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.

SV

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.

SV

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.

SV

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.

SV

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!

SV

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.

SV

Book Launch & the Autism Spectrum

This week my newest book The Uses of Delusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to Be Rational was officially released in hardcover, audio, and kindle. It’s very exciting to have it finally out in the world. The book was a great pleasure to write, and I hope that readers will enjoy it, too.

Psychologist Matthew Brodhead from Michigan State University won the First Sighting in the Wild award by spotting the book at Hooked in Lansing, Michigan, which is described as a bookstore, coffee shop, and wine bar. It sounds like a place that specializes in all my favorite things. Thanks to Matt for the photo and to Hooked for carrying my book. I look forward to visiting when I am next in Lansing.


To learn a little about the new book, you can listen to my recent appearance on the Association for Psychological Science’s “Under the Cortex” podcast with Charles Blue. This was my second time on Under the Cortex, and I was very fortunate that my first interview about The Uses of Delusion was on this pod. Charles is an excellent interlocutor, and the podcast is very professionally done. I am very grateful to have had this opportunity.


Finally, despite all this book-related activity, I managed to write my column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. My latest article, “Is Autism Really a Spectrum?” challenges the current system used to diagnose autism-related disorders. The column includes comments from Amy Lutz, a parent of a young man with severe autism and vice president of the National Council on Severe Autism.


That’s all for now.

SV

Steamboat Hotel Talk & Spanish Reviews

Last Sunday at our local Stonington Free Library, I gave a talk about the history of Stonington’s Steamboat Hotel, co-sponsored by the library and the Stonington Historical Society. It was wonderful to be gathered together for the first time since the beginning of the Pandemic, and thanks to a great combined effort by the two sponsoring organizations, there was a standing-room-only crowd. The event was live-streamed on Facebook and the video is now available on YouTube.

In addition, I can now reveal that there will be a book on the history of the Steamboat Hotel, to be published by The History Press, an imprint of Arcadia Publishing. I will be submitting the final manuscript by the end of the month and with luck, the book will be out by the fall. If so, I will be in the pleasantly awkward position of having two books come out in the same year. The Uses of Delusion will launch on May 2.


Since my last post, the Spanish translation of my book Superstition: A Very Short Introduction was released by Alianza Editorial. A few reviews have come in, including this very nice one in El País. But I was more than delighted to read (with the help of Google translation) this one in FantasyMundo. At the end of a very praising assessment, the author, Fran M. Hidalgo, called Breve historia de la superstición “one of the essential non-fiction books this year.” That one made my day. 


I cannot leave without noting how dramatically the world has changed in the last few weeks. The Ukrainian people have demonstrated for all the world what it means to fight for freedom and self-determination. If you are moved to make a donation to help, this Vox article has a pretty good list of options. I will be attending the vigil for Ukraine at the Stonington Free Library on Sunday. It seems important to do whatever we can to support this valiant effort in the face of senseless destruction.

SV

Mass Psychogenic Illness & The Steamboat Hotel

I have just two items for you this time.


My latest column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, “Mass Psychogenic Illness: The Unacceptable Diagnosis,” is about Havana Syndrome and other diseases that have psychological rather than physiological origins. When you are suffering from genuine and severe physical symptoms, the psychogenic diagnosis is famously difficult to accept. As I argue, the “it’s all in your head” conclusion is neither helpful nor accurate, but many sufferers might benefit from a better understanding of the mind-body connection.


This is a little different. On Sunday, March 13 @ 5:00 pm ET at the Stonington Free Library, I will give a talk about the remarkable history of the building I live in. I’ve never done local history before, but this was something of a pandemic side gig that became one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever undertaken. It was a labor of love and a gift to the village that has been my home for over 20 years. This will be a hybrid event, co-sponsored by The Stonington Free Library and the Stonington Historical Society: in-person at the library and streamed live on the Stonington Historical Society Facebook page. If neither of those works for you, the talk will be recorded and posted on the library’s YouTube channel. I will let you know when it goes up.


That’s it for now. Stay warm!

SV

Jumping to Conclusions & Sports Curses

A quick missive to report two items.


My latest column for Skeptical Inquirer magazine is “Jumping to Superstitious Conclusions.” A number of recent studies show that people who believe weird things are not very diligent researchers. When asked to investigate a simple problem, they give up more quickly and jump to a conclusion. These studies seem particularly relevant in a period when people are “doing their own research” on vaccines.


Earlier in January, I had a fun conversation with writer Gary Belsky about whether his beloved but beleaguered team, the Arizona Cardinals might be under the sway of a curse. I provided a few pithy quotes at the end of his January 14th article in the New York Times. It was a particular treat to chat with Belsky because I knew him as the co-author, with Cornell University psychologist Thomas Gilovich, of the great 2010 book, Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them.


That’s it for now. Stay warm.

SV