My fractious interview for Skeptiko

Note: For some reason this was posted out of order, and I’ve deleted the original post.  I apologize, and ask readers who commented on the original post to repeat their comments below.


Well, this is certainly the most contentious interview I’ve ever had, and it’s with Alex Tsakiris at Skeptiko.  The “discussion” is 57 minutes long, and things get pretty heated (it’s both recorded and transcribed; I’d recommend listening to get the full flavor).

When I first agreed to the interview, I was told we’d talk mainly about my book and about evolutionary biology.  Several readers acquainted with the show warned me that Alex was a woo-meister who was into things like parapsychology and near-death experiences. Forewarned, I emailed Alex and he verified that we would indeed talk about evolution with perhaps a bit of discussion on the side about free will. He told me I wasn’t going to be “sandbagged.” LOL!

It quickly became clear in the interview, though, that he wasn’t much interested in evolution; listen to Alex’s introduction to the interview, which he recorded after he talked to me:

In this episode of Skeptiko we’re going to dig into evolutionary biology.  Now I have to tell you: I’ve never been that interested in really exploring evolutionary biology. And the reason is that from the very beginning, I saw that issues of consciousness being [sic] much more central to these core Big Picture Science Questions that we want to talk about. I mean, “consciousness” trumps “evolution” when we want to ask the question [sic] of ‘Who are we really?,’ ‘Where did we come from,’ ‘What happens to us after we die?'” Consciousness more directly gets to those questions. And the people who are on the cutting edge of consciousness research, really, I think, have a lot more to say about these things. So for example, when we look at former guests like Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and his “morphic residence theory” [sic: it’s morphic resonance theory]. . .[moar woo omitted]. . . Well, when you look at the impact of what the theory like morphic residence [sic] is in evolutionary biology, well, it kind of relegates evolutionary biology to a mere sideshow in this larger question of “How did we come to be who we are?”

The man has a habit of inserting his own summaries, recorded post facto, at the end and beginning of the podcast. That, of course, gives him the last say.

Tsakiris was full of misconceptions about evolution—misconceptions to which he clung tenaciously.  He was almost obsessed with the idea that Alfred Russel Wallace isn’t just given too little credit for his contributions to evolutionary biology, but that he was in fact more important than Darwin in bringing about the acceptance of evolution.  He was confused about group selection, which he sees as the reigning paradigm among evolutionists of how natural selection works. Tsakiris also wanted to talk about how quantum mechanics negates modern evolutionary theory, about the evils of materialism, about “quantum entanglement of neurons” (!) and about precognition.

Anyway, I wasn’t in any mood to put up with either woo or Alex’s many distortions of evolutionary biology and its history, and I’m afraid I went a bit Hitchens on him. Too bad—but he deserved it. I hate it when hosts ask you on to talk about your field and then wind up using the discussion as a platform to expound their own ideas, especially when they’re crazy ideas.

Lesson #1: Having the word “Skeptik” in your blog or podcast title doesn’t mean you’re skeptical.

Lesson #2:  Tsakiris needs to learn more about evolution if he’s going to interview an evolutionary biologist.

Lesson #3: Do your homework before you agree to go on a radio show.

Lesson #4: To those who contemplate going on this ridiculous show: Tsakiris isn’t really interested in what his guests have to say unless they agree with him, and that rules out most rational people. Otherwise, he uses an “interview” as a chance to pontificate, exactly the wrong strategy for an interviewer.

You can listen here (press “play it” halfway down the page).  Expect a lot of woo-sters to show up in the comments.


  1. Posted February 15, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    “Now I have to tell you: I’ve never been that interested in really exploring evolutionary biology.”

    Something not clever about foreshadowing.

    And I’m listening to the interview now.

    I’m at the part where he said he thinks it, and you ask for the quote and he says he just kind of did. And Jerry goes straight meow on him. =^_^=

    • Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      For the sake of continuity, what I wrote in the other post in full:

      “Now I have to tell you: I’ve never been that interested in really exploring evolutionary biology. ”

      Sometimes Jerry can pick up on the subtlest of foreshadowing I daresay. =^_^=

  2. Posted February 15, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    He looks like an idiot in the transcript, but I’m sure his fans will be admiring his brilliance.

    • Frank
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      And yet, the stance of: quantum mechanics, ergo no materialism, seems somehow dumber than: quantum mechanics, ergo Jesus. This is a prime example where a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, emphasis on little …

      • Daniel
        Posted February 16, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

        As a physicist I get supremely annoyed when people abuse quantum mechanics. He’s going on and on about that Nature paper, how entanglement has been observed in biological systems and how that must now become a factor in the theory of evolution, but he conveniently forgets that the authors DIDN’T LOOK AT BIOLOGICAL EFFECTS AT ALL.

        We already know that entanglement can survive in coupled systems, and great, these guys found that that also holds true for a certain protein. However, they don’t claim that this affects the biology, in fact as late as in the discussion section they only so much as speculate that they “expect that such entanglement has functional implications in more complex light-harvesting structures”. And not one word about consciousness.

        But I see what’s going on: Alex is falling for the typical misconception about quantum entanglement that it’s a sort of “quantum remote control” – that you can “twist” electron A and that that will immediately affect electron B. This, unfortunately, is not true: All that entanglement means is that when you decide to measure the “twist” of both electrons, you will always find them pointing in opposite direction. You CANNOT manipulate them in order to transport information – and I think this is the hook where he wants to get his idea of quantum consciousness and precognition in.

        It’s baloney.

        • Posted February 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          heyyy, thanks for the clarification about entanglement! i just recently watched “fabric of the cosmos”, and in the section on entanglement, they neglected to mention the actual implications for the potential of faster-than-light communication. that was actually my only real complaint about the series: that while their descriptions were quite vivid and engaging, they just didn’t dig as deep as i would’ve liked.

    • jennyxyzzy
      Posted February 16, 2012 at 5:00 am | Permalink

      Actually, it’s worse than that – the transcript has been doctored to make him look better. Check this “quote” from the transcript:

      Coyne: …Only about 40% of Americans accept evolution and only about 12% accept it in the way that we scientists do as a sort of purpose assigned by a materialistic universe.

      Purpose assigned by a materialistic universe?Yeah, right. As you can probably imagine, Jerry said no such thing – he actually said something about it being a purposeless process actioned by random mutation blah blah blah (in other words the textbook description of evolution). I noted several other howlers before I stopped reading the transcript as being just too inaccurate.

      • SallySevens
        Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        Actually, that is the exact quote that Coyne says..

  3. GBJames
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    On a lighter note:

    Happy John Frum Day, everybody!

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      Act fast. It’s nearly midnight on Vanuatu, and the landing strip lights are not on.

  4. scribe999
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    He’s been educated over and over again in the past, and he’s been excoriated in the iTunes comments about his bait-and-switch a) tactics b) show title. At this point, I’d have to conclude that the man is willfully stupid.

  5. JBlilie
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Quantum uncertainty = naturalism is false? What can one say to this except: DUH!

  6. Adrian Tate
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    That interview was pure entertainment, mainly due to the pure ignorance of the interviewer. His ending comments however (when he has you off the line) were quite sinister. He said that you are not a scientist but an Atheist fundamentalist despite the fact that belief and lack of belief were not mentioned in the interview. He then has the audacity to accuse you of not knowing enough of science, by which he actually means his favorite list of woo and conspiracy theories.

  7. JBlilie
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Quantum uncertainty = naturalism is false? What can one say to this except: DUH!

    He really gets those cheap shots in!

    “I’m going to get off the subject of quantum mechanics; but I will say that X paper by Y shows that neurons in two petri dishes show different results from quantum effects”

    And of course, he can’t quote papers! And yet he harps on about evidence!

    What a twit.

    Sheldrake, Schwartz.

    Sheesh what a moron! The fact that brains change physically (and psychologically) under learning, therefore materialism is flase???

    The BS just keeps piling up. AND I”M ONLY 18 MINUTES IN!

    Dr. C.: You did a great job parrying his nonsense and promoting your own points.

  8. DocAtheist
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Going to listen, now, but ever so excited to hear you went Hitchens on him!!!! Good on you, Jerry!

