About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Michael's Picks

by Michael De Dora

* The New York Times details the anti-abortion movement’s current fight to restrict reproductive rights across the country.

* You might think it’s a stretch to say that we can predict whether a person leans left or right by looking at their brain scan, but Andrea Kuszewski doesn’t necessarily think so.

* You’ve probably heard of the new movie Moneyball, which stars Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane. Here’s the story behind the movie. It essentially represents skepticism as applied to baseball.

* A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the United States’ use of drones to carry out strikes on suspected militants in areas of the world where the U.S. is not formally engaged in war, such as Pakistan. Two days after my essay, the New York Times reported that President Obama’s legal team is in the midst of a hotly contested debate on whether to expand the drone program to attack militants in Yemen and Somalia.

 * The Guardian discusses Stephen Pinker’s new book, in which the evolutionary psychologist argues that violence is on the decline.

* Twenty percent of Americans think God is guiding the economy, according to a new poll. I’m honestly surprised that number is so low.

* NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has ordered his police force, the largest in the world, to stop arresting minimal marijuana possessors.

* Two (admittedly morbid) Wikipedia pages that kept me busy while home sick this weekend: a list of unusual deaths, and a list of unsolved deaths.


  1. It's "funny" that Pinker bases his book on a book by a European Jew written in the middle of 1939, to claim that violence has gone down. Rather, in non-democratic societies, violence has been institutionalized even as it has risen.

  2. The unsolved deaths page has two notable omissions, at least as far as personal agents of cause:
    1. In the 1925-49 period, it's lacking Judge Joseph Crater, surely the most famous unsolved death of the first half of the 20th century in the U.S.
    2. in the period 1950-74, no Dag Hammarskjold? Note - for those unaware, his brother had mining interests in Katanga, adding to the likelihood he was murdered by deliberately caused plane crash.

  3. ....and, oddly enough, the Unusual Deaths page seems to bear out Steven Pinker's thesis - reading through from antiquity to modern time, fewer people seem to be done to unusual deaths by their fellows and more by their own hands - or imprudences.


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