You Are Not So Smart

You Are Not So Smart


You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of self delusion that explores topics related to cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies. David McRaney interviews scientists about their research into how the mind works, and then he eats a cookie.


087 - Paranoia  

Jesse Walker is the author of The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, a book that explores the history of American conspiracy theories going all the way back to the first colonies. Walker argues that conspiratorial thinking is not a feature of the fringe, but a fundamental way of looking at the world that is very much mainstream. Listen as Walker explains why we love conspiracy theories, how they flourish, how they harm, and what they say about a culture. Show notes at: SPONSORS: • The Great Courses - • EXO Protein -

086 - Change My View  

For computer scientist Chenhao Tan and his team, the internet community called Change My View offered something amazing, a ready-made natural experiment that had been running for years. All they had to do was feed it into the programs they had designed to understand the back-and-forth between human beings and then analyze the patterns the emerged. When they did that, they discovered two things: what kind of arguments are most likely to change people’s minds, and what kinds of minds are most likely to be changed. In this episode you’ll hear from the co-founder of Reddit, the moderators of Change My View, and the scientists studying how people argue on the internet as we explore what it takes to change people’s perspective and whether the future of our online lives is thicker filter bubbles or the whittling away of bad ideas. SPONSORS • The Great Courses Plus - • Squarespace - use the offer code SOSMART at SHOW NOTES at

085 - Misremembering - Julia Shaw (rebroadcast)  

Julia Shaw's research demonstrates the fact that there is no reason to believe a memory is more accurate just because it is vivid or detailed. Actually, that’s a potentially dangerous belief. Shaw used techniques similar to police interrogations, and over the course of three conversations she and her team were able to convince a group of college students that those students had committed a felony crime. In this episode, you’ll hear her explain how easy it is to implant the kind of false memories that cause people just like you to believe they deserve to go to jail for crimes that never happened and what she suggests police departments should do to avoid such distortions of the truth. • Show Notes: SPONSORS • Stoicon '16 - • Blue Apron - • The Great Courses -

084 - Getting Gamers - Jamie Madigan  

Why do people cheat? Why are our online worlds often so toxic? What motivates us to "catch 'em all" in Pokemon, grinding away for hours to hatch eggs? In this episode, psychologist Jamie Madigan, author of Getting Gamers, explains how by exploring the way people interact with video games we can better understand how brains interact with everything else. SPONSORS: • The Great Courses Plus: • Squarespace: - offer code: SOSMART Show notes at:

083 - Idiot Brain - Dean Burnett  

In this episode we interview Dean Burnett, author of "Idiot Brain: What Your Brain is Really Up To." Burnett's book is a guide to the neuroscience behind the things that our amazing brains do poorly. In the interview we discuss motion sickness, the pain of breakups, why criticisms are more powerful than compliments, the imposter syndrome, anti-intellectualism, irrational fears, and more. Burnett also explains how the brain is kinda sorta like a computer, but a really bad one that messes with your files, rewrites your documents, and edits your photos when you aren't around. Dean Burnett is a neuroscientist who lectures at Cardiff University and writes about brain stuff over at his blog, Brain Flapping hosted by The Guardian. SPONSORS: • The Great Courses Plus: • Blue Apron: Show notes at:

082 - Crowds (rebroadcast)  

This episode’s guest, Michael Bond, is the author of The Power of Others, and reading his book I was surprised to learn that despite several decades of research into crowd psychology, the answers to most questions concerning crowds can still be traced back to a book printed in 1895. Gustave’s Le Bon’s book, “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind,” explains that humans in large groups are dangerous, that people spontaneously de-evolve into subhuman beasts who are easily swayed and prone to violence. That viewpoint has informed the policies and tactics of governments and police forces for more than a century, and like many prescientific musings, much of it is wrong. Listen in this episode as Bond explains that the more research the social sciences conduct, the less the idea of a mindless, animalistic mob seems to be true. He also explains what police forces and governments should be doing instead of launching tear gas canisters from behind riot shields which actually creates the situation they are trying to prevent. Also, we touch on the psychology of suicide bombers, which is just as surprising as what he learned researching crowds.

081 - The Climate Paradox  

In this episode, psychologist Per Espen Stoknes discusses his book: What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming. Stoknes has developed a strategy for science communicators who find themselves confronted with climate change deniers who aren't swayed by facts and charts. His book presents a series of psychology-based steps designed to painlessly change people’s minds and avoid the common mistakes scientists tend to make when explaining climate change to laypeople.

