Cara Santa Maria – Talk Nerdy to Us

June 11, 2012

Our guest this week is Cara Santa Maria, the senior science correspondent for the Huffington Post and the personage behind its “Talk Nerdy to Me” video series. Recent topics range from cannibalism, to the non-power of positive thinking, to the strange sex lives of animals, to the, well, bizarreness of creationism.

Cara has appeared previously on shows ranging from Larry King Live to Geraldo at Large, and has co-hosted an episode of Star Talk Radio with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. She was also recently seen hosting several episodes of The Young Turks’ popular web spinoff series The Point. She tweets at @CaraSantaMaria, and you can find her videos at the Huffington Post’s Talk Nerdy To Me.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry from Monday, June 11th, 2012. 

Welcome back to a 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 and public affairs. 

And at the grassroots. 

My guest this week is Cara Santa Maria. She’s the senior science correspondent for the Huffington Post, and she is the personage behind its talk nerdy to me video series. Recent topics ranged from cannibalism to the non power of positive thinking to the strange sex lives of animals. It’s great stuff. And Keira has appeared previously on shows ranging from Larry King Live to her, although at large, and his co-host did an episode of StarTalk Radio with Neil deGrasse Tyson. She’s also recently seen hosting several episodes of the Young Turks popular web spinoff series The Point. She tweets at at Santa Santamaría and you can find her videos at Huffington Post. 

Dot com slash Kara Dash Santa Dash Maria. So, Kara, it’s great to have you on point of inquiry. Thanks so much for having me, Chris. 

You bet. We’re thrilled. And more generally, I just want to talk about the kind of cool science coverage and science videos you’ve been doing. I went back and watched a lot of them for this interview. And I just want to say they’re really great. They’re really fun. We really, really enjoy your stuff. Well, thanks so much. Now, you know, the time was when people did not like to mention the Huffington Post and science favorably in the same sentence. There were, you know, the science bloggers and such. They were upset about some of the anti vaccine views getting expressed there. They thought there was a lot of new agey woo woo type of things there. I mean, what’s your take? Has it all changed or are you a counterbalance or how are things now for science at Huffington Post? 

Sure. So, you know, previous to I came on at Huffington Post last October and we didn’t launch the science page at Huffington Post until January. Soon after the holidays. And, you know, prior to that, we didn’t have a science section. And so, you know, possibly some of the things that you’re referring to are things that would show up on other sections of the page. And more generally, what you’re probably referring to are things that were written by bloggers and the bloggers on The Huffington Post are, you know, they’re not staff members. And it’s kind of a voluntary process if you’re interested in blogging for us. And so, you know, before we had a science section, we didn’t have editors that were, you know, knowledgeable to get this information from scientific perspective. And now that we have a science fiction, I can’t speak for any other sections on the page. I don’t work on any other sections on the page. But I can assure you that anything that, you know exists, anything that’s posted under the umbrella of Huffington Post science is scientific in nature and it is going to be evidence based writing. And so we still have bloggers. Most of our bloggers on the science page are scientists themselves or science writers. And we also have staff, editors and myself was kind of a staff correspondent. I do my video series. We also do other written pieces there. So you know, what I can tell you with with assurance is that Huffington Post science is a place for science. 

Well, I think that’s that’s fair enough. 

And it’s it’s pretty much what I can ask of you and I having seen your videos and seen how you cover things like evolution or things like you, various kinds of questionable or pseudoscientific claims, I think that it is really rigid. 

So, you know, a rigorous I mean, to say I try I you know, I try to find things where it where there is misinformation or where the general public might hold some ideas that are a bit anti science and kind of go in and try and figure out how to address those things in a in a in a graspable way. 

Well, let’s let’s take a step back. How did you end up where you are now? You grew up in Plano, Texas, and I mentioned that only because I think I played a soccer tournament there once because I’m from Louisiana. When I was a kid and you were originally a researcher in psychology and neuroscience. And so I pulled some of your papers because I thought so. And now they had titles like The Following Optimization of Cell Culture, procedures for growing neural networks on micro electrode arrays and density, dependent’s of functional spiking networks, in vitro. So you literally were talking nerdy to us? 

