“The responsibility of the novelist is to be irresponsible. You do what you want, the more you upset the better”.
As a writer Howard Jacobson finds great joy in being offensive. He argues that one of the ways comedy works is to cleanse the system, “you laugh at the things you should not laugh at. You have to have a moment you break everything you believe in”.
Racist comedy too has its place, “comedy is a place you go, some of the time, to be absolutely vile. And if you aren’t going to go, where are you going to go?”
But it is part of the novelist's job never to push an ideology. Jacobson argues the first thing you must do is to overcome what you believe and that “to do so is a great aesthetic leap.”
On the question of limits, most of the time Jacobson would argue “tough, read something else” but admits that he sometimes he does censor himself. “Demonstrably bad taste is corny; you can tell when someone is trying to hard.”
“Our sense of humour is part of our sense of intelligence. If we are solemn and tip toe around it, we deny the best part of our minds the chance to deal with the most horrible thing that ever happened.”
First broadcast on 14th December 2007
Why do so many American people believe their government is conspiring against them?
In this episode of Little Atoms Kathy Olmsted examines the development of the culture of conspiracy in American society from grassroots to President.
Olmsted identifies World War One and the birth of the modern state as the origin of mass American conspiracy culture.
“As government gets bigger and more powerful and surveillance agencies enforce espionage acts, the American people start to feel the fear of the government as an institution.”
For Olmsted, the state is both the subject and origin of conspiracy theories. She argues that as the government starts watching people, people start to fear they are being watched.
“America starts to believe government is starting to lie cover up and conspire, because it is.”
Conspiracy theories are not confined to the public in American society. Leaders too fall pray to paranoia.
Olmsted argues this is because: “Leaders have access to information; they know that conspiracies exist so come to logical conclusion that more are taking place.”
The culture of transparency perpetuates the notion of conspiracy. The release o information about Northwoods for example, formed the basis of many contemporary conspiracy theories. Many Americans saw it as a template for 9/11.
Omstead explores the irony of democracy and conspiracy from Hoover to Obama to argue that America’s unique contradiction of transparency but lack of accountability serves only to perpetuate conspiracy culture. A culture ingrained in America’s past and present.
First broadcast 10/07/09
In this episode, Neil visits the University of Chicago and spends some time in the company of Jerry Coyne. Jerry Coyne is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, where he works on diverse areas of evolutionary genetics. His research focuses on the origin of new species, using the fruit fly (Drosophila) as mode organism. A former student of the distinguished Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin, Coyne has taught evolutionary biology for more than 25 years, and has contributed frequently to the public debate concerning evolution and creationism. He has published widely in research journals and is the author, with Allen Orr, of Speciation, now the standard academic text in the subject. He was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007. Jerry is the author of Why Evolution is True.
Between 12 May and 9 June 2012, Neil Denny embarked on a 6000 mile road trip across America. The aim of the trip was to produce a series of podcasts which present a wide-ranging overview of science and skepticism from an American perspective. Neil interviewed scientists working on ground-breaking, cutting edge science, educators combatting the encroachment of anti-science and irrationality into politics and the classroom, and writers attempting to popularise amazing ideas and concepts to the wider public. He also explored some major scientific (and some not so scientific) sites of interest along the way. This trip was made possible by a travelling fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. The theme tune of the podcast is a version of Black Top Blues by Acadian Driftwood.
In this week’s podcast, Neil Denny travels to Oakland, California, to the headquarters of the National Center for Science Education to talk to Eugenie Scott. Eugenie Scott is Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education.
She has written extensively on the evolution-creationism controversy and is a past president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. She is the author of Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction".
The annual conference of the Orange County Freethought Alliance took place over the weekend of 19 and 20 May 2012 at the University of California, Irvine. Neil Denny attended the conference on the Saturday 19 May and talked to some of the speakers. This podcast features five short interviews.
Richard Carrier is a writer for Internet Infidels and a historian of the historical Jesus; Aron Ra is an internet activist who uses phylogenetics to counter the claims of creationists; Heina Dadabhoy is a former muslim and a current writer for Skepchick; Dave Silverman is the president of American Atheists and organiser of the Reason Rally; Brian Dunning is the producer and presenter of the seminal podcast Skeptoid.
While spending the day at Caltech, in Pasadena, CA. Neil spent some time talking with the former Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Edward Stone. Edward Stone joined Caltech as a research fellow in physics after receiving his Master of Science degree and PhD, in physics at the University of Chicago. Over the years, he has held a variety of positions, from assistant professor to Vice President for Astronomical Facilities. In 1972 he became project scientist for the Voyager mission, a position he currently still holds. He was the Director of JPL from January 1991 to April 2001, when he went back to teaching at Caltech. While Stone was Director, JPL’s Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover sent back images that were seen by millions of people on television and the Web. Among other successes were the Mars Global Surveyor, Deep Space 1, TOPEX/Poseidon, NASA Scatterometer, and the launch of Cassini, Stardust, and 2001 Mars Odyssey.
