Late August: The End of Interim & The Best Minds

Sailboats in the harbor, Stonington, CT.

Where did the summer go? It is August in this little tourist village, and the swimmers and sailors are in peak form.

It has been quite some time since I last visited your inbox because until quite recently, I have been busy finishing up as interim editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine in time for the new editor, Stephen Hupp, to take over. The last two issues produced under my editorship are now in the can. The July/August issue featured a wonderful cover story “The Ideological Subversion of Biology” by Jerry Coyne and Luana Maroja. Since its appearance, the article has been translated into four languages and has drawn worldwide attention.

The September/October issue, which will be out soon, features a cover story on pervasive bullshitters by psychologist John V. Petrocelli. Coincidently, the issue was just being finalized when we received word of the death of philosopher Harry Frankfurt, whose bestselling book, On Bullshit, was the inspiration for Petrocellli’s research on the subject. Frankfurt was a towering figure whose influence on philosophy will be felt for a long time


Norwich (CT) State Hospital

Now that I am back to just being a columnist at Skeptical Inquirer magazine, I will be writing my “Behavior & Belief” column on a more regular basis. My most recent article, “Mental Illness and the Tragedy of Good Intentions” came out on August 17th. It gives a brief history of deinstitutionalization and a review of the remarkable new book by Jonathan Rosen, The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions. Rosen tells the very moving story of a childhood friend stricken with schizophrenia, and in the process, he offers a clear-eyed view of the glaring problems faced by people with severe mental disorders and those who care about them.

I have been on quite a few podcasts and YouTube shows over the last few years, but few have been more enjoyable than an episode of the Eurotrash podcast with host Zaza earlier this month. We covered many topics and laughed a lot.

That’s all for now. I hope you have a few more sunny days of summer to enjoy before the realities of the fall set in.


Biden’s Superstition, Skeptical Inquirer, and Problems with Peer Review

It has been five months since I last posted here, which is an indication of how busy I have

been editing Skeptical Inquirer magazine. At this point, I have edited two issues of the magazine, the  March/April issue, which featured memorials to our late editor, Kendrick Frazier, and the May/June issue devoted to medical pseudoscience from all over the world. The July/August issue is underway now. It has been gratifying to work on the magazine, but I have decided not to put my hat in the ring to be the continuing editor. The search for a new editor is underway now.

On April 25th Joe Biden announced his re-election campaign—exactly four years after announcing his successful run for the 2020 nomination. That bit of superstition was the topic of an op-ed I wrote for the CNN Opinion page entitled “Biden picks a lucky day to launch his campaign. Is it OK that he’s superstitious?” Writing this piece gave me the opportunity to review the colorful history of presidential superstitions—some of which were worse than others.

Although I am busy editing Skeptical Inquirer, I have not entirely given up writing my Behavior & Belief column for the magazine. My most recent column was “Can We Trust Peer Review Journals?” I describe a number of problems associated with open-access journals. I also recount an embarrassing episode involving Frontiers journals, an open-access publisher that has been associated with a number of shoddy practices.

That’s all for now. Happy Spring!


Kendrick Frazier, Skeptical Inquirer magazine, Delusional Translations, & Test Anxiety

Kendrick Frazier (1942-2022)

In late October, just days before I left for CSICon, the annual skeptics’ conference in Las Vegas, I heard that Kendrick Frazier, the beloved editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine had been stricken with acute myeloid leukemia, a particularly virulent form of the disease. After previously editing Science News, Ken became editor of Skeptical Inquirer in August 1977 and held the job continuously for 45 years. Sadly, Ken’s illness progressed very rapidly, and he died on November 7th. Since his death, many messages of appreciation have come in from all over the world, and this wonderful obituary was published in his hometown newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal. A future issue of Skeptical Inquirer will include a memorial section.

Ken’s death was an enormous loss, and in the following days, I was asked to step in as editor of the magazine. I have never aspired to be an editor and have turned down previous offers to edit professional publications. For me, writing is my most treasured activity, and since retiring from teaching, I have tried to avoid anything that would cut into writing time. But given the circumstances, I agreed to be the interim editor for the magazine until a longer-term plan is established. I did not get a chance to talk to him directly, but I was told that Ken was pleased I would be taking over.

In other news, over the last few weeks, I have been informed that foreign rights to my new book, The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to be Rational, have been purchased by publishers in Saudi Arabia and in Taiwan. So Arabic and Chinese readers will soon learn the benefits of—some, not all—delusions.

