- My name is David McRaney
- You can email me by clicking this. I respond to every email I receive, eventually.
- Concerning speaking engagements, contact Kathleen Nishimoto at this email address.
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You Are Not So Smart is a blog I started to explore self delusion. Like lots of people, I used to forward sensational news stories without skepticism and think I was a smarty pants just because I did a little internet research. I didn’t know about confirmation bias and self-enhancing fallacies, and once I did, I felt very, very stupid. I still feel that way, but now I can make you feel that way too.
Here is how the blog started: One week, I saw both the Derren Brown person swap and the Invisible Gorilla videos on YouTube, and they blew my mind. Also, at that time, I was marathoning Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! on DVD. I felt like there was a common thread in all of that, something about how flawed perception and reasoning goes unnoticed because we are all so unwittingly overconfident. It reminded me of the experiments that seemed to stir up the most conversation in class when I was taking lots of college psychology courses, and it all just clicked. That would make a cool blog.
I wasn’t the only person who must have noticed something brewing in the zeitgeist. A bookshelf of titles has emerged in the last few years, each with a different take on the subject of irrational thinking and delusion. I learned, probably later than I should have, that the real source for most books, blogs, articles, and so on that talk about irrational thinking and delusion (including my own) is the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Their 1974 study, Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, launched the modern pop psychology/irrational thinking movement. Kahneman won a nobel prize in 2002, and I think his work greatly influenced authors like Nassim Taleb and Malcolm Gladwell and many others who went on to write huge pop psychology bestsellers. When Kahneman finally published Thinking Fast and Slow in 2011 the whole thing came full circle, at least it seemed that way to me.
When I started the blog, I didn’t know about any of those things, and I had no idea how much material was out there to explore. Now that I’m a bit more knowledgable on the subject, I see this blog as just a little pebble in a landslide coming down the mountain of pop culture, and when it settles I think that landslide will have changed the way we see ourselves. The rising popularity of scientific skepticism with its many blogs and podcasts and conferences, the new network of websites and writers and Twitter accounts and journalists who collect and correct misinformation before it can go viral, the popularity of new scientist communicators like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Phil Plait and the rediscovery of old ones like Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman – it’s all tumbling along, pushing away our old notions of what it means to be human. Best of all, the scientists whose work all these pop-science books have chronicled are now coming out with books of their own, setting the record straight, challenging interpretations, and establishing their perspectives on it all.
So, with all that being said, what is this blog/podcast about? The central theme of You Are Not So Smart is that you are unaware of how unaware you are. There is an old-and-still-growing body of research across several disciplines with findings that suggest you have little idea why you act or think the way you do. Despite this, you continue to create narratives to explain your own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, and these narratives – no matter how inaccurate – become the story of your life.
You Are Not So Smart is a fun exploration of the ways you and everyone else tends to develop an undeserved confidence in human perception, motivation, and behavior. I hope by reading it and listening to the podcast you’ll rediscover a humility and reconnect with the stumbling, fumbling community of man trying to make sense of things the best we can.
- WHO WRITES ALL THIS?
My name is David McRaney. I’m a journalist now, but I did a lot of other things before that. I even owned two pet stores for a few years. Yes, pet stores. Don’t do that, by the way.
I cut my teeth as a newspaper reporter covering Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast and in the Pine Belt region of the Deep South. Later, I covered things like who tests rockets for NASA, what it is like to run a halfway home for HIV-positive homeless men, and how a family sent their kids to college by making and selling knives.
Since then, I have been an editor, photographer, voiceover artist, television host, public speaker, and tornado survivor. I started this blog in 2009, while working as head of digital media for WDAM-TV where I also produced The Green Couch Sessions, a TV show about the music of the Deep South. Now I do the podcast, and I’m working on a new book about how minds change. I’ve done some commercial work too. I’ve written for Heineken, Duck Tape, and a few others. I recently appeared in a Reebok ad that I also helped write.