Julia Galef

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Julia Galef
20150126 Julia Galef 2.JPG
Galef in 2015
Born (1983-07-04) July 4, 1983 (age 38)
Alma materColumbia University
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolScientific skepticism
InstitutionsCenter for Applied Rationality
Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
Rationally Speaking
Main interests
Philosophy of science, applied rationality

Julia Galef (/ˈɡləf/; born July 4, 1983) is co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality.[1] She hosts Rationally Speaking, the official podcast of New York City Skeptics, which she has done since its inception in 2010, sharing the show with co-host and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci until 2015.[2][3]


Galef was born in 1983 in Maryland into a Jewish family. She received a BA in statistics from Columbia University. In 2010 she joined the board of directors of the New York City Skeptics.[4] She co-founded and became president of the nonprofit Center for Applied Rationality in 2012. The organization also gives workshops to train people to internalize and use strategies based on the principles of rationality on a more regular basis to improve their reasoning and decision-making skills and achieve goals.[5][6] She was elected a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry in 2015.[7]

Popularization of rationality research[edit]

In 2009, Galef began co-hosting the Rationally Speaking Podcast with the philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci.[5] Their first episode was released on February 1, 2010. The show has hosted conversations with public intellectuals such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, James Randi, and Peter Singer.

Galef frequently speaks on rationality and moderates debates at skeptic conferences.[8][9] She gives public lectures to organizations including the Center for Inquiry and the Secular Student Alliance.[10] From 2010 to 2015, she was a speaker for the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism.[11][12]

Galef (right) at Het Denkgelag 2015 moderating a conversation between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss

Galef began writing the blog Measure of Doubt in 2011 with her brother,[13] as well as writing for Religion Dispatches[14] and Scientific American.[15] Since April 2015 she has been the sole host of the Rationally Speaking podcast.[16] Galef's activities as a writer, podcaster and president of the Center for Applied Rationality are mentioned by The Atlantic,[17] The Verge,[18] and NPR.[19]

In 2014, she wrote several articles and recorded several short videos for Big Think, some of which are part of the Big Think Mentor's workshops.[20][21] Subsequent to her exposure with Big Think as an expert on the topic of rationality, she was interviewed in 2014 by Forbes,[22] Fast Company,[23] and The Wall Street Journal.[24] In particular her idea of keeping a "surprise journal" received attention, which is one of the techniques Galef uses to record incidents where her expectations were wrong, in order to recognize personal faulty assumptions that expose and counterweight the "bias blind spot". According to Galef, it can be easier to adjust internalized beliefs by framing the new evidence as a surprise.[23][25]

In February 2016, Galef delivered a TED talk on, "Why you think you're right — even if you're wrong", encouraging critical self-skepticism and prioritizing coming to the correct viewpoint using "scout mindset" instead of working to ensure your current viewpoint is seen as correct with a "soldier mindset".[26] The talk was covered by National Public Radio's TED Radio Hour in November 2016.[27]

In 2021, her first book The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't was published by Penguin.[28][29]

Ideas on rationality[edit]

Julia Galef often explains common confusions and popular misconceptions of rationality. Frequently she distinguishes between Richard Foley's[30] concept of "epistemic rationality" from Max Weber's "instrumental rationality". She describes epistemic rationality as a way of reasoning according to logic and the principles of probability theory to form beliefs and conclusions. In contrast, she describes instrumental rationality as a decision-making process in which people choose the action that maximizes their expected utility, whatever their goals are.[5]

Galef discussed the concept of Straw Vulcan, originally coined by the website TV Tropes,[31] to describe the incorrect perception about rationality as a way of thinking that denies emotions such as love and lacks appreciations for beauty. It refers to the fictional character Spock (a half-Vulcan) in Star Trek, who is often seen to exemplify this caricature of rationality. Galef argues that, given the gross irrationality Spock has seen in humans, his failure to adjust his expectations about humans' ability to make rational decisions is itself a case of irrationality.[31] In 2011, Galef gave a talk on this subject at Skepticon.[non-primary source needed]


