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Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown Paperback – December 27, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Shermer, a skeptic by nature and trade (he founded Skeptic magazine), reveals how scientific reasoning can remove blinders in any field of study and why some biases are, nevertheless, unavoidable. The book's first essays are highly engaging and will have readers re-examining their own ways of thinking about the world. The introduction, for instance, demonstrates with optical illusions and anecdotes how the mind can be tricked into believing the untrue. "Psychic for a Day" has the author using psychology and statistics to become a medium. "The New New Creationism" refutes the claim that intelligent-design theory is a bona fide scientific theory. When Shermer (Why People Believe Weird Things) makes his essays personal, as in "Shadowlands," in which he describes trying unproven treatments to help his dying mother, he draws readers in. Unfortunately, data often take precedence over prose, as in "History's Heretics," which includes 25 lists of the most and least influential people and events of the past, including the author's top 100. Shermer furthers the cause of skepticism and makes a great case for its role in all aspects of human endeavor, but he'll lose many readers in a bog of details. 46 b&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The author of several books and a columnist for Scientific American, Shermer here gathers a dozen of his articles from other sources, such as Skeptic, the magazine he founded. Eclectic in range, the pieces can be personal (an account of his mother's death), formidably theoretical (a deep dive into historical causation), or playful (an essay about top-10-type lists of great persons, events, or inventions). The predominant subject, though, is the one that has garnered Shermer such a loyal readership: confronting unscientific thought. Shermer delights in debunking superstition and ignorance about science and considers it a worthy vocation since 45 percent of Americans, according to a 2001 Gallup survey Shermer cites, believe that God created humans a few thousand years ago. In one piece, the author illustrates how easily a poseur--himself--can give convincing psychic readings, and another exposition disputes so-called intelligent design theory, a species of creationism. Homages to his heroes, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, conclude the collection and indicate its variety. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 073945630X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739456309
  • ASIN: 0805079149
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,896,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com) and the Director of The Skeptics Society. He is a Visiting Associate at the California Institute of Technology, and hosts the Skeptics Lecture Series at Cal Tech. He has authored several popular books on science, scientific history, and the philosophy and history of science, including Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, and Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? (with Alex Grobman). Shermer is also a radio personality and the host of the Fox Family Channel's Exploring the Unknown. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This may be a bit esoteric for the general reader, but for those with more than a passing interest in science and its struggles with both the true believers from without and the heretics from within, this is a first class read. Skeptic magazine publisher Michael Shermer addresses the friction within science in 14 well polished essays ranging in subject matter from playing psychic for a day to what to call rational skeptics to an in-depth look at the work of the late Stephan Jay Gould. Ten of the essays previously appeared in Skeptic or other magazines or journals.

Shermer's style reminds me somewhat of Gould himself since both men write readable prose that sometimes tends toward the ornate, replete with allusions and asides as well as a tendency toward a fine examination of relevant minutia. I was in particular somewhat surprised and amused at Shermer's lengthy, but fascinating treatment of the controversy over skeptics calling themselves "Brights" (Chapter 2, "The Big 'Bright' Brouhaha"). It seems that while fussing over whether the cause of rational skepticism is being held back by the lack of an agreeable label to pin on practitioners, somebody came up with the tag "Brights." Oh boy. Shermer and others embraced the term enthusiastically. However, one doesn't need a PhD in human psychology to realize that some people ("dims"?) might find the label arrogant and delusive. Turns out that most rational skeptics themselves rejected the term, and I presume it is now as dead as the dodo--however not before Shermer and others gave it more than the good old college try. It would appear that as objective as one can be about the self-serving delusions of others, when it comes to ourselves, we sometimes can't find a mirror anywhere in the house.
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38 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Robert Elgie on June 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
These are, for the most part, slight pieces, a somewhat haphazard collection mostly lacking thematic unity. By slight, I mean that Shermer did not provide me with much new information or many new insights into old information.

There's an account of his experience impersonating a variety of psychics; an attempt at a Darwinian interpretation of the mutiny on the "Bounty" which adds nothing, really, to what's been known for years; a thirteen-page essay called "Exorcising Laplace's Demon" in which Laplace appears only in the final paragraph; a series of top-whatever lists gathered from here and there for no very clear reason. And so on.

I would have saved myself a good deal of time if I had gone straight to page 173 ("The New New Creationism") and left it at that. This piece provides a ten-point rebuttal of the Intelligent Design argument that is useful for those of us who don't know much about this latest metamorphosis of creationism.

But by then Shermer's credibility was so damaged that even this piece I approach warily. Shermer the skeptic is so error-prone that his unintended effect is to make me skeptical of everything he says. His introduction indicates that many of these pieces have been previously published. This I find astonishing. The first chapter alone contains so many serious grammar errors that had Shermer submitted it when he was a high-school senior, at least where I grew up at about the same time period, he would have forfeited his diploma.

I'm not a scientist, and so when I find a science writer telling me that malaria is transmitted by "a virus-infested mosquito" (try "parasite" and "infected"); that helicobacter pylori is also a virus; that "flagella" is singular, I have to wonder what other nonsense is getting past me.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Brian Glass on April 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
I bought this book hoping for something akin to Penn and Teller's B******t. I like to think of myself as a skeptical thinker and was hoping to see these psychics and televangelists get a little comeuppance but all I got was a guy who is way too enamored with himself and his chosen profession. I am not religious by any means but I found his constant carping against religion tiring. I wouldn't mind if it were a matter of merely pointing out the con men that use religion for their own purpose but you start to lose my interest when you generalize everyone in a group and than start the name calling. Pretty petty for a man of science I thought . I know several smart compassionate people who also happen to be religious just as I know smart compassionate atheists. As far as I'm concerned it's not religion that causes conflict but the "my group is right" mentality of all special interest groups. I wasn't expecting to be recruited to the Brights movement. Speaking of which, there was way too much discussion on the naming of the Bright movement and I can't help but think this would only be interesting to a Bright.

I think I could have lived with the God bashing if there had at least been something interesting here. In one chapter Shermer attacks historians for using other than comparative, scientific methods. He sites "Germs, Guns and Steel" by Jared Diamond but I was never sure to what effect. I was confused as to whether he was agreeing or disagreeing with the conclusions. I have read Diamond's book and it seemed to me Shermer was drawing the same conclusions but presenting it as a wholly original idea proving his point. Or maybe I just didn't understand what he was talking about. This book is definitely not laymen friendly (in my case anyway).
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