Sure, yeah. So so I did. 

I did grow up in Plano, Texas, and I attended the University of North Texas, which was about 45 minutes from the town I grew up in. I really, I guess, didn’t want to venture far from home. The truth truth be told, I think that the reason that I went to a U.N. tea, honestly, is because I didn’t want to write an essay. It didn’t require one for college admissions. But actually, kidding aside, I actually went there because I was going to study vocal jazz performance. That was my background at the time. And I knew nothing about science and I was actually kind of afraid of science. So all through my undergraduate degree, I got. I should say I worked on my undergraduate degree in psychology with a philosophy minor, and I kind of avoided taking hard science classes. The three classes that I actually took were oceanography. 

Astronomy, steller astronomy and paleontology. And I’ve said this other places before. So you may have heard this, but it actually wasn’t listed as paleontology in the course guide. It was listed as dinosaurs in all caps with an exclamation point. 

So, I mean, did a little a little nonthreatening. Yeah. And I’m exceedances. Yeah. 

I’ve been obsessed with dinosaurs since I was a kid. But, you know, as I was studying psychology, I actually started noticing kind of some woo even in scholastic psychology. And I just I don’t know. I have my B.S. detector was going off and I was I started to want to study more about evidence based psychology. And I got really interested in the brain. I got really interested in neuroscience. So I stuck around after I got my undergrad in Psych and I got a Masters in Biology with a neuroscience concentration. And that’s where I worked for the Center for Network Neuroscience. And did the research that you see there, one of those was a collaboration with a good friend of mine who’s now a physicist at Los Alamos. And then the other was actually my master’s thesis, which was the cell culture kind of procedure paper, because part of what I did there in doing my research in the lab, I got really into you make maintaining, actually creating and then maintaining these mono layer cell cultures. And so I ended up eventually becoming kind of the chief cell culture technician in our lab because we had our own kind of maintained cell culture facility. And I ran it. And then I started to tinker around to try and come up with the best culture media to try and come up with a new defection techniques and to try and figure out how to keep these mono layer mouth, these Merian cell cultures. You know, we would use them when they were three, four or five months old and we didn’t use antibiotics in our cultures because a lot of our researchers did pharmacology with these cultures. So we had to come up with some pretty creative ways to keep these things alive and healthy and and keep them from getting infected. So that’s really where I was focusing my attention. 

So you have real science, KRED. I mean. 

I mean, I was. Yeah. 

I tried to learn what I could learn and then I tried to you know, I, I think I found that between working on my masters and I did do about a year towards AP HD in New York where I was doing some, um. What was I doing? Oh, I was working with songbirds and we were doing adult neurogenesis research there. And I kind of noticed that throughout my masters and the, you know, the start of my BHB, which I never ended up completing, I noticed that I was really torn between spending time in the classroom and spending time in the lab. And I did lab research and I enjoyed lab research, but I found myself enjoying being in the classroom a bit more. And I think that that ultimately contributed to this career change from from being a bench scientist into you kind of being a science communicator. And, you know, in the way I like to look at it at the time, at least, was kind of expanding the classroom a bit so that I could reach more people than just the people that, you know, happened to find me in the course guide. 

And now you reach quite a lot. So let’s talk about some of your recent work. Your latest visa was something it could’ve been right out of skeptical Inquirer magazine. You know, you were you were debunking the heck out of the idea that just thinking positive will have this great health effect for you or indeed that it will have any effects. And you kind of call it quacker. And you also debunked another one, you know, this idea of people healing themselves through prayer. 

