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Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (Anglais) Broché – décembre 2002

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Why People Believe Weird Things With this no-holds-barred assault on popular myths and prejudices, a science historian debunks psychobabble and extraordinary, nonsensical claims. 25 illustrations. Full description

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424 internautes sur 455 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The weird things people believe. 5 mars 1999
Par Duwayne Anderson - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
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. Is transubstantiation any more credible than claims of the paranormal? Are alien abduction stories any less credible than the Book of Mormon's claims about a large, literate Hebrew society in America 2,000 years ago, that used horse-drawn chariots and steel swords? Are witch crazes any more significant than some Christians who let their children die rather than bringing them proper medical treatment? I think not, and I believe it is time for skeptics to broaden their portfolio beyond the usual array of paranormal activities and alien abductions.
Shermer devotes chapters 9 through 11 to the conflict between creationism and evolution. This section of the book has a wonderful summary of the legal battles fought to keep the religion of creationism out of public schools. Chapter 10 has an excellent description of what is evolution, and a very brief summary of 25 arguments used by creationists against evolution, along with counter arguments used by scientists. Interestingly enough, Shermer offers very little in the way of direct evidence against creationism - of which there is a tremendous amount - and focuses mostly on how to defend evolution. Unfortunately, he has truncated his 25 arguments so much that they are of little practical use - especially against more polished debaters. Shermer admits this at the beginning of the chapter, and does offer an excellent bibliography of more detailed references for the reader.
Shermer's defense of evolution bogs down when he encroaches on the idea that evolution is not a threat to religion. [This is how I interpreted Shermer, though he is not entirely clear about his personal feelings regarding this matter.] Science most certainly is a threat to some religions - creationism, for example (and Shermer argues throughout his book that creationism is a religion - which is why it should not be taught in public schools). It seems obvious to me that sometimes science does threaten religion (more some than others) - but that is religion's problem, not science'. Scientists should stop apologizing for that fact.
In trying to sooth the potential conflict between science and religion, Shermer quotes Stephen J. Gould (one of my favorite authors). Interestingly, Gould (uncharacteristically) offers a spectacular example of some of the bogus reasoning Shermer discredits in chapter 3. Gould says (page 132):
"Unless at least half my colleagues are dunces, there can be - on the most raw and empirical grounds - no conflict between science and religion."
Here, Gould violates Shermer's rule 19 (overreliance on authorities - Gould's colleagues in this case). Then, Gould leaves us wondering if, instead, we are to consider the other half of Gould's colleagues (the half that apparently do not agree with him) as dunces.
To his credit, Shermer provides a definition of religion on page 145 (though he offers no definition of God). I am not sure he makes the matter any clearer by doing so, however, since his definition of religion (as a method) places it as the antithesis of science (also defined as a method). Yet, I got the impression from his book that Shermer agrees (on a fundamental level) that there need not be any disagreement between science and religion.
Part 4 discusses racism and pseudohistory in the case of holocaust deniers. This part seemed out of place in the book primarily because Shermer spends comparatively little time discussing the weirdness of the opposing camp, instead focusing mostly on his perceptions. Though I agree with him on most points, I could no shake the feeling the chapters belong in a different book with a different title.
In the last section (section 5) Shermer gets back on track and finishes with an interesting view of the societal role science plays, and the roll it will play in the future. Shermer holds hope for the human race, in spite of its sometimes-overbearing tendency toward mysticism. He also gives a wonderful summary of why people believe weird things: because it feels good. Though I would like to know more about why it feels good, I cannot argue with his conclusion.
Overall, this was an excellent book. Dr. Shermer is a clear thinker. His ability to focus on the central issues and facts makes this book refreshingly illuminating. His personal touch, brought through stories of actual life experiences, adds to the pleasure of reading his book.
Duwayne Anderson
118 internautes sur 132 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Not your typical Skeptic 17 mai 2000
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
When the top Skeptics of the 20th century were listed by Skeptical Enquirer recently, Michael Shermer was not among those named.
He should have been.
Unlike the average debunker of false lore and hoaxes, Shermer starts from the premise that those who believe in weird things are intelligent people who have been miseducated.
One of the best sections of this book lists and explains 25 errors in thinking which lead people to fail to critically evaluate the claims of Randenoids, Holocaust revisionists, creationists, astrologers, and others. He then proceeds to use these principles, first to explore the contradictions of the most "unlikeliest cult of all" (the followers of Ayn Rand who claim to be disciples of objective reason) and then to explain the evidence for the Holocaust and Evolution.
Anyone who needs a tune-up on her or his objectivism can stand reading this book. That means nearly everyone should own a copy.
58 internautes sur 65 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An adequate, if uneven, primer on pseudoscience 29 juin 2002
Par D. Cloyce Smith - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
While I agree with others who've noted that the book is deceptively titled (Shermer spends only the last four pages speculating about the "why" of his topic), this volume remains a useful and entertaining introduction refuting a random assortment of anti-scientific claims, ranging from the silly to the scary.
The first part, "Science and Skepticism," is by far the best: Shermer explains the meaning of skepticism and offers guidelines for detecting doubtful scientific and historical pronouncements. The remainder of the book--a series of case studies--is somewhat ill-assorted, in large part because the chapters are, for the most part, revised versions of previously published articles and little attempt was made to weave everything into a coherent unit.
Readers looking for detail on any particular subject should look elsewhere. There are, of course, far better books debunking Holocaust denial, creationism, IQ measurement, UFOs, etc. (One odd error by Shermer: his chapter on "medieval witch crazes" actually discusses the epidemics that swept Shakespearean England and colonial America--long after anyone's definition of the medieval period.) Nevertheless, as an overview, however, this volume succeeds nicely.
The weakest chapter, it must be said, is the one attacking Frank Tipler and his eschatological philosophy-physics. Much of Tipler's over-the-top nonsense is certainly deserving of refutation, but Shermer spends several pages inexplicably discussing the fact that Tipler was an oldest child and presenting the assertion that the eldest sibling is more likely to hold conservative views. This presentation certainly doesn't refute Tipler's theories, and it fails even as a scientifically-based psychological underpinning. The study cited by Shermer compared variables that were randomly selected (for example: age, sex, and nationality--but not ethnicity, eye color, height, weight, diet, and wellness) and, in many cases, subjectively measured (socioeconomic status, religious and political attitudes, conflict with parents..., travel, education). The study concluded that birth order was the strongest factor in "receptivity" to "innovation in science" (which itself must be subjectively defined). Furthermore, to fit Tipler into this preordained mold, Shermer simply waves a wand and asserts that Tipler's beliefs are ultra-conservative. As Shermer points out elsewhere in this book, subjective measurements and subjective definitions do not lead to objective conclusions, and what may be true of a nebulously defined group will not necessarily be true of an individual, so it's a bit perplexing that he himself falls into these traps.
Finally, the reader should be warned that the paperback edition is one of the most atrociously typeset books I've ever purchased. (I have the first printing, so later printings might be in better shape.) The prologue ends mid-sentence, entries (e.g., between Polkinghorne and Rand) are omitted from the bibliography, and parts of paragraphs are missing from the text, leaving the reader guessing what was supposed to be there.
55 internautes sur 64 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Call to Arms for Critical Thinkers 31 décembre 2000
Par Jon Penney - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
After reading most of the reviews here, I came to wonder what people were expecting from this book. People seem have expected either 1) an in depth scientific or sociological explication of "why" people believe certain phenomenon; or 2) an academic paper, complete with multiple sources, extensive discussions of methodoloy, hundreds of footnotes or lengthy citations, and that thick and dense prose one can only find in a PhD thesis. Ladies and Gentlemen, you cannot do either of the above in 300 pages. But fear not. Shermer does you all one better: he reasons, presents, charts out, explains, and does so *without* that condescending thick and dense prose one can only find in a PHD thesis.

In Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer takes us through a well reasoned, insightful analysis of many of the social phenomena -- superstition, UFOs, Cult, Holocaust Denial -- which perplex and at times plague contemporary western society.

But he does so in a way that is neither blatant nor condescending. He does not argue that people who deny Evolution, see UFOS, or propagate pseudo-science are suffering from neuropathological condition (as some people seem to have expected Shermer to argue in this book). He also argues that "rationalist" philosophers are always subject to their own errors in reasoning (see the chapter on Ayn Rand and her "cult"). Hence, Shermer attributes such beliefs to problems in people's reasoning and way of seeing the world -- eg., their "baloney detection kits" -- which can be understood in lieu of various flawed assumptions, logical errors and methods of argumentation. (See Chapter 3's "25 Fallacies").

Shermer is thorough, but clear in his style and presentation, as seen in his illustration of Creationist arguments and their proper responses. And for those philosophers of science out there, Shermer even deals with some of the problems raised for the "culture" of science -- a la Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions -- in a way that is satisfying to the scientist and casual critical thinker alike.

In the end, this book will not pass as an academic polemic against pseudo-thought, but it is here where the book finds its proper place. "Why People Believe..." is a clear policy statement for critical thinkers: To cleave with Occham's Razor, but at the same time follow Spinoza's example; we ought to try to *understand* why believe the things they do, rather than bewail.
24 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Enjoyable and informative 21 mai 2000
Par TMac Tom - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Shermer's analysis of some of the stranger social phenomenon of our time is crisp. Many have said that he doesn't talk about why people believe wierd things (the title of the book, after all, slightly overblown as it is) but he does offer some general explanations of strange behavior. (The "feedback" system he describes, for example.) The really good thing about his book is how it shows that anyone, even the most rational of people, can fall into "cultish" or peculiar behavior. The chapter on Ayn Rand and how her philosophy of Objectivism, which is supposed to be all about rationality and individuality, turned into a cult centered on her is a fantastic read, and goes beyond the usual focusing on UFOs, Roswell, JFK assassination type of material. But, all of that's there too, in its bizarre glory. There's also an excellent chapter(s) on the phenomenon of Holocaust denial that, while utterly wrong on its face, isn't always just about anti-Semitism, as Shermer points out. He does a very good recap of how historical evidence is collected, and how that collection builds a preponderance of information, something that deniers usually don't get. Shermer's an historian, so historical aspects are a strength to his book, as you would expect.
Shermer sings the praises of rationality and skepticism, things I'm all in favor of, but he doesn't get as negative about irrational behavior as some other skeptics have. He claims that he himself, in the past, participated in a couple of bizarre fads and faddish behaviors, so he has an understanding for their appeal. A sense of mystery, alienation, deviancy, a bit of paranoia, societal reinforcement, all are ways that bizarre ideas proliferate, and we're all susceptable to them from time to time.
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