Aarathi Prasad is a biologist and science writer. She has appeared on TV and radio programmes, including as presenter of Channel 4's controversial ‘Is It Better to Be Mixed Race?' and ‘Brave New World with Stephen Hawking', as well as BBC Radio 4's ‘The Quest for Virgin Birth', and written for Wired, the Guardian, and many other publications. Previously a cancer genetics researcher at Imperial College London, she subsequently moved into the worlds of science communication and policy, in areas including passage of the human-animal chimaera stem-cell bill in the UK Parliament. Aarathi's first book is Like a Virgin: How Science is Redesigning the Rules of Sex.
First broadcast on 12th October 2012.
George Orwell wrote some of his most renowned essays for the British left-wing publication Tribune between 1940 and 1947, including "Books vs Cigarettes", "You And The Atom Bomb" and the regular "As I Please" column. These works were compiled by Paul Anderson in the book "Orwell in Tribune."
Interview first broadcast on 18th August 2006.
Alom Shaha was born in Bangladesh but grew up in London. A teacher, writer and filmmaker, he has spent most of his professional life trying to share his passion for science and education with the public. Alom has produced, directed and appeared in a number of television programmes, and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and the Nuffield Foundation. Alom has represented the community in which he grew up as an elected politician and volunteered at a range of charitable organisations. He teaches at a comprehensive school in London and writes for a number of print and online publications including The Guardian. Alom is the author of The Young Atheist's Handbook.
First broadcast on 20th July 2012.
“Everything that is done or written is done by someone who is half a chromosome away from being a chimpanzee. It’s not going to be any better than that.”
In this episode of Little Atoms, Christopher Hitchens explores the dangers of mans tendency towards religion and our attitudes to freedom. The ultimate fight, he argues, is against censorship.
Man created God, God didn’t create man. Hitchens describes this creation as an ineradicable problem that humanity cannot solve.
Religion takes advantage of our bad wiring and selfishness. We would be better off if we grew out of it, but until we give up wishful thinking and our fear of death, it is impossible”.
Although religion is an incurable affliction, Hitchens argues that western leaders must not dismiss the threat posed by it.
“The possible interception of messianic ideas with apocalyptic weaponry is increasingly something to be worried about.”
Our predisposition towards order and security undermines our struggle for liberty. For Hitchens, this explains why liberation struggles are so rare and so unsatisfactory.
“Most people, most of the time, have no great desire to be free. We would rather have the trouble of putting up with oppression rather than having the trouble of throwing it off.”
With the threat posed by religion and our apathy towards liberty, Hitchens believes the ultimate enemy we face is censorship. Hitchens argues that all things associated with enlightenment are worth dying for. He describes the struggle against censorship as “a fight that can be won but certainly one that cannot be lost”.
First broadcast 08/06/07
Colin Blakemore studied Medical Sciences in Cambridge and completed a PhD in Physiological Optics at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1968. From 1968-79 has was a Demonstrator and then Lecturer in Physiology at Cambridge, and was also Director of Medical Studies at Downing College. From 1976-9 he held the Royal Society Locke Research Fellowship. In 1979 he was appointed Waynflete Professor of Physiology at Oxford and Professorial Fellow at Magdalen College, and from 1996-2003 he directed the Oxford Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience. Between 2003 and 2007 he served as Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council. He held the title of Waynflete Professor until 2007 and is now Professor of Neuroscience. He also holds Professorships at the University of Warwick and the Duke University – National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School, where he is Chairman of Singapore's Neuroscience Research Partnership.
Colin is a Fellow of the Royal Society (since 1992) and the Academy of Medical Sciences. He is an Honorary FRCP and an Honorary Fellow or Member of the Institute of Biology, British Pharmacological Society, Physiological Society, Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, British Association for the Advancement of Science and Cambridge Union. He is a member of Academia Europaea and a Foreign Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Indian Academy of Neurosciences. He has been President of the British Association, the British Neuroscience Association, the Physiological Society and the Biosciences Federation. He is Chairman of the Food Standard Agency's General Advisory Committee on Science and the Health Protection Agency's Electromagnetic Fields Discussion Group.