  1. ^ Matsakis, Louise (17 May 2016). "The 'Rationality' Workshop That Teaches People to Think More Like Computers". Motherboard. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  2. ^ Pigliucci, Massimo (2 December 2009). "Podcast Teaser: Why rationality?". Psychology Today (blog). Retrieved 3 March 2015.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Pigliucci, Massimo (2012). Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to a More Meaningful Life. Basic Books. p. 289. ISBN 9780465021383.
  4. ^ "Julia Galef joins NYC Skeptics Board of Directors". New York City Skeptics. 11 August 2010. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Stiefel, Todd; Metskas, Amanda K. (22 May 2013). "Julia Galef". The Humanist Hour. Episode 083. The Humanist. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  6. ^ Colanduno, Derek (8 October 2013). "Just Apply Rationality - Interview: Julia Galef". Skepticality. Episode 216. Skeptic Magazine. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  7. ^ "Ten Distinguished Scientists and Scholars Named Fellows of Committee for Skeptical Inquiry". Skeptical Inquirer. 39 (6). 2015. Archived from the original on October 16, 2015.
  8. ^ "Julia Galef - Skepticon 5". YouTube. Hambone Productions. 30 November 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  9. ^ Bruno Van de Casteele (1 February 2015). "A Passion for Science and Reason". Skeptoid. Brian Dunning. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  10. ^ "Moderating Discussion :: Secular Student Alliance 2010 Annual Conference". YouTube. Secular Student Alliance. 3 September 2010. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  11. ^ "NECSS SPEAKERS". NECSS. Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism. Archived from the original on 23 April 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  12. ^ "Speakers". necss. Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism. Archived from the original on 5 April 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  13. ^ "New Rationality Blog: 'Measure of Doubt'". LessWrong. 1 April 2011. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  14. ^ "Julia Galef". Religion Dispatches. Archived from the original on 2014-06-04. Retrieved 6 March 2015. Archived from religiondispatches.org/contributors/juliagalef/
  15. ^ "Stories by Julia Galef". Scientific American. Archived from the original on 2013-03-14. Retrieved 6 March 2015. Archived from scientificamerican.com/author.cfm?id=3125
  16. ^ "RS131 - James Randi on Being An Honest Liar". Rationally Speaking. 5 April 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  17. ^ Benfield, Kaid (13 September 2011). "The Legacy of 9/11 for Community and the Built Environment". The Atlantic. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  18. ^ Popper, Ben (22 October 2012). "Rapture of the nerds: will the Singularity turn us into gods or end the human race?". The Verge. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  19. ^ Lombrozo, Tania (8 December 2014). "What If Atheists Were Defined By Their Actions?". NPR. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  20. ^ "Make Better Decisions: Redefining "Giving Up"". Big Think. 2014. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  21. ^ Gots, Jason (2013). "What if Neil deGrasse Tyson Were Your Mentor?". Big Think. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  22. ^ Kade, Allison (28 January 2014). "6 Times We Betray Our Budgets (And Clever Ways To Stop)". Forbes. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  23. ^ a b Segran, Elizabeth (23 September 2014). "A new technique for creating more aha-moments: The Surprise Journal". Fast Company. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  24. ^ Chen, Angela (1 January 2014). "More Rational Resolutions". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  25. ^ Galef, Julia (2 January 2015). "Surprise!". Slate. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  26. ^ Galef, Julia (29 June 2016). "Why you think you're right — even if you're wrong". TED. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  27. ^ "Are We Wrong To Think We're Right?". NPR. 4 November 2016. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  28. ^ Shermer, Michael (2021-04-13). "'The Scout Mindset' Review: How to 'Update' Beliefs". Wall Street Journal.
  29. ^ Wallace, Benjamin (2021-04-13). "The Tech Elite's Favorite Pop Intellectual". Intelligencer.
  30. ^ Foley, R. (2014). The Theory of Epistemic Rationality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 6-8. Retrieved 16 Sep. 2019, from https://www.degruyter.com/view/product/249159
  31. ^ a b Galef, Julia (April 2013). "Debunking Straw Vulcan Rationality". Big Think. Retrieved 4 March 2015.

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