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.