  9. Jolo
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    I have a hard time believing people would go on his show, I listened to his Monster Talk/Skepticality interview and found him antagonistic there. He is a True Believer.

  10. JBlilie
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    He keeps saying: Well, I don’t know about that …

    I wouldn’t agree that …

  11. Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    I suspect that interview looks considerably better on his CV than on yours, Jerry. (Until of course, someone listens to it.)

    Were it not for the fact that it sounds like the interviewer himself, I would find it hard to believe that the person “summing up” had actually listened to the interview. He certainly didn’t listen to the Wallace/Darwin bit! It is particularly ironic to make an attack about fundamentalists sticking to a set script when he refused to deviate from his, despite the numerous attempts by Jerry to get the discussion on to the subject it was (only) nominally about – evolutionary biology.

    I’m glad he didn’t send the papers for you to read a few days in advance for the simple reason that at least it minimised the amount of your time that was wasted on the whole enterprise. What a frustrating man! (Now I am going to Google some silly cat videos to cheer myself up.)

  12. Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    this guy is a semantic sally. and, i think his summarizations being recorded after the broadcast is in poor form. he primes his audience to think against whoever he’s interviewing. his opening remarks are very disheartening.

    • DocAtheist
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      You can’t exactly expect his propaganda and brainwashing of the masses to be effective, otherwise, can you? ;-D

  13. Steve
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink


    • Steve
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      subscribe I say

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 16, 2012 at 2:29 am | Permalink


        Damned “notify” box.

  14. JBlilie
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    When it’s pretty well understood that … some kind of BS based on one ID “scholar’s” opinion …

    Pretty tough sledding through the BS, holy crap.

  15. Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I didn’t comment on the original post because I didn’t see it. However, after reading the transcript (I couldn’t bear to listen to Alex Tsakiris’ voice), I want to compliment Jerry on his patience and forbearance. I would have walked out in the middle of the interview in protest of Tsakiris’ monumental rudeness and ignorance.

    • Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      funny you mention that. the first “draft” of my comment was “i hate his bullshit voice”.

      • RJ Langley
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        Sounded somewhere between Ben Stein and South Park’s Mr. Mackie to me.

  16. Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    And where do all the anti-atheist comments keep coming from?! The only reference to religion in the interview that I could find was this:

    “You become aware of that pretty quickly. You find that some of your students are resistant to evolution because it contravenes from their notions about human specialness or about morality or about religion or whatever. When I lectured at Maryland there used to be a preacher that would stand in front of the door of the building and attack evolution. I used to go listen to him. I didn’t say anything to him but I slowly realized that if I want my field to be recognized by people as a valid form of scientific inquiry–and I don’t want that just because I want my own test driver.”

    Hardly a case of fundamentalist atheism.

    Now contrast this to all the references to atheism by the interviewer before and after the interview. Shame on you, Skeptiko. Not only did you prevent Jerry Coyne from talking about evolutionary biology by trying to connect everything vaguely and non-specifically to physics but you then have the audacity to claim that his objections stemmed from his atheism. There is only one person in that interview who comes across as having an agenda, and it’s not Jerry Coyne.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 16, 2012 at 2:32 am | Permalink

      + 1

  17. Neil
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    The biggest mistake was for you to give Tsakiris the interview. You should have given him the Dawkins answer. “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine”.

    • Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      Depends how much he touts it, really. For Jerry it counts as practice.

    • vHF
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      This burn is Lord May’s of Oxford actually.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 16, 2012 at 2:33 am | Permalink

      Live and learn…

  18. Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Okay, I’ll just say that he was shotgunning quite a lot of stuff all at once, so it’s not like Jerry could respond to everything. Still, he threw parapsychology in there along with a whole litany of other stuff. I do hope I’m not the only one who noticed that.

    Not to resort to an ad hominem, but dude threw parapsychology in with quantum physics and evolutionary biology. What the fuck is that about?

    Poor Jerry.

    • Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      It gets better! 49:40 in he mentions our getting ‘information from the future’ when discussing whether mutations are deterministic, or random (in a truly chaotic sense, not in the just apparent sense). Information from the future is in someway operative on mutation and natural selection. And the observer effect.

      Or something.


      • Daniel
        Posted February 16, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        It is so ridiculous how Alex just throws in the (high school, ironically) buzzwords “Observer effect! Double slit! Duality!” as if that had any bearing on whether or not quantum entanglement AFFECTS biology!

        Does anybody remember The IT Crowd, first ever episode, where Jen gets the position in IT despite not having the slightest experience?

        Transcript from here:

        Denholm: I’m gonna put you in I.T. because you said on your CV you have a lot of experience with computers.

        Jen: I did say that on my CV, yes. I have a lot of experience with the whole computer thing you know, emails, sending emails, receiving emails, deleting emails, I could go on.

        Denholm: Do.

        Jen: The web. Using a mouse, mices, using mice. Clicking, double clicking. The computer screen, of course. The keyboard. The… bit that goes on the floor down there.

        Denholm: The hard drive.

        Jen: Correct.

        Denholm: Well, you certainly seem to know your stuff.

        — To me, as a physicist, this is how that sounded.

  19. JBlilie
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    What a moron! Dicing a few words in one paragraph in WEIT and some nonsense from a creationist “scholar”? And that’s IMPORTANT? In what way? And to the conversation?

    The point OF COURSE, is Wallace wasn’t given due credit because his ideas were more like creationism. DUH DUH DUH!

    This guy is a woo meister, start to finish!

    • articulett
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      It was Lamark’s ideas that were like creationism not Wallace’s. Wallace was on target– and he was just about to publish what Darwin had been sitting on for many years. This inspired Darwin to overcome his resistance to publish (he was afraid of religious reaction –but more afraid of having Wallace steal his thunder.)

  20. Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Wow, there are so many mistakes in the transcript, especially for a technical subject such as this. There are many instances where Jerry states “Newtonian physics” and the transcript has “Quantum physics” instead. It makes it really confusing and weird when Jerry talks of using Newtonian physics to calculate how billiard balls interact, and the transcript has Quantum physics. If someone is reading the transcript only, they will have missed the important point that at the scale of where biology operates that quantum mechanics has little to say about evolution. Without that idea of scale of operations, it is no wonder Quantum Woo Miesterism takes place.

    Also “Oceanic drift” when Jerry said “Genetic drift.”; that’s just sloppy.

    • Ray
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      The first one doesn’t bother me that much. The point is that for billiard balls, Quantum Mechanics and Newtonian mechanics don’t give particularly different predictions. Quantum mechanics works fine on all scales as far as we know, it’s just way more trouble than it’s worth where the classical limit can be used instead.

      • Posted February 16, 2012 at 5:48 am | Permalink

        Not only that, but it has been demonstrated that the paths of billiard balls are not predictable beyond a given (not very large) number of bounces, because of quantum uncertainty. I cited this in our discussions of free will but here it is again:

        How Determinate is the “Billiard Ball Universe”?
        (D.J.Raymond, 1967; American Journal of Physics; Feb. 1967; Vol. 35, Issue 2, pp. 102

        Money quote:”It is generally supposed that distinctly quantum-mechanical effects do not show up on the macroscopic level. However, it is shown here that the uncertainty principle imposes a drastic limit on the predictability of the detailed motion of a collection of colliding hard spheres, or ‘billiard balls.’ ”

        This should be true of any chaotic system ( a chaotic system is one in which arbitrarily small changes in initial conditions makes a large difference in later conditions). Many macroscopic systems are chaotic in the real world. We should never draw a line between the microworld and macroworld, and imagine that the laws of the microworld do not affect the macroworld. Jerry and others regularly do that. It would be good to be more careful.

        Also, quantum entanglement happens over arbitrarily large distances.

        Jerry’s response that none of this has to do with evolution is mostly true, but not entirely. If we ran the tape of earth’s history over again, it would give very different results, because of these QM effects. It would have repeated exactly under classical mechanics.

        • Posted February 16, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

          Now that is interesting.

