Book Reviews

Even Skeptics Can Be Gullible

WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS: Pseudoscience, Superstition, & Other Confusions of Our Time

Author: Michael Shermer
Publisher:W.H. Freeman.
(352p with 20 illustrations)

Former born-again Christian and founder of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer, has collated essays from the magazine to create a book which is informative, challenging and controversial.

Flashes of well-written, engrossing material are interspersed with pedantic prose.

The book would have benefited from the editing scalpel of a skeptic! For instance, Shermer states that "science is not the affirmation of a set of beliefs" yet three pages later, confesses that "science became my belief system."

Entrancing accounts of Shermer's own out-of-body and UFO adbuction experiences yield to enlightening (scientific) explanations.

He explores similarities in the thought processes of evolution deniers (Creationists) and Holocaust deniers. He counters the twisted thinking of both with counter-evidence based on science and reason.

He similarly exposes the "unlikeliest cult" of Ayn Rand, and reveals how psychics perform their tricks.

But he sides with accused pedophiles in the so-called "false memory" debate, likening the wide-spread allegations of sexual abuse to witch-hunts.

For skeptics the issue is "not what to think, but how to think".

Sherman claims skepticism is a method. But the whole book makes it clear that skepticism is an attitude. The method is that of science.

Ignorant of the scientific method, many of us believe weird things, says Shermer. Because we have evolved to connect cause and effect, we seek certainty and meaning, desire immediate answers, and find comfort in cosmic explications that respond to our yearning for immortality.