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Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time Paperback – 14 Sep 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press (14 Sept. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0285638033
  • ISBN-13: 978-0285638037
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 60,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Shermer founded 'Skeptic' magazine and website (www.skeptic.com) and is a contributing editor, and columnist, for 'Scientific American'. Michael Shermer frequently appears on television and radio as a scientific expert.

Product Description

Review

"A masterwork about intellectual doubt and better than any other book I've read on such bizarre subjects." -- 'Buzz'

"Shermer probes, with compassionate curiosity, the more interesting question of why smart people cling to bizarre beliefs." -- Anjana Ajuha, 'The Times'

"Skepticism is the agent of reason against organised irrationalism... one of the keys to human social and civic decency." -- Stephen Jay Gould

"This sparkling book romps over the range of science and anti-science." -- Jared Diamond

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 April 1999
Format: Paperback
This is an essential and fairminded book which vigourously argues the principles of scepticism and scientific method as a strategy for defending rationality against claims of the paranormal, psuedo-science and - unusually - psuedo-history. He does not flinch from criticising the use of irrational arguments as a debating tool against irrational arguments, pointing out that this is often counter-productive as well as a betrayal of the principles of scepticism. The book contains two long sections dealing specifically with the spurious claims of creationism to be considered a science, and with the Holocaust denial. I found these particularly interesting as neither controversy has been aired much in Britain. The list of twenty-five false arguments of creationists, exposing the logical errors underlying their claims, is very useful both in itself and as a more general illustration of the type of errors one encounters on a daily basis in the media and elsewhere. It astonishes me that anyone should feel it necessary to include a chapter on 'How we Know the Holocaust Happened'. The fact that Shermer does include this chapter is, I suppose, in itself an illustration of the dangers of psuedo-history and other forms of sloppy thinking. In summary, this book is not so much about why people believe wierd things - although he does go into that too - as how to know that the things they believe are wierd.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Oct. 2003
Format: Paperback
This is the best book I have read in the search for rational thinking. The author clearly describes the reasons why "smart" people are prone to believe things that are "weird". Unless you regularly practice your critical thinking skills anyone can adopt weird beliefs without acknowledging how strange they may actually be.
In my experience people have a strong desire to believe what they want to believe, to an extent, even when evidence might be pointing to the opposite of a belief. I myself used to be unaware of the level to which I believed things without any good supporting evidence. This book is great for opening your eyes to the false notions that are projected around contemporary society and to help you spot them.
People who hold beliefs very strongly have a strong influence over people as convictions held with confidence are contagious. In any theory you here throughout your daily life, analyse it using the methods described in this book, and remember it doesn't matter who says it or how they say it, it's what they're saying that's important.
I strongly reccomend this book and believe that it will help YOU as it helped me, overcome the immense amount of horse manure that society throws at you which is claimed to be the TRUTH.
After reading this book I find myself analysing newspapers and television reports aswell as what influential people in my life say CRITICALLY and AUTOMATICALLY. If you want to reduce the confusion in your life caused by irrational beliefs this book is a great place to start. However if you like to hold on to beliefs like a comfy old sweater then you may find it a hard read.
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Mar. 1999
Format: Paperback
My first impression upon finishing this book is that the title is wrong. Though Dr. Shermer addresses some issues about why people believe weird things, for the most part this book is more about the weird things people believe, and not so much about the reasons they believe them. For a better discussion about why people believe weird things, I suggest Thomas Gilovich's book "How we know what isn't so."
Shermer devotes all of chapter one to expanding on the definition and characteristics of a skeptic, and all of chapter two to describing science. This lays the bedrock for his future discussions about pseudosciences such as creationism, and helps to make clear the reasons these pseudosciences and superstitions fail to meet the demanding requirements of science. He explains that a skeptic is not synonymous with a cynic. Instead, a skeptic is someone who questions the validity of a particular claim by calling for evidence to prove or disprove it. As such, skepticism is an essential part of the scientific method.
Chapter 3 is a jewel. It describes 25 ways in which thinking goes wrong. Reading this chapter left me wondering if these rules for fallacious reasoning are not encoded somewhere as the rules for participation in some of the more notorious Internet newsgroups devoted to various mythologies.
The second part of the book examines claims of the paranormal, near-death experiences, alien abductions, witch crazes, and cults. Although these stories make interesting reading, they are same examples of debunking we have seen for years. I, for one, would appreciate a fresher skeptical approach that is not so (apparently) reluctant to challenge the claims of institutionalized religions.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 29 July 1998
Format: Hardcover
Shermer presents an excellent analysis of the differences between science and pseudoscience, and reveals in clear terms the underpinnings of the scientific method. Anyone who can read this book and fail to understand the differences between objective science and its antithesis isn't reading very deeply.
Following this introductory material Shermer presents us with a number of concrete examples, including Holocaust denial, UFOlogy, and the "recovered memory" phenomenon. All are presented with clarity, wit, and purpose and illustrate the book's primary topic extremely well.
Highly recommended.
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