          If QM has that effect on billiard balls, would its effects on molecular interactions by more significant — and on brain chemistry in particular? Is that what you meant re you comment on the “free will” thread? The idea had been bubbling up in my mind for the past couple of days… that even if our thoughts are completely governed by the laws of physics (which they are), they are not predetermined even on the order of a few seconds because QM effects create stochastic changes in the chemical potentials that mean some neurons fire in preference to others. That fits well with Dennett’s/Minsky’s “multiple drafts” model.

          Perhaps I ought to go back to that thread and weigh in…


        • Posted February 16, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

          Darn! Raymond’s paper is behind a paywall.


          • Posted February 16, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

            I’ll get it for you if you send me your email address.

            I am worried about these free will discussions here. They generally start by asserting a straight-up classical declaration of physical determinism. Then somebody backs up a bit and admits that we are in the 20th century and we know the world is not deterministic, but insists that it doesn’t matter. Randomness does not equal free will, they say. But randomness does mean some events are uncaused. Maybe some notions of free will could be consistent with this? But that idea is stomped out by claims that QM doesn’t affect big objects like brains.

            Yet this is not so easy to show. A brain might very well be a chaotic system. Not all the time, obviously. Most of the time our thoughts are certainly determined by the physical state of our brain and the external world a second or two prior. Evolution ensures that our brain must work that way, most of the time. But this is not necessarily always true. It is something that must be worked out. Maybe there is even survival value in “thinking outside the box” on rare occasions, so that evolution has built a slightly indeterminate brain for us?

            I once did some analyses of simple neural chains and found that if they were put together in a certain way, they could show chaotic behavior and demonstrate QM indeterminacy. Unfortunately I don’t have those analyses any more so I can’t check them.

            • Posted February 16, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

              I better be clear that I know the issue of free will has absolutely nothing to do with evolution. As Jerry kept trying to tell Alex, it is just an interesting subject.

            • Posted February 18, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

              Ant, did you get the Raymond article I sent you?

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 16, 2012 at 2:35 am | Permalink

      Good catch!

  21. Neale
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    When i stick to my guns and strongly fight my corner I often leave the fray with a kind of winners remorse (if i’ve won). This guy deserved the mauling he got from Jerry, I’m guessing that less determined interviewee’s let Tsakiris walk all over them as they let stuff go in the interest of politeness. The tenatious exactitude displayed by Jerry was evidently discomforting to Tsakiris. Well done Jerry, you did a great job on Tsakiris, a job that needs to be done more often.

    And his comments after you finished???? Whaddaguy!

    • Dominic
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      “When i stick to my guns and strongly fight my corner” I like the image Neale, but you are better off poking the guns out of the portholes! 🙂

  22. Dominic
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    If he peddles woo I am not sure I can force myself to listen. By the way, since your Sheldrake bit, his face has been following me around in web adverts!

  23. John
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    WOW! Unbelievable that he seems to question Dr. Coyne’s professional integrity because he couldn’t give an expert analysis on quantum mechanics. Does this guy not realize how complicated quantum mechanics is?!

    • Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Quantum is simple!

      1. I don’t understand it
      2. Therefore you don’t understand it
      3. MAGIC!!!

      Just wait till they get onto Many Worlds and Everett branches … then ask them what a configuration space is.

      • Jolo
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        Wait until he gets a physicist on to discuss evolutionary theory!

        • JBlilie
          Posted February 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

          Roll out your modern day Hoyle and the 747-in-the-junk-yard trope!

      • JBlilie
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        That’s it.

        And we might remind Mr. Tsakiris of what Feynman said (someone who really did understand QM): “If you think you understand QM, you don’t understnad QM.”

        Mr. T needs to take that to heart …

        • Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

          “understnad” – you seem to have had a random mutation there… QM at work?


          • DocAtheist
            Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink


  24. Urmensch
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    That whole interview reminded me so much of trying to talk to my brother, who had been getting into lots of crackpot sites about 2012, and Nibiru, quantum mechanics, and ESP. Including that Rupert Sheldrake and his bloody morphogenetic fields.

    It always involved taking some idea that seemed superficially plausible as a jumping off point for flights of fancy.

    It took a long time to get him to understand the difference between pseudoscience and actual science. That just because someone wrote a paper making certain claims that didn’t mean it would pan out upon peer review and attempted replication, etc.
    Never mind the people who took it as proven and then built whole castles in the air around it.

    There was certainly a lot of shouting and frustration before he understood what I was trying to explain.

    I thought Jerry showed remarkable patience, all in all.

    • Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      One of the ways you can demonstrate to your brother the difference between a scientist and a pseudo-scientist is the way that person responds to a “left-field” question. In the interview with Jerry, Jerry said:

      I’m a scientist. I cannot be pushed to make statements about stuff that I have not looked at in the past day or so. I just can’t.

      That is a very proper and professional approach to the question. If the person you are assessing for being “pseudo” or “actual” just leaps in and gives an opinion on some thing they just heard about, then that person is “Not and Actual Scientist” 😉

      • John
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        That was probably the best part of the interview, honestly.

      • Margaret
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        Yes, great answer by Jerry. Reminds me a bit of Sagan:

        And then I’m asked, “Yeah, but what do you really think?” I say, “I just told you what I really think.” “Yeah, but what’s your gut feeling?” But I try not to think with my gut. Really, it’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in.

        • Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

          Citation, please, if you know it!


          • Julien Rousseau
            Posted February 16, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

            Carl Sagan, The Burden Of Skepticism, The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 12, Fall 87

            At least according to this page which seems to have the whole article (haven’t read it yet, just googled it)

            • Posted February 17, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

              Oh, thanks, Julien. I could’ve done that. I jus though Margaret might have had it to hand.


              • Posted February 17, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink

                * just — or jus’!

  25. Jeffrey Shallit
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    The guy is a moron, and the interview was a sham. Don’t waste your time; the interviewer has no understanding of biology; nor is he interested in learning. He’s got an agenda and woe unto you if you don’t agree with it.

    • Daniel
      Posted February 16, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      I was actually quite amused about the whole Wallace / Darwin thing in the middle. I mean, what the fnord?

      All the back and forth about whether or not Wallace was treated unfairly by history? Who the hell cares? Jerry did a good job defending his point, and it was ridiculous that Alex kept coming back to that ONE (creationist) author who happens to disagree – but even so: What the hell does that even have to do with whether or not the theory of evolution works?

      It was so hilariously painful, in the end, to listen to Jerry trying to get an answer to that, but Alex was way too focused on getting vinidcation by proxy.


  26. Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Just so as there’s no misunderstanding, this Skeptiko guy is not me. I’m Skeptico NOT Skeptiko.

    • TheBrummell
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      I confess when I saw the title my first thought was “What happened to Skeptico?” and my second was “Did Skeptico moderate or host a discussion with Jerry and this Alex person?”

      Glad to see my fears of your injury were unfounded.

    • Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      He plays on that. I thought he was you when he asked me to do an interview, and that’s why I said yes. Total sandbag. The cheat is pretty damn brazen.

      • JBlilie
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        And his little last-word intro and coda: Wow, what an intellectually dishonest shite he is!

    • DocAtheist
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      Whew! Glad to hear it, but it must be very frustrating for you to deal with.

      • Skeptico
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        It’s mildly irritating. But then I never thought to buy the Skeptiko name when I set up Skeptico in 1995, so there’s probably not much I can do. It’s more irritating that he uses the name to pretend that he’s a skeptic when he is no such thing. The forces of Woo always seem to have to be deceptive to be able to get their message out.

        I didn’t realize you’s given him an interview, Ophelia, much less that you did it because you thought he was me. OTOH, I’ve had several emails from people who clearly thought I was him. I had fun with one guy who wanted to talk about reincarnation, IIRC. He kept coming back asking for clarification on the points I was making. He must have been pretty confused by the end; I wonder if he ever figured it out.

        • Skeptico
          Posted February 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

          I mean 2005, not 1995.

        • Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          So who’s registered sceptico and sceptiko? And sqeptiqo? And …


        • Posted February 15, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

          I’m pretty sure other people have made the same mistake. Massimo Pigliucci sounded surprised as his “interview” proceeded.

        • DocAtheist
          Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink


          • DocAtheist
            Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

            Oh, I see!

