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Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time
     

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time

3.9 63
by Michael Shermer
 

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Revised and Expanded Edition.

In this age of supposed scientific enlightenment, many people still believe in mind reading, past-life regression theory, New Age hokum, and alien abduction. A no-holds-barred assault on popular superstitions and prejudices, with more than 80,000 copies in print, Why People Believe Weird Things debunks these nonsensical

Overview

Revised and Expanded Edition.

In this age of supposed scientific enlightenment, many people still believe in mind reading, past-life regression theory, New Age hokum, and alien abduction. A no-holds-barred assault on popular superstitions and prejudices, with more than 80,000 copies in print, Why People Believe Weird Things debunks these nonsensical claims and explores the very human reasons people find otherworldly phenomena, conspiracy theories, and cults so appealing. In an entirely new chapter, "Why Smart People Believe in Weird Things," Michael Shermer takes on science luminaries like physicist Frank Tippler and others, who hide their spiritual beliefs behind the trappings of science.

Shermer, science historian and true crusader, also reveals the more dangerous side of such illogical thinking, including Holocaust denial, the recovered-memory movement, the satanic ritual abuse scare, and other modern crazes. Why People Believe Strange Things is an eye-opening resource for the most gullible among us and those who want to protect them.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Dedicated to Carl Sagan, with a foreword by Stephen Jay Gould, this book by the publisher of Skeptic magazine and the Director of the Skeptics Lecture Series at California Institute of Technology, has the pedigree to be accepted as a work of scholarly value. Fortunately, it is also readable, interesting, and well indexed and provides an extensive bibliography. The author discusses such topics of current interest as alien abduction, near-death experiences, psychics, recovered memories, and denial of the Holocaust. Never patronizing to his opponents, Shermer explains why people may truly believe that they were held by aliens (he had a similar experience himself) or have recovered a memory of childhood satanic-ritual abuse. He clearly explains, often with pictures, tables, or graphs, the fallacy of such beliefs in terms of scientific reasoning. While teens may find the first section of the book about "Science and Skepticism" a bit too philosophical and ponderous, the rest of it will surely captivate them. -- Carol DeAngelo, Garcia Consulting Inc., EPA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
From the Publisher

“This sparkling book romps over the range of science and anti-science.” —Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel

“Splendid.” —Vanity Fair

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429996761
Publisher:
Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
09/01/2002
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
469,715
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Why People Believe Weird Things

Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time


By Michael Shermer, Pat Linse

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2002 Michael Shermer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9676-1



CHAPTER 1

I Am Therefore I Think

A Skeptic's Manifesto


On the opening page of his splendid little book To Know a Fly, biologist Vincent Dethier makes this humorous observation about how children grow up to be scientists: "Although small children have taboos against stepping on ants because such actions are said to bring on rain, there has never seemed to be a taboo against pulling off the legs or wings of flies. Most children eventually outgrow this behavior. Those who do not either come to a bad end or become biologists" (1962, p. 2). In their early years, children are knowledge junkies, questioning everything in their purview, though exhibiting little skepticism. Most never learn to distinguish between skepticism and credulity. It took me a long time.

In 1979, unable to land a full-time teaching job, I found work as a writer for a cycling magazine. The first day on the job, I was sent to a press conference held in honor of a man named John Marino who had just ridden his bicycle across America in a record 13 days, 1 hour, 20 minutes. When I asked him how he did it, John told me about special vegetarian diets, megavitamin therapy, fasting, colonies, mud baths, iridology, cytotoxic blood testing, Rolfing, acupressure and acupuncture, chiropractic and massage therapy, negative ions, pyramid power, and a host of weird things with which I was unfamiliar. Being a fairly inquisitive fellow, when I took up cycling as a serious sport I thought I would try these things to see for myself whether they worked. I once fasted for a week on nothing but a strange mixture of water, cayenne pepper, garlic, and lemon. At the end of the week, John and I rode from Irvine to Big Bear Lake and back, some seventy miles each way. About halfway up the mountain I collapsed, violently ill from the concoction. John and I once rode out to a health spa near Lake Elsinore for a mud bath that was supposed to suck the toxins out of my body. My skin was dyed red for a week. I set up a negative ion generator in my bedroom to charge the air to give me more energy. It turned the walls black with dust. I got my iris read by an iridologist, who told me that the little green flecks in my eyes meant something was wrong with my kidneys. To this day my kidneys are functioning fine.