Yeah, yeah. I think that’s important. And, you know, I like to find these topics where I hear, you know, platitudes and cliches all of the time, especially, you know, it’s been it’s been especially interesting, I have to say, not to knock Los Angeles because I love Los Angeles and I love living here. Right. And don’t get me wrong, I mean, I came from Texas, so I came from a very conservative Bible Belt kind of area. But the level of discourse that I that I find myself involved in in Los Angeles, especially now being out of a university setting, it’s not uncommon that I hear the platitudes. You know, things you know, everything happens for a reason and God works in mysterious ways. And all of these you know, these ways that people try to explain their experiences in kind of a fundamentally unscientific way. 

And so I think it’s interesting to listen to the things that people believe and and why they believe them and where they came from and and try and look at the evidence and see, you know, is it really in your favor or not? And with this power positive thinking piece that’s been on my mind for a long time, because, I mean, even right now, if you look at the comment section on the piece or if you looked through my email and God, if you look at my e-mail, you would see the pushback against it. You know, it really ruffles people’s feathers. But what I try to do is instead, as you know, coming out guns blazing, you know, I am a skeptic. I’m I’m a staunch skeptic and a rationalist. But but instead of coming out guns blazing and. Talking down to people, I at least attempt to try and appeal to empathy, which is why I wanted to tell the story of this. You know, people who are dealing with cancer and oftentimes with terminal cancer and that if we put so much pressure on these people to think positively in order to cure themselves, which we know has no effect, that it can actually have a really, you know, negative effect on their well-being in these final weeks and months, even sometimes days of their lives. And so I think that opening up to this idea when when we talk about these concepts that we look at from a skeptical perspective as scientific thinkers, a lot of people wouldn’t think to do that because it sounds good. Right? Think positive. How could that be a negative message? But sometimes we don’t see the dark side of that. 

And so you’re you’re ruffling feathers of kind of the hippie dippy health nuts and getting people who go to the macrobiotic restaurants. Anger, hate. Yeah. I mean, you know, you’re nuts that you must be finding a following, too. 

Yeah. But I mean, definitely I’m finding a following in a lot of kind of, you know, scientific thinkers, a lot of especially a lot of young people who are really excited that I think science is becoming kind of trendy and the people are getting excited again about science. I definitely on Twitter, on Facebook and I have a lot of interaction. I like to keep in touch in and make sure that I’m you know, I always tweet back to people. I always like to answer emails on my Facebook and and really interact. But I also find that, you know, I don’t in tension, really try to make anybody angry. And I do get a lot of hate mail. And it’s interesting how it comes from both sides. You know, I get hate mail both from kind of the fundamentalists who tell me that I’m, you know, a soldier in Satan’s army who tell me that I’m the Antichrist. 

But then I also get some pushback from, you know, people who really love Tony Robbins and Eckhart totally and say that I’m, you know, being unfair to them in my writing. So it’s definitely polarizing, I think. But I don’t I don’t attempt for it to be. And I generally try to write with with just a lot of respect and reverence for people’s ideas. 

Well, reality may be polarizing, but, you know, I think that this remark you make about science becoming trendy. I feel like it’s true also. And I just wonder if we could put some meat on the bones of that, though. 

I mean, you know, the the video you did prior to that, which is also I really enjoyed, was about just the overall coolness of watching the transit of Venus. And, you know, do you feel like that event? I don’t know, because I’m afraid I self select my information sources. And so I was only reading people who are science aficionados anyway. Do you feel like that really energized people beyond the standard science world? 

I think I think that the transit of Venus did. I think that the previous solar eclipse may have done so even more. What’s exciting about the transit of Venus, what was exciting it is that it was in all of our lifetimes, it was the last chance to see something like that. But I did notice throughout the day and again, I may self select to actually, as an aside, I have to tell you that there is a point of time where you could go into Google. You can probably still do it and go into Google and see your preferences. And they’re not preferences that we choose their preferences that Google puts on us based on our browsing history. And for a long time, Google thought that I was like a 65 year old male Hovick of all I read is science. And apparently only 65 year old men generally browse science. But we’re trying to change that. You know, I think you and I and in a lot of people in the science communication community, well, that’s hard to say. But anyway, on the day of the transit of Venus last Tuesday, I didn’t notice how many news outlets were covering it. How many people were talking about it? You know, we got a welding mask here in the office with that number 14 welder’s glass and went outside to be able to witness it ourselves. 