  27. rick longworth
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed listening for the wonderful rebukes. You go Jerry!

  28. Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    okay, just finished that whole travesty. funny thing, though. i read your book over a year ago. would have been nice to hear some refreshers. that guy robbed us all of good science information. what an ass. way to be a trooper, jerry!

  29. Kieran
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I read the transcript, don’t make me listen to it. I don’t think I would have been that patient.

    No understanding of biology at all and using a Disco guy as your evidence that Darwin’s evil PR company as slighted Wallace is the same as using donald duck for evidence on ornithology.

    So woo merchants use the old creationist tactic of sending stuff half an hour before an interview.

  30. Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I have just posted this on Alex Tsakiris’ page:

    If Alex Tsakiris is interested in discussing the implications of the 2007 paper by Gröblacher et al. I suggest he invite one of the seven authors on to his podcast. Most of them live in Austria but with current technology this should not present much of a problem. The quoted extract from the abstract appears to me to give the wrong impression out of its context. But don’t take my word for it read the complete abstract here: (Alex will find contact information in the same place.)

    Scopus lists 90 articles citing this article and there are probably many others. No doubt Alex, using his extensive knowledge of the literature of quantum theory, will be able to inform us precisely which ones cite it as “the final nail in the coffin of Materialism”

  31. DocAtheist
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I responded to some of the comments on that blog, after listening to the interview, and quickly. Good thing. It barely took a couple minutes before I was blocked from further comment. Apparently, I was flagged — for telling the truth, making idiots look in the mirror.

    • DocAtheist
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Here was my favorite reply, in response to someone who whined that Jerry couldn’t “think outside the box”:
      “Please, allow me to clear things up for you: Science is based on fact, on real data (bits of information) based on real world observations. Thinking outside the box provides ingenious new ways to test reality for even newer data upon which to learn more of the world from a scientific (i.e., reality-based) view. Making things up and believing them without proof is not science. It may be thinking outside the box, but if it is not science, don’t ask a scientist to support it. You might as well as an astronaut to sew stuffed animals. He could do it, of course, but what good is it?”

      • Posted February 16, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        And what is wrong with stuffed animals? 🙂

        • DocAtheist
          Posted February 16, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink


  32. Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Jerry, sorry about your Skeptiko experience.

    I had a fairly cordial but tough-minded discussion with him about consciousness, free will and naturalism back in 2007 in which we got into the nature of science, evidence, burden of proof, the nature of skepticism, etc. I got him to agree on the need for transparent, evidence-based, epistemically responsible explanations, but he still thinks mainstream science is somehow biased in favor of materialism, which of course it isn’t. Science isn’t in the business of defending any particular ontology, it’s a method of investigating reality.

    • Posted February 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Biased, no. Concluded as the correct metaphysics after several hundred years, yes. (This of course works against him, since it becomes a difficult matter, because the IBE is so strong.)

  33. Nom de Plume
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Oh man, I wish I’d known ahead of time that were doing this show, I would have told you not to bother (not that I’m anybody you’d listen to, of course). Some time back, I listened to his interview with Dr. Sam Parnia, who is conducting a study on near-death experiences. Parnia is about the mildest-mannered person on earth, but Tsakiris actually managed to get on his nerves.

    And yeah, the whole bait and switch with the “Skeptico” title pisses me off. Actual skeptics have precious little that caters to their interests without jackasses like Tsakiris luring them into wasting their time on his worthless show.

    • Nom de Plume
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      Oh for fuck’s sake. I’m trying to listen to it, and I don’t think I can make it through. Shorter Tsakiris: why aren’t you a physicist, Coyne?

  34. Occam
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Lessons well worth learning, Jerry.
    Having done my bit of radio and newspaper interviewing during my unruly youth, I can assure you that you have not yet seen the worst of it.
    Lesson 1: Never go on a radio show.
    Lesson 2: Never go on a live radio show.
    Lesson 3: If you do, make sure that you have post-rec editorial rights or, if live, obtain at least an agreed list of questions.
    Lesson 4: Make sure you have the time and opportunity to listen to at least a couple of recent interviews by your prospective interviewer before agreeing to your own.
    Lesson 5: Be prepared to treat the interviewer as a mentally retarded, attention-deficient, potentially dangerous outpatient.
    Lesson 6: Never relent. Never forbear. If necessary, forsake your good nature and good manners. Drive your point home with a hammer drill if needs be.
    Lesson 7: Get your own radio show 🙂

    Richard Dawkins, hardly a novice in these matters, was lured, a little more than a year ago, to an interview on a prestigious Swiss-German cultural TV broadcast. He was invited to present ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. Almost the entire interview was derailed by the interviewer: it turned into a dim, grating, kludgy grilling about ‘The God Delusion’. Dawkins did his best to answer the questions cogently and to get the discussion back on track. Unfortunately, he had not reckoned with the boneheaded cluelessness of the interviewer, who would not budge from her batch of cue cards, had no foundation except her convictions, and clearly had not digested Dawkins’ newest book. Had he taken the time to look her up, he’d easily found out that the lady in question is a theologian (Catholic, IIRC), specialises in religion themes (actually the editor of a religious broadcast), and has penned a theological dissertation (about ‘the questioning of free will by neurobiological research as a challenge to theology and ethics’, if you must ask), which I’ll refrain from commenting, except that it elicited a dying ‘oy gevalt!’ scream of Munchian intensity from my clenched throat.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      A lot of this is new to me. Do people like Dawkins, or other celebrities, really ask for agreed upon questions in advance or postproduction rights of editing? I’ve never done that. And if you never go on radio shows, either live or taped, you lose the chance to get your message out. Lessons 4-6 seem reasonable to me, though.

      I survived.

      • Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        If you are interviewed live it’s best to take a leaf out of the politicians’ book. You decide in advance what you are going to say and you say it whatever questions you are asked and you never let the interviewer interrupt you.

        • Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          That really is the key, Bernard. I learned the same thing, the hard way.

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 16, 2012 at 2:46 am | Permalink

          That sounds great, and I’m sure it’s a worthwhile tactic, but listeners tend to be quite attuned to question-avoidance. I always think less of a politician who sticks to talking points to the extent of totally ignoring context, however off-putting such “context” may be.

      • Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        When I was in interviewer for the Minnesota Atheists’ Atheists Talk radio show, I sent questions ahead of time to the guest. The big reason was so that they would be able to prepare both myself and the guest for an hour-long show and to make sure we at least tried to keep on track. Another reason, was that I wanted the guest to be able to give feedback ahead of time and suggest other tracks that may interest me and the listeners. It usually went pretty well. I always assumed that the listeners would be more interested in the guest than the listener.

        • Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

          I mean, more interested in the guest than the interviewer’s opinions.

      • Occam
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        Allowing for the facetiousness of #1&2, let me assure you that those, not necessarily just ‘celebrities’, who ignore #3 either do so at their peril, or must be prepared to outmanoeuvre & out-kvetch their interviewer (as you just did quite brilliantly yourself).

        My most memorable example was an interview with Werner Arber, 1978 Nobel Prize (with Ham Smith and Dan Nathans) for the discovery of restriction endonucleases. By the time I got through to him, Arber had been on the Nobel circuit for a couple of days, had had his share of dismal interviewers and dim-witted questions, and decided enough was enough. I stammered my first question (he was ‘my first Nobel’), after which he politely asked me to read him all the other questions, one by one, since clearly I had prepared them. Of course, this wasn’t live. This went on for ten minutes or so. Arber barely paused, then proposed to answer them according to a master structure that allowed him to navigate from the particular to the general, from his particular contribution to the general state of the subject, ending with an impromptu essay on the contingencies of research policy. At every junction, he repeated almost verbatim my questions (he hadn’t taken any notes), rephrased them so that they made a modicum of sense (imparting a lesson in journalism on the go) and went on to illuminate them in depth. It was a fascinating display of intelligence at work.
        Upon parting, he asked me: “Have I answered all the questions you wish you had asked?”

        For the rest of my (brief) career, I learned that for an interviewer, the answers ought to matter more than the questions. And if you’re talking to the brighter specimens of our species, let them do the work, and get the hell out of the way. A journalist’s ego is an intelligence-blocker.