Colin has been actively involved in the public communication of science for more than 30 years. He is a frequent broadcaster on radio and television, has published a number of books about science for a general readership, and he writes for the national and international media. He works with and for the Science Museum, London, the European Dana Alliance for the Brain, the Cheltenham Festival of Science, the Science Media Centre and Sense about Science. He is President of the Association of British Science Writers.
First broadcast on 14th November 2008.
Charlotte Higgins studied Classics at Balliol College, Oxford and is the Guardian's chief arts writer. She is the author of a number of books, including Latin Love Lessons and It's All Greek to Me. Her latest is Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize. Also this week, writer Seth Mnookin on the Richard Stark "Parker" novels.
First broadcast on 12th April 2014.
The 1st October 2009 saw the launch of The Atheist Guide to Christmas. This episode of Little Atoms features Neil and Padraig in conversation with 3 old friends of the show, editor Ariane Sherine, and contributors Natalie Haynes and Josie Long. We discuss the genesis (!) of the book, our contributions, the ideal christmas, and argue over the definitions of atheism, agnosticism and secularism, then the rubbishness of various ex-boyfriends gift buying skills are discussed.
Edited by Ariane Sherine, The Atheist's Guide To Christmas features 42 contributions from the world's most entertaining atheist scientists, comedians, philosophers, writers and journalists, including: Richard Dawkins, Derren Brown, Charlie Brooker, David Baddiel, Ben Goldacre, Josie Long, Richard Herring, Simon Singh, Brian Cox, Jenny Colgan, AC Grayling, Simon Le Bon, Claire Rayner, Robin Ince, Natalie Haynes, Zoe Margolis, Phil Plait, Mitch Benn, Lucy Porter, Adam Rutherford... and many, many more (Including Little Atoms own Neil Denny).
First broadcast on 25th September 2009.
Brian Clegg is a science journalist and writer. He runs www.popularscience.co.uk and is the author of Inflight Science: A Guide to the World From Your Airplane Window. Brian's other books include Armageddon Science, Before The Big Bang, and A Brief History of Infinity.
First broadcast on 6th May 2011.
Cara Hoffman is the author of the critically acclaimed 2011 novel So Much Pretty. She grew up in northern Appalachia, where she dropped out of high school to work full time. Hoffman spent three years travelling and working as an agricultural labourer in Europe and the Middle East. She returned to the US, had a baby and found a job delivering newspapers which eventually led to work as a reporter covering environmental politics and crime. She has been a visiting writer at St. John's, Columbia and Oxford, where she lectured on Violence and Masculinity for the Rhodes Global Scholars Symposium. Hoffman lives in Manhattan and teaches writing and literature at Bronx Community College. Cara 's latest novel is Be Safe I Love You.
First broadcast on 16th August 2014
Coralie Colmez graduated with a First from Cambridge University in 2009, and now lives in London where she teaches and writes about mathematics. She belongs to the Bayes in Law Research Consortium, an international team devoted to improving the use of probability and statistics in criminal trials. Coralie is co-author along with her mother, the mathematician Leila Schneps, of Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom.
First broadcast on 24 May 2013.
Andy Miller is a reader, author and editor of books. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian, Esquire and Mojo. He's the author of Tilting at Windmills: How I Tried to Stop Worrying and Love Sport, among others. His latest book is The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life.
First broadcast on 8th August 2014
Julian Baggini is editor of The Philosophers' Magazine. His books include Atheism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP), What's It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life (Granta) and The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten and 99 Other Thought Experiments (Granta), Welcome to Everytown: A Journey into The English Mind (Granta) and Complaint (Profile).
His journalism has appeared in publications such as the Guardian, Independent, Times Higher Education Supplement, Times Education Supplement and the Sunday Herald. He is frequently heard on BBC radio in programmes including In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, Off the Page and Nightwaves.
Late last year, Little Atoms took part in an audio installation, Mind’s Eye, which consisted of a number of interviews with scientists involved in current space missions.
Mind’s Eye is now on tour, and can been heard from 16 to 22 February as part of Smashfest UK at the Albany Theatre in Deptford. Here are two interviews recorded for this tour. Dr Shoshana Weider was a postdoctoral fellow on NASA’s Messenger mission to Mercury, and Dr Matt Taylor is currently Project Scientist on ESA’s Rosetta.
Arthur I. Miller is emeritus professor of history and philosophy of science at University College London. He is the author of several acclaimed books, including Einstein, Picasso, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Empire of the Stars, which was shortlisted for the 2006 Aventis Prize for Science Books, and 137, which we’re discussed on a previous Little Atoms. An experienced broadcaster, lecturer and biographer, he is particularly interested in the relationship between science and creativity, and his latest book is Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art.
