Two Americas, One Pseudoscience

21 Jul

A fascinating piece in Quartz comparing pseudoscience health claims on websites oriented to Red or Blue Americans.

We at Quartz have created a compendium, from Ashwagandha to zizyphus, of the magical healing ingredients both sides of the political spectrum are buying, and how they are presented to each. We looked at the ingredients used in products sold on the Infowars store, and compared them to products on the wellness shops Moon Juice and Goop. All make similar claims about the health benefits of these ingredients, but what gets called “Super Male Vitality” by Infowars is branded as “Sex Dust” by Moon Juice.

91-year-old gymnast

19 Jul

So what’s your excuse?

Public Service Alert: Scam Sellers on Amazon

17 Jul

I buy a lot of books from Amazon and I often buy them from third party sellers. Many of the books I purchase are out of print and hard to find and I don’t mind the wait, since my pile of unread books is always high.

However, I was recently scammed by a third-party seller on Amazon and I thought I would let my readers know about it.

I ordered a book from from a third party seller on Amazon, the price was attractive, but it never arrived. When I checked into it I found these reviews on the seller:


There were a couple hundred reviews along the same lines. It turn out that this a common scam on Amazon, here ‘s an article from Forbes with more details.

The most straightforward way to protect yourself from this would be to pay attention to the seller reviews.

Taking photos affects memory

14 Jul

Taking a cell phone photograph in a convenient way to store information for later retrieval. Many people take photos to remember their parking places and I have, on occasion, photographed the cover of a book in a library, so that I could order a copy later. But but does taking pictures affect a memory?

Yes, says a paper in the most recent Psychological Science.  It seems to improve our visual memory for specific information, but degrades our audio memory. Here is the abstract:

How does volitional photo taking affect unaided memory for visual and auditory aspects of experiences? Across one field and three lab studies, we found that, even without revisiting any photos, participants who could freely take photographs during an experience recognized more of what they saw and less of what they heard, compared with those who could not take any photographs. Further, merely taking mental photos had similar effects on memory. These results provide support for the idea that photo taking induces a shift in attention toward visual aspects and away from auditory aspects of an experience. Additional findings were in line with this mechanism: Participants with a camera had better recognition of aspects of the scene that they photographed than of aspects they did not photograph. Furthermore, participants who used a camera during their experience recognized even nonphotographed aspects better than participants without a camera did. Meta-analyses including all reported studies support these findings.


Man memorizes 1774 page Chinese-English dictionary

12 Jul

The video quality is not great, but this is very impressive:

Here is an interview with Dr Yip Swee Chooi.

Growth mindset: A failure to replicate

10 Jul

Carole Dweck’s work has received a great deal of attention. Essentially she argues that an individual’s beliefs about intelligence is a powerful predictor of scholastic attainment. In a Scientific American article she wrote:

 Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.
Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on “process” rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life.

Now a study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, fails to replicate these findings. Here is the abstract:

Implicit theories of intelligence have been proposed to predict a large number of different outcomes in education. The belief that intelligence is malleable (growth mindset) is supposed to lead to better academic achievement and students’ mindset is therefore a potential target for interventions. The present study used a large sample of university applicants (N = 5653) taking a scholastic aptitude test to further examine the relationship between mindset and achievement in the academic domain. We found that results in the test were slightly negatively associated with growth mindset (r = − 0.03). Mindset showed no relationship with the number of test administrations participants signed up for and it did not predict change in the test results. The results show that the strength of the association between academic achievement and mindset might be weaker than previously thought.

Note, however, the limitations reported by the authors:

In sum, we found that mindset had virtually no association with results in a scholastic aptitude test used for university admissions. While the association between mindset and goal achievement was previously shown to be weak (Burnette et al., 2013), our study presents a large amount of new data suggesting that the association may be even weaker than previously thought. Given that recent large scale experiments suggest that learning growth mindset improves academic achievement (Paunesku et al., 2015; Yeager et al., 2016a, b), our study does not invalidate the notion that implicit theories of intelligence might be a promising target for educational interventions. However, it suggests that mindset might not be as useful for predicting future success or that its predictive abilities are at least limited to specific circumstances. Yet, we note that our study has several limitations including possible self selection and range-restriction effects, a short measure of mindset, and a short duration between subsequent administrations of the test. We also did not include measures of hypothesized mediating variables, such as the amount of practice, and the mindset measure was not directly tailored to assess beliefs about the possibility of improvement in the GAP test. Future studies may overcome these limitations and thus better explain differences between results of the present and past studies.


Questioning the implicit association test

7 Jul

New York Magazine has published a devastating critique of the widely cited implicit association test (IAT). The creators of the IAT claim that it can ferret unconscious biases. From the point of view of psychometrics, the first important question we must ask about any instrument is its reliability, that is, does the measure yield consistent results if the measured phenomenon has not changed. It is a basic law of measurement that an unreliable measure can not be valid.

Here is what the article says about reliability:

What constitutes an acceptable level of test-retest reliability? It depends a lot on context, but, generally speaking, researchers are comfortable if a given instrument hits r = .8 or so. The IAT’s architects have reported that overall, when you lump together the IAT’s many different varieties, from race to disability to gender, it has a test-retest reliability of about r = .55. By the normal standards of psychology, this puts these IATs well below the threshold of being useful in most practical, real-world settings.


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