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Michael Shermer

Michael Brant Shermer (born September 8, 1954) is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic,[1] which is largely devoted to investigating pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members.[2] Shermer also engages in debates on topics pertaining to pseudoscience and religion in which he promulgates the need for scientific skepticism.


Shermer is also the producer and co-host of the 13-hour Fox Family (now ABC Family) television series Exploring the Unknown. Since April 2001, he has been a monthly columnist for Scientific American magazine with his Skeptic column. Shermer states he was once a fundamentalist Christian, but converted from a belief in God during his graduate studies, and has described himself as an agnostic,[3] nontheist,[4][5] atheist[6][7] and advocate for humanist philosophy[8] as well as the science of morality.[9] He has expressed reservations about such labels, however, as he sees them being used in the service of 'pigeonholing,' and prefers to simply be called a skeptic.[6]


Early life, education and careerEdit

Shermer was born on September 8, 1954,[10] and raised in Southern California.[11] His parents divorced when he was four.[10] Both of his parents remarried, his mother to a man with three children, who became Shermer's stepsiblings, and his father to a woman with whom he had two daughters, Shermer's half-sisters. His father would later die of a heart attack in 1986, and his mother of brain cancer in 2000.[12]


Although Shermer went to Sunday school, he says that neither his biological nor stepparents or siblings were religious nor non-religious, as they did not hold much discussion on the topic, and did not attend church nor pray together. In 1971, at the beginning of his senior year in high school, Shermer announced he was a born again Christian, which came about through the influence of his best friend, George. For the next seven years he would evangelize door-to-door as part of his profoundly held beliefs.[12]


He graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in 1972. He began his undergraduate studies at Pepperdine University, initially majoring in Christian theology, later switching to psychology.[11] He completed his bachelor's degree in psychology/biology at Pepperdine in 1976.[13]


Shermer's graduate studies in experimental psychology at California State University, Fullerton, led to many after-class discussions with professors Bayard Brattstrom and Meg White. These,[14] along with his studies in ethology and cultural anthropology, led to him to question his religious beliefs, and by mid-way through his graduate training, he removed the Christian ichthys that he had been wearing around his neck.[12][14] Shermer completed his master's degree from California State University in experimental psychology in 1978.[13]

File:MichaelShermer4.jpg

Shermer began competitive bicycling in 1979, and spent a decade in the sport. During the course of his cycling, Shermer worked with cycling technologists in developing better products for the sport. During his association with Bell Helmets, a bicycle-race sponsor, Shermer advised them on design issues regarding their development of expanded-polystyrene for use in cycling helmets, which would absorb impact far better than the old leather "hairnet" helmets used by bicyclists for decades. Shermer advised them that if their helmets looked too much like motorcycle helmets, in which polystyrene was already being used, and not like the old hairnet helmets, that no serious cyclists or amateur would use them. This suggestion led to their first model, the V1 Pro, which looked like a black leather hairnet, but functioned on the inside like a motorcycle helmet. In 1982, Shermer worked with Dr. Wayman Spence, whose small supply company, Spenco Medical, adapted the gel technology Spence developed for bedridden patients with pressure sores into cycling gloves and saddles to alleviate the carpal tunnel syndrome and saddle sores suffered by cyclists.[15]


During the decade in which he raced long distances, he helped 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.[16] An acute medical condition is named for him: "Shermer's neck" is pain in and extreme weakness of the neck muscles found among long-distance bicyclists. Shermer suffered the condition during the 1983 Race Across America.[17] Shermer's embrace of scientific skepticism crystallized during his time as a cyclist, explaining, "I became a skeptic on Saturday, August 6, 1983, on the long climbing road to Loveland Pass, Colorado"[18] after months of training under the guidance of a "nutritionist" with an unaccredited Ph.D. After years of practicing acupuncture, chiropractic, 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.[19] Shermer would later produce several documentaries on cycling.[16]


Shermer earned his Ph.D. at Claremont Graduate University in history of science in 1991 (with his dissertation titled "Heretic-Scientist: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Evolution of Man: A Study on the Nature of Historical Change").[13] Shermer later based a full-length, 2002 book on his dissertation: In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History.[20]


Before starting the Skeptics Society, Shermer was a professor of the history of science at Occidental College, California. Since 2007, Shermer has been an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University.[13][21][22]


Skeptics Society and Caltech Lecture SeriesEdit

Main article: The Skeptics Society


In 1992 Shermer started the Skeptics Society, which produces Skeptic magazine and currently has over 55,000 members.[23] 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 Stephen Jay Gould, Jared Diamond, Donald Johanson, Julia Sweeney, Richard Dawkins, Philip Zimbardo, Steven Pinker, Carol Tavris, David Baltimore, Lisa Randall, Daniel Dennett, Tim Flannery, Lawrence Krauss, Michio Kaku, Susan Blackmore, Christof Koch, Alison Gopnik, Ursula Goodenough, Edward Tufte, Bjorn Lomborg, Sam Harris, Jeff Schweitzer and many others. The lectures occur on Sunday afternoons, and are open to the public for a nominal fee.[24]


Published worksEdit

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File:Michael Shermer wiki portrait2.jpg

Shermer is the author of several books that attempt to explain the ubiquity of irrational or poorly substantiated beliefs, including UFOs, Bigfoot, and paranormal claims. 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:


Template:Quote


In How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, Shermer explored the psychology behind the belief in God. In its 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 their book Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? which examined and refuted the Holocaust denial movement. This book recounts meeting various denialists and concludes that free speech is the best way to deal with pseudohistory.


Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown was released in 2005. Then his 2006 book Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, marshals point-by-point arguments supporting evolution, sharply criticizing Intelligent Design. This 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, the position of denying global warming is no longer tenable.[25]


The Mind of The Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics was released in 2007. In it Shermer reports on the findings of multiple behavioral and biochemical studies that address evolutionary explanations for modern behavior.


In February 2009, Shermer published The History of Science: A Sweeping Visage of Science and its History, a 25-hour audio lecture.


In May 2011, Shermer published The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.


Media appearances and lecturesEdit

Shermer has appeared on several television shows and documentaries. In addition, he appears regularly at conferences and other speaking engagements.Template:Citation needed


Shermer appeared as a guest on Donahue in 1994 to respond to Bradley Smith's and David Cole's Holocaust denial claims, and in 1995 on The Oprah Winfrey Show to challenge Rosemary Altea's psychic claims. Shermer made a guest appearance in a 2004 episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit!, in which he argued that events in the Bible constitute "mythic storytelling," rather than events described literally. His stance was supported by the show's hosts, who have expressed their own atheism. 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 Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University.[26]


Shermer made several appearances on NBC's daytime paranormal-themed show The Other Side in 1994 and 1995. After getting to know that show's producers, he made a formal pitch to their production company for his own skepticism-oriented reality show whose aim would be to present points of view of both believers and skeptics. His proposals were not fruitful, but several years later, one of the executives of that company went to work for the then-newly formed Fox Family Channel, and impressed with Shermer's show treatment, requested he pitch it to the network. The network picked up the series, Exploring the Unknown, of which Shermer became a producer and cohost. The series, which was budgeted at approximately $200,000USD per episode, was viewed by Shermer as a direct extension of the work done at the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine, and would enable Shermer to reach more people. The equivocal title was chosen so as to not tip off guests or viewers as to the skeptical nature of the show.[27] Various segments from Exploring the Unknown can be found on Shermer's YouTube channel.[28]


Shermer has been a speaker at all three Beyond Belief events from 2006 to 2008. He also spoke at the 2006 TED Conference on "Why people believe strange things."[29]


Shermer is a frequent guest on Skepticality, the official podcast of Skeptic.Template:Citation needed


On August 21, 2010, Dr. Shermer was honored with an award recognizing his contributions in the skeptical field, from The IIG during its 10th Anniversary Gala.[30]


Exploring the UnknownEdit

The following are segments Shermer's 1999 Fox Family TV series, Exploring the Unknown.

  • "Michael Shermer and Out of Body Experiences"[31]
  • "Michael Shermer on How to Fake UFO Photographs"[32]
  • "Michael Shermer on Spoonbending"[33]
  • "Michael Shermer Firewalking Across Hot Coals"[34]
  • "Michael Shermer Tests the Polygraph and Lie Detection, Part 1"[35]
  • "Michael Shermer Tests the Polygraph and Lie Detection, Part 2"[36]
  • "Michael Shermer Learns the Art of Con Games, Part 1"[37]
  • "Michael Shermer Learns the Art of Con Games, Part 2"[38]
  • "Michael Shermer Decodes the Bible Code"[39]
  • "Michael Shermer Explores Graphology/Handwriting Analysis, Part 1"[40]
  • "Michael Shermer Explores Graphology/Handwriting Analysis, Part 2"[41]
  • "Michael Shermer Remote Viewing Experiment Part 1"[42]
  • "Michael Shermer Remote Viewing Experiment Part 2"[43]


Other television and film appearancesEdit


Radio and Web appearancesEdit


Personal lifeEdit

Shermer lives in Altadena, California, on the edge of a cliff in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains atop which Mount Wilson stands.[50]


Politically, Shermer has described himself as a libertarian.[51]


