End of Summer Wrap-Up

It has been a quiet mid-to-late summer for me, but enough has happened to justify sending out a missive.

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Henry Molaison in 1975

My August column for Skeptical Inquirer, “Consensus: Could Two Hundred Scientists be Wrong?” has just gone up. I report on a controversy caused by the release of a new book about H.M. (Henry Molaison), the world’s most famous amnesia patient. I also consider the larger questions of (a) when is a scientific consensus something we should pay attention to and (b) when should scientists add their names to petitions, statements, or letters of support.


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I recently published my fourth introvert piece, “An Introvert’s Guide to Daydreaming,” in The Coffeelicious collection on Medium.com, and the nice people at the New York Observer were kind enough to reprint it on their site.


Finally, the memory of the Olympics is fading quickly, but a few weeks back, I was interviewed for an article in Quartz called, “Athletes who wear “lucky socks” aren’t wrong: Psychologists say superstitions yield real advantages.”

That’s it for now.

Happy Labor Day weekend! Let’s hope the warm weather lasts a bit longer.

SV

Kitty Genovese Redux

My latest piece for Skeptical Inquirer, “Kitty Genovese: Revising the Parable of the Bad Samaritan,” is up on the web. The 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, New York, became the symbol of bystander apathy when the New York Times reported that 38 people had witnessed Kitty’s brutal stabbing without calling the police or taking action to help her. A new documentary film, The Witness, follows Kitty’s younger brother, Bill, as he investigates the case in an effort to find out what really happened. The story he uncovers is substantially different from the legendary version that became a standard feature of psychology textbooks.

The Genovese case inspired a long line of research into the factors that influence bystanders to help a person in need. That research continues to this day, and I summarize the results of some recent studies.

That’s all for now.

Happy Summer!

SV

Fate, A Science Enthusiast, & Weirdos

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My most recent piece for Skeptical Inquirer, “Fate: Inventing Reasons for the Things that Happen,” is up on the website of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. I report on some interesting recent research showing that—from an early age—we have a tendency to think that objects were designed for a purpose and events happen for a reason. All of which poses a challenge for the promotion of scientific thinking.


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I recently had the privilege of being a guest on the “Science Enthusiast” podcast. My illustrious former student Natalie Newell is one of the hosts. She is also the creator of the Science Moms Facebook page and—with her husband Brian Newell—the forthcoming documentary film, Science Moms. It was wonderful being on the show, and I am so excited about all the new projects that Natalie and her colleagues are launching.


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Finally, I traveled to the 2016 Reason Rally on June 4 in Washington DC, and I commemorated the event with a new piece in Medium called “Listen to the Weirdos on the Mall.” In it I reminisce about my past trips to large gatherings on the National Mall.

That’s all for now.

SV

Recent Media Bits

scienceofus_black_rgb_20Last week I was quoted in an interesting article, “The Strange Power of Unlucky Charms,” written by Cari Romm for New York Magazine’s online blog Science (of) Us. Among other things, Romm reports that, in approximately half the states in the US, landlords are protected from having to disclose to new tenants that a death has occurred in the apartment. Ghost protection.

Last month included a Friday the 13th, and although I did not give any new interviews, some of my older material resurfaced. Most notably CNN.com reposted my 2012 essay, “My Take: Why We Fear Friday the 13th.” I discovered the article was out again when I got the tweet below from Colgate University.

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Evidently Colgate loves the number 13. As this page on the university website explains, “The university was originally founded as The Baptist Education Society of the State of New York by 13 men who each offered $13 and 13 prayers.” So they celebrate Friday the 13th as a lucky day at Colgate. Who knew?

Finally, I will soon be a guest on an exciting new podcast, so I will keep you posted about that when the time comes.

All for now.

SV

Syracuse, Apple, & Autism Pseudoscience

BannerMy latest Behavior & Belief column, “Syracuse, Apple, and Autism Pseudoscience,” is up at the Skeptical Inquirer. I covers a recent facilitated communication controversy on the campus of Syracuse University.

Coincidentally, April is Autism Acceptance Month, and to celebrate the occasion, Apple Computer released two beautifully produced videos. Unfortunately, in doing so, Apple has associated itself with pseudoscientific treatments for autism.

Until next time.

SV

The Show About Science

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Recently I had the special pleasure of appearing on a podcast called “The Show About Science.” Among other things, the podcast is remarkable because the host, Nate, is 5 years old. This was Nate’s 13th episode, so he invited me on to talk about superstitions. You can listen to the episode here.

People have begun to realize that “The Show About Science” and other podcasts for and by children have great educational potential.  Nate, who is clearly ahead of the curve on this trend, is mentioned in this recent article in The Atlantic.

Until later,

SV

Good News for Grouches

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My latest Behavior & Belief column, “Good News for Grouches: Happiness is Overrated,” is up at Skeptical Inquirer. I review new research showing that—contrary to popular belief—being happy (or unhappy) has no effect on the length of your life. Furthermore, if you go on to get a college degree, you may forfeit some of your happiness in the process. But don’t let that stop you. The bliss of ignorance isn’t worth the ignorance.

Happiness is a good thing—maybe even a great thing—but it isn’t everything.

Until next time,

SV

 

Don’t Ask, “How’s the Book Going?”

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A little number I wrote called, “Don’t Ask ‘How’s the Book Going?,'” appeared in the Coffeelicious collection on Medium today. Some of my writer friends will sympathize, I’m sure.

Screen_Shot_2016-02-10_at_3.46.03_PMIn other news, the (modestly updated) print version of my December “Behavior and Belief” column “Guns: Feeling Safe ≠ Being Safe” has just appeared in the March-April issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. At your local news stand now. Also for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.

I feel spring coming on…..

SV

Nudging People to Save the Planet

Sandy_Oct_25_2012_0400ZMy latest column for Skeptical Inquirer, Nudging People to Save the Planet,” is up today. It outlines five “best practices” for getting people to combat climate change.

As a small bonus, the column also includes a bit of good news in a follow-up to my May, 2015 column on the bogus therapy Facilitated Communication (FC). In that piece, I mentioned that the prestigious Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire promoted FC. I am happy to report that the institute has subsequently decided to sever all connections with this thoroughly discredited therapy.

Once Again the Evil Eye

To Ward-off the Evil Eye

Jewelry designed to ward off the Evil Eye.

I confess to a certain weakness for the Evil Eye superstition. It is often motivated by the fear of harm to oneself or to a prized loved one, such as a new baby. Although I never knew about the Evil Eye until a student told me about it a few years ago, it is popular in vast areas of the Middle East, Europe, and South America. The malevolent social nature of the Evil Eye makes it somewhat different than a simple taboo belief or good luck charm.

Yesterday, I was quoted in Alison Stevenson’s nice piece on the Evil Eye in Vice.