And people around the office were like, oh, are you going to see the transit of Venus? And these are not science writers. These are people who work for the L.A. page or the weddings page or the divorce, you know. And so I think it was pretty interesting to see how many people it was, at least in their consciousness, and they were excited about it. 

What I love about that, if I can just be a history of science nerd for a second, is that, you know, I read the journals of Captain Cook and I don’t think that I don’t own you will know that when he voyage to Tahiti. And it was his famous thing. And, you know, when news got back to Europe, everyone was like, wow, Tahiti. They have like sex on the beach. And they’re like, well, you know, a flutter about that. But they’re really going for a scientific reason. They’re really going because that was a great place to see the transit of Venus. Yeah. Back then. Yeah. 

And it’s so important to be able to say, you know, just the amount of information that we have about the size of our solar system and potentially now information that we can glean about the size of other stellar systems, because, you know, we can look at stars in the relationship to exo planets. I think it’s gonna be really interesting to see what kind of data. Modern scientists were able to pull from this most recent transit of Venus or what kind of data we’re going to be able to pull if we notice other planets transiting their sons in the future. 

How do you how do you choose? It seems like you have a very broad rammy. You cover science, you cover the controversial science. You cover the like WoW’s science. I mean, what what is what do you see in a science story that makes you want to do it? 

That’s interesting. You know, and I’m not even sure that I can fully answer that question, but I for a while here, I was working and I was working kind of in a rudderless way when I first came on as the science correspondent. We didn’t have a science to it, so I didn’t have a science editor. So I kind of had carte blanche to do whatever I wanted. And even though that sounds really great, I think that being being reined in by my editor of it was was actually really beneficial to me. And so, generally speaking, if left without any feedback, I will probably be going more towards the neuroscience side because that’s what I’m fundamentally interested in and that’s what I have the most background knowledge about. So I can just kind of think in my own mind about things I’ve come across in the past about, you know, things that I self select when I’m browsing the Internet, when I’m reading all of my science magazines that stand out to me. And, you know, a lot of the physics stuff, it doesn’t come quite as easily to me. And I have to do a lot more research. So a lot of times I like to cover things that are in the public consciousness. I like to cover things that I notice a lot of chatter about. Sometimes I’ll be reading my science magazines and I’ll notice that, you know, Discover and Wired and Popular Science and science news and Science Daily. There there will be themes and it kind of seems like all of these editors are really interested in the same thing right now. And sometimes it’s linked to a new paper that came out. And sometimes it’s just I think, again, linked to the public consciousness. So so those kinds of things I like to explore. I also love to come up with topics that are absolutely not linked to the news. I do try to cover things that are in the news, but I’m really interested in kind of things where you go, holy crap, I didn’t know that was a thing. You know, I love the science of both of the magnificent and the mundane. I like to find out really interesting things about, you know, everyday experiences and try and explore them. And, you know, like like I think the cannibalism piece that I did, it’s a perfect example. And apparently with quite timely. 

Right. Because you have family about whether you really got the guy eating a guy’s face. I think actually it’s like the weirdest force. Oh, yeah. And then all of a sudden there’s a zombie apocalypse. Well, nobody expects a zombie apocalypse. 

But so I you know, I cover those things because it’s like it’s interesting to me. It’s like, can you eat people? What a weird question. And what happens if we do eat people? And, you know, it’s funny. And I can probably I’ll be giving away a little bit about how naive I can be about some of these topics. I was always under the impression that you just don’t want to eat brains because you’ll get freons. You know, I knew about prions, but I didn’t realize that you had to first be infected with Brione, that that this is actually a highly infectious, you know, misfolded protein. 