        • DocAtheist
          Posted February 15, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink


        • Diane G.
          Posted February 16, 2012 at 2:50 am | Permalink

          Upon parting, he asked me: “Have I answered all the questions you wish you had asked?”

          For the rest of my (brief) career, I learned that for an interviewer, the answers ought to matter more than the questions. And if you’re talking to the brighter specimens of our species, let them do the work, and get the hell out of the way. A journalist’s ego is an intelligence-blocker.

          Bravo!! & lol!

          Please tell me you’re teaching journalism somewhere.

          • Occam
            Posted February 16, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            Alas, no. I’m lucky enough to have learned a couple of lessons myself.
            Mostly, they served to drive me out of journalism.

      • Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        I think you’ve nailed Lesson 5 already.


    • DocAtheist
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      vay is mier!

    • Scote
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      “Lesson 3: If you do, make sure that you have post-rec editorial rights or, if live, obtain at least an agreed list of questions.”

      I doubt any legit interview program gives the inteviewee editorial control.

      The best defense that is realistic, besides saying “no” to unscrupulous interviewers, is to have your own recording so you can post an un-edited version of the interview.

      • Occam
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know how things are handled in the American media. Over here in Europe, you’d be surprised. And it’s not necessarily the politicians who want, overtly, to exercise the most control (they have their spin machine anyway). In my time, I’ve interviewed artists, composers, writers, academics, scientists, inventors. The best of them were also those most willing to collaborate constructively in the editing. We used to joke that, after a carefully pre-scripted questionnaire and about the third round of editing, the interview achieved the proper level of freshness and spontaneity associated with in-your-face, no-holds-barred journalism.

  35. chance
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    :O This Alex guy is _hhhhhhhhhhorrible_ at thinking. Every time he said evolution I went “what?” He jumps to these wild and unrelated conclusions out of nowhere. It’s like watching a documentary on “how to commit logical fallacies.”

  36. Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, the Wikipedia article on scientific realism mentions that the 2007 experiment only rules out a large class of non-Bohmian non-local hidden variable theories. I haven’t spend much time with “foundations” issues, so I don’t have any particular insight into the matter.

    • Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      This issue of non-locality is absolutely irrelevant to evolution, as Jerry said in the interview, but the subject is surely one of the most profound in all of science, and really does deserve attention even from non-specialists. Bell’s theorem is one of the simplest and most profound results in all of science. More profound even than evolution!

      Though people argue about how well the experiments have disproven Bell’s locality condition, this can also be disproven simply by quantum mechanical calculations, and so far we have seen that these calculations are right in every other application. I would be amazed if QM were “off” just when applied to these nonlocality experiments and nowhere else.

      • Ray
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        enh. I don’t think most physicists even like non-local hidden variable models.

        Those that want a straightforward realist interpretation (with locality to boot) will sacrifice unique outcomes of measurements and take the MWI.

        Those who want an interpretation that subjectively looks like the view of the experimenter will go with Copenhagen. Now there’s a little problem with defining what counts as an observer, but it doesn’t change anything in practice, as long as the observer is larger than a very small breadbox.

        • Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

          “I don’t think most physicists even like non-local hidden variable models.”
          That is not the point. The point is that reality is non-local. Though as you say, the many-worlds interpretation makes that into a kind of illusion, but I don’t fully understand the meaning of locality or non-locality in that interpretation. Does anyone have a good reference for a discussion of this?

          • Posted February 16, 2012 at 1:23 am | Permalink

            Good and Real by Gary Drescher does a pretty good job, but it’s large and heavy going.

            The basic idea is: configuration space is not just a mathematical shadow of the real world, it’s the place where physics happens and the “real world” is the mathematical shadow. If you accept this, then what’s happening is conceptually simple and MWI falls straight out of it. Many people balk at this, but increasing numbers of physicists think it’s the case.

            (I am not a physicist and the above may be hideously oversimplified. I welcome correction or even just a slap upside the head.)

            • Posted February 16, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

              Thanks, but I wasn’t asking about a reference to the many worlds interpretation but specifically to the meaning of the concept of non-locality in that interpretation. Anyone know one?

              • Posted February 16, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

                The interactions are local in the configuration space, though they may not be local in “real” space (so that, e.g., widely-separated photons will have the same polarisation).

              • Ray
                Posted February 16, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

                definition of locality in MWI: spacelike separated observables commute.

                If that doesn’t work for you, think of it like this — for every point in space we define a number of fields (the electric and magnetic fields are the most familiar examples.) The one wrinkle is that the fields don’t have a definite value but a probability amplitude associated with every possible value. (probability amplitude is something you square to get an ordinary probability.)

                What locality means in the above context is that if you want to predict the probability distribution of the fields at a given time and place, based on the past state of the fields, you only need to look at probability amplitudes living inside the past light-cone of the point you’re interested in.

                So why is any of this even odd?

                1) you can’t measure probability amplitudes directly.
                2) While a state that looks like a slightly fuzzy classical state can be constructed, it isn’t dynamically stable — the quantum fuzziness can get amplified, causing the state to become a superposition of two independently evolving fuzzy classical states (this is what splitting worlds means in the MWI.) This is mitigated somewhat by Decoherence theory, which demonstrates that there is almost always a unique way to split the overall state into fuzzy classical “worlds.”
                3) It’s at least tricky to demonstrate that the squared amplitudes really are probabilities in the usual sense, if that assumption isn’t built in from the start.

    • Posted February 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      WARNING. QM has absolutely nothing to do with realism, as has been pointed out for *decades*. (I.e., it is, in any version, perfectly realistic – this is not to say it is the final theory or it is completely true.) “Realism” was given a new meaning by Bohr and company and we are still not paying attention to those like Popper and Bunge who have noted the semantic shift.

      What *is* new in QM is the fact that what were once thought to be “sharp” properties are now distributions (e.g. position) and also that certain sorts of seperability are false. This is the Bell inequality stuff; the physicists can mention details, but the gist is that nothing rules out *nonlocal* hidden variables directly (though getting that to work is hard), or the brute fact can be accepted (as I do for now) or, a combination, like in Storrs McCall’s work, which.

  37. Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    He did a sandbag interview with me a year or two ago. I was fooled by the name. That taught me to check people out before agreeing to do an interview!

    Advice for others: always say No to Alex Tsakiris.

  38. Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I loved this quote at the end:
    “It’s certainly true for folks like Jerry Coyne, whose arguments are fundamentally Atheist arguments. He’s isn’t really arguing things from a scientific perspective. He’s arguing really from what I’d have to call a religious perspective. A dogmatic set of beliefs that build like a house of cards to a conclusion that must always be true.”

    When the religious accuse atheists of acting religious as a criticism, you can tell they have no arguement.

  39. Matti K.
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    A couple of stupid questions:

    1) Technically, how is the interview made? Via skype?

    2) Who pays for this? Are there any advertisments?

  40. Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    That was a truly despicable interviewer. However, I was surprised by Jerry’s description of Wallace’s work on biogeography.

    Right from the beginning (long before 1859), Wallace’s travels were consciously focussed on “the species question”. Even before Wallace’s feverish insight into the mechanism of evolution, biogeography was seen by him as the key to understanding the origin of species. It was not merely descriptive.

    Wallace published on the subject in 1855, prior to the famous 1858 joint publication with Darwin. Wallace’s paper, “On the Law which has regulated the introduction of new species”, uses biogeographical evidence to suggest common ancestry of neighboring forms. His law was: “every species has come into existence coincident in both space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species.” In other words, several years before 1859, Wallace had reached something like the fact of evolution through his biogeographical investigations, though he did not realize the actual mechanism of evolution until 1858.

    His later biogeographical work largely centered on evolutionary questions.

    Wallace is the father of EVOLUTIONARY biogeography. He does not owe much to Darwin here.

    That said, we all know that Jerry’s interviewer doesn’t care a rat’s ass about the history of science, and only likes Wallace because of Wallace’s later woo.

  41. JBlilie
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I’m really proud of how you maintained your composure and civility in the face of the weasel tactics and goading of this twit.

    What a moron!