I really got into cycling. I bought a racing bike the day after I met John and entered my first race that weekend. I did my first century ride (100 miles) a month later, and my first double century later that year. I kept trying weird things because I figured I had nothing to lose and, who knows, maybe they would increase performance. I tried colonics because supposedly bad things clog the plumbing and thus decrease digestive efficiency, but all I got was an hour with a hose in a very uncomfortable place. I installed a pyramid in my apartment because it was supposed to focus energy. All I got were strange looks from guests. I starting getting massages, which were thoroughly enjoyable and quite relaxing. Then my massage therapist decided that "deep tissue" massage was best to get lactic acid out of the muscles. That wasn't so relaxing. One guy massaged me with his feet. That was even less relaxing. I tried Rolfing, which is really deep tissue massage. That was so painful that I never went back.

In 1982 John and I and two other men competed in the first Race Across America, the 3,000-mile, nonstop, transcontinental bike race from Los Angeles to New York. In preparation, we went for cytotoxic blood testing because it was supposed to detect food allergies that cause blood platelets to clump together and block capillaries, thus decreasing blood flow. By now we were a little skeptical of the truth of these various claims, so we sent in one man's blood under several names. Each sample came back with different food allergies, which told us that there was a problem with their testing, not with our blood. During the race, I slept with an "Electro-Acuscope," which was to measure my brain waves and put me into an alpha state for better sleeping. It was also supposed to rejuvenate my muscles and heal any injuries. The company swore that it helped Joe Montana win the Super Bowl. Near as I can figure, it was totally ineffective.

The Electro-Acuscope was the idea of my chiropractor. I began visiting a chiropractor not because I needed one but because I had read that energy flows through the spinal cord and can get blocked at various places. I discovered that the more I got adjusted, the more I needed to get adjusted because my neck and back kept going "out." This went on for a couple of years until I finally quit going altogether, and I've never needed a chiropractor since.

All told, I raced as a professional ultra-marathon cyclist for ten years, all the while trying anything and everything (except drugs and steroids) that might improve my performance. As the Race Across America got bigger — it was featured for many years on ABC's Wide World of Sports —I had many offers to try all sorts of things, which I usually did. From this ten-year experiment with a subject pool of one, I drew two conclusions: nothing increased performance, alleviated pain, or enhanced well-being other than long hours in the saddle, dedication to a consistent training schedule, and a balanced diet; and it pays to be skeptical. But what does it mean to be skeptical?


What Is a Skeptic?

I became a skeptic on Saturday, August 6, 1983, on the long, climbing road to Loveland Pass, Colorado. It was Day 3 of the second Race Across America, and the nutritionist on my support crew believed that if I followed his megavitamin therapy program, I would win the race. He was in a Ph.D. program and was trained as a nutritionist, so I figured he knew what he was doing. Every six hours I would force down a huge handful of assorted vitamins and minerals. Their taste and smell nearly made me sick, and they went right through me, producing what I thought had to be the most expensive and colorful urine in America. After three days of this, I decided that megavitamin therapy, along with colonics, iridology, Rolfing, and all these other alternative, New Age therapies were a bunch of hooey. On that climb up Loveland Pass, I dutifully put the vitamins in my mouth and then spit them out up the road when my nutritionist wasn't looking. Being skeptical seemed a lot safer than being credulous.

