Author Archive

What do skeptics believe, anyway? Take our survey!

2 September 2009

Many skeptics I have known have their own ideas about what skepticism is, and what being a skeptic is all about. In an effort to better understand the skeptical community, I’ve designed this questionnaire to get a sense of some of the attitudes and beliefs amongst skeptics. Please take a moment to complete this questionnaire; the link will remain open until September 11th. Be sure to look out for my report of the results the following week.

Take the Survey


What Character from Seinfeld are you: Lessons in Instrument Design on Facebook.

19 August 2009

seinfeld quizI, like many, am addicted to Facebook. More so, I love Facebook quizzes and supposed personality tests. Yes, yes, I know. I’m a skeptic, as well as a student and teacher of psychological science; I shouldn’t spend my valuable time on something I know to be utter nonsense. But, truthfully, recently it’s all about examining the thinking behind it, and what their popularity reveals about human nature.

About a month ago I was taking one of the more interesting quizzes: “What Character from Seinfeld Are You?” (see above). I thought about the question, “If you were a diary product, you’d be…” A) Cheese B) Yogurt C) Sour Cream or D) Milk. Of course I immediately thought, “I’m totally yogurt”, but then spent a considerable amount of time asking myself why I thought I was yogurt, and more so, why whoever designed this test asked this question and how it would ultimately result in my personality being like Jerry Seinfeld’s (which was my result). (more…)

Operationalizing God

12 August 2009

god with protractor

Say I wanted to conduct a study. I wanted to determine if a group of people in one situation or condition had more, less or equal chance of having anxiety as another group of individuals in a different situation or condition. Most of you can probably imagine how this would be set up; two groups, one exposed to one condition, the other exposed to a different scenario. In each group, I would count how many people in that group suffered from anxiety during the condition. In the end, I would evaluate (perhaps using sophisticated means) if there was a significant difference in the proportion of anxious people between the groups. Perhaps I might even conclude something, should I find such a difference.

All sounds rather scientific, yes? Well, it is. It’s an experiment. Folks publish academic articles of this nature all the time. But, and here’s the kicker, how did we know when one of the participants in either group was anxious? What does anxiety look like? Is it graded on a continuum, and if so, how is it graded? Is it just a dichotomy dividing anxious/not anxious people, and if so, how do qualify a person for either group? (more…)

Recovered memories: evidence?

24 July 2009

That people develop memories for events in their lives that never took place is a phenomenon well documented in the psychological literature. False memories can be produced through simple suggestion and real memories can become clustered with new data to alter them in some way. More so, to the person experiencing the false or changed memory, they  seem exactly like the real thing (Loftus, 1997 & 2003; Ofshe & Watters, 1994). (more…)