  42. Vall
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I just finished listening to the podcast. I have to ask did the interviewer go through the Fox news tutorial on logic and coherent argument? All of his arguments (if they can even be called that–you have to really stretch) are nothing more than speculative claims based on a cursory view of some really iffy speculations. The interviewer was ill prepared, untrained/uneducated and contentious while always trying to throw the onus of linking a far fetched, unrelated and questionable link between consciousness and evolution on Jerry who, being the sound thinker and scientist he is, simply said there is no evidence for this as far as we know and “I don’t see where you are trying to go with this”. This is an example of almost the lowest form of discourse, intellectual dishonesty, rudeness and mendacity that I have heard in a long time…well, that I have heard today. Jerry, how did you sustain the level of professionalism and courtesy you did? At any rate, Jerry, you rock!

  43. DocAtheist
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Jerry, your interviewer added aa comment on his site and i just responded to it:

    Alex Tsakiris: … Jerry is clearly coming at this as an atheist first
    and scientist second… it’s disappointing how prevalent this is in science.

    DocAtheist: Alex, a science relies on real evidence, facts, and not ideas or beliefs lacking such grounds. Religion relies on beliefs that must supercede their lack of evidence. You imply that there is something wrong with anyone who respects science for being exactly what it is, no more and no less. You further imply that it is worse when such stringent requirement for evidence is applied to religion and religion is found wanting. If such mentality bothers you that much, have you considered giving up all products resulting from such scientific minds? Religion, lacking the stringency of scientific reasoning, doesn’t seem to have provided our many modern technologic wonders. Do you think they’d have come about with prayer?

    • DocAtheist
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      (pardon typos)

      • Dawn Oz
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for sharing this DocAtheist.

        • DocAtheist
          Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

          You’re welcome. Anything that will help shed light on reality and bust through shuttered brains…

    • Posted February 15, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      I’m with you as far evidence goes, the peer reviewed literature being why I believe in psychic detectives and dogs who know their owners are coming home. But you’re obviously just another skeptical fundamentalist atheist scientist operating in the outdsted materialist paradigm. Don’t you know the coffin containing your obsolete worldview has been pounded shut with nail after nail provided by best NDA research?

      • blitz442
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        I believe in psychic detectives mainly because I am extremely gullible.

      • Posted February 15, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        I knew someone would say something like this!!

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink


        • DocAtheist
          Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

          Yep, we needed a good laugh! Evidence for woo? Ha!

      • Rumtopf
        Posted February 16, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

        Oh man, memories. I wrote a “Dogs Totally Know When Their Owners are Coming Home” essay in Year 9(age 14) English class, I was oh so convinced that our dogs were magic, or something.
        I totally failed to mention that dog hearing is stupid awesome and that(as I was using our own dogs as an example, ha!) people came and went rather routinely in our household, so they came to expect people coming home the same way they expected their dinner at 6pm. My teacher pointed out the gaping problems to me and I agreed with him. The theme for our essays was Mysteries, but we were expected to approach cases with skepticism in mind, my essay was awful and I missed the point. I wrote another essay about the Kasper Hauser case to make up for it.

  44. Gerard26
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    It was great to see you take off the gloves with this self-righteous woo spining prig! He clearly did not know what he was talking about when it came to evolution and I really enjoyed your Hitchen like moments.

  45. Bjarte Foshaug
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    But the guy has seen a lot of ‘documentaries’ on TV. How much more evidence do you need?

    Posted February 15, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Just wanted to thank Jerry for standing up to the woo merchant on Skeptico and for not letting him get his own long winded way, as he might have done with a less assertive interviewee. Tsikaris is so cock sure of himself and his world view, yet as can be seen clearly from this interview, he is egregiously ignorant of just about every scientific topic he turns his blather to, and seems quite incapable of arguing logically and rationally.
    Even so, he has rarely so excelled himself as in this interview, where his imbecility and ideological bias shine brightly for all to see.
    I would encourage everyone who has posted on this site to to over to Skeptico ( Tipping point Science ) and add rational, well thought out criticisms of the recent debacle to the comments section, not just so as to defend Jerry ( he hardly needs it! )but also to help enlighten any Skeptico devotee who otherwise would not be exposed to a sane, sceptical point of view. Simply click onto the title of Jerry`s interview, then scroll down to the comments section.
    Thanks again Jerry. Just how did you manage to keep your cool so well in the face of this appalling provocation?

    • Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink


  47. Lauri Törmä
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    “After reading Mr Darwin’s admirable work “On the Origins of Species”, I find that there is absolutely nothing here that is not in almost perfect agreement with that gentlemans facts & opinions.
    His work however touches upon & explains in detail many points which I had scarcely thought upon, – as the laws of variation, correlation of growth, sexual selection, the origins of instincts and of neuter insects, & the true explanation of Embryological affinities. Many of his facts & explanations in Geographical distribution are also quite new to me & of the highest interest-” Alfred Russel Wallace

    Source: Natural selection & beyond: the intellectual life of Alfred Russel Wallace. Page 97.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 16, 2012 at 3:01 am | Permalink

      Most apt. Thanks.

    • Posted February 16, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Notice that Wallace’s self-effacing sentence “many of his facts & explanations in Geographical distribution are also quite new to me & of the highest interest” implies that some of Darwin’s explanations of geographical distribution were already known to him before reading On the Origin of Species. There is no doubt that Darwin was far more thorough than Wallace, but long before the publication of the Origin, Wallace was obsessed with using biogeography to solve the species question. He, not Darwin, was the first to publish on this subject. Wallace’s 1855 article I cited in Comment 40 is online :
      It is worth reading.

      Darwin mentions this article in his Origin of Species:

      “…This view of the relation of the species of one region to those of another, does not differ much from that advanced by Mr. Wallace, who concludes that “every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing closely allied spcies.” And it is now well known that he attributes this coincidence to descent with modification”
      Origin, Chapter 12.

      Even before the 1855 paper, everything Wallace did in his biogeographic studies was aimed at just one question. From a letter of Wallace to Bates in 1845:
      “I have rather a more favourable opinion of the “Vestiges” than you appear to have –
      I do not consider it as a hasty generalisation, but rather as an ingenious hypothesis strongly supported by some striking facts and analogies but which remains to be proved by more facts & the additional light which future researchers may throw upon the subject – it at all events furnishes a subject for every observer of nature to turn his attention to; every fact he observes must make either for or against it, and it thus furnishes both an incitement to the collection of facts & an object to which to apply them when collected –
      I would observe that many eminent writers gave great support to the theory of the progressive development of species in Animals & plants – ”

      Here is a post by Stuart Pimm which touches on the 1855 paper:

      ‘Writing from Sarawak, Alfred Wallace nailed the most important law of living things in a crisp 18 words:
      ‘Every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species.’
      ….We don’t find trilobites scattered in the Devonian, Jurassic, and Eocene with nothing in between. Nor are polar bears only in Greenland, Patagonia, and Tibet. The paper screams for an explanation of these bundled generalities of palaeontology and biogeography.
      The scientific community were asleep at the wheel and barely noticed.”
      S Pimm,

  48. Posted February 15, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    wow, that was a painful way to spend my lunch hour, listening to a crap fest. Jerry you didn’t curse one time. Your a better man than I Gunga Din!!

  49. Posted February 15, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Now THAT’S how it’s done! Great interview and a masterful handling of a very dishonest host.

  50. DocAtheist
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, what if, when the interviewer garbled so much woo together, what if you had asked him to clarify? It might imply that he’s not making sense, and force him to either repeat ad nauseum to prove he hasn’t the understanding of his own woo to paraphrase, or, with each attempt to paraphrase, the word salad would become ever more obvious. Then, you’d just be letting him have all the rope he needs to hang himself. He throws the ball into your court, covered with slime and ooze, but instead of picking it up, you kick it back to him. Just a thought, anyway. Manipulative people deserve to be manipulated.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Jerry, sorry that you were ambushed! You would need specific training to deal with these charlatans. Richard Dawkins isn’t skilled at this either, as these people come from another universe. Hitch could play with them (a skill honed over the decades – however he was a journo, not a scientist). The people who share this email-list with you know the difference between a hypothesis and theory. We also have an idea what we don’t know. This fellow wanted you to flex his ego upon, not to mine you for information (as I said, an ambush). Our Australian Prime Minister (who has many skills in this area), was ambushed badly the other evening on Australian TV. Its another universe. Congrats on your courage, and you now know indubitably what these creeps are up to.