And just the concept of having an infectious agent that’s not bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic, that’s actually just a protein. It’s not even alive. That’s misfolded. That can kind of cause a chain reaction. Kind of. It’s like a nucleation site and it can cause a chain reaction in a person’s brain that then causes their proteins to misfold in. Some of this stuff occur spontaneously. Like Kreutzfeld, Ya’akov has very similar features. Q Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which is, you know, mad cow disease. And it has similar features to Kourou, which is, you know, the kind of disease that a lot of these Papua New Guineans got after this big cannibalism craze in the 50s and the 60s. But people is quite svelte. Yako don’t generally get it because they’ve been eating brains. They get it because either there’s a genetic genetic factor involved or, you know, scientist haven’t really been able to pinpoint why some people just spontaneously show signs of the disease, that if we eat those people, we would get the disease, too. And that’s just so interesting to me. 

And also another good reason in case you needed them not to eat people. 

Exactly. Don’t eat people. And if you must avoid the aim. 

Well, you know, so actually, you see, you have a following. And I said I was interviewing you and I’m trying to get our listeners more engaged with us, so we’re not in real time. So it’s hard for them to do so. But I got some questions through the Web and I wanted to throw some of the good ones out. You got so many moment and pronounce his name wrong. Madad Jarvie read from the University of British Columbia asked this, he said, Given the you’ve studied neurology and non-human social animals as someone who follows you clearly. I would like to. Now, whether you think scientists are more likely to see too few or too many similarities between humans and non-human animals, I think that’s a good question. 

You know, and it’s something that I actually have a friend here in L.A. named Jason Goldman who writes for Scientific American. And I’m always kind of coming to have when I have questions about animal behavior because he’s just a whiz at that. And that’s what he studies. That’s what he’s got. He’s just finishing now his P.H. DNA. And I think it’s a really interesting question. I haven’t actually studied a lot of animal behavior. I have to say that I have studied the neuroscience of both mice and birds, but we generally uses as model organisms so that we can learn more about ourselves. And I think that this idea that we see too many similarities between humans and non-human animals is probably completely likely. I mean, we anthropomorphize a lot of things in our environment. And what’s actually interesting is that I just did a an interview with Dr. Howe Herzog about people and their pets. I interviewed him about, you know, do people because apparently there’s there’s evidence now to show that people really do look like their pets. 

And it’s so funny. Yeah. And that, you know, people choose pets for different reasons. 

He calls himself an anthro zoologist, though he studies how animal behavior actually influences human behavior and how kind of human animal partnerships. He kind of studies the psychology of those things. And it was really interesting talking to him because he’s a skeptic. And I thought that that was I didn’t expect that. But when I sat down to speak with him, he made it very clear to me that he’s a strong skeptic and not a lot of people in his community are. A lot of people like to push the agenda that, like pets, make us happy and healthy all the time. And no matter what, having a pet is always good for you. And, you know, he kind of was something that will look at times and it’s not that healthy. You know, they’ve some studies have shown that therapy dogs in the hospital can can help people, maybe because it’s boosting their immune system, maybe not. But in other cases, therapy, dogs and hospital make people do worse than it could be because they’re carrying all sorts of pathogens. 

They did. Or there were all sorts of things with cats that good. Yeah. Cancer, super dirty. And like, I have a dog. 

I used to have cats and I have a dog. And I love Little Killer to death. And he’s just, you know, he’s like the man in my life. And anybody who hangs out with me on Facebook has probably seen pictures of me, a little killer, which, by the way, who was named, ironically, because he’s like the sweetest dog in the world. But I anthropomorphize him all the time. All the time. I think that he does and thinks and, you know, axons in ways that I could only imagine those things because I’m thinking from a human perspective. But the hope is that we have, you know, strong scientists who study animal behavior in. And again, like using the scientific method in a very scientific way and can maybe start to tease out some of these animal behaviors and then try and think outside of the box a little bit. 

And here’s here’s a man do one more question. Zack Kopplin, he had a series of staccato questions. So actually, all of them are interesting and we’ll take his interesting directions. But let me try to ask the first two paired together and then the second one. So this is about evolution. What is your take on creationism laws in Louisiana and Tennessee? You you’ve covered this. 

