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Belief In Magic Vs. Evidence And Science

On Michael Specter, author of Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, and the danger of science denial:

Given that more than half of the video is devoted to discussing vaccine denialism, supplements, and HIV/AIDS denialism, I think Specter’s talk is quite appropriate for this blog. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

The “Magic” Of The Placebo Effect

Magician Eric Mead shows us a magic trick and talks about the placebo effect at TEDMED 2009:

*This blog post was originally published at*

James Randi And The Psychology Of Magical Thinking

skepticsjamesrandiJames Randi, perhaps better known as “The Amazing Randi” has spent most of his life performing magic shows. In 1996 he created the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) designed to expose the fraudulent claims made by psychics, faith healers, and snake oil salesmen. The ultimate goal of the JREF is to create a new generation of critical thinkers – people who will not be hoodwinked by the aforementioned hucksters.

I had the good fortune of interviewing Mr. Randi briefly at the recent conference known as “The Amazing Meeting.” I was eager to pick his brain about human behavior and magical thinking. This is what I learned…

Randi identified certain groups of people who seem to be more susceptible to magical thinking and/or belief in the paranormal. According to him, the top two are:

1. News reporters. Although at first I wasn’t sure if Randi meant that reporters like a good story versus they believe a good story – he told me that in his experience, they were some of the most gullible people on earth. In fact, they were more interested in implausible stories than true ones – and Randi said that the more fantastical his explanation for phenomena, the more likely they were to believe it and write about it.

2. Academics. This surprised me since I assumed that this group would actually be less susceptible. Randi suggested that they are more likely to be taken in because they are single-minded about phenomena. They are over confident in their ability to understand how things work, and when something cannot be explained in their framework, they’re willing to attribute it to the paranormal.

Who are the least susceptible? Children. Why? Because they are simple thinkers, and harder to distract. The art of magic is in distraction of the sophisticated mind. Children tend to be very concrete, so they don’t expect things to happen with hand-waving and flourishes. They keep their eye on the coin (or other item being transferred from hand to hand), and are more likely to know where it is at all times.

To wrap up our short interview, I asked Randi if he could explain why people believe in magic, fantasy, and the paranormal? He responded simply:

Ultimately it’s not about intelligence or lack thereof. It’s about people not wanting to accept that life is random, suffering is inevitable, and there is no good reason for bad things happening.

What do you make of Randi’s observations?

Nutrition Update: Misconceptions, “Magical” Foods, And The Merits Of Fish

Photo of Nutritional Food

Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., Distinguished Professor of Nutrition (Department of Nutritional Sciences, Penn State University) about what she learned at the American Dietetic Association Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Chicago.

Please listen to the podcast here:  

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Penny’s take home messages:

1. Corn is not evil. The vegetable itself can be quite nutritious, though high fructose corn syrup is an empty calorie food additive.

2. There is no magic food that will melt your fat away.

3. There is no magic pill that will help you lose weight. You must decrease your calorie intake and increase your exercise.

4. Increasing protein a little bit can increase satiety.

5. Omega-3 fatty acids and iron can improve brain health.

6. Regular fatty fish consumption can reduce the risk of heart disease (2 servings/week).

7. Food first – try to get all your nutrients from the foods you consume. Consider vitamins and supplements only after you’ve been unable to get your dietary needs met from food.

8. Fish oil supplements are safe and pure. There are differences in the amount of omega-3 fatty acids that the supplements deliver, so read the label carefully.

9. A healthy diet is about eating a broad range of nutritious food (don’t scrimp on your veggies), it’s not about supplementing a poor diet with some supplements.

10. Accurate nutrition information is really important. Two trusted sources are: and the American Heart Association

**Listen to the podcast**

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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