Shermer, Michael 1954–
Shermer, Michael 1954–
(Michael Brant Shermer)
PERSONAL: Born September 8, 1954, in Glendale, CA; son of Richard and Lois Shermer; married Kim Ziel, July 7, 1990; children: Devin. Education: Pepperdine University, B.A., 1976; California State University, Fullerton, M.A., 1978; Claremont Graduate School, Ph.D., 1991. Politics: Libertarian. Religion: Atheist. Hobbies and other interests: "Cycling, skiing, basketball, reading, reading, and reading."
CAREER: Writer, professor, and publisher. Glendale College, Glendale, CA, psychology instructor, 1980–86, assistant professor, 1986–91; Skeptic magazine, founder and publisher, beginning 1991, founding publisher; KPCC 89.3 FM, Pasadena, CA, host of Science Talk radio program and science correspondent, 1998–. Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA, adjunct professor, 1989–98; California State University, Los Angeles, CA, adjunct professor, 1991–93; Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family Channel, co-host and producer. Skeptic Society, director, beginning 1991, then executive director; the Skeptics Distinguished Lecture Series, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, host.
Appeared on television shows, including 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, Tom Snyder, Donahue, Oprah, Sally, Lezza, and Unsolved Mysteries; appeared on documentaries that aired on Arts and Entertainment, Discovery Channel, Public Broadcasting Corporation, the History Channel, the Science Channel, and the Learning Channel.
AWARDS, HONORS: Alumni of the Year, California State University, Fullerton, 1997.
Sport Cycling: A Guide to Training, Racing, and Endurance, Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1985.
Cycling: Endurance and Speed, Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1987.
Teach Your Child Science: Making Science Fun for the Both of You, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1989.
(With George Yates) Meet the Challenge of Arthritis: A Motivational Program to Help You Live a Better Life, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1990.
(With Arthur Benjamin) Teach Your Child Math: Making Math Fun for the Both of You, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1991.
(With Arthur Benjamin) Mathemagics: How to Look like a Genius without Really Trying, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1993.
Race across America, WRS Publishing (Waco, TX), 1993.
(Editor, with Benno Maidhof-Christig and Lee Traynor) Argumente und Kritik: Skeptisches Jahrbuch. Rassiismus, die Leugnung des Holocaust, AIDS ohne HIV und andere fragwuerdige Behauptungen, IBDK Verlag (Berlin, Germany), 1997.
Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, W.H. Freeman (New York, NY), 1997, revised and expanded edition, W.H. Freeman/Owl Books (New York, NY), 2002.
(Editor, with Benno Maidhof-Christig and Lee Traynor) Endzeittaumel: Propheten, Prognosen, Propaganda, IBDK Verlag (Berlin, Germany), 1998.
How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, W.H. Freeman (New York, NY), 2000, revised 2nd edition, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Alex Grobman) Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?, foreword by Arthur Hertzberg, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2000.
The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.
The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience, ABC-CLIO (Santa Barbara, CA), 2002.
Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown (essays), Henry Holt/Times Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributing editor and monthly columnist for Scientific American; reviews books for periodicals, includ-ing Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Scientific American, American Scientist, and Skeptic; contributor to periodicals, including Los Angeles Times, Complexity, Nonlinear Science, and Skeptic.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Why Darwin Matters: Evolution, Intelligent Design, and the Battle for Science and Religion for Henry Holt/Times Books.
SIDELIGHTS: As founder of the Skeptic Society and holder of degrees in psychology and the history of science, Michael Shermer has written a number of books on scientific, psychological, and historical subjects which incorporate his diverse background. He has questioned such assorted topics as the roots of religious belief, pseudoscience, and why certain groups do not believe the Holocaust occurred. Shermer's first books look at the inner workings of the mind. Whether in sports training, coaching kids in math and science, or teaching science and critical thinking, Shermer offers how-to advice to allow readers to understand better how to motivate and understand themselves and others.
Sport Cycling: A Guide to Training, Racing, and Endurance details a series of long-distance road races—three trips from Seattle to San Diego and the Great American Bike Race across America, which was broadcast on American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.'s (ABC) Wide World of Sports. Along with the information about the physical training, Shermer includes "his positive point of view on hypnosis, chiropractors, mental imaging, and massage," according to Thomas K. Fry in the Library Journal.
Teach Your Child Science: Making Science Fun for the Both of You is a how-to guide for parents who want to cultivate their children's curiosity. Shermer contends that children lose much of their innate curiosity due to "school and social pressure," according to a reviewer in Astronomy magazine. By working together with their children on special science projects, parents can prevent their potential geniuses from becoming workaday drones. The book "provides good advice and sensible projects," where parents and children can both have fun, according to the critic in Astronomy.
In Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, Shermer analyzes the underlying reasons that humans sometimes "entertain the most fantastic notions," as Diane White in the Boston Globe put it. The root cause, according to Shermer, is a basic desire to feel good; and strange phenomena can provide comfort to some. "From psychic telephone hot lines to theories of racial supremacy," observed White, Shermer runs the gamut of topics. She concluded that the book "deserves a wide audience, perhaps among readers who think they're too smart to believe weird things."