And second, why have politicians, the national media, ignored the 78 Nobel laureate scientists calling for a repeal of Louisiana’s creationism law? Well, I’ve got opinions about that, but I’ll let you. 

Yeah. OK. So, you know, I did a piece not on Louisiana. I was in here yet when that passed. I did a piece on the Tennessee law that passed. And then I did a follow up is actually after it finally passed, the one of them was a video segment where we kind of, you know, in a way it was tongue in cheek, but not really where we put these video clips of Ken Ham and of these loop of these Tennessee students in these biology classrooms that were led by creationist instructors. Just to kind of illustrate what this actually means to our children, what it actually means to be teaching anti science rhetoric in a science classroom. You know, what is my take on this? I’m mortified by it. I speak out against this all of the time. And what’s especially scary is that we have politicians who are pushing a fundamentally religious agenda and they’re very good at writing legislation so that it sounds reasonable. I mean, this Tennessee law that passed was was basically a law that kind of pushed for, quote unquote, academic freedom. And it said that there are controversial subjects, which is not true. These subjects like global warming or I should say climate change or evolution are not controversial, especially not within the scientific community. They may be controversial. You know, from a political perspective, but they’re definitely not controversial in terms of like what is real and what is not. And they they they then frame this law to say that, you know, teachers should be able to teach, you know, alternate senior years. They should be able to help the students, you know, develop their creative thinking skills by it, by offering alternative. And they can make up their own minds. 

Well, what the job of a teacher is to guide a student through an exploratory process for understanding the nature of reality. And, you know, if they want to teach the evolution controversy, if they want to teach the climate change controversy, I’m all for that. 

But it needs to be within the context of what the science tells us. I think that that would actually, you know, really enlighten a lot of students if they learned that, you know, this is the way that the world is. This is the way that the universe works. This is what science has told us about our environment. And yet there are policymakers, there are individuals who think that it happens in this way. And this is the evidence that they’re pulling from or I should say the lack of evidence that they’re pulling from. And, you know, help students develop those critical thinking skills, get skills to think more scientifically. But it is definitely the role of a science educator to teach the scientific method and to help students be able to leave that classroom knowing how to think better than they did when they first came into the classroom. And these laws are just antithetical to scientific progress. I mean, they’re very dangerous. 

Yeah. Aymond to that. And yet, I mean, the attempts to stop them have been just I mean, what do you do? 

There was a recent poll. You know, I know you saw at Gallup there are creationist percentages, almost half of the total public, and it hasn’t changed in 30 years. 

And the question is like, will that be the same 100 years? I mean, it’s not like, well, if people I want to change the people that are the hardest to reach in, perhaps, arguably, I argue, are the most close to new information. I old that, you know, I mean, that’s the problem. 

That’s the problem with with fundamentalist religions. I mean, I talk about science and religion a lot. I’m I’m not really ashamed. I’m not afraid to speak out about that. I myself am an atheist. I grew up in a very conservative household. And a lot of my family is still Mormon. And I know I know people who are religious or spiritual, who are not fundamentalists, who can easily rectify their their understanding of science with their spiritual beliefs. And I know a hell of a lot of people who are fundamentally religious, who believe in a literal translation of the Bible or some bastardized version of that and apply it to life. And it just flies in the face of any rational evidence that they see in front of them. The issue is the more educated we become, the less we can lie to ourselves, the less we can indoctrinate ourselves, the more that we actually can look at the world around us through a scientific lens. The less that we’re able to continue to take this dogmatic rhetoric in and actually rectify it with our with our understanding and, you know, people hit a point at different at different ages. I left the church when I was very young because I might my B.S. filter might be detector started lighting up. For some people, it takes getting away from things for a while in order to see what they’ve been stuck in. But it is it’s a difficult, difficult question because, for example, when I do my my videos, who are the people who are singing my praises are people who already think like me and who are the people who are sending me hate mail and people who think that I’m trying to undermine their belief structure. And it’s not about that. It’s not about trying to make the world atheistic at all. I don’t care what you believe. You know, your religion is it does not affect me at all, or at least it shouldn’t. You know, what I care about is that we we understand how to think and that we understand as it as a nation how to observe and interact with the natural world in a in an evidence based way. And in a critical way. And that we learn how to make decisions for ourselves based on all the available evidence that we have, not just based on some kind of narrow, you know, set of rules that, you know, appeal to authority. 

