Remembering Prisoners of Gravity, the greatest science fiction TV show of all time

From 1989 to 1994, the public broadcaster TV Ontario ran Prisoners of Gravity, a brilliant science fiction TV show that used a goofy framing device (a host trapped in a satellite who interviewed science fiction writers stuck down on Earth) for deep, gnarly, fascinating dives into science fiction's greatest and most fascinating themes, from sex and overpopulation to cyberpunk and religion. Read the rest

Belle Gunness lured lonely men to her Indiana farm to rob and kill them

Belle Gunness was one of America's most prolific female serial killers, luring lonely men to her Indiana farm with promises of marriage, only to rob and kill them. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of The LaPorte Black Widow and learn about some of her unfortunate victims.

We'll also break back into Buckingham Palace and puzzle over a bet with the devil.

Show notes

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Releasing a Cthulhoid podcast on wax cylinders

Paul from Yog Soggoth Dot Com writes, "To celebrate 19 years of the YSDC web site we've released a Limited Edition Wax Cylinder recording of one of our podcast shows on 19 cylinders. Yes, there really is a podcast on it. Fewer than 19 cylinders are available from the set as some people already have them." Read the rest

Podcasts we love: NPR's 'Invisibilia' uncovers invisible truths

One of the things I love about long summer weekends is catching up on podcasts and filling my mind with something other than bummer political news. The third season of NPR's most popular podcast, Invisibilia, just launched, and I'm really enjoying it.

One of their latest episodes is about the minds of dogs. You should subscribe.

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Listen: a conversation with Jeff Vandermeer about his weird biotech novel Borne

David sends us "My in-depth (and lengthy) conversation (MP3) with Jeff Vandermeer about Borne, about storytelling in the age of climate change, about biotech and personhood, and about why weird fiction is so well-equipped to address the crises we find ourselves in as a species, just went live " Read the rest

The Canadaland Guide to Canada (Published in America)

Jesse Brown is a pioneering podcaster whose Search Engine produced some of the best commentary on the intersection of the internet, pop culture and politics; when he struck out on his own to create a new podcasting empire, Canadaland (previously), he hit on a winning formula: analysing and critiquing Canadian politics by analysing and critiquing the Canadian press, with wit, irreverence and a sharp nose for bullshit -- all of which combine to excellent effect in the brand new Canadaland Guide to Canada (Published in America), co-written with Vicky Mochama and Nick Zarzycki.

Tor Labs: a science fiction imprint for "experimental storytelling"

Tor Books -- my publisher, who are also DRM free and the largest English-language science fiction publisher in the world -- have announced a new project, Tor Labs, "a new imprint emphasizing experimental approaches to genre publishing, beginning with original dramatic podcasts." Read the rest

You can't consume your way out of global warming

When inventor and MacArthur "genius grant" recipient Saul Griffith started reading papers about global warning that were written in 1974 (the same year he was born) he discovered that "all the problems we face today are familiar from 43 years ago. All the proposed solutions are similar. Merely the motivation was a little different." In this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future, David Pescovitz and I talk with Griffith about how we need new mindsets as much as new technologies to alleviate climate change.

Please subscribe to For Future Reference a podcast series about the expanding horizons of science, technology, and culture over the next decade: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud

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How to teach robots teamwork

For robots to make our lives easier, they'll need to work together. But how do we teach them teamwork? University of Southern California engineer Nora Ayanian studies how groups of robots, including flying drones, can be better collaborators and what the machines can teach humans about collaboration. Mark Frauenfelder and I interviewed Nora about robot collaboration in this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future:

Please subscribe to For Future Reference: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud Read the rest

New podcast about the future from Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz

Mark Frauenfelder and I are researchers at the non-profit Institute for the Future. During the course of our work, we frequently meet fascinating scientists, engineers, and big thinkers who are shaping the future through their groundbreaking work in the present. For Future Reference is IFTF's new podcast where we share those conversations about the expanding horizons of science, technology, and culture over the next decade. Listen below and please subscribe now: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud

We hope you enjoy it!

Episode 1: Teaching Robots Teamwork

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with University of Southern California roboticist Nora Ayanian about what robots can learn from humans working together, and vice versa.

Episode 2: Alien Hunting

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Episode 3: Hacking Your Biology

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with rogue biophysicist Josiah Zayner about affordable tools for DIY genetic engineering and how to hack your biome.

Episode 4: Fueling Greener Fuels

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with chemist Kendra Kuhl, CEO of Opus 12, about her technology for recycling carbon dioxide into useful fuels and chemicals.

