Early December News

Happy December! Just a quick note to prove I’m still here.

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Espresso Library

Almost a year ago, while sitting in the lovely Espresso Library in Cambridge, England—one of my favorite coffeeshops in all the world—I was interviewed (via email) by Ella Rhodes, a reporter for The Psychologist, a monthly magazine published by the British Psychological Society. The article she was working on finally appeared as the cover story of the November issue. You can read it online here.

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November, 2016 issue of The Psychologist

 
Then rather surprisingly, Ella Rhode’s piece was used as a source for another article on superstition in The Irish Catholic, which is described as Ireland’s biggest and best-selling religious newspaper. I am fairly certain this is the first time I have been quoted in a Catholic newspaper. You canic-logo read the article here.


SV Achieves Thought Leader Status

Finally, I was recently invited to contribute an article to a special issue of an academic journal. The editors explained that they had solicited participation by several “thought leaders” in the field, myself among them. I was flattered and quickly accepted the invitation.

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Henry Ward Beecher, thought leader. (Photo by Mathew Brady.)

Later, I turned to Wikipedia to determine what it meant to be a thought leader. The term was first used in 1887 to describe the American Congregationalist minister, Henry Ward Beecher—an abolitionist who was embroiled in a famous adultery trial (resulting in a hung jury)—and it is defined as:

an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.

But that’s not the whole story. As I suspected, not everyone loves the term. Wikipedia goes on:

The phrase “thought leader” is identified by some writers as an annoying example of business jargon, and appeared in Forbes magazine’s 2013 annual “tournament” of “corporate America’s most insufferable” business buzzwords and clichés.

Insufferable term or not, I am pleased to achieve the status of thought leader. Feel free to refer to me using my new title whenever it seems appropriate.  ;-)

All for now.

SV

CSICon Las Vegas Report

image-3I have just returned from a great visit to Las Vegas to participate in the 2016 CSICon conference, put on by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Although Las Vegas is not a destination I would otherwise seek out, I had a wonderful time. I heard great talks by James Randi, Elizabeth Loftus, Richard Dawkins, and Lawrence Krauss. My own talk, “Is Brain Training a Scam,” was not recorded, but the Center for Inquiry, CSI’s parent organization, was live blogging the conference. You can read the blog post about my talk here.


Just one week to election day. Be sure to vote!

SV

More October News

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Superstition and magic are still blowing in the October wind, and as a result, I continue pop up here and there. One of my most enjoyable recent experiences was appearing on The Guardian of London’s tech podcast “Chips with Everything” to talk about the peculiar superstitions spawned by technology. Why do some people believe they have to shake their phones to “wake up” the GPS? The episode is called “Magical thinking, superstitions, and technology.”


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Just today I was quoted in a very good article on superstition in U.S.News & World Report. The piece, entitled “How Superstitions are Affecting Your Behavior,” also quotes Jane Risen of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, who has done some very interesting work on jinxes and on the conflict between our intuitive and rational selves. Our rational brain often tells us a superstition is silly, but our intuitive side forces us to be superstitious nonetheless.


heroFinally, for months I have been looking forward to attending the Committee on Skeptical Inquiry‘s convention, CSICon 2016, in Las Vegas this weekend, but now, due to a last minute scheduling change, it looks like I will also be speaking at the convention. Other speakers include Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Elizabeth Loftus, Paul Offit, James Randi, and many more luminaries of science and skepticism, so I am quite honored to be selected to pinch hit. You can learn more about CSICon at the conference website.

Given the short notice I will present an updated version of my July, 2015 Behavior & Belief column, “Neuro-Pseudoscience,” which is about the brain training industry.


That’s all for now.

SV

Autumn Superstitions

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We are well into spooky October, and superstition is in the air. The baseball playoffs are a stressful time for fans, and this year I was interviewed by Dave Skretta, an Associated Press reporter writing a story pegged to the long suffering Chicago Cubs, who are in the playoffs and hoping to erase the 80-year-old Billy Goat Curse. When the article appeared, I was delighted to see that Skretta had included this passage about my father:

“It’s worth noting that Vyse grew up a Cubs fan, though he’s been rooting for the Red Sox since he moved east. And his father was a lifelong Cubs fan who never saw them win a World Series title.”


p4i-qwxuOn October 7th, I appeared on Boston’s WCVB TV evening magazine program Chronicle. The subject was superstition, and the story reported a number of interesting Chinese superstitions and superstitions of the theater.

You can watch the first segment, which features me, by clicking here. I make only a brief cameo in the second segment, which you can watch here.


That’s all for now. Enjoy the delights of autumn.

SV

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