One way that might conceivably make us think a little better was if there was, you know, more science in the mainstream media. Now, go back to this question from the Web. Has he has lots of questions, but. Yeah, good. And so he then he finally said this guy, Zack Kopplin, said, will somebody be able to get Governor Romney to state his current position on evolution and climate changes during the 2012 elections? And I actually kind of suspect that somebody eventually will. It usually happens. I know the science debate. People are trying to, you know, trying to get that to happen, but we’ll probably have a flare up about it. What do you think? 

I think it will happen only because Romney cannot keep his foot out of his mouth. I think that his camp is doing all that they can to keep him from talking about that. But the great thing about Mitt Romney is even when there’s a camera right in his face, he always says something that he probably shouldn’t have said. I mean, we see it time and time again. It’s just look on YouTube. I mean, even things that aren’t whether it’s something like a public debate or a public speech or whether it’s, you know, like somebody’s cell phone camera at a rally. There are so many amazing examples of Mitt Romney just saying really stupid stuff. And when he knows that the media is watching him and, you know, Romney is pretty smart guy, he just has, like, no street cred and he lives inside of a bubble. Like he has no connection to the common man at all. But he’s a relatively smart guy. And I don’t know how he thinks about things. But I do know that growing up LDS and still having half of my family being a member of the church, there’s an interesting thing that that Mormons do you where they do try really hard to rectify science with religion. And they come up with this kind of in-between rationalization, which is, you know, God is the creator. They can’t they can’t reject that because then they’ll be rejecting, you know, the fundamentals of their religion. But at the same time, we do have scientific evidence for evolution. And so they’ll kind of say, well, I believe that evolution occurs, but it’s not responsible necessarily for speciation, which makes no sense at all. 

But it’s it’s not an uncommon argument that I’ve that I’ve heard from these individuals. And I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point he kind of backpedaled and then stated, you know, how he feels about climate change. I’m not sure. I, I, I honestly, I’d I’d actually be surprised if he thought that it was like a hoax or something. 

I just think I don’t think it does. I think I ordered. I think it’s just the party he’s you know, I mean, they not. So he’s gonna it’s gonna be it’s gonna be news. Let’s put it that way with Ovipositor. 

So we have a hard time with our president right now with the Democratic Party not kind of being outspoken about some of these rational policies because of the, you know, the interest groups that kind of have a stranglehold on their rhetoric. 

Mm hmm. No, I mean, the Democrats are not. They’re definitely not perfect. Yeah, perfect either. 

On on science matters will look. I mean, all of this stuff is for our audience. Let’s face it. I mean, I, I get in trouble cause I’m a downer. I am always talking about the problems. You know, people don’t believe. People don’t think rationally. They don’t believe the science when they should. And, you know, the numbers don’t change in credible disbelief in evolution. And America’s been going through all this kind of stuff. People are like, you know, thanks for depressing me so much, Chris. 

So, I mean, where did when you you know, where do you where do you. You see the good side of things, I mean, you know, you’re you’re you’re in L.A.. I mean, the entertainment industry seems to think science is hip and you think you see yourself said science is getting more trendy. 

I mean, where do things look up? 

Yeah, I mean, I have to say, though, I tend to be on your team, but. So it’s it’s very easy for me to fall into that trap, too. But. But I do note it, you know, there shows like The Big Bang Theory. 