Episode 5: Mind Melding

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with neuroscientist and IFTF fellow Melina Uncapher, CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Applied Neuroscience that brings scientific research about our brains to critical social issues. Read the rest

Listen: how to secure software by caring about humans, not security

Scout Brody is executive director of Simply Secure, a nonprofit that works to make security and privacy technologies usable by technologically unsophisticated people by focusing on usability and human factors. Read the rest

In a wide-ranging interview, Edward Snowden offers surveillance advice to Trump

The latest Intercepted podcast episode (MP3) was recorded live on stage at SXSW, where host Jeremy Scahill from The Intercept interviewed Edward Snowden by video link. Read the rest

Uber uses its in-app podcasts to broadcast anti-union messages to drivers

The City of Seattle says it will let Uber drivers form a union, and Uber has retaliated by producing a series of anti-union audio programs that it is pushing to Uber drivers' apps, where the programs light up a non-dismissable alert asking the drivers to listen to the program. Read the rest

Reply All covers DRM and the W3C

In the latest episode of Reply All, a fantastic tech podcast, the hosts and producers discuss the situation with DRM, the future of the web, and the W3C -- a piece I've been working on them with for a year now. Read the rest

How to fight back against the backfire effect

The final show in my three-part series about the pitfalls associated with trying to debunk myths, battle fake news, and correct misinformation is up. In this episode I interview scientists who have great advice on how to both avoid the backfire effect and eventually overcome it.

If you ask a social scientist familiar with motivated reasoning and the backfire effect if there is any hope to ever reach people who refuse to accept facts – is there any chance to change people’s minds with evidence, reason, or scientific consensus – they will usually point you to a 2010 paper titled: “The Affective Tipping Point: Do Motivated Reasoners ever ‘Get It’?”

Like most of us, political scientists David P. Redlawsk, Andrew J.W. Civettini, and Karen M. Emmerson wondered if, when confronted with challenges to their erroneous beliefs, do the people who resist efforts at correction ever come around, or are we just causing more harm than good by trusting in facts instead of using some time-tested technique from the emotional manipulation toolkit?

To test this, Redlawsk and his team created a mock presidential election in which people would gradually learn more and more terrible things about their preferred virtual candidates from a virtual news media. Unbeknownst to the subjects, the news stories they read included a precise mix of negative information about their chosen candidates so the effect of those messages could be measured as the negativity increased in intensity.

The scientists thought that surely, at some point, after a person had chosen one candidate over another, a constant flow of negative information about that person would persuade them to reconsider their choices. Read the rest

How motivated skepticism strengthens incorrect beliefs

This is part two in my "The Backfire Effect" series. This one focuses on motivated reasoning, specifically something called motivated skepticism. In addition, it features interviews with the scientists who coined the backfire effect term itself and who have extended their original research outside of politics and into health issues.

By now you’ve likely heard of confirmation bias. As a citizen of the internet the influence of this cognitive tendency is constant, and its allure is pervasive.

In short, when you have a hunch that you might already understand something, but don’t know for sure, you tend to go searching for information that will confirm your suspicions.

When you find that inevitable confirmation, satisfied you were correct all along, you stop searching. In some circles, the mental signal to end exploration once you feel like your position has sufficient external support is referred to as the wonderfully wordy “makes sense stopping rule” which basically states that once you believe you’ve made sense of something, you go about your business satisfied that you need not continue your efforts. In other words, just feeling correct is enough to stop your pursuit of new knowledge. We basically had to invent science to stop ourselves from trying to solve problems by thinking in this way.

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This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Get unlimited access to a huge library of The Great Courses lecture series on many fascinating subjects. Start FOR FREE with Your Deceptive Mind taught by neurologist Steven Novella. Read the rest

The neuroscience of changing your mind

This is the first of three You Are Not So Smart episodes about the "backfire effect." In it, I interview a team of neuroscientists who put people in a brain scanner and then challenged their beliefs, some political and some not, with counter-evidence and then compared which brain regions lit up for which beliefs. The crazy takeaway was that for political beliefs, but not for others, people seemed to react as if their very bodies were being threatened by the challenging evidence.

We don’t treat all of our beliefs the same.

If you learn that the Great Wall of China isn’t the only man-made object visible from space, and that, in fact, it’s actually very difficult to see the Wall compared to other landmarks, you update your model of reality without much fuss. Some misconceptions we give up readily, replacing them with better information when alerted to our ignorance.

For others constructs though, for your most cherished beliefs about things like climate change or vaccines or Republicans, instead of changing your mind in the face of challenging evidence or compelling counterarguments, you resist. Not only do you fight belief change for some things and not others, but if you successfully deflect such attacks, your challenged beliefs then grow stronger.

The research shows that when a strong-yet-erroneous belief is challenged, yes, you might experience some temporary weakening of your convictions, some softening of your certainty, but most people rebound and not only reassert their original belief at its original strength, but go beyond that and dig in their heels, deepening their resolve over the long run. Read the rest

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