movie is a classic. And scientists always say this is the most accurate scientific movie ever made. And in fact, it’s incredibly boring. It’s long and slow. You know, it’s punctuated with 10 minutes of things happening, but packed into a two hour movie. 

It’s way more. Yeah. Yeah. 

And it’s it’s funny because it is a fantastic movie. It’s a beautiful movie. But compared to the way we’re used to seeing films today, it just seems like it’s just glacially slow. So I don’t I don’t actually have a problem with science being spun, folded and mutilated in movies these days. As long as it’s not too egregious when they hold it up and shake it my face. And that’s when it becomes like, you know, just, you know, you can’t suddenly triple your size. And because of a radiation burst or have a robot become a thousand feet tall when a second ago it was a car because its mass would would have to. Where does its mass go? The mass goes away or it gains mass or something. Does it make any sense? That’s not even that’s not too much of a problem for me. But it just at some point it becomes just kind of dumb. Like in 2012, it didn’t make any sense if they had super neutrinos passing through the core of the Earth, which was making it boil. And and they might as well have just said it was magic. You know, somebody stepped up, stepped on a sidewalk crack and look what happened. It broke their mother’s back and destroyed the earth. That would have made just as much sense. So times like that, I’m just like rolling my eyes. But ask any scientist today who is over the age of 30. What inspired you to become a scientist? And they may say the Apollo landings. They may say real scientific events. But a lot of we’re going to say Star Trek, Space, 1999, Star Wars, all of these science fiction shows that showed them space travel, that showed them aliens and other planets. And that’s the kind of thing that made us want to do this. So it has the force, Hollywood as the the force to inspire, as well as the force to slap you in the face and make you just sign Grote. Hopefully it’s more of the former than the latter. I think a lot of people do get inspired by Hollywood. So I. I think with it, I think it’s fun. 

Well, it is tricky that way because you get you mentioned Roland Emmerich 2012. You get bad movies scientifically, like the day after tomorrow. And this got into my specialty because they have down hurricanes traveling over land. And so, you know, that was pretty rough, too. But it actually makes the public care about global warming. So, you know, bad science, good result in some ways maybe. So it’s definitely tricky. Well, let’s talk about real things that might actually kill us. It’s not going to be global warming. What are some of the actual cosmic threats? 

You’re saying it’s not going to be global warming. Well, what will some of us will survive. Oh, I see. OK, yeah. 

What do you mean? You mean kill everybody, don’t you? I mean, that’s that’s what I mean. 

Well, when I when I got the idea for the book, which was many years ago, the idea was how many astronomical events could I think of that could wipe out the earth. And it turns out not on entire books worth. So then I broaden my range. It said, OK, what kind of events could hurt us? Or at least, you know, hurt us significantly. And which ones do people claim can hurt us? And turns out maybe not so much. And the inspiration for this book was the fact that every year or two there’s some big conspiracy theory that comes out. There’s an alignment of the planets is going to destroy the Earth or the Sun is going to align with the galactic center or aliens are going to come by or an asteroid is gonna pass the earth or something. And I got so sick of these people, these doomsday people screwing with reality. And I thought, you know what, reality is cool enough. Let’s let’s take a look and see what really can hurt us. And so I talk about asteroid and comet impacts. I do talk about solar flare solar events. I even wrote a chapter on alien invasion because I wanted to say, what are the odds of aliens coming here and, you know, stealing our women and our drinking our water and eating us. And I like, you know, all the staples of 1950s science fiction, as well as a nearby supernova at the end of the universe itself. And basically, the book is a is a compendium of all these things. But the real thing I wanted to do that I think makes this different than all the other books out there is that one is that it’s rooted in really firm scientific fact. If I’m speculating, I say so if it’s something that we know is going on, I say that as well. And the other thing is that I talk about what we can do about it and what are the odds of it happening. So you always hear about these movies like Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Meteor. There are all these movies out there that talk about the doom and gloom and asteroid impact or solar flare or something. But honestly, what are the odds of getting killed in one of these events? And it’s always really tiny. Sometimes it’s just zero. It is. There’s no chance this is going to happen. So don’t sweat it. An asteroid impact is the most likely event. And to be honest, you’re more likely to die in an amusement park accident or, you know, being killed by a shark is roughly the same odds. And and, you know, do you know anybody personally who’s been killed in an amusement park or eaten by a shark? Probably not. So the odds of these things happening and really hurting us are very low. But nonzero and the longer you wait, the more likely it is. It at least makes sense to me that if the odds of of people dying in a terrorist attack is about the same as an asteroid impact, we should be taking asteroid impacts at least somewhat seriously, considering we’re spending tens of billions of dollars or more on terrorism. So I think this is something we should be taking seriously, and that’s a point I make in the book. 

