Steven Novella

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I think science is best taught as a puzzle to be solved.

Dr. Steven P. Novella (born 29 July 1964) is an American clinical neurologist, assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine, and skeptic.


Ignorance is a low-energy state. It takes constant vigilance and work to climb out of it.
  • Placebo effects (plural) are mostly reporting bias, regression to the mean, investment justification, researcher bias, and other sources of self-deception. They are transient, and significant only for subjective symptoms where reporting bias can play a major role. Studies have shown, in fact, that there is no significant "healing" that occurs due to placebo effects — no objective biological improvement.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, Podcast, 2000s[edit]

  • The thing about herbs is that there is nothing supernatural or implausible about the fact that any particular herb can have a medicinal effect. But the truth of the matter is that herbs are drugs. There's nothing magical about them. The fact that they are "natural" is irrelevant — it's meaningless. They are drugs. They are drugs that have not been purified, identified, … and quantified. … Probably for most plants … there are hundreds of chemicals in there with varying degrees of potency.
  • I will never be convinced by any anecdotal report, ever, especially if something extremely unlikely or unusual. Memory is not a reliable piece of data.
  • The inability to explain something doesn't mean that it is inexplicable. … Always consider the simplest things first. … The inability to explain it doesn't mean that it has to be something fantastical or alien, or that it's unexplainable.
  • … you don't realize whether or not you completely understand a topic until you are tasked to explain it to someone else. … That really challenges your understanding of a topic.
  • You need systems. You need checklists. You need … things in place to keep people from making mistakes. Left to their own devices, people will screw up on a regular basis.

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, Podcast, 2010s[edit]

  • … our inherent assumption is that you convince people with rational arguments. But all the data shows that most people are not influenced by rational arguments. They're influenced by social pressure. … That's just the human condition, and we just have to acknowledge it and accept it.
  • In fact, there are many altered brain states where people may have a very vivid experience, or at least a vivid memory of their experience, precisely because they have impaired brain function. When you start dropping some of the higher brain functions out of the loop, like reality testing and things like that, … things can seem hyper-real. That could actually be a sign of brain dysfunction. It's similar to … somebody who is stoned thinking that they are really profound.
  • As you study science, and really try to understand what is happening behind the curtain, not just reading the predigested press releases but actually talking to scientists or reading technical papers, you realize that ... it's always more complicated than you think. ... No measurement is simple. ... The way you make the comparison will address different issues.
  • It is pretty well established that there is an overconfidence effect. ... You don't have the competence to assess your own competence. ... you need competence in order to assess your own competence. ... Everyone has the Dunning-Kruger effect.

External links[edit]

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