After the race I discovered that the nutritionist's Ph.D. was to be awarded by a nonaccredited nutrition school and, worse, I was the subject of his doctoral dissertation! Since that time I have noticed about extraordinary claims and New Age beliefs that they tend to attract people on the fringes of academia — people without formal scientific training, credentialed (if at all) by nonaccredited schools, lacking research data to support their claims, and excessively boastful about what their particular elixir can accomplish. This does not automatically disprove all claims made by individuals exhibiting these characteristics, but it would be wise to be especially skeptical when encountering them.

Being skeptical is nothing new, of course. Skepticism dates back 2,500 years to ancient Greece and Plato's Academy. But Socrates' quip that "All I know is that I know nothing" doesn't get us far. Modern skepticism has developed into a science-based movement, beginning with Martin Gardner's 1952 classic, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. Gardner's numerous essays and books over the next four decades, such as Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus (1981), The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher (1991a), and On the Wild Side (1992), established a pattern of incredulity about a wide variety of bizarre beliefs. Skepticism joined pop culture through magician James "the Amazing" Randi's countless psychic challenges and media appearances in the 1970s and 1980s (including thirty-six appearances on the Tonight Show). Philosopher Paul Kurtz helped create dozens of skeptics groups throughout the United States and abroad, and publications such as Skeptic magazine have national and international circulation. Today, a burgeoning group of people calling themselves skeptics — scientists, engineers, physicians, lawyers, professors, teachers, and the intellectually curious from all walks of life — conduct investigations, hold monthly meetings and annual conferences, and provide the media and the general public with natural explanations for apparently supernatural phenomena.

Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, which involves gathering data to test natural explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions. Some things, such as water dowsing, extrasensory perception, and creationism, have been tested and have failed the tests often enough that we can provisionally conclude that they are false. Other things, such as hypnosis, lie detectors, and vitamin C, have been tested but the results are inconclusive, so we must continue formulating and testing hypotheses until we can reach a provisional conclusion. The key to skepticism is to navigate the treacherous straits between "know nothing" skepticism and "anything goes" credulity by continuously and vigorously applying the methods of science.

The flaw in pure skepticism is that when taken to an extreme, the position itself cannot stand. If you are skeptical about everything, you must be skeptical of your own skepticism. Like the decaying subatomic particle, pure skepticism spins off the viewing screen of our intellectual cloud chamber.

There is also a popular notion that skeptics are closed-minded. Some even call us cynics. In principle, skeptics are not closed-minded or cynical. What I mean by a skeptic isone who questions the validity of a particular claim by calling for evidence to prove or disprove it. In other words, skeptics are from Missouri — the "show me" state. When we hear a fantastic claim, we say, "That's nice, prove it."

Here is an example. For many years I had heard stories about the "Hundredth Monkey phenomenon" and was fascinated with the possibility that there might be some sort of collective consciousness that we could tap into to decrease crime, eliminate wars, and generally unite as a single species. In the 1992 presidential election, in fact, one candidate — Dr. John Hagelin from the Natural Law Party — claimed that if elected he would implement a plan that would solve the problems of our inner cities: meditation. Hagelin and others (especially proponents of Transcendental Meditation, or TM) believe that thought can somehow be transferred between people, especially people in a meditative state; if enough people meditate at the same time, some sort of critical mass will be reached, thereby inducing significant planetary change. The Hundredth Monkey phenomenon is commonly cited as empirical proof of this astonishing theory. In the 1950s, so the story goes, Japanese scientists gave monkeys on Koshima Island potatoes. One day one of the monkeys learned to wash the potatoes and then taught the skill to others. When about one hundred monkeys had learned the skill — the so-called critical mass — suddenly all the monkeys knew it, even those on other islands hundreds of miles away. Books about the phenomenon have spread this theory widely in New Age circles. Lyall Watson's Lifetide (1979) and Ken Keyes'sThe Hundredth Monkey (1982), for example, have been through multiple printings and sold millions of copies; Elda Hartley even made a film called The Hundredth Monkey.