080 - Deep Canvassing  

Oddly enough, we don’t actually know very much about how to change people’s minds, not scientifically, that's why the work of the a group of LGBT activists in Los Angeles is offering something valuable to psychology and political science - uncharted scientific territory. The Leadership Lab has been developing a technique for the last eight years that can change a person’s mind about a contentious social issue after a 20-minute conversation. This episode is about that group's redemption after their reputation was threatened by a researcher who, in studying their persuasion technique, committed scientific fraud and forced the retraction of his paper. That research and the retraction got a lot of media attention in 2015, but the story didn't end there. In the show, you will meet the scientists who uncovered that researcher's fraud and then decided to go ahead and start over, do the research themselves, and see if the technique actually worked. Show notes at

079 - Separate Spheres  

Common sense used to dictate that men and women should only come together for breakfast and dinner. According to Victorian historian Kaythrn Hughes, people in the early 19th Century thought the outside world was dangerous and unclean and morally dubious and thus no place for a virtuous, fragile woman. The home was a paradise, while men went out into the world and got their hands dirty. By the mid 1800s, women were leaving home to work in factories and much more, and if you believed in preserving the separate spheres, the concept that men and women should only cross paths at breakfast and dinner, then as we approached the 20th century, this created a lot of anxiety for you. In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, we explore how the separate spheres ideology is still affecting us today, and how some people are using it to scare people into voting down anti-discrimination legislation. Show notes at: • Patreon: • Donate Directly through PayPal: SPONSORS • Blue Apron: • The Great Courses Plus:

078 - The Existential Fallacy  

Hypothetical situations involving dragons, robots, spaceships, and vampires have all been used to prove and disprove arguments. Statements about things that do not exist can still be true, and can be useful thinking tools for exploring philosophical, logical, sociological, and scientific concepts. The problem is that sometimes those same arguments accidentally require those fictional concepts to be real in order to support their conclusions, and that’s when you commit the existential fallacy. In this episode we explore the most logical logical fallacy of them all, the existential fallacy. No need to get out your pens and paper, we will do that for you, as we make sense of one the most break-breaking thinking mistakes we’ve ever discovered. Show notes at: • Patreon: • Donate Directly through PayPal: SPONSORS • Bombas: • Casper: • The Great Courses Plus:

077 - The Conjunction Fallacy  

Here is a logic puzzle created by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Linda is single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with the issue of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in demonstrations. Which of the following is more probable: Linda is a bank teller or Linda is a bank teller AND is active in the feminist movement? In studies, when asked this question, more than 80 percent of people chose number two. Most people said it was more probably that Linda is a bank teller AND active in the feminist movement, but that's wrong. Can you tell why? This thinking mistake is an example of the subject of this episode - the conjunction fallacy. Listen as three experts in logic and reasoning explain why people get this question wrong, why it is wrong, and how you can avoid committing the conjunction fallacy in other situations.

076 - The Genetic Fallacy  

If you traced back the ad hominem attack and the argument from authority to their shared source, you would find the genetic fallacy, a fallacy that appears when people trace things back to their sources. We often overstate and overestimate just how much we can learn about a claim based on where that claim originated, and that's the crux of the genetic fallacy. In this episode listen as three experts in logic and reasoning explain when we should and when we should not take the source of a statement into account when deciding if something is true or false.

075 - Special Pleading  

Sometimes you apply a double standard to the things you love, the things you believe, and the things crucial to your identity, and often you do so without realizing it. Special pleading is all about searching for exemptions and excuses for why a standard, or a rule, or a description, or a definition does not apply to something that you hold dear. It's also used to explain away how something extraordinary fails to stand up to scrutiny, or why there is a lack of evidence for a difficult-to-believe claim. In this episode, listen as three experts in logic and reasoning dive deep into the odd thinking behind the special pleading fallacy.

074 - Begging The Question  

If you believe something is bad because it is...bad, or that something is good because, well, it's good, you probably wouldn't use that kind of reasoning in an argument, yet, sometimes, without realizing it, that's exactly what you do. In this episode three experts in logic and rationality explain how circular reasoning leads us to "beg the question" when producing arguments and defending our ideas, beliefs, and behaviors.

073 - Bayes' Theorem  

We don’t treat all of our beliefs equally. For some, we see them as either true or false, correct or incorrect. For others, we see them as probabilities, chances, odds. In one world, certainty, in the other, uncertainty. In this episode you will learn from two experts in reasoning how to apply a rule from the 1700s that makes it possible to see all of your beliefs as being in “grayscale,” as neither black nor white, neither 0 nor 100 percent, but always somewhere in between, as a shade of gray reflecting your confidence in just how wrong you might be...given the evidence at hand. • Show notes: • Patreon: • Donate Directly through PayPal: SPONSORS • MIT Press: • Casper Mattresses: • The Great Courses Plus:

072 - The Dunning-Kruger Effect (Rebroadcast)  