      DocAtheist has some good ideas.

      • DocAtheist
        Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

        Thank you.

  51. DV
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Skeptiko has his fans too, congratulating him in the comments. But I guess that is to be expected.

  52. Posted February 15, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the best example of willful ignorance I’ve ever heard.

  53. exrelayman
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Dr. Coyne. You have shown how a gentleman and a scholar responds to idiocy.

    Your adroit poise is all the more admirable when one reflects that you were completely unprepared, while you can be sure the adversary (he does not deserve the appellation interviewer) had prepared extensively to attack, not interview, you.

    I did learn one thing from reading the comments over there, the German word fremdscham, which was totally apropos for what anyone should feel regarding Skeptiko.

  54. Darth Dog
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Well I went to the site to read the transcript but didn’t get very far. When someone starts out by saying he is doing an interview on evolutionary biology and evolutionary biology isn’t interesting, I have to stop. Why would he expect people to continue when he just told them he thought the subject was boring.

    Why would you read a book or article if in the first paragraph the author said “This is about X. I don’t think it is a very interesting subject.”

    If he thinks the statement is a dig at his guest, it’s not. He’s the interviewer and it just says that he doesn’t think he does a good job.

    • Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      good point. total trainwreck in the making after that comment, which is the second reason i listened to the whole thing. the first being to hear coyne’s best hitchens impression.

  55. R.W.
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Lesson #1: Having the work “Skeptik” in your blog or podcast title doesn’t mean you’re skeptical.

    As it stands, I’m afraid this sentence needs some, err, work.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Yes, “work” has become “word.”


  56. Hempenstein
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Crimony! You deserve an invitation from Charlie Rose to make up for that ghastly waste of your time.

  57. Posted February 15, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I don’t post much but I had to log something here. To say that “we are may be receiving information from the future” or that “we are receiving information from something beyond our biological brain” is completely bonkers. Only nut jobs would look into something like this.

    • aquaria40
      Posted May 17, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

      I know it’s late, but I just had to comment on this:

      :Receiving information from something beyond our biological brain:

      This is just a phenomenally stupid statement.

      If you read it a certain way, you can say, yes, we do receive information FROM something beyond brains. We can receive them from books, computers, our moms, our environment, the radio–the list is really long!

      Now if he’d said receive information WITH…

      Nope, that doesn’t work, either. Because we receive information all the time with our eyes, ears, mouths, noses, skin, stomachs, groins, and more. They don’t do any interpretation of it (the brain’s job), but they receive plenty of info, 24/7!

      But I like to have fun with the woo-meisters that way, tripping them up on their own stupidity.

      • rickflick
        Posted May 18, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        “tripping them up on their own stupidity.”

        I think you meant hoisted on their own petard.

  58. piero
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    There are two egregious “errors” in the transcript:

    Jerry: billiard table for which NEWTONIAN mechanics is perfectly applicable

    Transcript: billiard table for which QUANTUM mechanics is perfectly applicable

    Jerry: For most MACRO-phenomenon you’re turning to CLASSICAL NEWTONIAN mechanics.

    Transcript: For most micro-phenomenon you’re turning to quantum mechanics

    I cannot believe these are honest errors. They were pointed out in the comment thread and were not corrected. And now comments are closed. Is there anything more despicable than being dishonest? Yes, being dishonest and a coward.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 16, 2012 at 3:07 am | Permalink

      I cannot believe these are honest errors.


  59. Daryl
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    We may not have the ‘Hitch Slap’ anymore, but at least now we have the ‘Coyne Toss’.

    Well done, Jerry.

    • DocAtheist
      Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

      LOL! Very punny!

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 16, 2012 at 3:08 am | Permalink


    • rickflick
      Posted May 18, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      Coyn toss? that’s beautiful.

  60. No One
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink


    this is a common Greek debating tactic. You try to get your opponent to admit they might be wrong… about anything… From that point on you are pretty much fucked.

    Alex tried and failed that’s why the bizarre pre and post addendum to the interview, and the lament of his poor, orphaned “talking points” re-iterated in the last entry before he shut down posting on his site.

    The little shit had to have the last word, much like and ice pack to sooth his bruised buttocks.

  61. Gus
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Sorry Jerry but you’ve been had. This sorry ass hack had been exposed by Steven Novella and his crew a long time ago. You borrowed your name to an intellectual cheat. The little coward is so pathetic he couldn’t take the flak anymore and disabled the comments on his blog.

    “Science” and “skepticism” should be controlled denominations, like “champagne”. Would you run a website called “Tolerance” to argue that Mein Kampf contains many valuable insights about mankind? Because that is the exact equivalent of what this clown is doing calling himself “skeptiko”.

  62. MAUCH
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    It’s best you learn from this experience and not let this happen again. A person of this caliber should never have been allowed to exploit you by sucking you into this sillyness.

  63. matticus
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Listening to the interviewer was painful. I’m sorry you had to go through this experience, Dr. Coyne.

  64. Dale
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Wow I just listened to the podcast. This Alex fellow is off on the woo woo choo choo. A solution looking for a problem. I think that Dr. Coyne was too forbearing. The only help one can offer some folks is a glimpse of what fools they are.

  65. squidmaster
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    It’s relatively easy to peddle woo and be ‘skeptical’ of mainstream science because you don’t need to know jack to do it. I deal with this crap all the time. I am an academic psychiatrist with a PhD in physical chemistry who researches addiction using fMRI. You can imagine the nonsensical questions I get asked about quantum mechanics, brain function, free will, etc. all in pursuit of whatever preconception is espoused by the questioner. I’ve had ‘free will’ (and that old uncertainty principle is always trotted out to support it) used to justify both 1) locking addicts up and treating them harshly and 2) making drugs freely available because it’s the ‘fundamental conflict inherent in quantum uncertainty that paradoxically drives free individuals to self destructive action in the face of radical societal paternalism’. The person who said the latter had *not* been using meth. Not sure about the first questioner.

    You were nicer than I would have been.

  66. Wootiko
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Ha! He closed the comments section and like always avoids every question/confrontation.

    I’m glad the interview happened, it serves a purpose = stay away from woo bushwacker Alex Tsakiris

    He should rename Skeptiko to Wootiko because i see alot of people keep calling it SkeptiCo.

  67. Omul
    Posted February 16, 2012 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on WordPress Trends.

  68. Diane G.
    Posted February 16, 2012 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    Can’t remember the last time I was so frequently mentally shouting STFU at an interviewer…

  69. Posted February 16, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    Hmmm, sorry that you spent an hour of your life that way.

  70. Posted February 16, 2012 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    The interview host is a classical example of the Dunning-Kruger effect; he is so clueless he doesn’t know that he is clueless.

  71. Blattafrax
    Posted February 16, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    As suggested by Alex Tsakiris I Googled “quantum entanglement in biological systems” 111000 hits. Pubmed though gives 9 hits for the same. (None with any real data as far as I can tell.)

    That’s >100000 times more woo than science.

    Compares badly with lycanthropy in case you were wondering.

  72. Ratsnake
    Posted February 16, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Alex locked the comment section…typical.

  73. AndyB
    Posted February 16, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I don’t know how you kept your cool Jerry. “Many people….some say…it is said”. Oh and why haven’t you read every paper published on quantum physics before you come on my show!

    Glad I’m thousands of miles away from that loon. No doubt he would want me to know the exact distance in kilometres.

  74. SplendidMonkey
    Posted February 16, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    At 26:00 the guy says “alls I’d be doing”. I don’t take that as a colloquialism so much as a sign of poor education. Is that a colloquialism? Am I a snob?