As an exercise in skepticism, start by asking whether events really happened as reported. They did not. In 1952, primatologists began providing Japanese macaques with sweet potatoes to keep the monkeys from raiding local farms. One monkey did learn to wash dirt off the sweet potatoes in a stream or the ocean, and other monkeys did learn to imitate the behavior. Now let's examine Watson's book more carefully. He admits that "one has to gather the rest of the story from personal anecdotes and bits of folklore among primate researchers, because most of them are still not quite sure what happened. So I am forced to improvise the details." Watson then speculates that "an unspecified number of monkeys on Koshima were washingsweet potatoes in the sea" — hardly the level of precision one expects. He then makes this statement: "Let us say, for argument's sake, that the number was ninety-nine and that at 11:00 A.M. on a Tuesday, one further convert was added to the fold in the usual way. But the addition of the hundredth monkey apparently carried the number across some sort of threshold, pushing it through a kind of critical mass." At this point, says Watson, the habit "seems to have jumped natural barriers and to have appeared spontaneously on other islands" (1979, pp. 2 — 8).

Let's stop right there. Scientists do not "improvise" details or make wild guesses from "anecdotes" and "bits of folklore." In fact, some scientists did record exactly what happened (for example, Baldwin et al. 1980; Imanishi 1983; Kawai 1962). The research began with a troop of twenty monkeys in 1952, and every monkey on the island was carefully observed. By 1962, the troop had increased to fifty-nine monkeys and exactly thirty-six of the fifty-nine monkeys were washing their sweet potatoes. The "sudden" acquisition of the behavior actually took ten years, and the "hundred monkeys" were actually only thirty-six in 1962. Furthermore, we can speculate endlessly about what the monkeys knew, but the fact remains that not all of the monkeys in the troop were exhibiting the washing behavior. The thirty-six monkeys were not a critical mass even at home. And while there are some reports of similar behavior on other islands, the observations were made between 1953 and 1967. It was not sudden, nor was it necessarily connected to Koshima. The monkeys on other islands could have discovered this simple skill themselves, for example, or inhabitants on other islands might have taught them. In any case, not only is there no evidence to support this extraordinary claim, there is not even a real phenomenon to explain.


Science and Skepticism

Skepticism is a vital part of science, which I define as a set of methods designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomena, past or present, and aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation. In other words, science is a specific way of analyzing information with the goal of testing claims. Defining the scientific method is not so simple, as philosopher of science and Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar observed: "Ask a scientist what he conceives the scientific method to be and he will adopt an expression that is at once solemn and shifty-eyed: solemn, because he feels he ought to declare an opinion; shifty-eyed, because he is wondering how to conceal the fact that he has no opinion to declare" (1969, p. 11).

A sizable literature exists on the scientific method, but there is little consensus among authors. This does not mean that scientists do not know what they are doing. Doing and explaining may be two different things. However, scientists agree that the following elements are involved in thinking scientifically:

Induction: Forming a hypothesis by drawing general conclusions from existing data.

Deduction: Making specific predictions based on the hypotheses.

Observation: Gathering data, driven by hypotheses that tell us what to look for in nature.

Verification: Testing the predictions against further observations to confirm or falsify the initial hypotheses.


Science, of course, is not this rigid; and no scientist consciously goes through "steps." The process is a constant interaction of making observations, drawing conclusions, making predictions, and checking them against evidence. And data-gathering observations are not made in a vacuum. The hypotheses shape what sorts of observations you will make of nature, and these hypotheses are themselves shaped by your education, culture, and particular biases as an observer.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer, Pat Linse. Copyright © 2002 Michael Shermer. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Michael Shermer is the author of The Believing Brain, Why People Believe Weird Things, The Science of Good and Evil, The Mind Of The Market, Why Darwin Matters, Science Friction, How We Believe and other books on the evolution of human beliefs and behavior. He is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the editor of Skeptic.com, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University. He lives in Southern California.


