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TAM 2014: the mind of the science denier

by Donald Prothero, Jul 23 2014
Speaking at TAM on July 13, 2014

Speaking at TAM on July 13, 2014

It’s been just over a week since I returned, exhausted but inspired and excited, from The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014 in the South Point Hotel south of Las Vegas. The meeting was a great success, with nearly 1200 attendees, and an excellent slate of speakers including Bill Nye the Science Guy (who talked about his debate with Ken Ham and gave me a nice shout-out for helping him), Genie Scott, Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer, and many others. This year, the theme was “Skepticism and the Brain,” so the speakers including a lot of the leading lights of psychology and neurophysiology, including Elizabeth Loftus (who  has shown that human memory is highly unreliable, and usually false), Robert Kurzban (talking about the modular mind), Carol Tavris (talking about cognitive dissonance), and many others. My friend and co-author Daniel Loxton gave an amazing talk about skepticism and why it’s important (it got rave reviews and a standing ovation). Many of the participants thought that this was one of the best TAMs ever, because it largely stuck to a consistent theme, rather than giving a scattershot slate of speakers on widely divergent topics. Plus there were the usual wild evening activities, including another installment of Penn Jillette’s inimitable Rock’n’Roll, Doughnut and Bacon party. Continue reading…

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The Marshmallow Test

by Steven Novella, Mar 18 2013

The human brain is perhaps the most complex machine that we have investigated, especially the higher cognitive functions. Psychologists have been working for decades to untangle the complex set of genetic, neurological, environmental, and situational factors that ultimately result in human behavior, with a great deal of success.

There are a few standouts – seminal experiments that not only demonstrate something interesting about human nature, but also create an entire paradigm of psychological studies that other researcher replicate with various modifications. One such such is the marshmallow test, first conducted by a team lead by Walter Mischel then at Stanford University.

The first series of such studies Mischel published in 1972 took a group of preschoolers and offered them their choice of three rewards: a cookie, a pretzel, or a marshmallow. The researcher then told the children that they could eat their treat whenever they want, but if they hold off the researcher would return with an additional treat. The study was a test of self-control and the ability to delay gratification.

Continue reading…

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You Are Such a Racist

by Brian Dunning, Feb 14 2013

stroopMost of us are familiar with the Stroop Test. The subject is shown a series of words, each of which is written in a different color. The only task is to say what color the word is. What’s so hard about that? Well, nothing; it would be easy, except that each word is the name of a color, and usually different from the color in which it’s written. You can try it online here, and see how surprisingly difficult it is. Believe it or not, a similar test can reveal your hidden racial biases. Continue reading…

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Carl Sagan’s Crazy Train

by Daniel Loxton, Oct 02 2012

[Questo post è disponibile anche in italiano nella versione online di Query, la rivista ufficiale del CICAP (Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Affermazioni sul Paranormale). Potete leggerlo qui.]

Steven Novella’s post last week on the complex topic of the ethics of speech was inspired by consideration of the ethics of “colloquial use of the term ‘crazy.'” This is an area of interest to me. I have often argued both for professional restraint in the things skeptics say and the manner in which we say them; and, for the importance of ongoing conversation on the ethics and efficacy of skeptical practice. But Novella’s post also had excellent timing, as I was already planning on touching on some of the thorny ethics at the intersection between skepticism and mental illness.

I should say at the outset that I have little in the way of solutions to offer. That’s natural and proper: I am not a mental health professional, so it should seem surprising (or reckless) if I had many answers—insofar as answers even exist. My professional experience in skepticism does suggest some troubling questions, however. As well, many people have personal or family experience with the tragedies of mental illness, serious addiction, or both. My own life has been no exception, so I confess that I feel acutely aware the topic.

That said, let’s look at some angles of interest.
Continue reading…

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The Fish Light

by Brian Dunning, Mar 10 2011

Today I thought I’d share a creepy experience I had as a kid. I’ve always figured it was some type of hypnogogic hallucination, since I know for sure that I had at least one such experience at about the same age. I’ve always privately referred to this experience as the “Fish Light”.

It has to do with a spot of light in the shape of the outline of a fish, so let me start by sparing you all the trouble of quipping that it must have been a Jesus Fish. Very droll and clever. Full marks for the spared effort. Continue reading…

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How the Grinch Stole Hanukkah

by Kirsten Sanford, Dec 19 2008

The timing is perfect to compare Bernie Madoff, the investment swindler, to Dr. Seuss’ Grinch. However, in this case, since the majority of Mr. Madoff’s clients were Jewish it’s not Christmas that was stolen, but Hanukkah.

I am fascinated by the story of Madoff and the billions of dollars he managed to steal from trusting individuals and organizations. $50 billion is such a large number, that the extent of his manipulations is truly mind-boggling. The list of those affected keeps growing.

Just today, I read a note from ‘The Scientist‘ Associate Editor, Elie Dolgin:

Some of the big losers include New York’s Yeshiva University, home to the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, which lost at least $100 million according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, which invested funds raised from donations in Madoff’s securities firm and now estimates its losses at around 25 million shekels ($6.7 million), according to Ha’aretz. Several other charitable organizations that regularly donated to medical research, such as Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation, have also been hit hard, the Jewish Journal reported.

It’s not the get-rich-quick types who fell for Madoff’s scheme. He was able to trick veteran investors and cautious organizations, those who are normally skeptical of deals that seem too good to be true, into giving him their money. How did he do it? Continue reading…

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