Michael Brand Shermer
(born September 8
in Glendale, California
) is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society
, and editor of its magazine Skeptic
, which is largely devoted to investigating and debunking pseudoscientific
claims. The Skeptic Society currently has over 55,000 members.
Shermer is also the producer and co-host of the 13-hour Fox Family television series Exploring the Unknown and since April 2004 has been a monthly columnist for Scientific American magazine with his Skeptic column. Shermer was once a fundamentalist Christian. Shermer is now a nontheist, and an advocate for humanist philosophy.
Early life and education
Michael Shermer received his Bachelor's degree
from Pepperdine University
in 1976 in Psychology
, his master's degree
from California State University, Fullerton
in Experimental Psychology
two years later, and his Ph.D.
from Claremont Graduate University
in History of Science
in 1991 (with a dissertation entitled "Heretic-Scientist: Alfred Russel Wallace
and the Evolution of Man: A Study on the Nature of Historical Change").
Shermer wrote, "I became a skeptic on Saturday, August 6, 1983, on the long climbing road to Loveland Pass, Colorado after months of training under the guidance of a 'nutritionist' with an unaccredited Ph.D. After years of practicing acupuncture, chiropractic and massage therapy, negative ions, rolfing, pyramid power, fundamentalist Christianity, and "a host of weird things" (with the exception of drugs) to improve his life and training, Shermer stopped rationalizing the failure of these practices.
Shermer began his undergraduate studies at Pepperdine University, initially majoring in Christian theology, later switching to psychology. However, his graduate studies in experimental psychology at California State University, Fullerton led to many after class discussions with professors Bayard Brattstrom and Meg White, which is when his "Christian ichthys got away, and with it my religion.
Before starting the skeptics society, he was a professor of the history of science at Occidental College.
Published works and ideas
Shermer is the author of several books that attempt to explain the ubiquity of irrational or poorly substantiated beliefs. In 1997 he wrote Why People Believe Weird Things, which explores a variety of "weird" ideas and groups (including cults), in the tradition of the skeptical writings of Martin Gardner. A revised and expanded edition was published in 2002. From the Introduction:
In How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, Shermer explored the psychology behind the belief in God. In the introduction Shermer wrote "Never in history have so many, and such a high percentage of the population, believed in God. Not only is God not dead as Nietzsche proclaimed, but he has never been more alive."
In early 2002, Shermer's Scientific American column introduced Shermer's Last Law, the notion that "any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God." Shermer's Last Law is a spin on Clarke's Third Law.
In 2002 Shermer and Alex Grobman wrote Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? which examined and refuted the Holocaust denial movement. The book recounts meeting various denialists and concludes that free speech is the best way to deal with pseudohistory.
In his 2006 book Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, Shermer marshals point-by-point arguments supporting evolution, sharply criticizing Intelligent design. The book also argues that science cannot invalidate religion, and that Christians and conservatives can and should accept evolution.
In June 2006, Shermer, who formerly expressed skepticism regarding the mainstream scientific view on global warming, wrote that, in view of the accumulation of evidence, this position is no longer tenable.
He attended and was a speaker at the Beyond Belief symposium on November 2006. He also spoke at the 2006 TED Conference on "Why people believe strange things.
Shermer made a guest appearance in a 2004 episode of Penn & Teller
, in which he argued that the Bible
was "mythic storytelling" from Showtime.Comand that literal interpretation of events described therein would "miss the point of the Bible." His stance was supported by the show's hosts, who have expressed their own atheist beliefs. The episode in question, The Bible: Fact or Fiction?
, sought to debunk the notion that the Bible is an empirically
reliable historical record. Opposing Shermer was Dr. Paul Maier
, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University
In 1995 Shermer appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to challenge Rosemary Altea's psychic claims, and appeared on Donahue in 1994 to respond to David Cole's Holocaust denial claims.
Shermer is a frequent guest on the skeptical podcast Skepticality.
Skeptics Society and Caltech Lecture Series
In 1992 he started the Skeptics Society, which produces Skeptic magazine and currently has over 55,000 members. In addition, the group organizes the Caltech Lecture Series which offers speakers on a wide range of topics relating to science, psychology, social issues, religion/atheism, skepticism, etc. Past speakers include Julia Sweeney, Richard Dawkins, Philip Zimbardo, Dinesh D'Souza, Steven Pinker, Carol Tavris, and Sam Harris. The lectures occur on Sunday afternoons, and are open to the public for a nominal fee.
Shermer lives in Altadena, California
, on the edge of a cliff in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains
atop which Mount Wilson
stands. He was born and raised in Southern California, graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in 1972. He earned a B.A. degree in psychology from Pepperdine University in 1976, an M.A. degree in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton in 1978, and a Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University in 1991. Shermer's academic career was interrupted by a ten-year career racing bicycles long distances, helping to found the 3,000-mile nonstop transcontinental bicycle Race Across America
(along with Lon Haldeman and John Marino), in which he competed five times (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1989), was Assistant Race Director six years, and Executive Race Director seven years. He has also produced several documentaries on cycling.