Let’s talk about some that aren’t that big of a risk, but still a really cool like gamma ray bursts. Tell us about the. 

Yeah, that was that was actually the part of the book where every now and again I had to lean back in my chair and go, oh, it turns out that the most massive stars, the very tip of the scale up there, their cause collapse to foreign black holes. The outer part of the star explodes outward, but right at the core black hole forms. And there’s just this witch’s brew of forces. There’s magnetism and friction. There’s nuclear physics going on, all kinds of craziness. And what that can conspire to do is form these twin beams of matter and energy that shoot out of the poles of this black hole, basically. And it’s not coming from the black hole itself. It’s coming from just outside of it. And they’re so intense. They’re so densely packed with energy and matter that, in fact, you could be thousands of light years away. And these things can still put some serious hurt on you. And it turns out there are a couple of stars that are just at the edge of that distance. There are a few thousand light years away now, happily with gamma ray burst. Since they’re focused like a flashlight beam, like a lighthouse beam, they have to be pointed right at you to damage you. And so these these stars, these candidate gamma ray bursts are probably not aimed at us. And even if they are, these stars are still a long way off from exploding. They may not even be gamma ray bursts, and they are so far away that chances are they wouldn’t hurt us. But if you were close enough to a gamma ray burst, like, say, 100 light years away, these things would basically torch your planet. It would be like holding a ping pong ball up to a welder’s arc. It would fly off the atmosphere, boil the oceans. Its from its apocalyptic disaster. But the good news is that the odds of one of these things happening to us, especially anytime soon, are essentially zero. It’s fun to think about it, but I don’t lie awake at night worrying about it. 

What’s also fun to think about is all the other ways that black holes can kill us. I know you do a talk on this and you’re required you to do some interesting research about how much we can be pulled in two directions in order to snap our bones and how we what it takes to turn us into spaghetti. Tell us tell us about that. Spaghettification to be technically accurate. 

That’s an actual word. Spaghettification. Yeah. If you fall into a black hole, you know, you’re gone. That’s it. You’re you’re falling. You can’t get back out. That’s sort of the definition of a black hole. It turns out that though gravity from any object in the universe weakens with distance. So the farther away you are from something, the weaker its gravity is. Well, the whole thing about a black hole is that you can get super close to it. You can imagine if you have a black hole, it most people don’t know how big they are. In fact, they’re very small. If you were to compress the sun into a black hole, it would only be a couple of miles across. If the earth were black hole, it would be smaller than a golf ball. So we’re talking about very tiny objects. Now, if you were if you were able to somehow hover so that your head is, say, 10 feet from a black hole from the surface of a black hole. Think about that. Your head is 10 feet away from the surface, but your feet are only five feet away or four feet away, depending on how tall you are. And since your head is like twice the distance, well, you kinda did the mass a little bit more complicated and then I won’t get into it. But basically, because your head is farther than your feet, your feet are getting pulled harder than your head. And that actually acts as a as a stretching force. It pulls you apart. And black holes have such strong gravity that when you’re that far from a black hole, the difference your head is feeling from your feet can be millions or trillions of pounds of force, which is enough to stretch you into what is essentially a strand of spaghetti. Neil Tyson, the astronomer, says it’s like being extruded from a toothpaste tube. You just get squished out and that’s called spaghettification. And so that’s that’s another way a black hole can kill you. You just basically get stretched apart and, yeah, you die. And then it turns out there are lots of other ways as matter falls into a black hole. It swirls around. It forms a disc. And that this gets incredibly hot. It gets so hot that it can emit x rays. And so if you get close to a black hole with one of these swirling discs of matter around it, it’s so hot. It’ll cook you with the X-rays. We’ll just fry you. And it’s interesting that, you know, these objects which suck down light can actually be among the brightest objects in the universe because of this matter swirling around them. It’s not in the black hole. It’s outside the black hole. But still, it’s all kind of part of the same system. It’s one of these ironies of the universe that that a black hole can can be so bright and so hot. And I think that’s really cool, too. And since a lot of people don’t know about that. It’s fun to write about it. It’s fun to talk about it. I really enjoyed that part of that part of the book. 