Michael Shermer is the author of The Moral Arc, Why People Believe Weird Things, The Believing Brain, and several other books on the evolution of human beliefs and behavior. He is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the editor of Skeptic.com, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. He lives in Southern California.

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Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 60 reviews.
Alex_APLit More than 1 year ago
... like an aggressive but delicious hot dog, this book takes some muscling around to subdue and digest in its entirety. It is a great find for scholarly readers looking for fistfuls of deep material (and size 10 font) per page! Shermer has definitely done his homework here; there are plenty of citations to good sources for his work, and he has the personal experience of a rennaissance man. He is not afraid to admit that he has dabbled in a belief of "weird things" himself before becoming a skeptic. One caution I would render is that it is not a casual or light read. And even if you are interested in the material, it is so dense that reading goes slowly. It is a good book to read in as much as it is a good area of science and human nature to be acquainted with and knowledgeable about. It does a great job analyzing rhetorical argument strategies and fallacies. However, it could be made easier for a high school senior (like me) to absorb by rewriting it with coherent, flowing chapters and a theme. It sounds like it should be a collection of schloarly theses or essays. Of course, like Freakonomics, it IS non-fiction and the topic is not exactly captivating, so all Mr. Shermer can really be blamed for is his somewhat dry narrative voice. A good challenge and a good read, all in all!
M-Thomas More than 1 year ago
I would recommend Why People believe weird things.It is an interesting read that touches on many points. I like how the authors take ordinary circumstances and relate it in the text. The book is educational and logical and this is why it is interesting. The most interesting points were the internalist and externalist views and the twenty-five fallacies that make people believe wierd things. I like how the authors were able to thoroughly explain these topics. One of the twenty-five fallacies was the use of ad ignorantiam. The two sides of the arguement were peculiar yet true. The logic behing the internal and external views were also interesting. One relates to theories while the other relates to history. This is an interesting text and I would recommend this book to everyone.
Bananizzle More than 1 year ago
Michael Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things" is a provocative and compelling text that forces us to examine our imperfections by exposing how simplistic and juvenile our beliefs may be even at a mature age. Shermer explores the many different reasons a person may have a particular propensity to believe in superstitions or the like from hidden anxieties and childish habits never lost to misleading and false affirmations. Throughout this book Shermer often refers to the skeptic, emphasizing the importance of logic and rationality when considering the many things in this world for which the human race has provided explanations, but which may not be scientifically sound. Not only does this book strive to disprove and denounce the various superstitions and illogical beliefs of our world, it may unintentionally create a sense of skepticism in the reader in regards to believing what has been written in this very book. After reading about how important it is to be skeptical, do we believe Shermer? In the end, who is to say what to believe? And when someone does claim to know what is true and scientifically sound, how do we know if to believe them or not? Above all, this is a wonderfully philosophical book that either confuses the daylights out of you, further solidifies your beliefs or completely destroys all faith in the immaterial and unknown. It is all up to you and your personal proclivity to change your way of thinking.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is quite difficult to completely debunk a whole bunch of theories and phenomenona, but Shermer did a compelling job of providing his insights. This book is particularly interesting because Shermer writes from experience as he once was a true believer, but is now a hard-core skeptic that tries to let nothing get past him without questioning. He also critiques issues or claims that he only partially believes in, and this certainly is a brave step for such a book as this. Shermer also addresses the harm that has been or can be caused by a lack of skepticism. Think about people who deny that the Holocaust ever happened. Think about repressed memory therapy that can implant false memories of alien abductions or sexual abuse. These are dangerous when not approached skeptically. I definitely learned a lot from this book and it does a good job of spreading awareness of what's going on in this world, exactly. It is apparent that Shermer is not a mean-spirited person, but one that really cares about sharing his views and perhaps answering questions about weird and crazy superstitions that millions of people in the world share. You'll be surprised about a lot of the things you'll read in this book, but in a good way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never been interested in science but this book has opened by eyes to wierd things. Shermer has a whole chapter on Skepticism. This book has made me think about what I hear and what I do with it. Often times statistics are thrown at you and people believe them so easily. This book has made me realize that everything people tell you isn't true, numbers may sound true but they aren't always. Another reason why people may believe in wierd things. Coming from a students point of view. I definately recommend this book. It makes you think from all different points of view.