The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer

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Science Makes America Great

Dear President Trump:

Fifty-five years ago this week President John F. Kennedy hosted a dinner honoring Nobel Prize laureate scientists, remarking:

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

In fact, Kennedy added, the author of the Declaration of Independence and 3rd President of the United States “could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet.”

From the earliest days of our nation, science has been at the forefront of what makes America great. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams and many of the other founding fathers were either practicing scientists or were trained in the sciences. They deliberately adapted the scientific method of gathering data, running experiments, and testing hypotheses to their construction of our nation. Their understanding of the provisional nature of findings led them to develop a political system in which doubt and disputation were the centerpieces of a functional polity.

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Singularity 101: Be Skeptical! (Even of Skeptics)

Michael Shermer appeared on the Singularity 1 on 1 podcast after meeting its creator, Nikola (a.k.a “Socrates”), at a recent Singularity Summit in New York (watch Michael’s lecture). Discussion included a variety of topics such as: Michael’s education at a Christian college and original interest in religion and theology; his eventual transition to atheism, skepticism, science and the scientific method; SETI, the singularity and religion; scientific progress and the dots on the curve as precursors of big breakthroughs; life-extension, cloning and mind uploading; being a skeptic and an optimist at the same time; the “social singularity”; global warming; the tricky balance between being a skeptic while still being able to learn and make progress.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST AUDIO, or watch the videos below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

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Monty Hall Problem Put to the Test


The following letter was sent to me in response to my column in Scientific American (which generated hundreds of letters in response, so I penned the following response) in which I discussed the now-infamous (and infuriatingly counter-intuitive) probability problem called the Monty Hall Problem, or the Three Door Problem, in which a contestant chooses one of three doors, behind one of which is a car and the other two goats. Monty then reveals what’s behind one of the other doors (only ever showing a goat and never showing you your own door pick), which is always a goat, then asks if you want to change doors. Most people say it doesn’t matter because now it’s 50/50, but the correct answer is that you should always switch, which will give you a two-thirds chance of winning. There are simulations of the game online, but my correspondent took it upon himself to test the game with his own computer program. Here are his very interesting results, which also nicely show the scientific method at work: (continue reading…)

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An Unauthorized Autobiography of Science

Journal article explanations of how science
works often differ from the actual process
magazine cover

According to 55 percent of 350,000 people from 70 countries who participated online in Richard Wiseman’s Laugh Lab experiment (discussed in last month’s column), this is the world’s funniest joke:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says, “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says, “Okay, now what?”

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