Salena Godden writes and performs poetry, fiction, memoir, radio drama and lyrics. Her latest book of poems, Fishing in the Aftermath, was published in 2014 by Burning Eye Books. She runs The Book Club Boutique, London's louchest literary salon, and is lead singer and lyricist of SaltPeter, alongside composer Peter Coyte. She can regularly be heard on Radio 4 and last year presented the documentary 'Try A Little Tenderness – The Lost Legacy of Little Miss Cornshucks'. Her literary memoir Springfield Road was recently published by Unbound.
Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on BBC Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. The Girl in the Red Coat is her first novel.
This week’s Little Atoms is a special edition recorded at FutureEverything 2015 in Manchester on 26 and 27 February 2015. The show features a long interview recorded live with writer, researcher and activist Alice Bell, and shorter interviews with FutureEverything CEO and founder Drew Hemment, Sonic Pi creator Sam Aaron, Hack Circus founder Leila Johnston and Data Artist Jer Thorp.
Dr Cordelia Fine is an academic psychologist and writer. She is the author of A Mind of Its Own: How your brain distorts and deceives, and writes regularly for the press. She wrote the introduction for the Britannica Guide to the Brain, and her second book, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Difference is now published.
Cordelia studied Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, followed by an M.Phil in Criminology at Cambridge University. She was awarded a Ph.D in Psychology from University College London. From 2002 to 2007 she was a Research Associate at Monash University, and then at the Australian National University. She is currently a Research Associate at the Centre for Agency, Values & Ethics at Macquarie University, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne.
First broadcast on 10th September 2010.
Dr Hannah Fry is a mathematician and complexity scientist from University College London’s Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis. Fry also regularly presents the Number Hub strand of BBC Worldwide’s YouTube channel, and regularly appears on radio and tv in the UK, most recently Climate Change by Numbers on BBC4. Her first TED talk attracted more than 500,000 views and evolved into her first book, The Mathematics of Love.
Jon Ronson is an award-winning writer and documentary maker. He is the author of many bestselling books, including Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie, Lost at Sea: The Jon RonsonMysteries, The Psychopath Test, The Men Who Stare at Goats and Them: Adventures with Extremists. His first fictional screenplay, Frank, co-written with Peter Straughan, starred Michael Fassbender. Jon’s latest book is So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
Arthur I Miller is a professor emeritus of history and philosophy of science at University College London. He is the author of several acclaimed books, the most recent of which are Einstein, Picasso, and Empire of the Stars, which was shortlisted for the 2006 Aventis Prize for Science Books. An experienced broadcaster, lecturer and biographer, he is particularly interested in the relationship between science and creativity, and noted for being able to write engagingly about complex social and intellectual dramas, weaving the personal with the scientific to produce page-turners that read like novels. Arthur's latest book is 137: Jung, Pauli and the pursuit of a Scientific Obsession.
First broadcast on 13th August 2010.
Simon Ardizzone is a freelance editor and filmmaker living and working in the UK. Since graduating from the National Film and Television School in 1995, Simon has worked on over 50 films for English and American broadcasters. Hacking Democracy, his first documentary, co-produced and directed with Russell Michaels, was nominated for Outstanding Investigative Journalism at this year's Emmy Awards. Hacking Democracy which proved that vote-counting computers could reverse the results of an American election, was shown last year by HBO to widespread critical acclaim and has become a tool for election reform activists across the states.
Interview first broadcast on 7th December 2007.
Chris French is a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and heads the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, which he founded in the year 2000. He is a Chartered Psychologist and a Fellow of the British Psychological Society.He is also the co-editor of The Skeptic magazine.
First broadcast on 15th May 2009.
Claudia Hammond is a writer, broadcaster and psychology lecturer. She is the voice of psychology on BBC Radio 4 where she is the presenter of All in the Mind and Mind Changers. She is also a part-time member of faculty at Boston University in London. She won the British Psychological Society's Public Engagement and Media Award in 2012, Mind's Making a Difference Award in 2011, the Society of Personality and Social Psychology's Media Achievement Award in 2012 and the Public Understanding of Neuroscience Award from the British Neuroscience Association in 2012. Claudia Hammond is the author of one previous book, Emotional Rollercoaster and in this interview we talk about her latest, Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception.
First broadcast on 9th August 2013.
Charles Fernyhough is a writer and psychologist. The Baby in the Mirror, his book about his daughter's psychological development, was translated into seven languages. He has also written two novels, The Auctioneer a A Box of Birds. He is a Reader in Psychology at Durham University and has written for the Guardian, Financial Times and Sunday Telegraph. His latest book is Pieces of Light: The New Science of Memory.
First broadcast on 17th August 2012.