    • DocAtheist
      Posted February 16, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

      As my mother used to say: “People will judge you by the way you speak.” Speak with poor English, and even if you’re brilliant, people will expect you’re “dumber than dirt.” Speak with proper English, and even if you’re barely able to connect two thoughts at once, people will think you’re intelligent. Alex? Dumber than dirt. Poor English suggests it, inability to demonstrate depth of understanding, particularly when he chose the topics,proves it

  75. llewelly
    Posted February 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    A bit of pedantry:

    No! No, because they’re talking about what happens in a very, very tiny micro level. It does not mean that you can’t predict what happens when billiard balls hit each other on a billiard table for which quantum mechanics is perfectly applicable. It’s as if you’re saying we can’t play billiards and we can’t shoot rockets to the moon because of this stuff that happens on a micro level.

    Here, it would be more accurate to refer to a “nano” level, or even a “pico” level, than to a micro level. Quantum nondeterminism is far easier to demonstrate if the scale is nanometers, than if it is micrometers. In fact, as far as I know, C60 buckyballs are the largest object for which nondeterminism has been demonstrated, and they are 0.71 nanometers across. So a good argument for “pico” could me made, as that is 710 picometers. Many other quantum effects would be on the scale of tens of picometers rather than hundreds.

    • Posted February 16, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

      There is no size limit on quantum effects. Indeterminacy can be macroscopic. Listen to a Geiger counter clicking away. Get an interference pattern as big as you want (hint- choose long wave lengths). Supercooled objects can be centimeter-sized. Etc.

  76. llewelly
    Posted February 16, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    On the whole, I don’t think you fared too badly. Many skeptics, notably Benjamin Radford, and Richard Wiseman, fared far worse against Alex’s sandbagging, Gish-Galloping, and other disingenuous attacks.

    Here’s the SGU episode with Alex:
    [audio src="" /]

    (Wow. That seems like aeons ago.)

  77. Chris Booth
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    There is no such thing as “fundamentalist atheism”. You can not have fundamentalist lack of belief. I do not believe in Norse-type trolls, and I do not fear them when near bridges or in the wooded hills. And I think that Arthur Conan Doyle was an absolute credulous sap. That is not “fundamentalist afeyism”.

    The “fundamentalist atheism” gambit is pure fraud. It is an attempt to paint the opponent in the colors of his own creed, then pull a Monty Python-type cry of “Ooh! Ooh!” while pointing at the planted paper bag, etc.

    I think of it as the fat kid calling the skinny kid fat. Why not? The point scored when used against him!

    So the religios and woo-woo-dancers try to claim atheism–or science, or skepticism–is also a religion; they think that once they are equal they can then say “ooh, ooh, look how bad you were actually all along, you were what you said I am…therefore I win!”

    And Sheldrake! What driveling piffle! [To Sheldrake’s dubious credit, “morphic resonance” is a much better use of language than “irreducible complexity”.] Tsakiris has done more than one program on Sheldrake in the past, and it speaks volumes about Tsakiris’ intellectual acuity and integrity that he voided out all the debunking of Sheldrake and cites it as if its established science.

    Can we please start calling this program by its proper name? It should be Credulo. He’s trying to play dress-up in Daddy-Rationalisms clothes, and it is dishonest, hypocritical, and fraudulent. The clothes don’t fit, but he doesn’t see that others can see he’s playing Trick-or-Treat out of season.

  78. Pablo
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    How about the interview Alex did with Susan Blackmore?

    Talk about sandbagging!

    It was obvious Alex resents Susan for abandoning her paranormal research decades ago
    (kinda makes true hardcore believers like him look bad) but he attacked her for the fact that other people bring her up as a shining example of an ex-paranormal researcher who let the evidence (or lack thereof) persuade her that it was a waste of time.

    Alex blamed her for being brought up in other people’s conversation and he also confronted her with the latest studies in NDEs, expecting her to be informed about a field he resents her for having abandoned decades ago, and then chastising her for not having kept in touch with the field she had abandoned decades ago.

    He conveniently ignored Susan’s simple rebuttal that if all you’ve got are a few supposedly odd observations but no working theory to account for them, then you’ve got nothing much for her to evaluate.

    He then proceeded to try to further undermine Susan’s credibility by questioning her understanding of Buddhism (how that even begins to be relevant to NDE was not clarified).

    Yes, Alex is an asshole. Too bad Susan remained so calm and humble throughout the interview. Assholes should invite assholes to their programmes.

  79. paul
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I noticed a mistake… at around 13 mins 15 seconds in you talk about billiard balls on a billiard table and say newtonian mechanics is perfectly applicable. They quote you as saying “quantum mechanics.” Changes what you said dramatically so I wanted to make you aware of it.

  80. Sue
    Posted February 17, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    After listening to the podcast, I feel you were very clear in what you were saying and I think it was Jerry who could not correctly ask you,’Do you feel that you can understand something by not seeing the beauty of it? Wallace and Darwin’s view of nature and the natives were completely opposite and I wonder if Wallace took his time with his research because he wanted to have a full understanding of nature and evolution by looking at it with loving eyes and experiencing it more? Were the first explorers not incorrect in their findings because they rushed to tell the world, instead of taking the time to fully understand it or map it out?’ I don’t think you will ever understand something that you cannot love and Darwin was disgusted by nature and biology.

  81. Posted February 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Now I have to tell you: I’ve never been that interested in really exploring evolutionary biology. And the reason is that from the very beginning, I saw that issues of consciousness being [sic] much more central to these core Big Picture Science Questions that we want to talk about.

    For me, it’s the opposite. The big picture science questions are so dependent on evolutionary biology that it’s hard to even begin to contemplate it without first understanding who and what we are.

  82. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos
    Posted February 18, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    I have given Alex four specific corrections to the transcript, so hopefully he will make them soon.

    ~~ Paul

    • Stuart Robbins
      Posted February 18, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Hey Paul, I noticed that Alex said he fixed the problems in the transcript. Too bad he didn’t. I wrote about your efforts here:

    • Paul C. Anagnostopoulos
      Posted February 18, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      I posted two more corrections over at Skeptiko.

      I very much doubt this was done on purpose by whomever transcribed the interview. And I think when Alex posted “all better” he meant that those were good corrections and would be posted. Let’s give him a little longer.

      Someone besides the transcriber should proofread the transcription.

      ~~ Paul

      • Paul C. Anagnostopoulos
        Posted February 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

        All my corrections have now been fixed.

        ~~ Paul

  83. Wayne Tyson
    Posted February 19, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    The interviewer is as slippery as a greased pig. Demagoguery, like an oyster, needs a tiny bit of truth to give credibility to the shiny convolutions which he or she wraps around it.

    What’s missing at the core of this “interview” is intellectual discipline, and that, like on so many other sites where readers or listeners chime in, further running the subject off into the weeds, makes any kind of joint exploration of the subject impossible.

    I listened to most of it–far too much of it–but it never went anywhere to the point where I thought there was no point to . . . “The bells, the BELLS!” (Apologies to V. Hugo) Every time it gets too hot in the kitschen, the schlemiel changes the subject. Oy vay!

    Coyne did an admirable job in slaying the paper dragons and the entire army of straw-men arrayed against him, but why, dear sir, did you waste your time in the first place?


    Oh, yeah–I could not find a single flaw in anything Coyne said, but the interviewer? Sheesh! Nothing but BS.

    • Wayne Tyson
      Posted February 19, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

      And ummm . . .

      There are people whose intellectual activity consists of scanning their world for bits and baskets which align with their prejudices–concluding that if they line up they must be right, and if they don’t they must be wrong.

  84. Paul C. Anagnostopoulos
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Now there is an interview with Michael Flannery of the Disco ‘Tute, with the goal of showing that Coyne’s take on Alfred Russell Wallace is incorrect. And Alex would like a follow-up interview with Coyne.


    ~~ Paul

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] professors Science professors are sometimes “ambushed” in interviews by those who push “woo”. What I think happens is that some think that they have it “all figured out” and that […]

  2. […] this brings back memories – Jerry Coyne did an interview with Alex Tsakiris of “Skeptiko”- which is “Skeptiko,” please note, not “Skeptico.” There’s a […]

  3. […] The problem is that one needs a certain level of fundamental understanding of science to even ask meaningful questions, which this interviewer doesn’t. You might see Professor Coyne’s take on it. […]

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