Well, it’s really great to listen to you. Talk about real science and show that real science can be as entertaining as B.S. science, because that’s really what’s coming across when you talk about these topics. And that brings me to some some some sort of broader questions about skepticism and critical thinking and debunking. There’s a lot of evidence out there that, you know, we explain why the moon landing people, the moon landing denial, people’s behavior wrong. We debunk them or whatever kind of denialism is. But debunking the Rashwan beliefs doesn’t often work. It doesn’t make them go away. How do you deal with that? Do you agree that that’s that’s the way it actually works? And what should skeptics do about it? 

It’s actually worse than that because there studies the. Show that if you take somebody who has no opinion about some sort of claim, like a nonsense claim, and then you say here’s why the claim is wrong. And here’s what the real science says. In many ways, you might be reinforcing the baloney claim, which is really irritating. And so, you know, they might hear something about it later or if they believe, for example, the moon landings are faked. And then I come in and say, here’s why they’re in fact, real. Five years from now, if you ask that person again, all they’ll really remember is that. Oh, yeah, I heard something about that. Aren’t weren’t those faked? It’s maddening. And the only other option is to not say anything at all, which is which is unacceptable. You know, I want to make sure that at least the correct information is out there. Which is why I’ve written the book and make videos and and do that sort of thing so that people can find that information. Maybe by talking about it, we’re reinforcing it. But what I’m hoping is that people will go online and then get the correct information. There are Web sites out there like Snopes dot com and Randy Torg and other places where you can get these these the actual evidence that shows why a lot of these claims are wrong. It’s gonna get done. The nonsense is out there. And if, you know, if somebody if somebody wants to believe the moon landings were faked. What’s the harm? Right. A lot of people say that. Who cares? It’s like, well. Sure. OK. If they’re not going to act on that information and they’re just going to sit there and think, oh, the moon landings were faked. That’s interesting then. Oh, well, what are you going to do? But if this movement got strong enough and happily it didn’t. But you can imagine if enough people started believing that the moon landings were faked. Is it that big of an exaggeration to wonder if somebody might contact their congressmen and say NASA needs to be investigated? And you might think that’s silly. But in fact, because the same sort of thinking moon landing denialism goes into global warming, denialism goes into vaccine denialism, goes into all of this denial list ideas. People do contact their congressmen. And then we have people like James Inhofe and Joe Barton and these other these congressmen and senators saying that global warming isn’t real and we’re spending tons of money trying to defend something which is so obvious and so dangerous. And it’s a colossal waste of time and effort and money. And it’s dangerous. And it’s the same thing with vaccines. We have a beef with that movement gets big enough. And the alternative medicine movement is already huge. We already have government funded nonsense medicine getting out there. This this is where this stuff leads. Any specific brand of nonsense may not rise to the level of being dangerous, but taken as a whole. People are learning to not think critically. I mean, they’re learning to not learn. How ironic is that? And they’re learning to just listen to anecdotes. They’re learning to listen to people who sound convincing. And they’re learning to not investigate the evidence on their own. And what’s happening is people are dying. It really is a direct connection between that kind of bad thinking and people dying because they believe homoeopathy will cure their cancer or that they shouldn’t give their kids vaccinations. And then we’re seeing babies dying of whopping cough. 