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Michael Shermer wrote a must read for all generations. He shows readers the truth about why people believe weird things. When people deny facts and insist opinions are true there becomes conflict in what is right and wrong. He doesn't push certain beliefs on his readers. He uses science and common sense to provide factual information as to why the "weird thing" people believe in is real or not. Shermer discusses very realistic reasoning as to why people believe in what they do. Such as when someone believes they have been abducted by aliens, he uses science to explain why they believe in what they do. He explains by using sleep apnea and a vivid imagination as a possible explanation. As for unraveling if the holocaust had or had not happened he explained many people choose not to believe in such a thing because they just don't want to come to terms that such an event has actually happened. He doesn't give readers elaborate stories on weird beliefs such as ghost stories or alien encounters, but uses theories to explain them. By using facts and a scientific outlook he doesn't tell readers what to believe he presents them with factual information. They can either take it or leave it. I do not recommend Why People Believe in Weird Things to strong believers in any debatable "weird thing". Such as people who strongly believe in creationism, ghosts or aliens. If you are not sure if you believe in weird things, this book is a must read because it opens your eyes to much reasoning. The things you learn while reading this book can be used to assess many situations and gives you an advantage on friendly debates based on the weird things people believe.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Michael Shermer explains so many controversies and goes in as a believer and then challenges it. Reading this book I have figured out that people have their own opinions on things, like believing the Holocaust but these are opinions not facts. He tries to explain the difference of science and pseudoscience. After reading this book I had a better understanding as to what is a factual statement and what is my own opinion. When believing something you most likely think it is true, but if you want it to be true doesn't necessarily make it true. Shermer debunks many things people think are true. He talks about the Holocaust and why people do not believe it happened (because they want to and it gives them immediate gratification) and the belief of creationism. Are there really alien abductions or is it just your imagination? Each chapter is a new belief that Shermer explains is wrong or exaggerated.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michael Shermer belongs in the ranks of great science authors. He explains why so many people lack critical thinking skills and fail to question their beliefs.
GraveCake More than 1 year ago
Historian of science and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine Michael Shermer published this book in 1997, after which it went on to become something of a classic on the subject of skepticism and pseudoscience. The book was expanded and revised in 2002, and it's still a highly entertaining and thought-provoking book. Containing a good introduction to critical thinking and a rundown of common logical fallacies, the book is a great place to start for readers new to skepticism or the scientific method. Even if that was all the book contained, it would still be worth a read, but there are also fun, hilarious chapters debunking everything from creationism to alien abductions to spirit mediums to witch panics. There is also a very useful chapter containing quick arguments against the 25 most common creationist canards. Shermer is an engaging writer, and uses examples from his own life to illustrate various points in a humorous way. He gets serious when he needs to - as in the two chapters discussing Holocaust deniers - but overall this is a fast, satisfying read that will make you laugh and make you think, and whet your appetite for more books in a similar vein.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Michael Shermer's 'Why People Believe Weird Things' is an alright book in the sense that the theories that were presented had good reason behind it but at the same time to me was a stretch. For example, in part two he examines the ideas of Science versus Pseudoscience and discusses the quest for immortality. But even though some of the things are a stretch i feel that this book was the best out of the other books that were offered up to read.
Jacquisha More than 1 year ago
