Superstitious Rituals & French Statistics

A quick mid-December update.

My latest Skeptical Inquirer online article, “Do Superstitious Rituals Work?” was published on December 8th. In it, I summarize some very interesting new research that shows that rituals are effective in reducing anxiety and improving performance in a skilled activity. As part of the article, I included mention of San Francisco Giant’s third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, who performs an elaborate ritual before batting. Sandoval is a switch-hitter, and the video below captures his batting ritual from both the right and left sides. According to the research I cite in the article, Sandoval’s ritual probably improves his hitting.


I recently gave permission to have one of my Skeptical Inquirer articles translated into French so that it could be reprinted in a French magazine called Science et Pseudo-sciences. The original title of the article was “Moving Science’s Statistical Goalposts,” which was translated as “Statistiquement significatif: Les critères sont-ils suffisamment exigeants?” You can read a pdf of the French version by clicking here.


That’s it!

Winter Solstice is only a few days away on December 21. After that, the days start to get longer.

Happy Holidays to all!

SV

Dan Q. Posin & more

I am very pleased to report that the current issue of the Skeptical Inquirer includes

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Dan Q. Posin and his cat, Minerva

my article entitled, “Before Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, There Was Dan Q. Posin.” It is a tribute to an early science communicator who was an inspiration to me. The online version of the article includes several extra photos that do not appear in the magazine.

 


In a somewhat unusual twist on the typical superstition story, I was interviewed for Nature Careers magazine about snatureuperstitious scientists. The article is entitled “A lookout for luck.” Scientists are typically thought to value reason and evidence, but their experiments are often very elaborate and sensitive to the slightest error. As a result, it turns out that a number of these rational types have pet superstitious aimed at bringing them good luck in the lab. The article by Kendall Powell is quite interesting.


I have done two radio interviews recently, both international and both on superstition. The first was for Voice of Islam Radio, based in London. It was quite interesting to be on an Islamic station, sandwiched between discussions of readings from the Quran. The interview was quite enjoyable, but as far as I can tell, it was not archived online.logo-largo

My second radio interview was also quite interesting. It was for W Radio, in Bogota, Columbia, and for the first time that I recall, the interview was done alternating between English and Spanish. The program hosts posed questions through an interpreter, and I gave my answers in English, which the interpreter then translated back into Spanish. You can listen to the interview here.


That’s all for now.

SV

Friday the 13th Roundup

Whenever a Friday the 13th falls in the spooky month of October there seems to be an extra bit of interest in superstition and magic. This year I was contacted by several journalists and radio show hosts. For example, I was quoted in the Omaha (Nebraska) World-Hearld in an article called “Inside the fear of the number 13 and Friday the 13th.”


download.jpgOne of the most interesting Friday the 13th newspaper articles this year was written by Philip Bump, a political columnist for the Washington Post. In a piece called, “Here’s how many previous Friday the 13ths you’ve managed to survive,” he both recycled a quote I contributed to an old National Geographic story and included a calculator that allows you to determine how many Fridays the 13th you’ve encountered in your life so far. I have survived 119 in my 66 years of living. Hopefully, I will get a chance to survive many more.


tdy-header-logo.png   The NBC Today Show website’s Friday the 13th offering was an article called “Do crystals actually possess healing powers? The answer is complicated.” My answer was a bit simpler: “No they don’t.” But I offered some thoughts about why people might feel better using crystals.


Finally, I did three radio interviews on Friday. I made a brief appearance on the Mitch Albom (of Tuesdays with Morrie fame) Show, for which there appears to be no audio available online. I also did an interview for the Mike Farwell Show in Waterloo, Ontario. You can listen to the segment by clicking here and then clicking on the 10:00 AM hour for the Friday the 13th show. The segment lasts about 20 minutes. Be sure to stay on after the host hangs up with me to hear callers talking about superstitions.

The third radio interview was for WTIP community radio in Grand Marais, Minnesota, and you can listen to the interview in its entirety below.


That’s about it for Friday the 13th, 2017. Next up, Halloween!

Until then, enjoy the rest of autumn.

SV

The Doors, Las Vegas, and a Friday the 13th Preview

Hello, everyone. Happy Friday the 13th!

I rAlbumStrangeDays.jpgecently published a short memory of my first time hearing The Doors’ album Strange Days approximately 50 years ago as a high school student in Illinois. The Doors first two albums were released in 1967, and the second, Strange Days, has always been my favorite. The piece also touches on what it was like to grow up in the middle of the country during a time when a great cultural revolution was happening on both coasts. 
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My latest column for Skeptical Inquirer, We Already Know the Las Vegas Shooter’s Motive,” has just gone up on the web. This latest shooting has created a challenge for investigators because the usual motivations have not presented themselves. I argue that we already know what the motive was, and I discuss the role of the media in the promotion of mass shootings.


Finally, it’s October and superstition is in the air. I have done a number of interviews for newspapers, websites, and radio in the last few days, and as a result, I will send out a Friday the 13th wrap-up sometime next week. But for now, here is a National Geographic article, “Friday the 13th Is Back. Here’s Why It Scares Usfriday-13-1416149_960_720.jpg,” (with pithy quotes from me) that first appeared a few years back. National Geographic tends to recycle this article whenever the scary date rolls around.

