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Art of the Interview

Hey all, I need your feedback! The next challenge in the Public Radio Talent Quest is for me to choose someone to interview! It will be recorded next week and then edited down to just five minutes, which isn’t a helluva lot to work with but I can do it. The person must:

  • not be a friend, family member, or colleague of mine
  • live in the Boston area
  • have national appeal and a story to tell

Who would you like to hear? An established scientist? An up and coming grad student working on a cool project? How about a rock band, or a local writer?

Your opinions will help a lot with brainstorming, because I have to decide fast! Post your thoughts in the comments.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Interview Blake about his law?

    Interview me about what it's like to be a blogger with nothing in particular to say?

    Actually, more seriously, there are a couple of SciBloggers in the area. Mike the Mad Biologist might make a good interview, and I know he's Bostonian. You could talk about antibiotic resistance or flu epidemic planning, both of which he's covered in his blog.

  2. Maybe you could interview a local psychic or tarot reader or some such. Ride that skepticism pony!

    We'll all vote for you, regardless of who you talk to. (This means you exarch!! ;))

  3. Yes, I will get to it this time.

    Besides, otherwise I won't be able to say that not only did I know you before you were a big radio talkshow host, but I was responsible for getting you there in the first place 8)

  4. Paul Graham, hacker. His company, yCombinator, gives pre-angel funding to start-ups. Not very sciency, maybe, but an interesting character with an interesting project.

  5. Just by way of an interesting and potentially funny/great interview, there's a lot of fantastic Boston comedians. Denis Leary, Dane Cook, Bobcat, and a lot more. Just a thought.

    A cool grad student would be way fun as well.

  6. Noam Chomsky comes to mind, though I'm not sure you'd GET Noam Chomsky. Admittedly, he comes to mind due to his skepticism towards postmodernism and Lacanian approaches to linguistics and psychoanalysis, things that I encounter far too often in my film studies reading, so he doesn't exactly jive with your areas of interest for the show. But he is a big name, that's for certain, and it couldn't hurt to try!

    Another thought would be to interview the Harvard Humanist chaplain. Now, as I tend to side with PZ's take on him, I'm not exactly in agreement with his views. Nonetheless, he'd make for an interesting interview and fit in with your skeptical viewpoint to an extent.

    Finally, couldn't this give you an excuse to chat with Steven Pinker? That would definitely be a worthwhile and enlightening interview!

  7. Thanks guys, some very good suggestions so far! I'll have to veto a few: I'd rather not make this a confrontational interview, so no psychics. And I'm not sufficiently well-versed in Chomsky's work to have a really good discussion with him, sadly. The Harvard Humanist Chaplain is Greg Epstein, who would be a very interesting interview but I consider him a friend, so he's ineligible.

    Keep the ideas coming!

  8. I'd second a vote for either Paul Graham, Steven Pinker, or Bobcat Goldthwait. Much as I love Noam, condensing him to five minutes would not be easy.

    A grad student with an interesting thesis would be another cool idea.

  9. Noam Chomsky is used to giving the same spiel repeatedly, and if he thinks he can get his message out to people, he'll probably talk with you – after all, he gave an interview to Ali G. The problem is that he's so popular, he's usually booked a couple of years in advance.

  10. I'd go younger – how about Joshua Green, neuroscientist at Harvard? He's young, he's doing cutting edge research, he's very entertaining. Saw him give a talk at Harvard.

    Marc Hauser is also great. Hauser also was faculty advisor for Harvard's skin magazine – don't know if he still is. Pinker would also be great, of course. I think I'd support Green more than the others simply because he's the youngest.

    Another great angle would be to find a skeptic from an Islamic country – what is it like growing up that way. I met a guy in Paris once and he asked my religious affiliation. I said I was raised Christian but now am a skeptic of the supernatural. He said same for him except in his case he was raised Muslim.

    I think that would be interesting, especially in light of the creationist book from Turkey that was in the news the last couple of days.

    Rushdie and Sherwin Wine were great about this at the Humanist conference – what's culture, what's religion, living a secular life in a Jewish/Muslim environment – what do you hold on to, where do you get values from. Too bad neither are from Boston (is that rule because they have to be live in the studio?, or some other reason).

    Good luck!


  11. Ooh! You could try to find the two guys who were involved in the Mooninite Scare! However, I guess that would have been more interesting a couple of months ago…

    And hey, there's always Dan Dennett over at Tufts, if you can get him! That'd be quite fascinating.

  12. Or you could interview a "nobody"… back in my undergrad days (Harvard) I interviewed one of the local homeless guys for an Expository Writing class.

  13. I think going with somebody lesser known, but who still does interesting stuff (wow, how precise of me) is your best bet. You don't want to try to "show off" per se by trying to get a big name. Also, big names tend to stay on message, and can be less interesting to talk to or listen to.

  14. How about my friend Marcus Stern, the director of the Onion Cellar (Dresden Dolls) show? He's very articulate, a hell of a nice guy, and a creative genius. Not science-y, but that might be a good thing to show that you have a broad range.