List of books by ShermerEdit


List of Skeptic columns published in Scientific AmericanEdit

  • 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
  • 2008–10 A Random Walk Through Middle Land
  • 2008–11 Stage Fright
  • 2008–12 Patternicity
  • 2009–01 Telephone to the Dead
  • 2009–02 Darwin Misunderstood
  • 2009–07 I Want to Believe
  • 2009–08 Shakespeare, Interrupted
  • 2009–09 Skeptic – Paranoia Strikes Deep
  • 2009–10 Captain Hook Meets Adam Smith
  • 2009–11 Will E.T. Look Like Us?
  • 2009–12 Political Science: The Psychological Differences in the U.S.'s Red–Blue Divide
  • 2010–01 Kool–Aid Psychology: Realism versus Optimism
  • 2010–02 Cultivate Your Garden
  • 2010–03 Surviving Death on Larry King Live
  • 2010–04 The Sensed–Presence Effect
  • 2010–05 Doing Science in the Past
  • 2010–06 When Ideas Have Sex
  • 2010–07 When Scientists Sin
  • 2010–08 Our Neanderthal Brethren
  • 2010–09 Democracy’s Laboratory
  • 2010–10 Can You Hear Me Now
  • 2010–11 The Skeptic’s Skeptic
  • 2010–12 The Conspiracy Theory Detector
  • 2011–01 The Science of Right and Wrong
  • 2011-02 Houdini's Advice
  • 2011-03 Wrong Again
  • 2011-04 UFOs, UAPs, CRAPs
  • 2011-05 Extra Sensory Pornception
  • 2011-06 Gambling on ET


See alsoEdit


ReferencesEdit

  1. Template:Cite web
  2. Template:Cite news
  3. Michael Shermer. Why People Believe Weird Things ; Henry Holt; 2002 edition; Page 136
  4. Shermer, Michael. "Response To Positive Atheism's December, 1999, Column 'Atheism & Fundamentalism'", Positive Atheism, November 14, 1999
  5. Michael Shermer. "Testing Tenure " at skeptic.com
  6. 6.0 6.1 Why I Am An Atheist, Michael Shermer, June 2005 (accessed 31 March 2008)
  7. Shermer was also identified as an atheist when he appeared on the December 16, 2010 episode of Stossel.
  8. Template:Cite web Template:Dead link
  9. Shermer talks about the science of right and wrong
  10. 10.0 10.1 Shermer, Michael. The Believing Brain. 2011. Times Books. Chapter 4
  11. 11.0 11.1 Shermer, 2002, page 127
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 The Believing Brain, Chapter 6
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Template:Cite news
  14. 14.0 14.1 Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, 2002, page 128
  15. Michael Shermer. The Mind of The Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics 2007 Pages 59 -61 ISBN 978-0805078329
  16. 16.0 16.1 Curriculum Vitae for Michael Shermer at michaelshermer.com
  17. Template:Cite web
  18. Shermer, 2002, page 15.
  19. Shermer, 2002, page 13-15.
  20. In Darwin's Shadow. Amazon.com. accessed September 19, 2011.
  21. Template:Cite news
  22. [citation needed]
  23. Template:Cite news
  24. Skeptic: Lectures & Events: Caltech Lectures Skeptics Society
  25. Template:Cite news
  26. 26.0 26.1 "The Bible: Fact or Fiction?" Penn & Teller: Bullshit! Season 2
  27. Michael Shermer. The Borderlands of Science; 2001; Oxford University Press; Pages 10–13.
  28. Michael Shermer's YouTube channel
  29. Michael Shermer: Professional Skeptic, TED Conference Nov. 2006
  30. "The IIG Celebrates its 10th Anniversary" Independent Investigations Group; Accessed September 5, 2010
  31. "Michael Shermer and Out of Body Experiences", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, originally broadcast on a news program, August 1983
  32. "Michael Shermer on How to Fake UFO Photographs", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  33. "Michael Shermer on Spoonbending", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  34. "Michael Shermer Firewalking Across Hot Coals", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, June 2, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  35. "Michael Shermer Tests the Polygraph and Lie Detection, Part 1", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  36. "Michael Shermer Tests the Polygraph and Lie Detection, Part 2", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  37. "Michael Shermer Learns the Art of Con Games, Part 1", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  38. "Michael Shermer Learns the Art of Con Games, Part 2", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  39. "Michael Shermer Decodes the Bible Code", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  40. "Michael Shermer Explores Graphology/Handwriting Analysis, Part 1", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  41. "Michael Shermer Explores Graphology/Handwriting Analysis, Part 2", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  42. "Michael Shermer Remote Viewing Experiment Part 1", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 9, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  43. "Michael Shermer Remote Viewing Experiment Part 2 ", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  44. "Michael Shermer Abducted by Aliens in Race Across America", Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, June 19, 2007, Originally broadcast on television news segment, August 1983
  45. "Does God Have a Future?", Nightline, ABC, March 23, 2010, Full debate on YouTube here
  46. "What Were You Thinking?", Dateline NBC, MSNBC, April 25, 2010
  47. "Did You See That?", Dateline NBC, MSNBC, July 16, 2010
  48. "Mr. Deity and the Skeptic", YouTube, September 15, 2009
  49. Template:Cite web
  50. Shermer, Michael; "The Skeptic's Chaplain: Richard Dawkins as a Fountainhead of Skepticism"; Skeptic magazine; Vol. 13, 2007; Page 47.
  51. Template:Cite news


External linksEdit

Template:Sister project links


MediaEdit

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