Michael Shermer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"Shermer" redirects here. For the American soccer player, see Kirk Shermer.
Michael Shermer
Michael Shermer wiki portrait4.jpg
Shermer on the Skeptics Society Geology Tour on June 8, 2007.
Born Michael Brant Shermer
(1954-09-08) September 8, 1954 (age 60)
Residence Altadena, California, USA
Alma mater Pepperdine University (B.A., 1976)
California State University (M.A., 1978)
Claremont Graduate University (Ph.D., 1991)
Occupation Academic historian of science and editor
Title Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic, Senior Research Fellow at Claremont Graduate University and Adjunct Professor at Chapman University

Michael Brant Shermer (born September 8, 1954) is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic,[1] which is largely devoted to investigating pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members.[2] Shermer also engages in debates on topics pertaining to pseudoscience and religion in which he emphasizes scientific skepticism.

Shermer is also the producer and co-host of the 13-hour Fox Family television series Exploring the Unknown. Since April 2001, he has been a monthly columnist for Scientific American magazine with his Skeptic column. He is also a scientific advisor to the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).[3]

Shermer states he was once a fundamentalist Christian, but ceased to believe in the existence of God during his graduate studies. He accepts the labels agnostic,[4] nontheist,[5][6] atheist and others.[7][8] He has expressed reservations about such labels for his lack of belief in a God, however, as he sees them being used in the service of "pigeonholing", and prefers to simply be called a skeptic.[7] He also describes himself as an advocate for humanist philosophy[9] as well as the science of morality.[10]

Early life[edit]

Shermer and his sister Tina[11] grew up in Southern California.[12][13] His parents divorced when he was four[12] and later remarried, his mother to a man with three children, who became Shermer's stepsiblings, and his father to a woman with whom he had two daughters, Shermer's half-sisters. His father would later die of a heart attack in 1986, and his mother of brain cancer in 2000.[14]

Although Shermer went to Sunday school, he says that neither his biological nor stepparents or siblings were religious nor non-religious, as they did not hold much discussion on the topic, and did not attend church nor pray together. In 1971, at the beginning of his senior year in high school, Shermer announced he was a born again Christian, which came about through the influence of his best friend, George. For the next seven years he would evangelize door-to-door as part of his profoundly held beliefs.[14]

Shermer was raised with guns. His stepfather was a hunter who took Shermer and their black Labrador hunting dogs with him on hunting excursions half a dozen times a year, shooting game such as dove, duck and quail with a 20-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns. They ate everything they killed, for which Shermer's stepfather also displayed culinary skills. Growing up Shermer owned a BB gun, then a pellet gun, then a 20-gauge shotgun, and then a 12-gauge shotgun.[15]

Shermer graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in 1972. He began his undergraduate studies at Pepperdine University, initially majoring in Christian theology, later switching to psychology.[13][16] He completed his bachelor's degree in psychology/biology at Pepperdine in 1976.[17]

Competitive bicycling[edit]

Shermer is a cycling enthusiast and has been involved in the development of cycling gear.

Shermer began competitive bicycling in 1979, and spent a decade as a professional rider. Shermer's best known bicycling is in the very long distance ultramarathon road racing discipline.[18]

During the course of his cycling career, Shermer worked with cycling technologists in developing better products for the sport. During his association with Bell Helmets, a bicycle-race sponsor, Shermer advised them on design issues regarding their development of expanded-polystyrene for use in cycling helmets, which would absorb impact far better than the old leather "hairnet" helmets used by bicyclists for decades. Shermer advised them that if their helmets looked too much like motorcycle helmets, in which polystyrene was already being used, and not like the old hairnet helmets, no serious cyclists or amateur would use them. This suggestion led to their first model, the V1 Pro, which looked like a black leather hairnet, but functioned on the inside like a motorcycle helmet. In 1982, Shermer worked with Wayman Spence, whose small supply company, Spenco Medical, adapted the gel technology Spence developed for bedridden patients with pressure sores into cycling gloves and saddles to alleviate the carpal tunnel syndrome and saddle sores suffered by cyclists.[19]