  15. Five minutes is hard especially talking about something indepth, and I agree Noam Chomsky would be impossible! :-)

    The ideas are good, though I agree with gobleugirl that a lesser known person would work just as well. It's all going to be about how you do the interview anyway, right? Expatria's suggestion about the Mooninite guys was interesting – heck, a homeless person could be interesting too.

    I was just reading comics: Do you read Get Fuzzy with the snaggle-toothed cat? It's nationally syndicated in major papers and Darby Conley lives in Boston. He looks like he would be fun to interview especially as he's had an array of jobs – and it's not easy thing to get in national papers. I posted one on BA when he mentioned Rayleigh scattering.

    Or maybe Randall Munroe of would let you interview him. Sort of ties in science, comics and the power of the viral Internet. I have no idea how many readers he has but I gather by now quite A LOT and everybody wants him to come to their school. He does good kite, too.

    A grad student working on something interesting is a good idea. Or just anybody with interesting/odd/behind-the-scenes job at some famous landmark in Boston. Sometimes those are the most fun interviews.

  16. Joshua, he is in fact in Boston now. See his kite-camera aerial views he took from the MIT field recently. (I happen to have two kites in my trunk, ahem, almost as old as he is, so I dig the kite thing.) And here is a white-board he set up outside his Boston apartment door. As I mentioned on Expatria's board, I saw a girl and guy with "Science, It Works Bitches." t-shirts at the Boston Science Museum two weeks ago and took her picture – thought it amusing that they wore them there. I wonder how much merchandise he sells.

    Too, I guess people are serious about the September meet-up based on one of his cartoons. The YouTube videos of him at MIT a few months ago show that the lecture hall was packed. Anyway, he seems like a nice enough guy that he might give Rebecca the time…and she doesn't have that much time left it appears. :-)

  17. I know it's picking on the feeble, but you could interview a member of the LaRouche Youth Movement. They're always delightfully insane. (Assuming you're going for a confrontational interview.)

  18. Melusine,

    That's awesome! I have one of those "Science" shirts, as well, of course. ;) I tried to see him at MIT, but work got out too late and by the time I got to the lecture hall there were no tickets left. It was a mega bummer.

    I must build a raptor suit and stalk him.

  19. Joshua: I must build a raptor suit and stalk him.

    That would be funny if there were raptor suits and a lot of people showed up at that September meet-up as raptors. If there can be a bunch of zombies walking around Boston, why not raptors in a playground? But a sole-stalking raptor could be interesting. :-)

    I'm leaving tomorrow for Hawaii for a week, so good luck, Rebecca, on getting an interviewee and doing the interview. I'm sure you'll do great no matter who you interview!

    Sean, Julianne at Cosmic Variance just wrote about the LaRouche Youth Movement. Unfortunate that a grad student left the department to join up with the movement.

  20. Joshua,

    Interesting that you're from Hawaii. My step-sister actually lived in Pearl City for six years when she was still with her ex-husband who was a naval officer, but I didn't visit back then. Then they got divorced and she moved to Boise, Idaho. There was some neat area where there was a big sandbar and they did this group photo of everybody in Santa hats for Christmas. Do you know where that is? I always forget. I also remember her centipede stories.

    I'm flying into Honolulu, then immediately hopping over to the Big Island. (Bringing my binoculars!) After several days there, we head back to stay at a place on Waikiki Beach (a week total). Wish there was time to go to other islands. My sister is packing up the days with this or that, then changing things when she hears from other people. We're definitely aiming to see lava – I believe on some cruise deal – snorkeling, the observatory, not sure what else at this point. I kind of want to go swim with the manta rays too. I know we're going to go to Pearl Harbor and do the tour there at some ghastly early-morning hour and go to the North Shore (even though the waves won't be big). If you have any "don't miss this" ideas or suggestions, let me know, I'd appreciate it. :-)

    I haven't even packed yet…

    (Sorry for the OT, but it looks like Rebecca already has a surprise interviewee set up.)

  21. Maybe we should drop to e-mail so as not to bug everybody. ;) I’m furtim at Gmail.

    The Big Island is pretty fantastic. I prefer Maui more or less entirely for Haleakala, but the active volcanoes on the Big Island are pretty awesome as well. I’ve never been to Mauna Kea, though, so you’ll have to tell me how it is! Volcanoes National Park on the Kilauea volcano is, of course, a huge must, and be sure to visit the lava tubes. Also on the Big Island, Akaka Falls is pretty cool, but you’ll want to check on the recent rainfall before going. The falls can be a little disappointing in dry weather.

    On Oahu, I suggest making time to visit the Arizona memorial. The experience of standing on the memorial and looking down on the wreckage of a ship where so many people died on December 7… It’s more than a bit eerie. Even as a skeptic, it still gives me shivers up my spine. The atmosphere of history pervades the whole place, and it puts the terrible reality of that day in perspective.

    I’ve got a few more suggestions, but I can send them by e-mail.

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