In this episode, we explore why we are unaware that we lack the skill to tell how unskilled and unaware we are. The evidence gathered so far by psychologists and neuroscientists seems to suggest that each one of us has a relationship with our own ignorance, a dishonest, complicated relationship, and that dishonesty keeps us sane, happy, and willing to get out of bed in the morning. Part of that ignorance is a blind spot we each possess that obscures both our competence and incompetence called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It's a psychological phenomenon that arises sometimes in your life because you are generally very bad at self-assessment. If you have ever been confronted with the fact that you were in over your head, or that you had no idea what you were doing, or that you thought you were more skilled at something than you actually were – then you may have experienced this effect. It is very easy to be both unskilled and unaware of it, and in this episode we explore why that is with professor David Dunning, one of the researchers who coined the term and a scientist who continues to add to our understanding of the phenomenon. • Show Notes: • Patreon: • Donate Directly through PayPal: SPONSORS • The Great Courses Plus:

071 - The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy  

When you desire meaning, when you want things to line up, when looking for something specific, you tend to notice patterns everywhere, which leads you to ask the question, “What are the odds?” Usually, the odds are actually pretty good. For instance: Does the Bermuda Triangle seem quite as mysterious once you know that just about any triangle of that size drawn over the globe just about anywhere planes and ships frequently travel will contain as many, if not more, missing planes and ships? Drawing circles (or triangles) around the spots where randomness clusters together seemingly chance events is called The Texas Sharpshooter fallacy, and it is one of the easiest mistakes to make when trying to understand big, complex sets of data. Though some things in life seem too amazing to be coincidence, too odd to be random, too similar to be chance, given enough time (and enough events) randomness will begin to clump up in places. Since you are born looking for those spots where chance events have built up like sand into dunes, picking out clusters of coincidence is a predicable malfunction of a normal human mind, and it can easily lead to the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. Listen as three experts in reasoning and logic explain why it is so easy to find what you are looking for when you go anomaly hunting in a large set of data. This episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast is the fifth in a full season of episodes exploring logical fallacies. The first episode is here. • Show Notes: • Patreon: • Donate Directly through PayPal: SPONSORS • Mac Weldon: • The Great Courses Plus: • SquareSpace: - Offer Code SoSmart

070 - The No True Scotsman Fallacy  

When your identity becomes intertwined with your definitions, you can easily fall victim to something called The No true Scotsman Fallacy. It often appears during a dilemma: What do you do when a member of a group to which you belong acts in a way that you feel is in opposition to your values? Do you denounce the group, or do you redefine the boundaries of membership for everyone? In this episode, you will learn from three experts in logic and argumentation how to identify, defend against, and avoid deploying this strange thinking quirk that leads to schisms and stasis in groups both big and small. • Show Notes: • Patreon: • Donate Directly through PayPal: SPONSORS • Trunk Club: • The Great Courses Plus:

069 - The Black And White Fallacy  

Obviously, the world isn't black and white, so why do we try to drain it of color when backed into a rhetorical corner? Why do we have such a hard time realizing that we've suggested the world is devoid of nuance when we are in the heat of an argument? In this episode we explore the black and white fallacy and the false dichotomies it generates. You'll learn how to spot this fallacy, what to do when someone uses it against you, and how to avoid committing it yourself. • Show Notes: • Patreon: • Donate Directly through PayPal: SPONSORS • Trunk Club: • The Great Courses Plus: • SquareSpace: - Offer Code SoSmart

068 - The Strawman Fallacy  

When confronted with dogma-threatening, worldview-menacing ideas, your knee-jerk response is usually to lash out and try to bat them away, but thanks to a nearly unavoidable mistake in reasoning, you often end up doing battle with arguments of your own creation. Your lazy brain is always trying to make sense of the world on ever-simpler terms. Just as you wouldn’t use a topographical map to navigate your way to Wendy’s, you tend to navigate reality using a sort of Google Maps interpretation of events and ideas. It’s less accurate, sure, but much easier to understand when details aren’t a priority. But thanks to this heuristical habit, you sometimes create mental men of straw that stand in for the propositions put forth by people who see the world a bit differently than you. In addition to being easy to grasp, they are easy to knock down and hack apart, which wouldn’t be a problem if only you noticed the switcheroo. This is the essence of the straw man fallacy, probably the most common of all logical fallacies. Setting up and knocking down straw men is so easy to do while arguing that you might not even notice that you are doing it. In this episode, you’ll learn from three experts in logic and arguing why human brains tend not to realize they are constructing artificial versions of the arguments they wish to defeat. Once you’ve wrapped your mind around that idea, you’ll then learn how to spot the straw man fallacy, how to avoid committing it, and how to defend against it. • Show Notes: • Patreon: • Donate Directly through PayPal: SPONSORS • Trunk Club: • The Great Courses Plus: • SquareSpace: - Offer Code SoSmart

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