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Why subjective anecdotes often trump objective data
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The recent medical controversy over whether vaccinations cause autism reveals a habit of human cognition — thinking anecdotally comes naturally, whereas thinking scientifically does not.

On the one side are scientists who have been unable to find any causal link between the symptoms of autism and the vaccine preservative thimerosal, which in the body breaks down into ethylmercury, the culprit du jour for autism’s cause. On the other side are parents who noticed that shortly after having their children vaccinated autistic symptoms began to appear. These anecdotal associations are so powerful that they cause people to ignore contrary evidence: ethylmercury is expelled from the body quickly (unlike its chemical cousin methylmercury) and therefore cannot accumulate in the brain long enough to cause damage. And in any case, autism continues to be diagnosed in children born after thimerosal was removed from most vaccines in 1999; today trace amounts exist in only a few. (continue reading…)

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Confessions of a Former Environmental Skeptic

In his 1964 Republican presidential nomination acceptance speech Barry Goldwater gave voice to one of the most memorable one-liners in political punditry: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

These are stirring sentiments, to be sure, and once in a great while they may even be true. But for most human endeavors, moderation is a virtue and extremism is a vice. The reason is clear: all extremists think they are defending liberty and pursuing justice, from Timothy McVeigh and the 9/11 terrorists to Torquemada and abortion clinic bombers. One country’s terrorist is another country’s freedom fighter.

Extreme environmentalists are a case in point. Members of environmentalist groups who vandalize Hummer dealerships, destroy logging equipment, or torch scientific laboratories see themselves not as the terrorists that they are, but as environmental freedom fighters. And environmental groups who paint doom and gloom scenarios and exaggerate, distort, or even fabricate claims in order to keep the donations flowing only hurt their cause in the long run when doomsday comes and goes without incident or the claims turn out to be baseless. (continue reading…)

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Remote Viewing Experiment Part 1

Michael Shermer takes a seminar on remote viewing, a form of ESP in which one attempts to psychically view a remote object, person, or place through intuition or a sixth sense. Shermer reveals the normal explanation for this apparently paranormal phenomenon.

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Remote Viewing Experiment Part 2

Michael Shermer takes a seminar on remote viewing, a form of ESP in which one attempts to psychically view a remote object, person, or place through intuition or a sixth sense. Shermer reveals the normal explanation for this apparently paranormal phenomenon.

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Shermer Tests Acupuncture

One of the oldest forms of so-called alternative or complementary medicine is the ancient Chinese art of acupuncture, now claimed by many to be a science. Michael Shermer goes in search of what is behind acupuncture through interviews and getting himself poked!

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