And even though I have problems with some some aspects of the show, like their portrayal of female characters, I still think that there’s a total hipness to the Big Bang Theory. It’s a cool show and it has a great following of, you know, people who are proud of the word nerd. And, you know, I see it a lot with the people who I interact with on Twitter and on Facebook. We want to see more of this. We want to see nerd culture becoming better, bigger, better, stronger. And obviously, science and film have a great relationship. You know, there are a lot of scientists who who serve as advisors to big Hollywood movies. The problem is ultimately people want to make money on their product. 

And, you know, I just there’s like a tweet storm. Two days ago when I went to see Promethea and I was like, wow, that was a terrible movie. And people were not happy with it. 

And they kept saying, like, it’s sci fi, it’s sci fi, it’s fiction. Like, get over it. You know, it doesn’t have to be scientifically accurate. And my concern was less about the facts. I want to kind of set the record straight for anybody who’s listening, who also was involved in that Twitter conversation. 140 characters really limit you. But my frustration with that film was less about the science being inaccurate, even though there were a lot of inaccuracies. It was more about the portrayal of scientists as characters in the film. 

Aside from any, you know, film critic kind of problems I had with it, which was like lack of character development and like one million holes in the plot would I had a real problem with was that there was this crack team of scientists going on the ship to this new world and none of them were intelligent and none of them thought scientifically. They kept making, you know, sophomoric kind of errors that make no sense. And there was no protocols. 

Everybody was acting on emotion. I mean, there’s just nothing scientific about the scientists in the film. And so I’m less concerned about science being really accurate everywhere you look. I mean, obviously, I don’t like to see things that are anti science. And the basic plot of this film is a very creationist plot, which I have a hard time with. I mean, it is very anti Darwinian evolution. So, yes, they do have a problem with anti science and Hollywood movies. But I don’t have a problem with the science, you know, being loose like we see in sci fi and fantasy a lot when I have more of a problem with is the way that we see science is portrayed time and time again in popular media. We don’t see the. This is what a scientist looks like, meme, as often as we should. And, you know, I get it all the time when people meet me in meetings at networks or at, you know, production companies, because I do a lot with with media. And they say, wow, you’re not the typical looking scientist. And I’m like, you know, the funny thing is I kind of am. If you go into a biology lab, a chemistry lab today, most of the graduate students and young professors look more like me than like the concept that you have in your mind. They’ve got to use they’ve got piercings. Even if they don’t, you know, they’re they’re just they’re hit people. They’re normal people. And they’re having interesting conversations and they have functional relationships and they’re just they’re not what I think a lot of people have in their mind as the idea of what a scientist is. And we have to we have to change that if we want to be inspiring young people to follow that path. We have to do whatever we can, whatever we have in our arsenal to show individuals that stem careers are attainable. 

And that then I agree. You really think you’re you’re contributing a lot to the, you know, celebration of you call that nerd culture? I mean, we have a we have an organization here, Thurso, D.C., that is doing this. And it has really taken people by storm with these kind of curated TED type talks for people who were all drinking in a bar, wondering a heck of a lot of people. So, you know you know, I think I think that there is some hope there. 

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I, I, I have to stay kind of hopeful. I try to balance how naive I am with cynicism and find some good mixture there where I can still be starry eyed and have hope. But I try to make decisions that are intelligent, obviously, with, with things that I do with my career and with the way that I interact with the public. But I definitely think that this you know, it’s hip to be square movement is starting to gain ground. And I’m hoping that we can push back against a lot of the darkness that has crept in in American culture more recently. And maybe we can see a resurgence of that scientific celebration of scientific thought like we saw kind of in the 60s. 

Well, you know, I want to I want to thank you, Carrie, for for helping push us there. I know that you are contributing quite a lot toward that goal. So with that. Thanks so much for being with us on Point of Inquiry. 

Thank you so much for having me. 

I want to thank everyone for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to join the discussion about today’s show, you can visit point of inquiry dot org. You can also send questions and comments to feedback at point of inquiry, dawg. You can find us on Twitter at point of inquiry and on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. 

One of inquiries produced by atomizing and amrs New York and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Waylan. Today’s intro featured Debbie Goddard. I’m your host Chris Mooney. 

Chris Mooney