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Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown Hardcover – December 9, 2004
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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.
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
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As the founder of Skeptic magazine Michael Shermer knows a little something about skepticism. In fact Mr. Shermer along James (The Amazing) Randi and Martin Gardner have essentially created a new skeptic movement. The Skeptic philosophy is a non-partisan, scientific movement using the tools of logic and the scientific method to determine the truth or falsity of claims both large and small. Skeptic targets range from New Age mysticism to fundamentalist Creationism to Holocaust deniers.
Mr. Shermer goes beyond analysis and sees science as the next stage in the evolution of morality beyond organized religion stating that, "What we really need is a new set of morals and an ethical system designed for our time and place, not one scripted for a pastoral/agricultural people who live 4000 years ago". Later he states that, "Just as science has been our candle in the dark illuminating our path into the heart of human nature, science is our greatest hope for the future, showing us how best we can utilize our natures to ensure our survival." I'm not sure that science is quite up to the task of defining morality but I do agree that it holds a better chance than fundamentalist Christianity.
Science Friction is a collection of articles written by Mr. Shermer so don't expect any overarching theme. The articles range from an ill-advised attempt by a group of atheists, agnostics and progressives to label themselves as `Brights' to an analysis of the true cause of the mutiny on the bounty. As a long time reader of Skeptic magazine I have to warn other readers that you may find many of the chapters in Science Friction very familiar. The chapters range from breezy and readable to extremely dense as in the chapter `Exorcising Laplace's Demon'. I have to say that I prefer the books of Martin Gardner but Mr. Shermer is a fine heir apparent to the king of debunking.
Skeptical religious doctrine enclosed. Mr. Shermer was a theology student when he first started college, he knows what religious folks say about his cause. He also understands that they need to defend the position that they have had for the past hundred and fifty (150) years or more. I do not think he cares if people believe in God of not, just that they have to believe in science as well. After all, how are you suppose to talk on the phone if you do not believe in it working.
His big story in this book is about evolution, as you might expect. But there was a surprise in `Exorcising Laplace's Demon' where he starts to discuss loops and repeating loops, the subject of "Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid," another book I am reading right now, sort of (heavy going, you know, I am not all that smart). Mr. Shermer relates the loops to history and reoccurrences that seem to happen. It is also interesting about how he parses history into various simple to complex developments. He sort of like explains how sometimes things change and sometimes not. Like the scoring for tennis is the same as it has been since its inception, yet it is vary convoluted and difficult to understand. Why not have a simple one, two, three, or two, four, six scoring system? But this is a simple system, as he would have explained, that the players have accommodated themselves to, and there is little to no reason to change the scoring system, so it stays as confusing as ever.
The last chapter is an eulogy for Stephen Jay Gould because Mr. Gould was instrumental in the authors career.
Throughout this book, I had to keep on reminding myself or making sure of why I believed in God and Jesus, and the best I could come up with is that science, for all it's power and ability, it can not answer "Why?" To be sure science is not studied to answer that, but to circle around it and try to get as much information as possible otherwise.