During the decade in which he raced long distances, he helped to found the 3,000-mile nonstop transcontinental bicycle Race Across America (known as "RAAM", along with Lon Haldeman and John Marino), in which he competed five times (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1989), was assistant race director for six years, and executive race director for seven years.[20] An acute medical condition is named for him: "Shermer Neck" is pain in and extreme weakness of the neck muscles found among long-distance bicyclists. Shermer suffered the condition during the 1983 Race Across America.[21] Shermer's embrace of scientific skepticism crystallized during his time as a cyclist, explaining, "I became a skeptic on Saturday, August 6, 1983, on the long climbing road to Loveland Pass, Colorado"[22] after months of training under the guidance of a "nutritionist" with an unaccredited Ph.D. After years of practicing acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, negative ions, rolfing, pyramid power, fundamentalist Christianity, and "a host of weird things" (with the exception of drugs) to improve his life and training, Shermer stopped rationalizing the failure of these practices.[23] Shermer would later produce several documentaries on cycling.[20]

Shermer still cycles actively (as of 2012) and participated in the Furnace Creek 508 in October 2011, a qualifying race for RAAM, finishing second in the four man team category.[16][24]

Shermer has written on the subject of pervasive doping in competitive cycling and a game theoretic view of the dynamics driving the problem in several sports. He wrote specifically about r-EPO doping, which he saw as both widespread and well known within the sport, which was later shown to be instrumental in the notorious doping scandal surrounding Lance Armstrong.[25][26][27]

Graduate studies and teaching[edit]

Shermer's graduate studies in experimental psychology at California State University, Fullerton, led to many after-class discussions with professors Bayard Brattstrom and Meg White. These,[28] along with his studies in ethology and cultural anthropology, led him to question his religious beliefs, and by mid-way through his graduate training, he removed the Christian ichthys that he had been wearing around his neck.[14][28] Shermer completed his master's degree from California State University in experimental psychology in 1978.[17]

Shermer earned his Ph.D. at Claremont Graduate University in history of science in 1991 (with his dissertation titled "Heretic-Scientist: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Evolution of Man: A Study on the Nature of Historical Change").[17] Shermer later based a full-length, 2002 book on his dissertation: In Darwin's Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History.[29]

Before starting the Skeptics Society, Shermer was an adjunct professor of the history of science at Occidental College, California. Since 2007, Shermer has been a senior research fellow at Claremont Graduate University. Since 2011, Shermer has been also an adjunct professor at Chapman University.[30]

Scientific skepticsm[edit]

In 1992 Shermer founded the Skeptics Society, which produces Skeptic magazine and organizes the Caltech Lecture Series. It currently has over 55,000 members.[2][31]

Shermer is also a scientific advisor to the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).[3]

Published works[edit]

Shermer in 2008.

Shermer is the author of books which attempt to explain the ubiquity of irrational or poorly substantiated beliefs, including UFOs, Bigfoot, and paranormal claims. In 1997 he wrote Why People Believe Weird Things, which explores a variety of "weird" ideas and groups (including cults), in the tradition of the skeptical writings of Martin Gardner. A revised and expanded edition was published in 2002. From the Introduction:

So we are left with the legacy of two types of thinking errors: Type 1 Error: believing a falsehood and Type 2 Error: rejecting a truth. ... Believers in UFOs, alien abductions, ESP, and psychic phenomena have committed a Type 1 Error in thinking: they are believing a falsehood. ... It's not that these folks are ignorant or uninformed; they are intelligent but misinformed. Their thinking has gone wrong.

— Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, 1997, 2002, Introduction

In How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, Shermer explored the psychology behind the belief in God. In its introduction Shermer wrote "Never in history have so many, and such a high percentage of the population, believed in God. Not only is God not dead as Nietzsche proclaimed, but he has never been more alive."

Since April 2001, he has written the monthly Skeptic column for Scientific American. He has also contributed to Time magazine.[32]

In February 2002, he characterized the position that "God had no part in the process [of the evolution of mankind]" as the "standard scientific theory".[33] this was criticized by fellow scientist Eugenie Scott in January 2006, who commented that science makes no claim about God one way or the other.[34]

In May 2002, Shermer and Alex Grobman published their book Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? which examined and refuted the Holocaust denial movement. This book recounts meeting various denialists and concludes that free speech is the best way to deal with pseudohistory.

Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown was released in 2005. Then his 2006 book Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, marshals point-by-point arguments supporting evolution, sharply criticizing Intelligent Design. This book also argues that science cannot invalidate religion, and that Christians and conservatives can and should accept evolution.

