Mirror Neurons and the Pitfalls of Brain Research

In his new book The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience of Communication and Cognition , Gregory Hickok, a professor of cognitive science, challenges current conceptions about mirror neurons. He shows how a complex mythology arose and why it is unwarranted, how experimental results were misinterpreted and disconfirming evidence ignored, and how other interpretations might lead

On Miracles 

Is there such a thing as a miracle? Miracles are defined as unusual events that are not explicable by scientific or natural laws and that are assumed to be the result of supernatural intervention. The very concept is so fuzzy that it borders on the unintelligible. Religious believers refer to many things as miracles: the

Music Hath Charms But “Sound Healing” Hath Nonsense

There is no doubt that music has effects, both pleasant and unpleasant. We respond to music with emotion and with foot-tapping. As Congreve famously said, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.” Cows produce more milk when music is played in the barn. Infants respond to lullabies. But music can be annoying, too. Many

Faith Healing Tragedies

Most people have faith that faith can heal. According to a poll published in The Lancet, 79% of adults believed that spiritual faith can help people recover from a disease. In a CDC study, 45% of respondents reported using prayer for health reasons in the previous 12 months. Even doctors are convinced: a poll of family physicians

Food Myths: What Science Knows (and Does Not Know) About Diet and Nutrition

Koalas have it easy. What to eat? No worries: they eat eucalyptus leaves, period. We humans have it tougher. Ever since Eve and the apple, we have had to make decisions about what to eat. Today we are constantly bombarded with conflicting advice about food. “Eat fish because it’s a great source of omega-3s.” “Don’t

Brainwashed: Neuroscience and Its Perversions

Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld have written a new book, Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience. Its purpose is not to critique neuroscience, but to expose and protest its mindless oversimplification, interpretive license, and premature application in the legal, commercial, clinical, and philosophical domains. The brain is a wondrous thing: “…the three pound universe between

A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind

In his first book, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Wrong,neurologist Robert Burton showed that our certainty that we are right has nothing to do with how right we are. He explained how brain mechanisms can make us feel even more confident about false beliefs than about true ones. Now, in a

Does Religion Make People Healthier?

I recently wrote about the health consequences of Scientology (Skeptic Vol. 18, No. 3). Scientology isn’t the only culprit. Other religions can be hazardous to health, too. I was forcefully reminded of that when a recent news article reported that 86% of holy water samples tested in Austria contained fecal matter (holy shit!). Jehovah’s Witnesses

CAM for Cancer: Preying on Desperate People?

Cancer patients are a uniquely vulnerable group. When patients are diagnosed with pneumonia or appendicitis, they expect to recover and they readily accept conventional treatment with antibiotics or surgery. They are not particularly vulnerable to false claims for other treatments. But when patients are diagnosed with cancer, they fear dying; and they fear it will

The Carl Sagan of Chemistry

The Right Chemistry is many things. It is a column in the Montreal Gazette, a radio show on CJAD in Montreal, a blog, a podcast, and now it’s a book: The Right Chemistry: 108 Enlightening, Nutritious, Health-Conscious and Occasionally Bizarre Inquiries into the Science of Everyday Life , by Joe Schwarcz. Known as “Dr. Joe,”