Finally, I am for now, at least, still writing my column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and my latest contribution, “What if Test Anxiety Wasn’t a Disability?” looks at the somewhat controversial question of whether people who suffer from test anxiety should be afforded special accommodations during testing. The article was inspired by some new research that sheds light on the issue.

That’s it for now. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. See you next year.


Book Launch, Autism Politics, & Autumn Comes to New England

Since my last communique, autumnal weather and beautiful multicolored leaves have arrived here in southern New England. I love this time of year. I hope those of you in the northeast get a chance to enjoy the outdoors before the cold weather descends.

The release of my newest book will happen next week, and the launch event will be on Wednesday, October 19 at 6:00 pm at the LaGrua Center in Stonington. The topic will be “Liquor and Temperance in the Borough,” and in keeping with the theme, there will be both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages available. I will also sign books. My proceeds from the book go to the Stonington Historical Society. If you can make it, please come. It should lots of fun.

My latest column for Skeptical Inquirer is “Autism Politics and the Death of Truth and Freedom.” Most of the piece is a critique of a recent article in the journal Autism that creates the false impression that applied behavior analysis (ABA), the most popular therapy for autism, is abusive and harmful. Given that ABA has been used for 50 years, this is a rather far-fetched assessment, but a surprising number of autism advocates seem to believe it. In my opinion, the article I critiqued was designed to promote a false impression.

That’s all I have at the moment. I will leave you with a picture of me holding up a copy of the new book for the first time. Always a happy moment.


Train Wrecks, Pods, and Future Talks

As John Prine would say, Summer’s end is around the bend just flying / The swimming suits are on the line just drying.

My latest article for Skeptical Inquirer is a review of the status of subliminal messages and psychological priming research in general. This has been a particularly controversial and fraught area, and it was useful to see where things stand at the moment. (Spoiler alert!) I conclude that there is some hope for science to straighten things out before long.

Recently I spent a very pleasant hour on the “Why Do We Do That?” podcast talking to psychologist Ryan Moyer about my book The Uses of Delusion. Among other things, I learned that my first book, Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, was an influence on Ryan’s dissertation research. This is a relatively new podcast, but so far it seems terrific. You can listen to the episode here.

For anyone who might be in the Philadelphia area, I will be giving what will probably be my last public presentation on The Uses of Delusion for PhACT, the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking, on September 17th. I have given a few talks for PhACT before, but they were all over Zoom. So it will be a great pleasure to finally meet these people in person. The talk is free and open to the public, and you can find the details here.

Finally, my second book of 2022 launches on October 17th. Stonington’s Steamboat Hotel is a history of the building I live in, now locally known as The Heartbreak Hotel. As I discovered somewhat by accident during the dark days of the pandemic, the Steamboat Hotel has a very colorful history, and almost before I knew it, I was writing a manuscript which The History Press has now agreed to publish. I am giving all my proceeds for the book to the Stonington Historical Society, without whom I could not have written the book.

The official launch of the book will be at the LaGrua Center in Stonington, CT at 6:00 pm on October 19th. On that occasion, I will give a talk entitled “Liquor & Temperance in the Borough,” which is the topic of one of the chapters. Traditionally, hotels have been a popular location for drinking, and they often came into conflict with advocates of temperance and prohibition. In this regard, the Steamboat Hotel was no exception. Copies of the book will be on sale at the event, and there is a plan for some beverages to complement the talk. I am really looking forward to this gathering and hope anyone in the area will consider attending.

That’s it for now.


The Character of Science Podcast & Stonington Library Talk Video

Hello again. Wherever you are in the world, I hope the temperature is not too warm to be comfortable. If you are not already sick of hearing from me, I have two more programs to share.

I cannot recommend this project more highly. In my 1997 book on superstition, I worried about the portrayal of scientists in literature and film. Finally, someone has come along to explore these issues in a podcast. Jonathan Roberts, a researcher in the Society and Ethics Research Group at the Wellcome Genomic Campus of the Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire, UK, who works as a National Health Service genetic counselor is the host of a new podcast that looks at the images of scientists and science in film. In this episode, we discuss two great films, The Martian and Ex Machina. The other guest is the brilliant Kanta Dihal, a Cambridge University Artificial Intelligence researcher and author. You can listen to the episode here.

My only other news item is that a YouTube video of my book talk at the Stonington Free Library has been posted. It was a fun event with books provided by Bank Square Books of Mystic, Connecticut. Thanks to Joanna Scott for the photo of me signing books behind a mountain of blue. The video of my talk can be found here.

