The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense reprint Edition
Use the Amazon App to scan ISBNs and compare prices.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
"Quick-witted, shrewd, open-minded--these barely describe Michael Shermer's latest confection of intriguing stories, arguments, and insightful observations. His cruise through the shadowlands of science makes a fascinating expedition of the mind."--Gregory Benford, author of Deep Time
"Whether the issue is alternative medicine or environmental threats, cloning or race, cosmology or hypnosis, Shermer keeps his focus on the central question: Where do we draw the line between solid science, pseudoscience, and the untamed territory in between? This is a detailed, multi-faceted exploration of these ever-shifting borderlands, as well as the fascinating people who populate them."--K.C. Cole, author of The Hole in the Universe: How Scientists Peered Over the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything
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 monthly columnist and contributing editor for Scientific American, and hosts the Skeptics Lecture Series at California Institute of Technology. He has authored several popular books, including Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Believe: The Search for God in and Age of Science, and Denying History. Shermer is also an NPR radio science correspondent. He lives in Los Angeles, California.
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
He is an excellent writer who has developed a lively style. He turns dry material (the integrity of science) into very entertaining books. You will note that my review jumps around quite a bit. That's because the book does too. It does not always follow a sequential pattern. However, it makes the book more fun to read.
At the beginning of the book, the author provides you with very good critical thinking tools, including 10 different steps to test a claim, and how to spot a crank. He also provides his assessment of the scientific credibility of various theories by assigning "fuzzy fractions." A 0.9 denotes a theory that is totally credible and well supported by science. A 0.1 denotes just the opposite. On such grounds, I like his distinction between SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) where he assigns it a respectable 0.5 and UFO where he assigns it a disrespectable 0.1. Thus, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence may have scientific merit. Meanwhile, testimonials of alien abductions have none.
Near the end of the book, Shermer comes back to providing more thinking tools as he shares six key steps on how to develop one's creative genius in the chapter: The Amadeus Myth. This is a fascinating chapter where he uncovers that what we interpret as gifted genius is incredibly hard work. We just observe the end product: virtuosity. But, this masks the incredibly hard life long work these individuals had undertaken whether they were Mozart or Einstein.
Over several chapters he covers the interesting research from Sulloway who conducted psychological analysis of what makes a likely scientific innovator. Through his work, the author studies in detail the profile of Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, and other scientists. Such luminaries typically have a very high openness to new ideas combined with an equally high level of skepticism. And, it is this combination that makes them unique. How many people do you know are open to new radical concepts, yet have the critical thinking quotient of testing such wild claims. That's the type of mind that can differentiate between SETI and UFOs without being either embarrassed or gullible.
The author also provides an excellent synthesis on the subject of ecocide. In just a few pages, he summarizes very efficiently what Jared Diamond took over 500 pages to investigate in his most recent book "Collapse." Shermer describes how several regional primitive civilizations exploited their natural resources to the detriment of their own survival. These included the Incas of Machu Picchu and the Polynesians of Easter Island among others. He then asks the chilling question of what will we do? Will we prevent further environmental deterioration? Or, will we commit ecocide too? All along he promotes policies based on the best scientific evidence supported by data absent of any political bias.
Throughout the book, there is an underlying admiration of Darwin. He is the benchmark of scientific integrity, and scientific timelessness. He was with few peers in his capability of fighting the status quo, questioning his theories until he had anticipated every rational rebuttal the scientific community could throw at him. In one chapter, he contrasts Darwin with Freud. Darwin was concerned primarily with the scientific basis of his theories. He never stopped refining them, researching them deeper to make sure of their validity. As a result, Darwin's posterity is second to none. Instead, Freud got more concerned about fame and posterity than the soundness of his theories. As a result, posterity was not kind to Freud. As a sign of things to come within the book, early on Shermer had assigned a fuzzy fraction of 0.9 to Darwin's theory of evolution. Meanwhile, he assigned only a 0.1 to Freudian psychoanalytic theory. In other words, Darwin's theory fully withstood the test of time, while Freud did not.
Here Shermer expands his ideas of separation of church and science a little more closely by examining what he calls "the borderlands of science." He is trying to make a distinction between those things which are on the fringe but still good science and those things that are clearly not scientific. It is a good distinction to make since, as Shermer points out, all revolutions in science were once "fringe" ideas. I was particularly taken with his example concerning aliens (i.e. extra-terrestrial life). Though there has never been a UFO encounter with a solid basis in fact (taking all of these "experiences" beyond the realm of science), SETI is science, albeit science on the fringe.
It is in his discussions of individual scientists where Shermer oversteps himself a bit. He tries to give us a picture of the type of mind it takes to be open to fringe ideas and still be scientifically oriented. It is a worthwhile idea and he has interesting things to say about scientists like Darwin. However, I found his use of the "five factor personality inventory" to be disturbing close to various types of pointless psychology and not very revealing. I also found his dominant interest in Stephen Jay Gould, Alfred Russel Wallace and Carl Sagan to get a bit boring after awhile.
Still, Shermer is clearly a very careful thinker with important things to say. I appreciate his support of the scientific ideal and his attempts to separate scientific modes of thought from other types of knowledge. Unfortunately, the people who most need to read this, probably will not and, even if they did, would be close-minded to his points. For the open-minded, there is much to gain from this book. There are many things here to chew over in your mind. I might point you to some of Shermer's other books first (Why People Believe Weird Things and How We Believe) which are better than this one but The Borderlands of Science remains a worthwhile read.
I wasn't always sure where Shermer was headed next, but whether he is wading into the life of Alfred Lord Wallace or considering the effect of birth order in adoption of novel scientific theory, his discussion is absolutely compelling. I would start into a chapter absolutely sure I wasn't interested, only to find myself unable to stop reading until the chapter was over.
In fairness, the book is disjointed in that it turns to a variety of loosely related topics with little or no transistion. Still, Shermer makes each topic interesting and, taken as a whole, the book makes a compelling case for the power of science as a tool for interpreting our world. The discussion of Alfred Lord Wallace is marvellous, and includes insights I have read nowhere else.