I agree with you fully. One has to debunk misinformation. I just I only would want to throw in there that there are, as you mentioned, these political science studies, which essentially, you know, they look at, for example, newspapers and newspapers run a correction of a story and people see the correction. It doesn’t change their view of, you know, the factual correction, doesn’t actually change their underlying beliefs. And in some cases, people believe something very strongly and they read a news story that counters it. They actually just have their preexisting ideological beliefs amplified and they become even stronger and even more defensive of them. So I just think those of us who are involved in setting the record straight need to sort of have some basic understanding of the way the mind works. It doesn’t like to let go of things that it believes very strongly. 

Oh, I agree with you. When you’re approaching a true believer, there’s no amount of evidence typically that will make them change their mind on the spot. And so the thing that I try to do is, you know, in an interview like this, I can I can speak my mind and be forceful or whatever. But depending on the venue, you know, if a kid approaches me and says, I read this, you know, I might make some jokes, I might talk to them, but I’ll try to talk to them on their level and say, you know, yeah, here, check check this out. Check this out. One thing you should always think about is this and try instead of instead of necessarily debunking the very thing they’re saying, try to give them an overview. It’s like, you know, you might want to take a look at why this guy is saying this. You know, he’s selling a book for 25 bucks. That might be a motivation for him to be not telling you the truth, even if that doesn’t change his mind about this. The. Thing that comes along, maybe he’ll say all that this infomercials baloney. This guy’s just trying to sell me something. So, you know, if you if you insult somebody, if you say they’re being stupid, if you’re say they’re being brainwashed or you try to picket them or whatever, chances are you’re not going to make any headway. And in fact, you may just solidify their stance. But if you’re a little more take a little more care as to where they’re coming from. Think about what this means to them. You know, a lot of people are wrapped up in these beliefs and their own sense of self identity and self-worth might be wrapped up in these beliefs. So when you’re attacking that belief, you’re attacking them and and who respond well to being attacked. So it’s it to me, it’s a good idea to try to remain nice, at least until it’s time to not be nice. And then then sometimes that happens. But typically when it’s one one on one or that sort of thing, I try to remain nice. 

And there’s also cool stuff like spaghettification and the end of the world where you can get under people’s skin by sort of entertaining them with good science. And of course, you’ve done that really well. Well, let me let me just ask you one closing question here. How do you feel? Are you optimistic about the future of science education, critical thinking, lifting us up with rationality? You think we’re at least going in the right direction, or do you just sort of shrug your shoulders and say, well, it’s fun to set the record straight? Is fund inform people. But I’m not so sure we have such a such an enlightened society. 

I. That’s a funny question, because I don’t necessarily see today’s society being any less prone to believing in nonsense than it was 100 years ago as our education and our ability to learn about the universe has evolved. So have the nonsense peddlers. They’ve learned how to how to coach their phrasing using scientific terms. I mean, watch any late night television and just pay attention to commercials and all these medical claims, all of these all these devices to help you lose weight or whatever. And it’s all baloney or a lot of it is baloney and people buy that stuff. So I’m not necessarily convinced that we’re doing any better. What I’m hoping is that we’re just getting started here. And as we learn how to educate people and as we get better at it, hopefully as as time goes on, we will have less of that. And maybe we won’t. Maybe we won’t. But if we do nothing, then certainly the nonsense will grow. So, you know, if the best we can do is sort of stick our finger in the dike, hold it at bay, whatever mixed metaphor you want to use here, that’s OK. As long as it doesn’t grow diminishing, it would be even better. But I would be satisfied with just keeping it where it is at the moment. 

Well, I think that’s that’s heroic enough. And I want to thank you, Phil, for all that you’ve done toward this end and for being on point of inquiry. 

Thank you. Christmas is always fun. 

I want to thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry, if you’d like to pick up a copy of Phil Plate’s book, Death from the Skies. You can do so through our website point of inquiry dot org to get involved in a discussion about the program. Be sure to visit our online forums by going to Center for Inquiry dot net slash forums, then clicking on point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. 

One inquiry is produced by atomizing and amrs New York, and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Waylan. Today’s show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Chris Mooney. 

Chris Mooney