Ringing in the New Year and looking ahead

It’s been a wild year. Looking back, I certainly couldn’t have anticipated what’s happening now from last New Year’s. And I am not sure that any predictions about the next year from the vantage point of tonight will prove any more accurate.

As expected, I went off to Scotland in March for a Carnegie Centenary Visiting Professorship at Stirling University, but living in Edinburgh. That began five and a half months of giving academic talks throughout the UK, but also public engagement in the form of Skeptics in the Pub talks across Scotland and a Cafe Scientifique in Inverness. My blogging became more regular, but also controversial.University_of_Stirling_-_Airthrey_Castle

I quickly found that criticizing Understanding Psychosis, the absurd book-length output of the British Psychological Society (BPS) brought a lot of harassment, spamming and sock puppet trolling of my blog sites, and even letters from President-elect of the BPS Peter Kinderman to my institutional affiliations demanding that I be muzzled in the social media. I weathered that, although you’ll be hearing more about it in the near future.

brisbaneIn August I went off to Australia for a multi-stop trip tied to a Distinguished Visiting Professorship with Australian National University in Canberra. I thought that the overwhelming reception of a hastily arranged keynote on the pseudoscience of positive psychology at the Australian National Skeptics gathering in Brisbane would mark a sharpening of the focus of my blogging on positive psychology and maybe the blogging would turn into an e-book.

At the time, I looked forward to providing citizen scientists with a healthy skepticism and the tools to decide for themselves about what to accept and what to reject from the gurus marketing all kinds of positive psychology products. Positive psychology is a multi-million-dollar enterprise, with its merchants claiming that what they offered was more sciencey than the competition selling similar self-improvement nonsense.

But then I got involved in the controversy over the badly conducted, badly reported PACE trial of cognitive behavior therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome. I was initially attracted to comment on the trial as a textbook case of questionable research practices appearing in the literature because of questionable publication practices and then being hyped by a social and conventional media that was not serving the function of filtering investigators’ excessive and self-serving claims. As I announced in a blog post, I was declaring the moral equivalent of war, although I soon figured out that a lot of people were confused by this reference to Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson before him.

I decided that PACE mess would replace positive psychology as a focus for my efforts to develop skeptical citizen scientists. My engagement in the PACE controversy moved from commentary to activism when I demanded that the PACE investigators provide me with data for reanalysis as they had promised in the publication in PLOS One. The investigators refused to hand over the data in what was a nasty, unprofessional, personal response. In coming weeks, we will get a clearer picture of where this is all going, but expect activism as well as commentary from me.

The year in numbers:

  • Both my followers on Twitter and my Facebook friends passed 4700 and look to keep going up.
  • A slideshow from another hastily arranged pub talk, this time in Edinburgh, received over 11,000 visits.
  • After I I declared the moral equivalent of war on the PACE trial in visitors to Quick Thoughts, what had been only a secondary blog jumped to thousands every month. Three months visits exceeded the total previous number across a couple of years.

I know, all the rapid and unanticipated change was confusing to many. I look to provide some clarity in the next few months, but who knows what will be coming

I’m now signing out for 2015, but to ring in the new year, I leave you with my favorite Peter Gabriel piece, Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hai Tere [“Stand up, speak out. From within.”]. It is with Atif Aslam and based on a kalam written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz.

It’s hauntingly beautiful, appropriate and inspiring. But you won’t find it any of his albums and extremely hard to find, but I think it’s a great listen as you begin the new year. Enjoy!


Happy New Year.