the official site of Michael Shermer

top navigation:

Death by Theory

June 2004
Attachment therapy is based on a pseudoscientific theory that, when put into practice, can be deadly
magazine cover

In April 2000, 10-year-old Candace Newmaker began treatment for attachment disorder. Her adoptive mother of four years, Jeane Newmaker, was having trouble handling what she considered to be Candace’s disciplinary problems. She sought help from a therapist affiliated with the Association for Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children and was told that Candace needed attachment therapy (AT), based on the theory that if a normal attachment is not formed during the first two years, attachment can be done later.

According to the theory, the child must be subjected to physical “confrontation” and “restraint” to release repressed abandonment anger. The process is repeated until the child is exhausted and emotionally reduced to an “infantile” state. Then the parents cradle, rock and bottle-feed him, implementing an “attachment.” (continue reading…)

Comments Off
topics in this post: , , ,

Then a Miracle Occurs

May 2004

At 7:00 pm on a balmy Southern California evening, April 29, 2004, I entered the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall on the campus of the University of California, Irvine, to a jammed house of over 500 people chock-a-block jammed into a 400-seat venue. I was there at the behest of Pastor Jason of the OMC Youth, a campus Christian organization, to debate Kent Hovind, Young Earth Creationist and Defender of the Faith, on: “Creation vs. Evolution. Creation (supernatural action) or Evolution (natural processes) — which is the better explanation?” (continue reading…)

read or write comments (16)
topics in this post: , , ,

The Enchanted Glass

May 2004
Francis Bacon and experimental psychologists show why the facts in science never just speak for themselves
magazine cover

In the first trimester of the gestation of science, one of science’s midwives, Francis Bacon, penned an immodest work entitled Novum Organum (“new tool,” after Aristotle’s Organon) that would open the gates to the “Great Instauration” he hoped to inaugurate through the scientific method. Rejecting both the unempirical tradition of scholasticism and the Renaissance quest to recover and preserve ancient wisdom, Bacon sought a blend of sensory data and reasoned theory.

Cognitive barriers that color clear judgment presented a major impediment to Bacon’s goal. He identified four: idols of the cave (individual peculiarities), idols of the marketplace (limits of language), idols of the theater (preexisting beliefs) and idols of the tribe (inherited foibles of human thought). (continue reading…)

read or write comments (1)
topics in this post: , , , , , , ,

Magic Water & Mencken’s Maxim

April 2004
Social critic H. L. Mencken offers a lesson on how to respond to outrageous pseudoscientific claims
magazine cover

Henry Louis Mencken was a stogie-chomping, QWERTY-pounding social commentator in the first half of the 20th century who never met a man or a claim he didn’t like … to disparage, critique or parody with wit that would shame Dennis Miller back to Monday Night Football. Stupidity and quackery were favorite targets for Mencken’s barbs. “Nature abhors a moron,” he once quipped. “No one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people,” he famously noted. Some claims are so preposterous, in fact, that there is only one rejoinder: “One horselaugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.” I call this “Mencken’s maxim,” and I find that it is an appropriate response to preposterous claims made about magic water sold on the Web. I offer as a holotype of Mencken’s maxim the following: Golden ‘C’ Lithium Structured Water. (continue reading…)

Comments Off
topics in this post: , , ,

Survival of the Fittest Religion

April 2004
book cover

The following book review of Mark Oppenheimer’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture (Yale University Press, 2003), (originally published in the Los Angeles Times) ran in the Los Angeles Times Book Review (4/1/04). I used the book review to further support the group selection thesis proffered by David Sloan Wilson in his book Darwin’s Cathedral, as well as my own analysis in The Science of Good and Evil, to explain the success of religion. It was published as Countering the Counterculture. My original title better describes my thesis and what the book is about. But it is an unalterable law of nature that all book review and opinion editorial editors must change the author’s original title or else they will go to editorial hades.

In April, 1993, in his address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, Pope John Paul II acquitted Galileo for his heretical belief that the earth goes around the sun, explaining that “the theologian must keep informed about the results (continue reading…)

read or write comments (3)
topics in this post: , , , ,
« previous pagenext page »