List of published works
- Sport Cycling: A Guide to Training, Racing, and Endurance 1985 ISBN 0-8092-5244-9
- Cycling: Endurance and Speed (Sportsperformance) 1987 ISBN 0-8092-4775-5
- Teach Your Child Science 1989 ISBN 0-929923-08-1
- Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. (1997, 2nd Revision edition 2002) ISBN 0-8050-7089-3
- Teach Your Child Math and Mathemagics 1999 ISBN 0-7373-0134-1
- The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense 2001 ISBN 0-19-514326-4
- How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science 2001 ISBN 0-613-35413-3
- The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience (ed.) 2002 ISBN 1-576-07653-9
- Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? 2002 ISBN 0-520-23469-3
- In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History 2002 ISBN 0-19-514830-4
- The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule 2004 ISBN 0-8050-7520-8
- Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown 2005 ISBN 0-8050-7708-1
- Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician's Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks 2006 ISBN 978-0307338402
- Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design 2006 ISBN 978-0-8050-8121-3
- The Mind of The Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics 2007 ISBN 978-0805078329
List of Skeptic columns published in Scientific American
- 2001-04 Colorful Pebbles and Darwin's Dictum
- 2001-05 The Erotic-Fierce People
- 2001-06 Fox's Flapdoodle
- 2001-07 Starbucks in the Forbidden City
- 2001-08 Deconstructing the Dead
- 2001-09 Nano Nonsense and Cryonics
- 2001-10 I Was Wrong
- 2001-11 Baloney Detection
- 2001-12 More Baloney Detection
- 2002-01 Shermer’s Last Law
- 2002-02 The Gradual Illumination of the Mind
- 2002-03 Hermits and Cranks
- 2002-04 Skepticism as a Virtue
- 2002-05 The Exquisite Balance
- 2002-06 The Shamans of Scientism
- 2002-07 Vox Populi
- 2002-08 Why ET Hasn’t Called
- 2002-09 Smart People Believe Weird Things
- 2002-10 The Physicist and the Abalone Diver
- 2002-11 Mesmerized by Magnetism
- 2002-12 The Captain Kirk Principle
- 2003-01 Digits and Fidgets
- 2003-02 Psychic Drift
- 2003-03 Demon-Haunted Brain
- 2003-04 I, Clone
- 2003-05 Show Me the Body
- 2003-06 Codified Claptrap
- 2003-07 Bottled Twaddle
- 2003-08 The Ignoble Savage
- 2003-09 The Domesticated Savage
- 2003-10 Remember the Six Billion
- 2003-11 Candle in the Dark
- 2003-12 What’s the Harm
- 2004-01 Bunkum!
- 2004-02 A Bounty of Science
- 2004-03 None So Blind
- 2004-04 Magic Water and Mencken’s Maxim
- 2004-05 The Enchanted Glass
- 2004-06 Death by Theory
- 2004-07 God’s Number Is Up
- 2004-08 Miracle on Probability Street
- 2004-09 Mustangs, Monists and Meaning
- 2004-10 The Myth Is the Message
- 2004-11 Flying Carpets and Scientifi c Prayers
- 2004-12 Common Sense
- 2005-01 Quantum Quackery
- 2005-02 Abducted!
- 2005-03 The Fossil Fallacy
- 2005-04 The Feynman-Tufte Principle
- 2005-05 Turn Me On, Dead Man
- 2005-06 Fahrenheit 2777
- 2005-07 Hope Springs Eternal
- 2005-08 Full of Holes
- 2005-09 Rumsfeld’s Wisdom
- 2005-10 Unweaving the Heart
- 2005-11 Rupert’s Resonance
- 2005-12 Mr. Skeptic Goes to Esalen
- 2006-01 Murdercide
- 2006-02 It’s Dogged as Does It
- 2006-03 Cures and Cons
- 2006-04 As Luck Would Have It
- 2006-05 SHAM Scam
- 2006-06 The Flipping Point
- 2006-07 The Political Brain
- 2006-08 Folk Science
- 2006-09 Fake, Mistake, Replicate
- 2006-10 Darwin on the Right
- 2006-11 Wronger Than Wrong
- 2006-12 Bowling for God
- 2007-01 Airborne Baloney
- 2007-02 Eat, Drink and Be Merry
- 2007-03 (Can't Get No) Satisfaction
- 2007-04 Free to Choose
- 2007-05 Bush's Mistake and Kennedy's Error
- 2007-06 The (Other) Secret
- 2007-07 The Prospects for Homo economicus
- 2007-08 Bad Apples and Bad Barrels
- 2007-09 Rational Atheism
- 2007-10 The Really Hard Science
- 2007-11 Weirdonomics and Quirkology
- 2007-12 An Unauthorized Autobiography of Science
- 2008-01 Evonomics
- 2008-02 The Mind of the Market
- 2008-03 Adam's Maxim and Spinoza's Conjecture
- 2008-04 Wag the Dog
- 2008-05 A New Phrenology?
- 2008-06 Expelled Exposed
- 2008-07 Sacred Science
- 2008-08 Wheat Grass Juice and Folk Medicine
- 2008-09 Folk Numeracy and Middle Land
- Multimedia files featuring Michael Shermer
- Video of Michael Shermer at the 2006 TED Conference, February 23, 2006
- Real Detroit Weekly Interview, February 7, 2007
- Skeptiko Audio Interview: Darwin, Evolution and Creativity, February 14, 2007
- Is Christianity Good for the World? – Debate with Dinesh D'Souza at the Oregon State University Socratic Club on October 15, 2007, part 1
- Is Christianity Good for the World? – Debate with Dinesh D'Souza at the Oregon State University Socratic Club on October 15, 2007, part 2
- Michael Shermer interviewed about "The Mind of the Market" on The Polyschizmatic Reprobates Hour
- An interview with Michael Shermer on The Marketplace of Ideas