Brazil Recap & Adventures in Peer Review

It has been a very long time since I’ve posted an update, and much has happened. First and foremost, in August I made a trip to São Paulo, Brazil for a series of talks sponsored by The Institute Question of Science (Questão de Ciência).  It was an amazing trip. On my first day there I was interviewed by several members of the press, including a reporter from Folha de S. Paulo, the largest newspaper in São Paulo.


The article published in the Folha de S.Paulo.

On the second day in São Paulo, I gave a talk at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of São Paulo entitled, “Why People Believe What They Believe,” which was the first in a lecture series called “The Epistemology of Ignorance.” It was a great start to my trip, and the question-and-answer session after the talk was particularly interesting.

A video of my talk at the Institute for Advanced Study is available here:

On my third day, I gave a three-hour long workshop in the Psychology Department at the University of São Paulo entitled “Science and Clinical Psychology: How to Turn Them into Allies.” This, too, was a remarkably enjoyable session, in large part because the audience was so responsive, offering a number of interesting observations. There were some clinical psychologists in attendance who shared interesting stories from their practices.

A video of the entire three-hour lecture can be found here. Unfortunately, the sound did not work for the first 30 minutes of the session, so, if you are going to watch the video, I recommend you scroll forward 30 minutes or so.

On my final day, I gave a talk on the Psychology of Superstition in the auditorium of a very large bookstore in downtown São Paulo. Because the talk was open to the public, the sponsors offered simultaneous translation, both for the audience and for me. It was quite a fun experience. There is no video, but I can offer this photo of the event.


Carlos Orsi, the Emcee for the event, and me during the question and answer session. I am intently listening to the English translation of a question from the audience.

I am deeply indebted to my hosts on the Brazilian trip, Natalia Pasternak, the President of Questão de Ciência and Carlos Orsi, who is the Communications Director for IQC. They took care of my every need and gave me a wonderful introduction to Brazil.

After completing my time in São Paulo, I flew to Rio de Janeiro for four days of vacation before heading home. Rio is a spectacular city. I stayed at the Hilton Copacabana, right on the beach of the same name. The views were stunning, as the picture below suggests, and the beaches were beautiful. I ate some great food, drank the fabulous local cocktail, the caipirinha, and went on a tour of the Rocinha favela, the largest slum in Brazil.

It was a wonderful trip, and I am eternally grateful to my hosts,  Natalia Pasternak and Carlos Orsi and to Questão de Ciência for inviting me.


Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro at dawn seen from my hotel window.

My most recent Behavior & Belief column for Skeptical Inquirer, “An Adventure In Peer Review,” was published back at the end of August.behavioral_and brain sciences.jpg I reported a personal saga about the prestigious Cambridge University Press journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences publishing an article that presented quotes based on the discredited technique, facilitated communication. The quotes were purported to be the words of non-speaking people with autism, but overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that they were actually the unconscious statements of the facilitators assisting them. A number of colleagues and I wrote a commentary that was published with the flawed article, but the article was allowed to stand as is. In my analysis of this episode, I point to some aspects of the peer-review process that likely produced what, in my opinion, was an unsatisfactory outcome.

Later this month I am heading to the CSICon conference, in Las Vegas, the largest gathering of skeptics in the world, and then the following week I will travel to Vienna, Austria, where I will be talking about superstition at the Austrian Day of Science. More about that in a future post.

That’s all for now. I apologize for the length of this post. The weather has finally turned autumnal in Stonington. Wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying good times and pleasant weather.