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.


A Monument to Homeopathy and My Trip to Brazil

On a recent trip to Washington, DC I visited a monument that most visitors to our nation’s capital never see. The German physician Samuel Hahnemann invented homeopathy, and in 1900, the American Institute of Homeopathy built a monument to him at a busy intersection in DC. In my latest column in Skeptical Inquirer, “What Should Become of a MSamuel_Hahnemann_Memorial.jpgonument to Pseudoscience,” I report on my pilgrimage to the Hahnemann monument and the history of homeopathy.

Speaking of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, my recent article on the rise of exorcism has been translated into Spanish. “La Nueva Ola De Exorcismos” can be found here.

In a couple of weeks, I will be traveling to Sao Paulo, Brazil to give a few talks sponsored by a skeptics organization there, Questão de Ciência. The schedule of events is out. 66853837_2362935800440387_7127538110778310656_n.png

I am very excited to be going to Brazil to support this new skeptics group in Sao Paulo. It should be fun.

That’s it for now. It is very hot here in New England. I hope you are staying cool wherever you are.


Video of my recent talk

This is just a quick note to pass on the YouTube video of my recent talk at Stonington Free Library. I had a wonderful time at our little local library, and now the presentation is available online. The best bits are about shopping carts and plastic soda bottles.

Happy weekend everyone!


Exorcism, Race, & Guns

I have been busy writing lately. My June column for Skeptical Inquirer is “The New Wave of Exorcism.” Exorcism has been in the news lately, and in case you were wondering, 576px-Musée_des_Augustins_Toulouse_23lots of people still believe in demons and the devil. In the article, I discuss exorcism in the media and the American Psychiatric Association’s position on people who appear to be possessed by other entities.

On Medium, I wrote a short essay, “Racism and Guns,” that recounts an uncomfortable M9-pistoletconversation I had at a conference.

This Thursday, June 20 at 5:15pm, I will be giving a talk about my book “Going Broke: Why Americans (Still) Can’t Hold on to Their Money” at the Stonington Free Libary as part of the “Thoughtful Thursday” series. This is a new edition of a book I first published in 2008, Thoughtful Thursday Juneand I am looking forward to talking about it in my little town. Details can be found at this link.

A final bit of personal news. This week I learned that I had been elected a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. Fellow status is awarded to “APS members who have made sustained outstanding contributions to the science of psychology in the areas of research, teaching, service, and/or application.” I am delighted and deeply honored.

That’s all for now.


Audio Course and Book Talk

My new audio course, The Science of Irrationality: How to Think Better, is out exclusively from Audible. In fifteen 25-minute-long lectures, I cover logical fallacies, baloney detection, conspiracy theories, self-control, behavioral economics, superstition, and more. Later it will be available from other sources.

“No scientist working today knows more about irrationality and how to overcome it than Stuart Vyse, whose research has peered into the mind to find out how thinking goes wrong.” – Michael Shermer, author of Why People Believe Weird Things, The Moral Arc, and Heavens on Earth

41sMvuCU9dL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAt 5:15 pm on June 20th, in my little town of Stonington, CT, I will give a talk on the subject of my book Going Broke: Why Americans (Still) Can’t Hold on to Their Money. The talk will be held at the Stonington Free Library at 20 High Street and is free and open to the public. Thanks to Bank Square Books of Mystic, CT, copies of the book will be available for sale.  If you have questions, call 860-535-0658 or visit the library’s website. I hope to see you there.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!


The history of crutches

I broke a bone in my foot, and it sent me down a rabbit hole. The prospect of several arderneweeks on crutches inspired me to do some research on the history of crutches (they are very old), and the result was an article “In Praise of the Crutch-Makers.” I am grateful to Barry Karr, my editor at Skeptical Inquirer, for accepting an essay that is somewhat different from my usual “Behavior & Belief” column. Although the article is written in the past tense, I will be on sticks for a few weeks longer.

Meanwhile, the latest issue of the print version of Skeptical 60334283_2207209682649113_1784403248988291072_nInquirer is on newsstands now. My column for this issue is about the National Down Syndrome Society promoting the discredited therapy, Facilitated Communication (FC). A version of the article appeared online here.

This issue also includes an interesting article by Scott O. Lilienfeld, “Skepticism and the Persuasive Power of Conversion Stories.” Lilienfeld reviews research showing why conversion stories are so persuasive, and one of the examples he cites is Janyce Boynton, the former Facilitated Communication user who is now a leading advocate for eliminating FC. I wrote about Boynton’s story in my column last November.

That’s it for now. Enjoy the lovely spring weather!


Michigan, My Audio Course, and Political Bias

Happy first day of Spring!

I’ve had a busy couple of months at the end of winter. On February 21, I was honored to give the keynote address for the conference of the Behavior Analysis Association of Michigan (BAAM) at Eastern Michigan University n Ypsilanti, MI. The talk was entitled “Can the Experimental Analysis of Behavior Adapt to the Environment?” My message was not particularly encouraging, but the talk was well received.