Shermer continues to look at the development of belief systemin How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science. In this book, Shermer explains what he believes are the roots of the phenomenon of religion. He also lays out his theory for why humanity believes in God. A critic in Publishers Weekly explained: "Shermer wonders why religious belief … remains widespread in contemporary America, confounding expectations that progress in science and technology should bring a corresponding decline in faith." Included in the text are the results and analysis of a survey he conducted on these subjects. Jim Walker of Nobeliefs.com concluded: "Encyclopedic in scope, yet eminently readable, How We Believe gives us fresh insights on the nature of belief and finding meaning in a meaningless universe."
Cowritten with Alex Grobman, Shermer analyzes another religious-related topic in Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? In this book, the authors look at those who believe the Holocaust did not occur and why. The coauthors also outline the facts that support the idea that the Holocaust did happen, consider other events in history which have also been denied or distorted over time, and offer a methodology for counteracting such revisionism. Reviewing the book in CLIO, Michael Bernard-Donals stated: "As good as it is as a strong antidote for the deniers' arguments, it does not go to the heart of why the deniers should be able to make their case in the first place."
Shermer takes on a scientific subject in a different way in the biography, In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History. Independent of Charles Darwin, the nineteenth-century naturalist Wallace developed a theory of natural selection and evolution and was considered a co-discoverer of the theories. Shermer spent fifteen years researching the book, which covers the whole of Wallace's long life and takes a psychological approach to understanding Wallace. A Kirkus Reviews contributor stated: "Along with the basic facts of Wallace's life and thought, Shermer explores the process of creative thought, the politics of science, and the sociology of scholarly communication."
Like Darwin, Wallace made a number of harrowing journeys to collect samples to prove his theory of natural selection. However, Wallace's journeys were financed at great personal cost: he sold precious pieces of his personal collection. Despite having nearly lost his life several times in the process and earning respect from many scientists for his work, Wallace's scientific credibility among his peers was eventually undermined because he believed in phrenology (the study of bumps on the skull) and spiritualism. Gloria Maxwell of Library Journal commented: "[Shermer's] expertise in analyzing the life and paradoxical beliefs of this complex man elevate 'the last great Victorian' to a position of prominence as one of the significant leaders in modern science."
The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Share, Care, and Follow the Golden Rule looks at the idea of ethics, including where morals and morality come from and how they have evolved over time. Shermer takes a Humanist perspective, arguing that people have needed morality since the beginning of existence, especially as they formed bigger social groups for social control. Shermer also believes that morality should be provisional and not a single, comprehensive system. Jende Huang in the Humanist explained: "By grounding morals outside of the individual but still focusing on actual human need, The Science of Good and Evil helps make another case for why morality can and should exist outside of a theistic framework." Summarizing the books's appeal, Garrett Eastman of the Library Journal called it "Challenging but engaging reading."
Shermer collects fourteen of his essays that have previously appeared in periodicals in Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown. Covering diverse topics, many essays analyze controversial subjects in science and pseudoscience using scientific methods. For example, Shermer offers his disbelieving appraisal of the concept of intelligent design in one essay, while sharing how easy it was to be an accurate television psychic in another. A few of the essays touch on personal topics such as the death of Shermer's mother and how he better understands athletes because of his own professional bike racing activities. A reviewer in Science News noted that the essays "can be extremely entertaining." While the critic in Publishers Weekly found the amount of detail included sometimes overwhelming, the critic also noted: "Shermer furthers the cause of skepticism and makes a great case for its role in all aspects of human endeavor."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 5th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Astronomy, January, 1991, review of Teach Your Child Science: Making Science Fun for the Both of You, pp. 96-97.
Boston Globe, April 24, 1997, Diane White, review of Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time.
CLIO, summer, 2001, Michael Bernard-Donals, review of Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?, p. 475.
Humanist, November-December, 2004, Jende Huang, review of The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule, p. 38.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace, p. 941.
Library Journal, July, 1985, Thomas K. Fry, review of Sport Cycling: A Guide to Training, Racing, and Endurance, p. 89; October 1, 2002, Gloria Maxwell, review of In Darwin's Shadow, p. 124; February 15, 2004, Garrett Eastman, review of The Science of Good and Evil, p. 158.
Publishers Weekly, September 27, 1999, review of How We Believe, p. 95; November 8, 2004, review of Science Fiction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown, p. 42.
Science News, January 8, 2005, review of Science Fiction, p. 31.
American Scientist Online, http://www.americanscientist.org/ (October 10, 2005), interview with Michael Shermer.
Nobeliefs.com, http://www.nobeliefs.com/ (March 20, 2003), Jim Walker, review of How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science.
Skeptic Magazine Web site, http://www.skeptic.com/ (October 10, 2005), biography of Michael Shermer.