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

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Michael Shermer—The Rubin Report: Conspiracy Theories

Michael Shermer (author, skeptic) joins Dave Rubin (The Ruben Report) to discuss conspiracy theories (9/11, vaccines, and more.) Watch the full interview about skepticism, morality, conspiracy theories, and politics.

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Scientia Humanitatis

Reason, empiricism and skepticism are not virtues of science alone
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In the late 20th century the humanities took a turn toward postmodern deconstruction and the belief that there is no objective reality to be discovered. To believe in such quaint notions as scientific progress was to be guilty of “scientism,” properly said with a snarl. In 1996 New York University physicist Alan Sokal punctured these pretensions with his now famous article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” chockablock full of postmodern phrases and deconstructionist tropes interspersed with scientific jargon, which he subsequently admitted were nonsensical gibberish.

I subsequently gave up on the humanities but am now reconsidering my position after an encounter this past March with University of Amsterdam humanities professor Rens Bod during a European book tour for The Moral Arc. In our dialogue, Bod pointed out that my definition of science—a set of methods that describes and interprets observed or inferred phenomena, past or present, aimed at testing hypotheses and building theories—applies to such humanities fields as philology, art history, musicology, linguistics, archaeology, historiography and literary studies. (continue reading…)

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Michael Shermer in Merchants of Doubt

Inspired by the acclaimed book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt takes audiences on a satirically comedic, yet illuminating ride into the heart of conjuring American spin. Filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the curtain on a secretive group of highly charismatic, silver-tongued pundits-for-hire who present themselves in the media as scientific authorities – yet have the contrary aim of spreading maximum confusion about well-studied public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change.

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Michael Shermer in An Honest Liar

An Honest Liar is a feature documentary about the world-famous magician, escape artist, and world-renowned enemy of deception, James ‘The Amazing’ Randi. The film brings to life Randi’s intricate investigations that publicly exposed psychics, faith healers, and con-artists with quasi-religious fervor. A master deceiver who came out of the closet at the age of 81, Randi created fictional characters, fake psychics, and even turned his partner of 25 years, the artist Jose Alvarez, into a sham guru named Carlos. But when a shocking revelation in Randi’s personal life is discovered, it isn’t clear whether Randi is still the deceiver – or the deceived.

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The Dangers of Keeping an Open Mind

Why great scientists make great mistakes
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“Alien abductors have asked him to probe them.” “Sasquatch has taken a photograph of him.” The “him” is the “Most Interesting Man in the World,” the faux character in the Dos Equis beer ad campaign, and these are my favorite skeptical lines from a litany of superfluities and braggadocios. (“In a past life, he was himself.”)

My candidate for the most interesting scientist in history I’d like to have a beer with is Alfred Russel Wallace, the 19th-century naturalist and co-discoverer (with Charles Darwin) of natural selection, whose death centennial we will marking this November. As I document in my 2002 biography of him— In Darwin’s Shadow (Oxford University Press)—Wallace was a grand synthesizer of biological data into a few core principles that revolutionized biogeography, zoology and evolutionary theory. He spent four years exploring the Amazon rain forest but lost most of his collections when his ship sank on his way home. His discovery of natural selection came during an eight-year expedition to the Malay Archipelago, where during a malaria-induced fever, it struck him that the best fit organisms are more likely to survive and reproduce.

Being open-minded enough to make great discoveries, however, can often lead scientists to make great blunders. Wallace, for example, was also a firm believer in phrenology, spiritualism and psychic phenomena, evidence for which he collected at séances over the objections of his more skeptical colleagues. Among them was Thomas Henry Huxley, who growled, “Better live a crossing-sweeper than die and be made to talk twaddle by a ‘medium’ hired at a guinea a séance.” (continue reading…)

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