#137 The Dangers Of Utopia: Michael Shermer

By overwhelming majorities, human beings have faith in the afterlife. While fewer Americans believe in God, as many as 80% still believe in life after death. Surprisingly, this includes one-in-three agnostics and atheists. According to the Roper Center for Public Opinion the numbers have stayed stable in recent decades.

Does this human refusal to accept that all we have is the here-and-now lead to a dangerous belief in religious fantasies and utopia? Do we chase after myths while ignoring practical steps we could take now to improve life for ourselves and others?

Our guest, Michael Shermer, is the publisher of Skeptic Magazine and the author of the new book "Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia." Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson calls him "a beacon of reason in an ocean of irrationality."

Michael walks us through efforts by "techno-optimists" to extend life hundreds of years into the future, from cryonic suspension-- efforts to freeze our brains with all of their neural connects and memories in tact--  to transhumanists, who want to transform us into super-humans.

He is profoundly skeptical of these well-funded efforts, saying that all we have is the present. "Make today count," Michael tells us. "Make every relationship you have count. Make your interactions with community, strangers and society count in just a tiny little bit."

#136 Ending Sexual Harassment: Claire Cain Miller

The fight against sexual harassment was the hot topic in Hollywood at the Golden Globes Awards, with outspoken and inspiring remarks by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and others. But allegations of bullying or inappropriate behavior by powerful men are still being made almost every day.

 

Despite widespread outrage, little focus has been given to effective measures that can be taken by employers to reduce the number of cases and improve the workplace environment.

Our guest is journalist Claire Cain Miller, who writes about gender, families and the future of work for The Upshot, a New York Times site that covers policy and economics. She tells us what works and explains the challenges ahead in the fight for gender equality and respect. 

A recent survey found that nearly half of women said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work at least once in their careers. A 2015 study revealed that only one-quarter to a third of women who experience sexual harassment report it.

Solutions:
Empower bystanders to act, giving everyone the tools to help prevent harassment. Bystander training is still rare in corporate America, but it has been effectively used in the military and on college campuses.  In some cases, direct action may work. One example was Charles Sonder, in the Snackman case, who disrupted a fight on a New York subway train by standing between a couple and loudly eating chips. 

Other examples of how to disrupt harassment: Drop a book, ask the victim to come to a conference room or if they want to get coffee. Talk to the victim to make sure she is OK, You might say: “I noticed that happened. Are you alright with that?”

Encourage civility:  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission designed a program to create a culture of respect for everyone, such as spotlighting contributions by people who are marginalized. The program also offers helpful things to say in situations when you want to act but don’t know what to do.

Claire Cain Miller says frequent workplace training programs can help. Employees and managers should be encouraged to report harassment. Professor Ian Ayres of Yale Law School has written "information escrows"-- creative and safer ways to help harassment victims who may fear that reporting wrongdoing to harm their careers. 

Among other potential solutions: Gender equity with more women in senior executive positions; greater diversity in occupations now dominated by either men or women; generous workplace and family leave policies.

#126 Using Data To Predict the Future: Rebecca Costa

Can data be used to prevent mass shootings, dramatically reduce opioid addiction and tell elderly people that they about to fall? Our guest, Rebecca Costa, says it can.

In this episode we look at why predictive analytics may be the most profound technological change in the past 15 years-- even more important than smartphones.

In her new book, “On The Verge,” and on this podcast, Rebecca says we now have the power to predict the future, adapting in advance to changing conditions.  She also tells us about the ideas raised on the popular radio show, “The Costa Report” and in her bestselling book, “The Watchman’s Rattle.”

Predictive analytics depend on the ability to collect massive amounts of data, using algorithms to analyze seemingly random bits of information. We explore why all this is coming together now. One example being used by doctors today is predictive healthcare.

Rebecca says that foresight and “fore action”will help human beings “assume our rightful place as aspiring Masters of the Universe.”