In June 2006, Shermer, who formerly expressed skepticism regarding the mainstream scientific view on global warming, wrote that, in view of the accumulation of evidence, the position of denying global warming is no longer tenable.[35]

The Mind of The Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics was released in 2007. In it Shermer reports on the findings of multiple behavioral and biochemical studies that address evolutionary explanations for modern behavior.

In February 2009, Shermer published The History of Science: A Sweeping Visage of Science and its History, a 25-hour audio lecture.

In May 2011, Shermer published The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.

Prior to work on science and skepticism, Shermer published books on cycling and others on child education in the math and science disciplines. These include collaborations with Arthur Benjamin.[16]

Media appearances and lectures[edit]

Shermer giving a talk on the evolution of economic systems in 2007 at The Amaz!ng Meeting 5.[36] He addressed this topic in his book The Mind of The Market.

Shermer appeared as a guest on Donahue in 1994 to respond to Bradley Smith's and David Cole's Holocaust denial claims, and in 1995 on The Oprah Winfrey Show to challenge Rosemary Altea's psychic claims. Shermer made a guest appearance in a 2004 episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit!, in which he argued that events in the Bible constitute "mythic storytelling," rather than events described literally. His stance was supported by the show's hosts, who have expressed their own atheism. The episode in question, The Bible: Fact or Fiction?, sought to debunk the notion that the Bible is an empirically reliable historical record. Opposing Shermer was Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University.[37]

Shermer made several appearances on NBC's daytime paranormal-themed show The Other Side in 1994 and 1995. After getting to know that show's producers, he made a formal pitch to their production company for his own skepticism-oriented reality show whose aim would be to present points of view of both believers and skeptics. His proposals were not fruitful, but several years later, one of the executives of that company went to work for the then-newly formed Fox Family Channel, and impressed with Shermer's show treatment, requested he pitch it to the network. The network picked up the series, Exploring the Unknown, of which Shermer became a producer and cohost. The series, which was budgeted at approximately $200,000USD per episode, was viewed by Shermer as a direct extension of the work done at the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine, and would enable Shermer to reach more people. The equivocal title was chosen so as to not tip off guests or viewers as to the skeptical nature of the show.[38] Various segments from Exploring the Unknown can be found on Shermer's YouTube channel.[39]

In 1999 Shermer produced and was the co-host for the Fox Family TV series, Exploring the Unknown.

Shermer has been a speaker at all three Beyond Belief events from 2006 to 2008. He also spoke at the 2006 TED Conference on "Why people believe strange things."[40]

Shermer is an occasional guest on Skepticality, the official podcast of Skeptic.[25]

Shermer has debated Deepak Chopra on multiple occasions,[41][42] including during their March 2010 appearance on the ABC News program Nightline.[43] He has named Chopra as his personal favourite debating partner.[16]

On August 21, 2010, Shermer was honored with an award recognizing his contributions in the skeptical field, from The Independent Investigations Group during its 10th Anniversary Gala.[44]

Personal life[edit]

As of 2007 Shermer lives in Altadena, California, on the edge of a cliff in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains atop which Mount Wilson stands.[45] He married Jennifer Graf on June 25, 2014.[46] The ceremony was performed by Shermer's sister, Tina, who was ordained online for the occasion.[11]

Politically, Shermer has described himself as a lifelong libertarian. The first President he voted for was Richard Nixon in 1972, which in light of the Watergate scandal, he calls his "most embarrassing vote". In 2000 he voted for Harry Browne in order to "vote his conscience", on the assumption that the winner of the Al Gore-George W. Bush contest would be irrelevant. He later regretted this assumption, believing that Bush's foreign policy made the world more dangerous, and voted for John Kerry in 2004. Shermer names Thomas Jefferson as his favorite President, for his championing of liberty and his application of scientific thinking to the political, economic, and social spheres. Shermer says of Jefferson, "When he dined alone at the White House there was more intelligence in that room than when John F. Kennedy hosted a dinner there for a roomful of Nobel laureates."[47]

