- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Revised and Expanded edition (Sept. 1 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805070893
- ISBN-13: 978-0805070897
- Product Dimensions: 13.4 x 2.7 x 514.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 340 g
- Average Customer Review: 86 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #123,506 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time Paperback – Sep 1 2002
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Few can talk with more personal authority about the range of human beliefs than Michael Shermer. At various times in the past, Shermer has believed in fundamentalist Christianity, alien abductions, Ayn Rand, megavitamin therapy, and deep-tissue massage. Now he believes in skepticism, and his motto is "Cognite tute--think for yourself." This updated edition of Why People Believe Weird Things covers Holocaust denial and creationism in considerable detail, and has chapters on abductions, Satanism, Afrocentrism, near-death experiences, Randian positivism, and psychics. Shermer has five basic answers to the implied question in his title: for consolation, for immediate gratification, for simplicity, for moral meaning, and because hope springs eternal. He shows the kinds of errors in thinking that lead people to believe weird (that is, unsubstantiated) things, especially the built-in human need to see patterns, even where there is no pattern to be seen. Throughout, Shermer emphasizes that skepticism (in his sense) does not need to be cynicism: "Rationality tied to moral decency is the most powerful joint instrument for good that our planet has ever known." --Mary Ellen Curtin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From School Library Journal
YA?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. Read cover to cover or by section, or used as a reference tool, this book is highly recommended for young adults.?Carol DeAngelo, Garcia Consulting Inc., EPA Headquarters, Washington, DC
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
He should have been.
Unlike the average debunker of false lore and hoaxes, Shermer starts from the premise that those who believe in weird things are intelligent people who have been miseducated.
One of the best sections of this book lists and explains 25 errors in thinking which lead people to fail to critically evaluate the claims of Randenoids, Holocaust revisionists, creationists, astrologers, and others. He then proceeds to use these principles, first to explore the contradictions of the most "unlikeliest cult of all" (the followers of Ayn Rand who claim to be disciples of objective reason) and then to explain the evidence for the Holocaust and Evolution.
Anyone who needs a tune-up on her or his objectivism can stand reading this book. That means nearly everyone should own a copy.
The "why" part of people believing weirds things is not adequately addressed. Another annoyance, where I became skeptical of Shermer himself as an unbiased skeptic, is the chapter about the Ayn Rand cult. Now, I've never read any of Rand's books, and am only slightly familiar with her Objectivist philosphy, but he devotes maybe a few sentences to why the philosophy is weird in the first place. Hey maybe it is weird, but I'm not going to take his word for it without a better explanation. Shermer himself used to be an Objectivist and an "enthusiastic follower of Ayn Rand", but now that he's seen the light all of a sudden it's weird.
The chapter that made me close the book in frustration was "Pigeonholes and Continuums", which is an attempt to debunk the sensitive subject of differences in race and I.Q., and if there are indeed "races" at all. He touches on the Bell Curve, and mentions Phillipe J. Rushton as well, who has written very controversial things about Race and I.Q., and Shermer promptly dismisses him with a wave of the hand because some of Rushton's research is backed by a group called the "Pioneer fund", who supposedly has connections to Holocaust denial among other shady business. That's all nice, but what about Rushton's arguments, and why is Rushton weird? He mentions a controversial article by Rushton published in the "prestiguous" (his words) science journal 'Intelligence', which we know anything published is peer-reviewed, but then does very little to refute anything specific in this article. He handpicks a select few scholars on race who enforce the "safe" and acceptable view of genetic racial differences; that their really are none. They could be right and this has nothing to do with what I believe, but the chapter is presented in a way that strongly contradicts what Shermer preaches about and I could no longer take the book too seriously.
3 stars however because there are otherwise redeeming sections in this book.
A triumph for the Scientific Method (and a good, quick read).
When you are a youth that cant stand religion, homeopathy or Deepak Chopra, a book like this is great. Through personal tales, Shermer explains not why people belive wierd things, but why he believed wierd things and how he overcame it. His past was full of new-age curealls, Objectivism and other silly cultish stuff and Shermer is quick, not only to point out why we get trapped into fuzzy thinking, but express sympathy with those who currently do.
If this makes the book sound condescending, that's because it is. This is why I changed my opinion about the book. What I originally read as a calm, objective book now seems a bit polemic and, honestly, that's the way most people will read it. Of course, there are other books along the lines of this one but they all seem to miss one crucial thing. Instead of explaining that new-age, Deepak and homeopathy are pseudosciences, the books never explain what is flawed about them (besides the fact that they're so silly!) and how we, the readers, can spot the flawed arguments for ourselves. This book, to conclude, is chock-full of anecdotes and jabs but, getting caught up in the fun of it, never answers the title question.
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