In addition, a college newspaper from Illinois recently used the National Geographic article as a source for their own piece on Friday the thirteenth, and in that article (which can be found here) I learned a fun fact: several tattoo parlors in the Chicago area (and perhaps elsewhere) are offering sale prices on tattoos. $13 for a 3-inch X 3-inch tattoo. I’m not the tattoo type, but that sounds like a bargain—provided you are brave enough to get inked on Friday the 13th.


That’s all for now.

Probability and the Immunity Dog

There has been a long summer’s break in the stream of SV communications to your inbox. I was busy completing a few projects, and there was nothing much to report. I hope your summer went well and that no hurricanes or forest fires have come your way.


I recently published a new online column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, “Moving Science’s Statistical Goalposts,” which will also appear in the print magazine later this fall. An article co-authored by seventy-two researchers proposes to change the

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Sir Ronald Fisher

probability standard for statistical tests, making it much more difficult to claim an effect is “statistically significant.” I discuss this issue in relation to the great British statistician Sir Ronald Fisher and Compound X, a fictional hair growth treatment.


If that does not sound whimsical enough, I was also recently interviewed in Britain’s New Statesman magazine about chain letters, chain tweets, and something called the

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Immunity Dog

“Immunity Dog.” I didn’t know about the Immunity Dog, either, but I am now informed. For those who have never seen the dog, a picture is provided here. To get an explanation of the canine’s importance (or lack of importance), you will have to read the article by technology reporter, Amelia Tait, which you can find here. It was a very fun interview, and the article is quite good.


That’s it for today. Until next time, enjoy the glories of fall.

SV

P-hacker Confessions: Daryl Bem & Me

My latest article for Skeptical Inquirer, “P-hacking Confessions: Daryl Bem & Me,” is up

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A “receiver” in a Ganzfeld ESP experiment

on the website. In it, I admit that earlier in my career I engaged in shaky data manipulation techniques that are now called p-hacking. The article also describes the fascinating career of psychologist Daryl Bem, who, among other things, is one of the few mainstream psychologists who has done research on—and believes in—extrasensory perception (ESP).

 


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On June 2, I was quoted in an essay entitled, “Why I Wrote This Article on Malcolm Gladwell’s Keyboard,” in the business section of the New York Times. The author, Daniel McGinn, has written a new book called, Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You 
Succeed
. I am not sure I can endorse the claims made in the article or the book, but the author seems to have found something useful in my book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition.


Summer temperatures have finally arrived here in New England. I hope everyone is enjoying some time outdoors while the weather is so nice.

SV

March for Science Report

Just a quick note to pass along my report for Skeptical Inquirer on the Washington DC March for Science a week ago today. I compared the march to the atmosphere of a road race. Despite ceaseless rain, a good time was had by all, and I think it was a valuable and very positive event. The report includes some fun pictures of people and signs.


Spring seems to have finally arrived in New England. I hope you all are having a wonderful weekend.

SV

Those Pesky Unintended Consequences

crash-215512_1920.jpgMy latest column for Skeptical Inquirer, “Can Anything Save Us from Unintended Consequences?,” is online now. In it I reveal a little-known fact about the Great Recession of 2008 and provide a number of examples of good ideas gone bad.

 

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In other news, Skeptical Inquirer magazine is on newsstands now, and it includes my article, “Your Unlearning Report: Empathy is Bad, You’re Not as Racist as You Thought, and Believing in Luck Won’t Help Your Golf Game.” This piece is also available online here.


This weekend I am off to the March for Science in Washington DC on  Saturday, April 22, which is also Earth Day. I will march in support of reason, evidence, and scientific discovery. I am hoping for good weather and huge (YUGE!) crowds of happy science marchforscience-1024x512.jpgwarriors. There will be marches all over the world, so please check the March for Science website for a satellite march near you.


Finally, I have redesigned my website with a  new color scheme and font combination. It also includes flashy rotating images on the home screen. I am just doing my part to keep shameless self-promotion fresh and up-to-date.

That’s all for now. Happy Spring!

SV

TED Ed “Where Do Superstitions Come From?”

For the last nine months or so I have been working on a video with a very talented group of writers and animators from the TED Ed organization. TED Ed is a division of the TED organization that produces short educational videos and makes them available, with accompanying background information, for free on their website and on YouTube. Our video, “Where Do Superstitions Come From?,” was released yesterday.

 

I was delighted to see how the animators brought the script alive, and I love all the little touches of humor. I hope you enjoy it, too.

All for now.

SV

Your Unlearning Report

Just a quick note to say my new column for Skeptical Inquirer, “Your Unlearning Report: The Trouble with Empathy, Implicit Bias, and Believing in Luck” is now up on the web. In it I explain why empathy is bad (or rather Yale psychologist Paul Bloom does), and why the now extensive field of research on implicit bias may not be as meaningful as it once was thought to be. Finally, I confess to being wrong about the effect of believing luck on your golf game.

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That’s all for now.

SV