Everybody Plots All the Time! – Tanner Edis on Misinformation Outside the U.S.

Taner Edis gave a remarkably compelling and sobering talk this morning on how an advanced, modern society can find itself in thrall to conservative religious politics, baseless medical treatments, the institutional embrace of pseudoscience, the diminishment of secular expertise, and an embrace of conspiracy thinking and creationism.

Oh, I’m sorry to mislead you. I was talking about Turkey, not the United States.

Edis used Turkey as his prime example for how a culture can become hostile to science, and the pieces of Turkey’s puzzle looked a lot like ours. As George Hrab remarked at the end of Edis’s talk, “It’s beautiful how human beings are the same everywhere, and it’s also really sad that human beings are the same everywhere.”

Some examples: Culture wars in the 70s in Turkey laid the groundwork for a rise in creationist thinking and its inculcation into institutions. Conservative religiosity is now the rule in Turkey, as concepts like evolution are excised from the educational system. All this time, the government becomes ever more secretive.

Creationism itself is marketed in a modern and media-savvy way, dressed up almost like a Tony Robbins-esque path to success as much as a theology.

Meanwhile, the public doesn’t trust anyone, especially “experts” and elites, and identifies with conspiracy theories, yes, even about 9/11. Edis said the popular attitude boiled down to, “Everybody plots all the time!”

You get the point, I assume. The names are different (usually), and the degrees of impact that each factor contributes vary, but the fundamentals are there.

So one key point from Edis’s presentation was that we can take lessons for skeptical activism by observing the similarities and differences among nations and cultures as they lean toward or away from hostility to science and the embrace of woo. We need to look more closely at the role the media and corporations play in advancing anti-scientific thinking, and what they have to gain.

So hey! It’s not just us, everybody! But, uh oh. It’s not just us.

Stuart Vyse Trains Our Brains on Brain-Training

I remember when I first started seeing Stuart Vyse’s columns at the CSI website, and with each piece, always thinking, “Wow, I’m really glad someone wrote about that.” That’s how I felt again seeing Vyse discuss the claims of “brain-training” games and services. And yes, he wrote about this subject in 2015 for CSI in a piece called “Neuro-Pseudoscience.”

Vyse traced the recent history of this app-age phenomenon, in which games (games are fun!) are said to be able to exercise one’s brain into being a stronger, quicker muscle of cognition. He went all the way back to an old Nintendo DS game from 2005, “Brain Age,” but let them more or less off the hook. “They get a little bit of cover when it comes to false advertising,” because despite some of the claims made about the product, it remained, really, “just a game.”

Not so with services like Lumosity, however. Companies like this market their brain-training services as being backed by serious science, boasting scientists on board with them, and promising real-world benefits outside of the games in the training regimen.

You don’t need to read Stuart’s article or see his presentation to guess what the truth about these claims are: Baseless. There have been multiple “scientific salvos” launched by both skeptical scientists and the companies themselves, but a reliable, controlled study did find that while Lumosity-style games to make one better at other Lumosity-style games, there are no broader, “transferable” cognitive effects in any other areas of life.

This leads to the question, if you’ve been trying to train your brain with these services, what else could you have been doing instead? “If you want to be better at an activity,” said Vyse, “it might be best to practice it directly.” Imagine that.