Those Pesky Unintended Consequences

crash-215512_1920.jpgMy latest column for Skeptical Inquirer, “Can Anything Save Us from Unintended Consequences?,” is online now. In it I reveal a little-known fact about the Great Recession of 2008 and provide a number of examples of good ideas gone bad.



In other news, Skeptical Inquirer magazine is on newsstands now, and it includes my article, “Your Unlearning Report: Empathy is Bad, You’re Not as Racist as You Thought, and Believing in Luck Won’t Help Your Golf Game.” This piece is also available online here.

This weekend I am off to the March for Science in Washington DC on  Saturday, April 22, which is also Earth Day. I will march in support of reason, evidence, and scientific discovery. I am hoping for good weather and huge (YUGE!) crowds of happy science marchforscience-1024x512.jpgwarriors. There will be marches all over the world, so please check the March for Science website for a satellite march near you.

Finally, I have redesigned my website with a  new color scheme and font combination. It also includes flashy rotating images on the home screen. I am just doing my part to keep shameless self-promotion fresh and up-to-date.

That’s all for now. Happy Spring!


TED Ed “Where Do Superstitions Come From?”

For the last nine months or so I have been working on a video with a very talented group of writers and animators from the TED Ed organization. TED Ed is a division of the TED organization that produces short educational videos and makes them available, with accompanying background information, for free on their website and on YouTube. Our video, “Where Do Superstitions Come From?,” was released yesterday.


I was delighted to see how the animators brought the script alive, and I love all the little touches of humor. I hope you enjoy it, too.

All for now.


Your Unlearning Report

Just a quick note to say my new column for Skeptical Inquirer, “Your Unlearning Report: The Trouble with Empathy, Implicit Bias, and Believing in Luck” is now up on the web. In it I explain why empathy is bad (or rather Yale psychologist Paul Bloom does), and why the now extensive field of research on implicit bias may not be as meaningful as it once was thought to be. Finally, I confess to being wrong about the effect of believing luck on your golf game.


That’s all for now.



Happy Friday the 13th!

If you wait long enough, the 13th day of the month will fall on a Friday, and journalists will take the opportunity to express their undying love for stories about superstition.

This year, I had a fun time being interviewed by The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I took the opportunity to talk about superstitions students use prior to taking exams.

Today, I was also quoted in a Canadian news outlet called Global News. The article is called “Friday the 13th: Not as scary as it sounds,” and it came with this cool image of yellow-eyed black cat.


Finally, my friend Nate, the host of The Show About Science and undoubtedly the youngest science podcaster on the planet, posted the following tweet today. Being a guest on Nate’s show was one of the best interview experiences I’ve ever had, so if you have not already done so, I recommend you check out the show at the soundcloud link in the tweet.

That’s all for now. Happy Friday the 13th!


Power Posing and More

My latest Skeptical Inquirer column, “The Parable of the Power Pose and How to6279920726_6eff87fa6c_b
Reverse It,” is up on the SI website. I recount the rise and fall of power posing and also describe a new open science initiative aimed at strengthening research. If these new methods are adopted, they should produce results that are more trustworthy and less likely to be overturned.

siThe January/February 2017 print issue of Skeptical Inquirer is on news stands now, including my column “Consensus: Can Two Hundred Scientists be Wrong?” This is the print version of an article I wrote online back in September. In the back pages, I also provide some pithy responses to letters sent in by readers.

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-7-43-07-amFinally, if anyone is spending the holidays in the Boston area and missed out on seeing me on the WCVB TV program Chronicle last October, you have another chance on Wednesday, December 28. The Chronicle segment “Are You Superstitious?” will air again on that date at 7:30 PM on ABC 5. Of course, no matter where you live, you can see a video of that show any time you want by simply clicking here.

That’s all for now. Have a happy and safe holiday season.


Early December News

Happy December! Just a quick note to prove I’m still here.


Espresso Library

Almost a year ago, while sitting in the lovely Espresso Library in Cambridge, England—one of my favorite coffeeshops in all the world—I was interviewed (via email) by Ella Rhodes, a reporter for The Psychologist, a monthly magazine published by the British Psychological Society. The article she was working on finally appeared as the cover story of the November issue. You can read it online here.


November, 2016 issue of The Psychologist

Then rather surprisingly, Ella Rhode’s piece was used as a source for another article on superstition in The Irish Catholic, which is described as Ireland’s biggest and best-selling religious newspaper. I am fairly certain this is the first time I have been quoted in a Catholic newspaper. You canic-logo read the article here.

SV Achieves Thought Leader Status

Finally, I was recently invited to contribute an article to a special issue of an academic journal. The editors explained that they had solicited participation by several “thought leaders” in the field, myself among them. I was flattered and quickly accepted the invitation.