That’s all for now. Happy midsummer to you all.


Stonington Library Talk, etc.

I apologize for the ongoing spam about my new book. It will not last forever.

Because it is happening in my home town, I consider this event on Sunday, July 10, to be the true book launch. Note the new time, 4:00 pm, designed to allow people to also attend the Stonington Historical Society’s music at the Light House later that evening. For those who attend in person there will be a wine and cheese reception following, and thanks to Bank Square Books, there will be books available for purchase. The talk will also be live-streamed on The Stonington Free Library YouTube page. I hope to see you there!

Recently I had the chance to go on the Seize the Moment Podcast with Leon Garber and Alen Ulman. Both of them read the book and had great questions and comments. We got into some deep stuff and had lots of fun doing it.

That’s all for now. Given the events here in the US last week, it is a bit difficult to feel particularly celebratory this July 4th, but I hope you find some way to enjoy the summer weather and the long weekend.


Book Launch & Room Rater

This has been a relatively busy time for me as my new book, The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Ration to Be Rational, has rolled out. I have been fortunate enough to have appeared on several podcasts and to have given some talks, all of which have been recorded and placed on YouTube. If you are not already tired of hearing me talk about the book, you may enjoy these. I can say that I have gone to the effort to give different talks for different audiences, so there should be a minimum of overlap.

In early June I went down to Bethesda, Maryland to give an in-person talk to the National Capital Area Skeptics. It was great to meet this group and hang out in Bethesda. The talk was recorded, and there was a lengthy and quite interesting question-and-answer session. You can find the YouTube video here.

One of the most raucous and fun book conversations so far was with Daniel J. Glenn of the Fascinating Nouns podcast. Daniel is a hilarious and smart interviewer, and we had great fun. The YouTube video can be seen here.

My most recent recording was for Andrew Gold’s UK podcast On The Edge. Andrew is a very smart chap, and this conversation was a great pleasure. He came up with several additional examples of the kinds of behavior I talk about in the book, and we discussed cyborg tennis players and our thoughts on Bernie Sanders, among many other things. I really enjoyed this one, which can be found here.

I am tremendously grateful to all the podcasters and to the National Capital Area Skeptics for inviting me to speak. After working so long in private to write a book, it is a great pleasure to finally go out into the world and discuss it with interested readers. Luckily, I am not done. I have several other podcasts and talks scheduled.

Finally, June 21, 2022, was a very special day for me because I achieved an important life goal. The famous Room Rater Twitter account upgraded my rating to a perfect 10/10. I went to substantial effort to improve my book setup along the lines they suggested in my previous rating, and all the work paid off. I have updated my CV to reflect my new 10/10 status. Such a treat.

That’s all for now. Happy summer to you all.


Friday the 13th, the Shermer Show, & #1

May 13th was a busy Friday the 13th for me. I made television appearances on NBCNewsNow show Morning News Now and on the Newsy channel. There is no tape of the Newsy appearance, but you can watch the NBCNewsNow clip in the tweet below.

My appearance on KNX News Radio in Los Angeles can be heard here. The conversation was lots of fun and somewhat raucous.

This week I appeared on the Michael Shermer Show to discuss my new book The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to Be Rational. I have known Michael for a while, and our discussion was very wide-ranging and fun. You can watch the YouTube version of it here.

Undoubtedly as a result of my appearance on Michael Shermer’s show, my book rose to #1 on the Amazon list of New Releases in Psychology on May 17, which was quite a thrill. It has bounced around a bit since then, but it was at #4 on May 18 and #2 on May 19. I don’t really know what all this means, but I like the interpretation offered in a tweet by my colleague Chris French below:

Thank you, Chris! I will follow your suggestion.

That’s it for now!


Zoom Book Talk & Friday May 13th Event

A quick message to let you know about two events later this week.

On Thursday, May 12 at 7:00 pm ET, I will return to Skeptical inquirer Presents to talk about my new book, The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to Be Rational. You can register for this zoom event here. As a teaser, I will let you know that the talk will include mention of both Patty Hearst and the recent TV show Severance.

This Friday, May 13th, the Freethought Society is sponsoring their first “Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center’s International Educational Seminar via Zoom,” and I will be the keynote speaker. The festivities begin at 6:45 PM ET with standup comedian Ian Harris. There are a number of other speakers, and my keynote will be at 8:00 PM ET. The direct link to the zoom event can be found here. No registration is required. Should be fun.

That’s it for now.