Michael Shermer's book, Why People Believe Weird Things, delves into an interesting topic, which debunks skeptics, and leaves you wondering who or what to believe. Shermer takes examples from his life and pop culture ranging from everything from ghosts and skeptics to the holocaust. I found the topic interesting, but at times it seemed like Shermer was just filling space when talking about the scientific method. The book got good when Shermer began proving all the myths wrong, but overall it didn't seem to have enough of a cohesive thread. I had high expectations and unfortunately they weren't completely fulfilled. I expected something interesting and controversial, which this book was at times, but there was too much on what constitutes a skeptic and unnecessary information that was erroneous. In fact I would not recommend anyone to read this book unless they are interested in skepticism AND the scientific method. Someone needed to go through the book and cut out the fat so we could get to the good stuff. I think about this book like I think about a nice prime rib. A lot of times there's fat on the meat and the outside is too well cooked. I have to cut away a lot of stuff that no one wants in order to get to the good juicy center. In this books case it's about 100 pages of boring nothing. Plus how can you read an entire book which disproves myths and not think that the book itself could be wrong.
Kla1021 More than 1 year ago
This book opens the eyes of gullible readers and explores the mysteries of scientific phenomenons. Out of all the choices my teacher gave me for our assignment, I have to say this was the best possible one. Although I did have trouble with some of the tables and graphs that were added. It answers several questions about unanswered myths or skeptical procedures. The most interesting section I think would have to be his exploration of immortality. Part Two, Pseudoscience and Superstition discusses the quest for immortality and how people search for a way to live forever and the obstacle that stands in their way: death. With three major causes, trauma, disease, and entropy (letting nature take its course, aging). It's amazing how people today still want to live forever while fighting the different ways to die. The scientific justification provides readers, no matter the intelligence level, with some sort of explanation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Michael Shermer's chosen topic for "Why People Believe Weird Things" is undeniably interesting. Shermer lays out both the most subversive and commonplace quirks of society from groups such as creationalists to holocaust deniers and explains their beliefs with these explainations 1) sheer ignorance 2) faith provides an easy answer to unanswered questions 3) believe provides hope and solace. Shermer's writing is typically matter of fact and usually easy to follow. He does write towards an audience with a certain understanding of science and familiarity with todays culture. At times Shermer's explanations for people's beliefs are less than satisfactory. He quickly debunked theories of witch hunts by rather simple methods which may leave the reader with a few more questions. Yet this stays within the books spirit of constant questioning. Although Shermer's writing is often wrought with an air of haughtiness he makes sure to remind his readers that he enjoys the scientific process of discovering the truth rather than destroying people's faith. His book is a celebration of science and playfully encourages its readers to think and to learn before subscribing themselves to one belief. Why People Believe Weird Things is at times dry and repetitive but overall provides excellent insight into the mysteries the public would otherwise be unable to explain. It ignites curiousity and often has a touch of humor in its pages. Sure to intrigue, Weird Things is worth having around the house for rainy days.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought that Michael Shermer did a great job debunking the many weird things that people believe. His methods are respectable since he sometimes puts himself through situations to try to understand the conditions that lead people to believe such things. He recounted a time when he was abducted by aliens only to explain later that he was extremely sleep deprived during a bike marathon and started hallucinating. To prepare for the bike marathon itself he explained that he tried many things such as deep tissue massages and a special diet only to find that they didn't improve his overall performance. I've seen a number of Michael Shermer's specials on YouTube and found it remarkable how he was able to debunk things like remote viewing and spoon bending through simple experiments. Overall I enjoyed Shermer's book despite a few slow spots where he goes in depth into some research and explanations.definitely something to pick up if you're interested in learning scientific explanations to some of the unexplained phenomena of our time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Micheal Shermer is the voice of reason amongst the Sea of confusion. I have seen him do alot of debunking and once again he is at his best in explaining why people believe weird things. I defineatly recommend this book for anyone who wants to use solid reasoning
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want to better understand how science and critical thinking work this book is an excellent starting point. Also if you want a better understanding of how cults, witch hunts, psuedo-science(such as creation science) find there way into the minds of otherwise rational people.
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Shermer has a mind like a steel trap. Too bad it is always closed.
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Very interesting to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey.
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