About

I am a behavioral scientist, teacher, and writer. I am a contributing editor for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, for which I write the “Behavior & Belief” column, both online and in print. I have written personal and professional essays in a variety of places, including the ObserverMedium, The AtlanticThe Good Men ProjectTablet, and Time.

The first edition of my book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition won the William James Book Award of the American Psychological Association and was translated into Japanese, German, and Romanian. An updated edition was published in 2014. My book Going Broke: Why Americans (Still) Can’t Hold On To Their Money is an analysis of the current epidemic of personal debt. The first edition was translated into Chinese, and the second edition was released in September of 2018 in both paperback and audiobook formats.

As an expert on superstition and irrational behavior, I have been quoted in many news outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and have appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, CNN International, the PBS NewsHour, and NPR’s Science Friday. See the In the Media page for recent quotes and appearances.

I hold a PhD in psychology and BA and MA degrees in English Literature and am a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. The majority of my teaching career was spent at Providence College, the University of Rhode Island, and Connecticut College. My academic interests are in decision-making, behavioral economics, philosophy, behavior analysis, and belief in the paranormal.

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Google Scholar Citations

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Recent Posts

A New Year

It has been several weeks since my last installment, but it feels like years. We passed the socially distanced December holidays and the masked New Year’s non-celebration only to be hit with a violent insurrection at the US Capitol building, Impeachment 2.0, and (finally!) the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President. I feel more than a bit dizzy.

My own activities during this time have been far less dramatic. Way back in December I wrote a column for Skeptical Inquirer, “The Tragedy of Our Commons,” about the role of national unity and disunity in the way different countries have responded to the coronavirus crisis.

On January 2, I participated in Monterey County SkeptiCamp, which was booked as the first skeptic conference of the year. I gave a talk entitled, “Do Superstitions Work?” In addition to me, my friend Janyce Boynton gave a talk about the pseudoscientific communication technique Facilitated Communication, which, unfortunately, remains popular with many parents of children with severe language disorders. The video below is of the entire conference, but you can scroll ahead to see Janyce at 1 hr and 13 minutes and me at 1 hr and 54 minutes.

Finally, on January 13, a new book, Pour Quoi Moi? Le Hasard Dans Tous Ses Éstats, was released in France. In English the title is “Why Me? Chance in All Its Forms.” The book is the companion to a conference that is now scheduled for this coming July, and It includes chapters by thirty-three scientists and other writers, including me. My chapter is “Can Humans Tolerate a Random World?” It appears in French in the collection, as do all the other essays, but I was delighted to see that my chapter was discussed in the opening paragraphs of a review of the book that appeared in Le Monde on January 15. If you are interested, you can find a pdf of the review here.

That’s all for now. There are a few things brewing for the future, but I will let you know about those when they are more definite, In the meantime, Happy New Year! I hope you get vaccinated soon—I’m still waiting—and that Spring comes quickly.

SV

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  2. Friday the 13th & Philadelphia Critical Thinking Talk Leave a reply
  3. Halloween, British Museum Magazine, and James Randi Leave a reply
  4. The Free Market & Some Sad News Leave a reply
  5. COVID-19 and the Tyranny of Now Leave a reply
  6. Brazilian Skeptics & COVID, Superstition on BBC Radio 4, British Museum, & Spanish Translation Leave a reply
  7. Audiobook, Autism research, & the Cheltenham Science Festival Leave a reply
  8. A Virus Changes Everything Leave a reply
  9. Vegas pod, UK Book Tour Dates, & Superstitious Real Estate—Part Deux Leave a reply