Henry Ward Beecher, thought leader. (Photo by Mathew Brady.)

Later, I turned to Wikipedia to determine what it meant to be a thought leader. The term was first used in 1887 to describe the American Congregationalist minister, Henry Ward Beecher—an abolitionist who was embroiled in a famous adultery trial (resulting in a hung jury)—and it is defined as:

an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.

But that’s not the whole story. As I suspected, not everyone loves the term. Wikipedia goes on:

The phrase “thought leader” is identified by some writers as an annoying example of business jargon, and appeared in Forbes magazine’s 2013 annual “tournament” of “corporate America’s most insufferable” business buzzwords and clichés.

Insufferable term or not, I am pleased to achieve the status of thought leader. Feel free to refer to me using my new title whenever it seems appropriate.  😉

All for now.


CSICon Las Vegas Report

image-3I have just returned from a great visit to Las Vegas to participate in the 2016 CSICon conference, put on by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Although Las Vegas is not a destination I would otherwise seek out, I had a wonderful time. I heard great talks by James Randi, Elizabeth Loftus, Richard Dawkins, and Lawrence Krauss. My own talk, “Is Brain Training a Scam,” was not recorded, but the Center for Inquiry, CSI’s parent organization, was live blogging the conference. You can read the blog post about my talk here.

Just one week to election day. Be sure to vote!


More October News


Superstition and magic are still blowing in the October wind, and as a result, I continue pop up here and there. One of my most enjoyable recent experiences was appearing on The Guardian of London’s tech podcast “Chips with Everything” to talk about the peculiar superstitions spawned by technology. Why do some people believe they have to shake their phones to “wake up” the GPS? The episode is called “Magical thinking, superstitions, and technology.”


Just today I was quoted in a very good article on superstition in U.S.News & World Report. The piece, entitled “How Superstitions are Affecting Your Behavior,” also quotes Jane Risen of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, who has done some very interesting work on jinxes and on the conflict between our intuitive and rational selves. Our rational brain often tells us a superstition is silly, but our intuitive side forces us to be superstitious nonetheless.

heroFinally, for months I have been looking forward to attending the Committee on Skeptical Inquiry‘s convention, CSICon 2016, in Las Vegas this weekend, but now, due to a last minute scheduling change, it looks like I will also be speaking at the convention. Other speakers include Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Elizabeth Loftus, Paul Offit, James Randi, and many more luminaries of science and skepticism, so I am quite honored to be selected to pinch hit. You can learn more about CSICon at the conference website.

Given the short notice I will present an updated version of my July, 2015 Behavior & Belief column, “Neuro-Pseudoscience,” which is about the brain training industry.

That’s all for now.


Autumn Superstitions


We are well into spooky October, and superstition is in the air. The baseball playoffs are a stressful time for fans, and this year I was interviewed by Dave Skretta, an Associated Press reporter writing a story pegged to the long suffering Chicago Cubs, who are in the playoffs and hoping to erase the 80-year-old Billy Goat Curse. When the article appeared, I was delighted to see that Skretta had included this passage about my father:

“It’s worth noting that Vyse grew up a Cubs fan, though he’s been rooting for the Red Sox since he moved east. And his father was a lifelong Cubs fan who never saw them win a World Series title.”

p4i-qwxuOn October 7th, I appeared on Boston’s WCVB TV evening magazine program Chronicle. The subject was superstition, and the story reported a number of interesting Chinese superstitions and superstitions of the theater.

You can watch the first segment, which features me, by clicking here. I make only a brief cameo in the second segment, which you can watch here.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the delights of autumn.


End of Summer Wrap-Up

It has been a quiet mid-to-late summer for me, but enough has happened to justify sending out a missive.


Henry Molaison in 1975

My August column for Skeptical Inquirer, “Consensus: Could Two Hundred Scientists be Wrong?” has just gone up. I report on a controversy caused by the release of a new book about H.M. (Henry Molaison), the world’s most famous amnesia patient. I also consider the larger questions of (a) when is a scientific consensus something we should pay attention to and (b) when should scientists add their names to petitions, statements, or letters of support.


I recently published my fourth introvert piece, “An Introvert’s Guide to Daydreaming,” in The Coffeelicious collection on, and the nice people at the New York Observer were kind enough to reprint it on their site.

Finally, the memory of the Olympics is fading quickly, but a few weeks back, I was interviewed for an article in Quartz called, “Athletes who wear “lucky socks” aren’t wrong: Psychologists say superstitions yield real advantages.”

That’s it for now.

Happy Labor Day weekend! Let’s hope the warm weather lasts a bit longer.