Julia Galef

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Julia Galef
File:20150126 Julia Galef 2.JPG
Born (1983-07-04) July 4, 1983 (age 35)
Silver Spring, Maryland
Alma mater Columbia University


School Scientific skepticism
Main interests
Philosophy of science, applied rationality

Julia Galef (born 1983) is president and co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality. She is a writer and public speaker on the topics of rationality, science, technology and design. She serves on the board of directors of the New York City Skeptics and hosts their official podcast, Rationally Speaking, which she has done since its inception in 2010, sharing the show with co-host and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci until 2015.[1][2] She also blogs with her brother Jesse on the website Measure of Doubt.


Galef received a B.A. in statistics from Columbia University. In 2010 she joined the board of directors of the New York City Skeptics.[3] She co-founded and became president of the nonprofit Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR) 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.[4][5] She was elected a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry in 2015.[6]

Popularization of rationality research

In 2009, Galef began co-hosting the Rationally Speaking Podcast with the philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci.[4] Their first episode was released on February 1, 2010. The show 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.[7][8] She gives public lectures to organizations including the Center for Inquiry and the Secular Student Alliance.[9] From 2010 to 2015, she was a speaker for the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism.[10][11]

Galef began writing the blog Measure of Doubt in 2011 with her brother,[12] as well as writing for Religion Dispatches[13] and Scientific American.[14] Since April 2015 she has been the sole host of the Rationally Speaking podcast.[15] Galef's activities as a writer, podcaster and president of CFAR are mentioned by the The Atlantic,[16] The Verge,[17] and NPR.[18]

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.[19][20] Subsequent to her exposure with Big Think as an expert on the topic of rationality, she was interviewed in 2014 by Forbes,[21] Fast Company,[22] and The Wall Street Journal.[23] In particular her idea of keeping a "surprise journal" received attention, which is one of the techniques Julia 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.[22][24]

Ideas on rationality

Julia Galef often explains common confusions and popular misconceptions of rationality. Frequently she distinguishes "epistemic rationality" from "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.[4]

Julia popularized the concept of Straw Vulcan,[note 1] 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 Mr. Spock (a half-Vulcan) in Star Trek, who is often seen as a poster child for this caricature of rationality. On the contrary, Galef argues that Mr. Spock's failure to adjust his thinking, even though he experiences that humans do not always make rational decisions, is a case of irrationality.[25] In 2011, Galef gave a talk on this subject at Skepticon.

In an interview with Forbes she argued that humans have evolved an insatiable appetite for resources and status, while their genes do not particularly care whether they enjoy that. She argues that resources can only generate lasting happiness when they increase the opportunity to do things one values.[26]


  1. The term Straw Vulcan was originally coined by the website TV Tropes.[25]


  1. Pigliucci, Massimo (2 December 2009). "Podcast Teaser: Why rationality?". Psychology Today (blog). Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  2. Pigliucci, Massimo (2012). Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to a More Meaningful Life. Basic Books. p. 289. ISBN 9780465021383. 
  3. "Julia Galef joins NYC Skeptics Board of Directors". New York City Skeptics. 11 August 2010. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Stiefel, Todd; Metskas, Amanda K. (22 May 2013). "Julia Galef". The Humanist Hour. Episode 083. The Humanist. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  5. Colanduno, Derek (8 October 2013). "Just Apply Rationality - Interview: Julia Galef". Skepticality. Episode 216. Skeptic Magazine. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  6. "Ten Distinguished Scientists and Scholars Named Fellows of Committee for Skeptical Inquiry - CSI". www.csicop.org. Retrieved 2015-10-15. 
  7. "Julia Galef - Skepticon 5". YouTube. Hambone Productions. 30 November 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  8. Bruno Van de Casteele (1 February 2015). "A Passion for Science and Reason". Skeptoid. Brian Dunning. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  9. "Moderating Discussion :: Secular Student Alliance 2010 Annual Conference". YouTube. Secular Student Alliance. 3 September 2010. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  10. "NECSS SPEAKERS". NECSS. Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  11. "Speakers". necss. Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  12. "New Rationality Blog: 'Measure of Doubt'". LessWrong. 1 April 2011. Retrieved 6 March 2015. 
  13. "Julia Galef". Religion Dispatches. Archived from the original on 2014-06-04. Retrieved 6 March 2015.  Archived from religiondispatches.org/contributors/juliagalef/
  14. "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
  15. "RS131 - James Randi on Being An Honest Liar". Rationally Speaking. 5 April 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  16. Benfield, Kaid (13 September 2011). "The Legacy of 9/11 for Community and the Built Environment". The Atlantic. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  17. 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. 
  18. Lombrozo, Tania (8 December 2014). "What If Atheists Were Defined By Their Actions?". NPR. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  19. "Make Better Decisions: Redefining "Giving Up"". Big Think. 2014. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  20. Gots, Jason (2013). "What if Neil deGrasse Tyson Were Your Mentor?". Big Think. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  21. Kade, Allison (28 January 2014). "6 Times We Betray Our Budgets (And Clever Ways To Stop)". Forbes. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Segran, Elizabeth (23 September 2014). "A new technique for creating more aha-moments: The Surprise Journal". Fast Company. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  23. Chen, Angela (1 January 2014). "More Rational Resolutions". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  24. Galef, Julia (2 January 2015). "Surprise!". Slate. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Galef, Julia (April 2013). "Debunking Straw Vulcan Rationality". Big Think. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  26. Crawford, Holly (26 February 2014). "3 Ways To Tell If Your Next Purchase Will Really Make You Happier: The Surprise Journal". Forbes. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 

External links

Official website