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The dome of the Islamic Center of America

One of the treats of the Michigan trip was spending an evening with a former student, now a graduate student at the University of Michigan, who took me on a quick tour of Dearborn, Michigan, which has one of the largest Muslim communities in the country. We sampled some wonderful Yemeni food and visited the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in North America.  It was a wonderful experience to be in a place where women wearing hijab was commonplace and many varieties of middle eastern culture were everywhere on display. 

Soon after returning home from the BAAM conference, I headed down to Rockville, Maryland to record an audio course entitled “The Science of Irrationality: How to Think

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The Now You Know Media recording studio.

Better.” I delivered fifteen 25-minute-long lectures that were videotaped as I stood at a lectern in front of a very learned looking backdrop. The publisher of the course is Now You Know Media, and at some later date, they will decide whether to offer the course on DVD as a video course. In April, the course will be released as an audio course in all of the usual forms (CD, MP3, Audible, etc.). So, for any students who might be missing the sound of their old professor’s voice, this course will provide a good solution. In addition, you might learn something about how to be less irrational.

After returning from Maryland, I went back to writing my “Behavior & Belief” column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. This month I took on a recent controversy in the psychological literature in an article called, “Who Are More Biased: Liberals or Conservatives?” A recent study by Peter Ditto of the University of California at Irvine in collaboration and several colleagues suggested that6261650491_0cd6c701bb_z conservatives and liberals are equally biased. This conclusion was immediately challenged by Jon Baron of the University of Pennsylvania and John Jost of New York University, who cited considerable research showing that conservatives are more rigid and supportive of the status quo than liberals. Much of that same research shows that liberals are more open to new experiences. All of which would point to liberals being less biased than conservatives. At the end of the article, I make a few comments about what is and isn’t useful about this line of research.

That’s all for now. Spring is officially here, and the days are getting longer. Enjoy the growing light and warmth.


Happy New Year!

I have been quite remiss in sending out new notices. It has been a relatively quiet time while I worked hard on a large writing project that is now nearing completion, but I wanted to send out a brief note before the change of the year.  There are a few things happening early next year that I will be able to reveal soon, but for now, here are a few loose ends from the end of 2018.

Me with Train and Lobster (R)
Janyce Boynton

Back in November, I published a new Skeptical Inquirer column on the Maine collage artist Janyce Boynton, who has a remarkable history. Some years ago Janyce was a speech therapist who began using the discredited communication technique Facilitated Communication. Today she is a leading advocate for abolishing its use. A version of this article will also appear in the March/April issue of the print version of Skeptical Inquirer.

downloadI was recently quoted in an article in Romper7 Superstitions That Are Actually Based In Truth.” I think what they mean is that at one time these superstitions had some sort of rational basis but have lived on past their useful time. The classic example is the “three on a match” superstition. It is considered bad luck to light three cigarettes on the same match, a belief that stems from the foxholes of World War I. Leaving a match lit too long could give an enemy sniper a v1good target, but the belief continued long after WWI. Three On A Match also became a popular 1932 movie starring Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, and Bette Davis. Naturally, something bad happens….

As the end of 2018 approached, my publisher Oxford University Press asked me to write a brief statement about what I thought was the biggest event in psychology this year. They posted the piece on their Facebook page, but because not everyone is on Facebook, I have provided a screenshot of it here. 

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That’s my last missive of 2018. I hope that 2019 brings health and great happiness to you and yours. See you next year. 


My new Time magazine article

High Angle View Of Students Wearing Graduation Gown At UniversityJust a brief note to share some exciting news. I was recently asked to write an article for Time magazine as a tie-in to the new edition of my book, Going Broke: Why Americans (Still) Can’t Hold on to Their MoneyThe article is entitled “How to Have Your Kid Go to College — But Not Go Broke,” and it includes a number of suggestions for getting a good education with little or no student loan debt. Screenshot 2018-10-04 13.51.32.png

The article went online on September 28th, and it also appears in the October 8th issue of the print magazine. The magazine has already been mailed to subscribers and should be on newsstands next week.

That’s all for now!


The book is here!! & Crystals

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The wait is over. The fully updated post-Great Recession edition of Going Broke: Why Americans (Still) Can’t Hold on to Their Money is now available from online booksellers and at better bricks-and-mortar bookstores. I could not be more pleased with the all-new design of this large-format paperback. Authors care about things like paper quality, and the paper in this book is beautiful, as is the new cover design.

GB is also available for Kindles and in audiobook format. My first audiobook!

Welcome to the world little book!

Astrology, crystals, and all manner of New Agey things seem to be surging in popularity again. A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed by a reporter for the ABC Good Morning America website for a story on the subject of crystals. These pretty rocks have lately become a fashion item, showing up on high-priced shoes and water bottles.

astara-shoes-crystals-ht-thg-180830_hpMain_16x9_992.jpgAs usual, I was called in as the token skeptic to throw water on the possibility that crystals have magical powers. I suppose we should be thankful that the author bothered to seek out a science-based point of view as a counterpoint to those making money on pseudoscientific claptrap. Many writers on these trendy subjects never do.

That’s all for now.