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50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True Paperback – December 20, 2011
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“What would it take to create a world in which fantasy is not confused for fact and public policy is based on objective reality? I don't know for sure. But a good place to start would be for everyone on Earth to read this book."
—Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium
"Prometheus, the premiere publisher of skeptical literature, here issues a book that deserves to be shelved alongside the works of such giants of the field as [James] Randi, [Michael] Shermer, [Paul] Kurtz, and [Joe] Nickell. With a combination of lively prose and keen analytical reasoning, the author examines some of contemporary culture's most commonly held beliefs… A valuable, not to mention very entertainingly written, addition to the literature of skepticism."
- Booklist starred review
"This book will blow readers' minds (and it should) by making them realize how easy it is to hold a strong belief without applying either critical thinking or skepticism. Harrison…pokes gaping holes into common beliefs in the supernatural…and the tendency to believe that only personal religious tenets are correct despite total ignorance about other religious doctrine… Harrison guides us gently but firmly along an explorative path of our collective illogic, strong tendencies toward easy answers and magical thinking, and susceptibility to confirmation bias. He doesn't judge readers for buying into beliefs that have no real basis in fact and science, but instead asks them to second-guess the tendency to readily accept the unproven and the illogical as true. VERDICT: An outstanding book that is required reading no matter what you believe."
“A journalist turns a skeptical eye on beliefs ranging from astrology to Atlantis, showing that scientific discovery can be just as fascinating as myth.”
“[A]n entertaining look at why some people believe in astrology (instead of astronomy) or are still looking for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Others believe that aliens from outer space helped build the pyramids or their bodies are stored in Area 51. Harrison says that humans are a believing species and, as such, prone to believe in things that lack any scientific proof and can be absurd.”
-Bookviews by Alan Caruba
“Rarely has a skeptic gone to battle against nonsense with the warmth and humor found in 50 Popular Beliefs….[A] grand tour though the bizarre ecosystem of irrational beliefs and extraordinary claims. Harrison deftly and compellingly demonstrates how science and reality are preferable to superstition and delusion.... It is an ideal text for an introductory Science and Pseudoscience or Critical Thinking course. It is clear, comprehensive, non-threatening yet thought provoking while remaining accessible. It’s also a much welcomed and needed addition to every skeptic’s reading list.”
“This book is a must-read for skeptics and non-skeptics alike. It will excite all critical thinkers and will get believers to reexamine many popular beliefs that they think are true. I recommend it to all who are concerned and deeply worried about the ‘gigantic cloud of danger’ looming large over our world today due to popular dogmatic and irrational beliefs.”
“[An] absolute ‘must read’… Each belief is covered with a general overview, the rational behind them and the scientific research that fails to support them, all presented with liberal witticism. Harrison champions the need for maintaining constant vigilance to avoid becoming prey to unfounded beliefs that on the face of things, probably won’t cause any harm but could well lead to falling victim to more dangerous, erroneous beliefs. Well written, thoroughly researched and entertaining, this important book teaches the importance of being a skeptic.”
-Monsters and Critics
“[I]f you do not want your teenagers growing up believing that an angel is watching over them, or the Bible contains a code that reveals the future, or that global warming is purely a political issue, then give them this book.”
-Science Fact and Fiction Concatenation
About the Author
GUY P. HARRISON (San Diego, CA) is an award-winning journalist and the author of Think, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True, 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God, and Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know about Our Biological Diversity. Find him on online at www.guypharrison.com, www.facebook.com/guypharrisonauthor, and on Twitter @Harrisonauthor.
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The book is 458 pages long and it is divided into eight sections; “Magical Thinking”, “Out There”, “Science and Reason”, “Strange Healings”, “Lure of the Gods”, “Bizarre Beings”, Weird Places”, and “Dreaming of the End”. Examples of chapters are; “A Psychic Read my Mind”, “Nostradamus Saw It All Coming”, “NASA Faked the Moon Landing”, “Global Warming Is a Political Issue and Nothing More”, “Astrology is Scientific”, “Alternative Medicine Is Better”, “Homeopathy Really Works, and No Side Effects”, “No Vaccines for My Baby”, “Creationism is True and Evolution is Not”, “A TV Preacher Needs My Money”, “Bigfoot Lives and Cryptozoology Is Real Science”, etc. A long list of scientists and skeptics helped the author research and gather material for the book and Dr. Phil Plait an Astronomer wrote the foreword of the book.
I should add that the author is certainly not the kind of person who dismisses everything that seems odd, and he certainly does not hold that “scientists are always right”. On the contrary, he has a chapter dedicated to that kind of naiveté as well. His point is that you should examine the evidence for and against and make a rational choice. It is just that so many people underestimate, or are unaware of existing scientific evidence, and other good evidence, while clinging to anecdotal evidence, cultural beliefs, wishful thinking, and bad evidence.
Some of the irrational beliefs discussed in the book are held by most people in the US. He provides percentages in many cases. In some cases there is no good evidence for the belief, for example, the belief in Big Foot. In other cases the irrational belief is plain idiotic, not only because the so called evidence for it is nonsensical or worthless, but because the evidence against the belief is overwhelming and/or conclusive. An example of this is the “NASA Faked the Moon Landing conspiracy theory”.
In general irrational beliefs are potentially dangerous but in some cases the irrational belief can be especially dangerous. An example of this is the faulty belief that vaccines cause autism. There are also irrational beliefs that are both idiotic and dangerous, for example, “The Holocaust Never Happened”. The 50 topics he chose are certainly not all equal in that regard. I wish the author had made more of an effort distinguishing between relatively benign believes such as belief in reincarnation and angels and truly lunatic and/or dangerous beliefs. Fully examining 50 beliefs in 458 pages is also very difficult, which means that the book lacks some depth. Another minor complaint I have is that the book is very much focused on irrational beliefs common in the United States, and the types of irrational beliefs people hold tend to vary around the world. A few international examples of irrational beliefs that are not common in the US would have been nice too. Comparing the so called evidence for Big Foot with that of Swedish Vitter folk (tiny hidden people) could have been illuminating.
Irrational beliefs are quite common and we probably all hold at least some irrational beliefs. If you find one of your beliefs examined in this book you don’t have to instantly through it out based on one book but at least honestly consider the arguments and the evidence. In general we should all examine our beliefs and question them, and this book could be a great tool for doing that. Unfortunately I believe that many people will still have a very hard time honestly examining their own beliefs and this book may only anger them. They want to confirm their own beliefs not question them. The fact that the author clearly is an atheist/agnostic may also give many people in the US an excuse for dismissing it. However, this is an interesting, entertaining, well written and needed book so I recommend this book to everyone.
The only complaint I have is that the author spends several pages from chapter to chapter explaining his credentials. He comes to the book eminently qualified, but his experience would be better placed at the beginning of the book prior to the 50 chapters of explanations.
I eat at a restaurant, and one of the servers was curious about it so I lent it to her. She said she really likes it so far.
used to say. I already knew just about all of it, and now I have better arguments to post on Facebook.