I am a psychologist who used two online dating services and found nearly every flaw depicted in the article “The Truth about Online Dating,” by Robert Epstein. I was especially put off by the assertion by one company that I was “not compatible” with certain ladies I wanted to meet and yet “compatible” with others who had one of the limiting characteristics I had listed at the company’s suggestion.

But the real problem arose when I tried to terminate my membership. I called and indicated my wishes, was given a confirmation number, and then my credit card was charged for the next two months. I notified my bank, but it refused to refund the money, saying I had given the company my number so the matter was between that business and me. Obviously, this was not the sort of long-term relationship I was looking for, so I canceled the card along with the dating “service.”

Larry Hourany
McKinleyville, Calif.


I wonder if Michael Wiederman, who wrote “Why It’s So Hard to be Happy,” could bring himself to tell a poor person that economic disadvantage is not really the cause of unhappiness but rather—on the authority of “evolutionary psychologists”—that discontentment is rooted in genetic adaptations in the distant past? These days social variables right under a researcher’s nose, such as wealth and race, can respectably be ignored in favor of speculative inferences about prehistory. This article’s equation of happiness with personal chemistry is a message mainly useful to the white middle class.

Anne C. Rose
via e-mail

WIEDERMAN REPLIES: Certainly experiences and environment are important influences on happiness to the extent that they interact with the cognitive software that makes us human. So abject poverty is related to unhappiness, as is social comparison whereby we “feel poor” relative to others around us. The point made by the research on happiness and economic status is that once our basic needs are met, having “more” of anything does not result in lasting increases to happiness. I see that as a positive message for the large majority of us who will never be among the wealthiest but who might delude ourselves into thinking that we would be happier if we were.


“The Case of the Loud Eyeballs,” by R. Douglas Fields [Perspectives], greatly interested me because I have occasionally had an experience related to the screeching sounds his eyeballs make when he is half-asleep.

I am lying in bed and have just woken up. I notice something strange: my tinnitus is gone! Wow, I think, this is wonderful. I am so happy to discover what silence is really like. But oddly, there are also no birds chirping away outside. Two seconds later: RRRRRIIIIIIINNNNNNGGGGG. My tinnitus is back, like a switch was turned on. And I hear birds chirping.

Mark Mojkowski
via e-mail

Your article made me smile because I, too, can hear my eyeballs. For me, however, it is not a loud noise, just a swishing back and forth when I move them, usually at night before sleep, when it is quiet.

So now there are three of us. Certainly there are many more who are just not “tuned in!”

Joan Faella
Jamestown, R.I.

FIELDS REPLIES: Faella is right: Charles Limb of the National Institutes of Health tells me that some people hear their eyeballs not only at bedtime but all the time. In these cases, the noise is not imaginary but actually caused by the tugging of eye muscles. If disease or injury perforates the thin skull bone between the inner ear canals and the brain, the extra hole can act as a third ear tuned to internal sounds.

After confessing about my grating eyeballs, e-mails and letters began appearing from readers around the world admitting to all manner of bizarre brain mix-ups. Colleen McCaffery of Almonte, Ontario, occasionally hears a loud cracking noise in her head as she is falling asleep, which is a benign phenomenon related to twitching known as an “auditory sleep start.” And a young woman from Belgium confides that when she becomes sexually aroused, she starts sneezing! “This, of course, is a very noisy announcement of what is going on in me.” Now I know why Mom taught me that a gentleman should always carry a clean handkerchief.

I sincerely thank readers for sharing these personal stories, which show us how wonderful the brain is and how little we really know about it.


I am the wife of a pedophile who is a registered sex offender. In “Abnormal Attraction,” Peer Briken, Andreas Hill and Wolfgang Berner speak with hope about therapy for pedophiles. I see a clear stumbling block: our state’s laws require all therapists to report to the police any situation in which they believe a child may be the target of sexual behavior. Do the ends justify the means here? Maybe, but the law makes therapists akin to cops with full power to arrest and prosecute. I frankly doubt a pedophile would trust a therapist and work with him or her under these conditions. I especially doubt that anyone who experiences pedophilic fantasies would seek help for these impulses before acting on them.

Name withheld

I had to roll my eyes at the defensive and somewhat condescending posture of those who treat pedophiles. Yes, the public knows that pedophilia is a disorder. No, the public does not think that therapists make excuses for or promote child abuse. What we object to is that, ultimately, the success or failure in treating pedophiles comes down to whether or not another child is sexually assaulted by one of these patients. Subjecting unsuspecting children to the uncertain outcomes of treatment experiments is as unacceptable as imposing medical trials on random and uninformed human test subjects.

Laura Wrzeski
Lakebay, Wash.

As a journalist, I was dismayed to find several mistakes in an otherwise insightful article on pedophilia.

The authors quote a study that found that “one in seven youngsters aged 10 to 17 received an online sexual solicitation in 2005.” This study is not nearly as alarming as the authors make it out to be. The statistic is misleading because the term “sexual solicitation” is defined broadly as “requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk or give personal sexual information that were unwanted or, whether wanted or not, made by an adult.” Using this definition, an 18-year-old who asks a 17-year-old if he or she is a virgin would be considered to be making a “sexual solicitation.” In fact, almost half the “sexual solicitations” in the study came not from “predators” or older adults but from other teens—in many cases the equivalent of teen flirting. The authors’ implication that one in seven children are approached by pedophiles is clearly not the case.

The article also failed to report that most cases of child sexual abuse are not committed by convicted pedophiles but by trusted caregivers—relatives, clergy and family friends.

Benjamin Radford
Managing editor
Skeptical Inquirer


Although I was delighted that you included a story on hoarding—“Love of Garbage,” by Walter A. Brown—I was disappointed at the cursory treatment that you gave to this complex behavior that affects some one million to two million Americans. Hoarding can snowball from an individual’s struggle to a community health concern, which is why many cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, have organized task forces that bring together families, social service providers, health agencies, fire departments and legal assistance groups. Research is being done to better understand how to identify hoarding early and treat it effectively. I hope that you will consider publishing additional articles on this important public health topic.

Monika Eckfield
University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing