YANSS 047 – Jon Ronson, the history of public shaming, and our newfound power to ruin the lives of strangers with tweets

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The Topic: Public Shaming

The Guests: Jon Ronson and Courtney Luckhardt

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud


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Public shaming is back, and Jon Ronson has written a book about it.

It’s not a pop-science book. It doesn’t attempt to outline the bio-psycho-social underpinning of our urge to shame. Instead, Ronson spends time with people who’ve been recently ruined, made to suffer by the newfound shaming powers of a web-savvy public.

JRHis goal, he says in the latest episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, was to show us the anguish we can cause when our tweets pile high enough to crush a real human being. “I just wanted to say, ‘Look, what we are doing is profoundly traumatizing.’ Our punishments are worse than we think they are. And, you know, at least, come to terms with that if you want to carry on doing it.”

In the interview, you’ll hear Ronson describe how in his new book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” he brings the reader inside the lives of people who have had their lives ruined. From that viewpoint, he hopes, we can see what happens when we obliterate people for unpopular opinions, off-color jokes, offensive language, and professional faux pas.

CLIn this episode, you will also hear historian Courtney Luckhardt explain how the urge to shame and our motivations to do so are both largely unchanged from those of the people who lived during colonial and medieval periods. Human beings in groups have always used shame to police one another on many levels, she says, in an effort to better define the boundaries of what is and what is not acceptable behavior. Those notions of acceptability shift, sometimes slowly, sometimes over a decade or less, but the inclination to shame those who step outside social bounds seems set.

The modern complication explored in this episode is the power to shame people previously unknown to us, people who we will likely never meet or think about again after pressing whatever buttons required to share our opinions. Before town-square public shamings were outlawed in most countries, our targets were members of our communities. Everyone knew the guilty parties beforehand, knew the nature of their transgressions, and the people receiving the shamings were within shouting distance so we could see the consequences of our in-person ridicule. Today, a person can go from invisible to infamous in a day thanks to the aggregate outrage of well-meaning people on Twitter just like you.

After the interview, I discuss a news story about how Google can make you underestimate your internet-less ignorance.

Coo-KayIn every episode, after I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Kevin Stafford who submitted a recipe for Pumpkin Apple Cider Oatmeal Creme Pies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Links and Sources


Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Jon Ronson’s Website

Courtney Luckhardt

Scene from A Knight’s Tale

How the Internet makes you think you’re smarter than you really are

Internet Searches Create Illusion of Personal Knowledge, Research Finds

Searching for Explanations: How the Internet Inflates Estimates of Internal Knowledge

YANSS 045 – The Emotional Lives of Doctors with Danielle Ofri

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The Topic: Doctors

The Guests: Danielle Ofri

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud


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In this episode, we talk to Danielle Ofri, physician and author of “What Doctors Feel” – a book about the emotional lives of doctors and how compassion fatigue, biases, and other mental phenomena affect their decisions, their motivations, and their relationships with patients.

You’ll also hear Ofri discuss emotional epidemiology, the viral-like spread of fear and other emotions that can lead to irrational panics like those we’ve already seen surrounding Ebola, the Swine Flu, SARS, and other illnesses.

danielleofriDanielle Ofri specializes in internal medicine at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Her articles and essays have been published at the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and others. She has appeared on CNN and NPR, and her lectures are popular around the country. She is the author of several books about the lives of doctors and their relationships with patients including “What Doctors Feel” and “Intensive Care.

After the interview, I discuss a news story how meat-eating humans see animal minds much differently than do vegetarians and vegans.

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YANSS 043 – The Science of Misremembering with Julia Shaw and Daniel Simons

The Topic: Misremembering

The Guests: Julia Shaw and Daniel Simons

The Episode: DownloadiTunesStitcherRSSSoundcloud

Blurry Williams Brian

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Did Brian Williams lie, exaggerate, or misremember?

If he originally reported the truth behind the events in Iraq more than a decade ago, and those events were filmed and broadcast on the nightly news, then why didn’t he fact-check himself before going on national television and recounting a false version of those same events? Surely, as a journalist, he knew the original video was out there for anyone to watch.

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