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

 

Happy Friday the 13th!

If you wait long enough, the 13th day of the month will fall on a Friday, and journalists will take the opportunity to express their undying love for stories about superstition.

This year, I had a fun time being interviewed by The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I took the opportunity to talk about superstitions students use prior to taking exams.


Today, I was also quoted in a Canadian news outlet called Global News. The article is called “Friday the 13th: Not as scary as it sounds,” and it came with this cool image of yellow-eyed black cat.

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Finally, my friend Nate, the host of The Show About Science and undoubtedly the youngest science podcaster on the planet, posted the following tweet today. Being a guest on Nate’s show was one of the best interview experiences I’ve ever had, so if you have not already done so, I recommend you check out the show at the soundcloud link in the tweet.


That’s all for now. Happy Friday the 13th!

SV

Power Posing and More

My latest Skeptical Inquirer column, “The Parable of the Power Pose and How to6279920726_6eff87fa6c_b
Reverse It,” is up on the SI website. I recount the rise and fall of power posing and also describe a new open science initiative aimed at strengthening research. If these new methods are adopted, they should produce results that are more trustworthy and less likely to be overturned.


siThe January/February 2017 print issue of Skeptical Inquirer is on news stands now, including my column “Consensus: Can Two Hundred Scientists be Wrong?” This is the print version of an article I wrote online back in September. In the back pages, I also provide some pithy responses to letters sent in by readers.


screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-7-43-07-amFinally, if anyone is spending the holidays in the Boston area and missed out on seeing me on the WCVB TV program Chronicle last October, you have another chance on Wednesday, December 28. The Chronicle segment “Are You Superstitious?” will air again on that date at 7:30 PM on ABC 5. Of course, no matter where you live, you can see a video of that show any time you want by simply clicking here.


That’s all for now. Have a happy and safe holiday season.

SV

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