Science: 1, Pseudoscience: 0

Wow. I totally posted this at the same time as Stacey! I’ll leave it, just because I worked so durn hard.


Once again, scientists manage to actually do what the pseudoscientists have been pretending to do for centuries — in this case, read minds. Rav Winston tipped us off to ongoing research wherein scientists are able to accurately determine whether a subject is intending to add or subtract numbers. I would assume that adding versus subtracting would require an incredibly slight difference in the way our minds process the information, as opposed to the difference one might expect to find between adding numbers versus daydreaming about a steamy shower with Mark Ruffalo. (Had I been one of the subjects, I would have set the project back ten years due to nothing more than an uncontrollable penchant for fantasy).

Anyway, this research is a big deal, even though the scientists are only achieving about 70% accuracy. I wonder if they have a control group, and maybe one more with a “psychic” using her powers to get the answer. “I’m getting an ‘a’ . . . are you adding? No wait, your dead mother’s name is Anne. Or, I mean, you’re an architect. An architect who subtracts.”

I’m sure a lot of you out there are worried that this breakthrough is going to be used to peak inside your gray matter. This is completely justifiable, which is why I recommend you all take a few simple precautions that may just save you from Big Brother. First, always line your fedoras with tin foil or, better yet, magnets. Second, do not take vitamins. Vitamins are part of the conspiracy. Finally, and this is very important, do NOT fly to Germany to volunteer for a study on mind reading in which you are strapped to a table in a lab and scanned through an MRI machine. If this should happen, whatever you do, don’t add or subtract numbers in your head.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. “I’m getting an ‘a’ . . . are you adding? No wait, your dead mother’s name is Anne. Or, I mean, you’re an architect. An architect who subtracts.”

    This is why we love you, Rebecca. ;)

    But you sometimes miss important things. For instance: what about lining our Fedoras with magnets wrapped in tin foil? A little more rigor would be nice, but you bring a pleasant levity to these life or death topics nonetheless.

  2. So, who's going to kick themselves first when you realise you could have used the "What evil lies in the heart of men?" theme?

  3. That's also interesting since adding and subtracting are really the same thing … I wonder if the effect is larger for more different mathematical functions, like say addition v. multiplication.

  4. March 5, 2007 at 2:45 pm, Bjornar wrote:

    "Wouldn’t it be a bad thing to wear a magnetid fedora in an MRI-machine?"

    Perhaps that's why tinfoil is better. It's aluminium, and that's not magnetic.

    Although I'm not sure about the electric properties and their effect on a strong electromagnetic field. Perhaps frying the inside of your skull is not such a pleasant alternative …

  5. I don't think tin foil in an MRI would react in quite the same way as tin foil in a microwave. I'm not sure that the EM pulses are strong enough or have high enough frequencies to induce very strong eddy currents in the foil.

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