Feng Shui & Coming to the UK

Happy New Year! My first missive of the new year will be brief.

My January Behavior & Belief column for Skeptical Inquirer is “Superstition and the Chinese Real Estate Market.” Chinese culture is saturated with superstition, and Chinese superstitions have a powerful effect on commerce, including the housing market. This article explains why you might not want to buy a Hong Kong apartment on the 24th

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Feng shui coins tied with lucky red string.

floor, and how you might be able to use feng shui coins to combat bad chi. If you believe in that sort of thing.

I am very excited to announce that I will be coming to the United british-museum-squarelogoKingdom in May. As you may recall, I have a new book coming out this spring, Superstition: A Very Short Introduction. In connection with the release of this pocket-sized paperback, I was invited to give a talk at the British Museum. I really wanted to accept this invitation, and as a result, I have decided to organize a self-managed book tour in the UK in May. So far I am scheduled to be at the British Museum on May 11, and on May 12, I will be speaking at a Greenwich, London, Skeptics in the Pub event at the Star & Garter pub. There is a worldwide network of Skeptics in the Pub groups, but they are particularly popular in the UK. As a result, I am hoping to arrange a number of appearances at pubs and bookstores in England.  The plans for this trip are just being hatched, but I will provide additional information as it becomes available. 

That’s all for now. Stay warm.



Friday the 13th

I wrote the previous post as if it would be the last of 2019, but I did not fully consider the impact of Friday the 13th. So here is a very short followup covering just two Friday the 13th items.

On Friday the 13th I did a nine-minute interview with RTRFM radio in Perth, Australia. It was a fun conversation, and you can listen to it at this link. However, I should offer one trigger warning. There is brief mention of a pexels-photo-1510543-816x459.jpgsomewhat distasteful episode of pica (i.e., eating non-nutritive items). On the other hand, the people at RTRFM found a very cute black cat to go with the story.

At the last minute, I decided to write a brief appreciation of Screenshot 2019-12-12 12.43.21.pngTaylor Swift and her relationship with the number 13 for Skeptical Inquirer magazine online. As I mentioned in the previous post, this past Friday the 13th was Swift’s thirtieth birthday. You can read the story here.


OK. I am pretty sure this really will be the last post of 2019. Happy Holidays to all and may the New Year be bright and wonderful for you and yours.



Ending the Decade

2019 has been quite a year for your humble correspondent. A busy end to the decade. I finished a book, started another, wrote several articles for Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and gave talks in São Paulo, Brazil, Vienna, Austria, and Ypsilanti, Michigan. Somewhere in there, I also managed to break my foot, but I’m all better now.

Since you last heard from me (back in October), I’ve written two articles for Skeptical Inquirer. The first was, “Skepticism Blooms in Brazil,” a recap of my trip to São Paulo Screenshot 2019-12-11 09.36.06and a report on the amazing expansion of skepticism and science advocacy led by Natalia Pasternak, Carlos Orsi, and the other members of the new group  Instituto Questão de Ciência (Question of Science Institute). The Institute just celebrated its first anniversary in November, but it has already established itself as an important force for science communication and reason in Brazil.

My most recent article for Skeptical Inquirer was inspired by a Facebook debate a few months back about whether atheists are more intelligent than religious people. This is Banner Imageobviously a rather sticky topic, but there is research that can help to sort it out. Given that I’d already stepped into a controversial topic, I went on to look at the relationship between religion and happiness. The upshot is that no one gets off completely cleanly, but I hope you will find the article interesting. A fitting piece for the coming holiday season.

As I write this, it is two days away from Friday the 13th. I am scheduled to do a couple of interviews on the topic, one for a Perth, Australia radio station and another for Voice of Islam Radio in London.taylor-swift-in-2010-1.jpg

I leave you with a fun fact. This Friday, December 13, will be Taylor Swift’s thirtieth birthday. Thirteen has always been her lucky number. She sometimes paints 13 on her hand for concerts, and her twitter handle is @taylorswift13.  She may have done more than anyone else to demystify the number 13. Happy Birthday, Taylor!

And Happy Holidays to you all. See you in the next decade.


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.