In an early 2013 issue of Skeptic Shermer stated that he opposes gun control measures, primarily because of his beliefs in the principle of increasing individual freedom and decreased government intervention, and also because he has owned guns for most of his life. As an adult, he owned a Ruger .357 Magnum pistol with hollow-tip bullets for a quarter century for protection, though he eventually took it out of the house and later got rid of it entirely. Though he no longer owns guns, he continues to support the right to own guns to protect one's family.[15] However, in a column he wrote later that October, he indicated that the data on gun homicides, suicides and accidental shootings may make some gun control measures necessary.[48]




Media work[edit]


Exploring the Unknown
Other television and film appearances

Radio and Web appearances[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shermer, Michael (ed.). "Masthead". Skeptic. Retrieved 2014-09-05. 
  2. ^ a b "Making a living of bullshit detecting". VUE Weekly. August 27, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  3. ^ a b "About ACSH: Scientific Advisors". American Council on Science and Health. Retrieved December 31, 2013.
  4. ^ Michael Shermer. Why People Believe Weird Things ; Henry Holt; 2002 edition; Page 136
  5. ^ Shermer, Michael. "Response To Positive Atheism's December, 1999, Column 'Atheism & Fundamentalism'", Positive Atheism, November 14, 1999
  6. ^ Michael Shermer. "Testing Tenure " at skeptic.com
  7. ^ a b Why I Am An Atheist, Michael Shermer, June 2005 (accessed 31 March 2008)
  8. ^ Shermer was also identified as an atheist when he appeared on the December 16, 2010 episode of Stossel.
  9. ^ "Humanist Manifesto III Public Signers". American Humanist Association. 2008. Retrieved 2012-04-09. 
  10. ^ Shermer talks about the science of right and wrong
  11. ^ a b Shermer, Michael (June 25, 2014). "Married by Minister Tina, AKA my sister. Ordained online on the spot with Open Ministry (free instant!) what a world". Twitter.
  12. ^ a b Shermer, Michael. The Believing Brain. 2011. Times Books. Chapter 4
  13. ^ a b Shermer, 2002, page 127
  14. ^ a b c Shermer, The Believing Brain, Chapter 6
  15. ^ a b Shermer, Michael (2013). "The Sandy Hook Effect". Skeptic. Vol. 18 No. 1. p. 39
  16. ^ a b c d "Michael Shermer". Meet The Skeptics. November 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  17. ^ a b c "About Us: Michael Shermer". The Skeptics Society. 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  18. ^ "Michael Shermer - Ultra Cycling Hall of Fame". UltraMarathon Cycling Association. Retrieved 6 February 2014.  Shermer is a founding member of the Ultra Cycling Hall of Fame
  19. ^ Michael Shermer. The Mind of The Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics 2007 Pages 59 -61 ISBN 978-0-8050-7832-9
  20. ^ a b "Michael Shermer: Curriculum Vitae". michaelshermer.com. Retrieved June 18, 2012.
  21. ^ Libby. "A Pain in the Neck: Shermer's Neck". UltraMarathon Cycling Association. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  22. ^ Shermer, 2002, page 15.
  23. ^ Shermer, 2002, page 13-15.
  24. ^ "2011 Furnace Creek 508 - Great American Toad - team data". AdventureCORPS, Inc. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  25. ^ a b c "Skepticality: Episode 200. Michael Shermer". Skepticality. 29 January 2013. Retrieved 3 February 2014. , 1h20 onward
  26. ^ "Nash Equilibrium, the Omerta Rule, and Doping in Cycling". True/Slant. 7 July 2010. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  27. ^ "The Doping Dilemma". Scientific American. 2008. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  28. ^ a b Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, 2002, page 128
  29. ^ In Darwin's Shadow. Amazon.com. accessed September 19, 2011.
  30. ^ "Curriculum Vitae: Michael Brant Shermer". michaelshermer.com. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
  31. ^ Skeptic: Lectures & Events: Caltech Lectures Skeptics Society
  32. ^ Shermer, Michael (November 25, 2014). "The Reason Every One of Us Should Be Thankful". Time.
  33. ^ Shermer, Michael. "The Gradual Illumination of the Mind". Scientific American. Retrieved 17 May 2014. 
  34. ^ Scott, Eugenie. (2006). "Intelligent Design and the Creationism/Evolution Controversy" (00:42:42~00:43:53). University of Michigan. YouTube. July 12, 2013.
  35. ^ Shermer, Michael (June 2006). "The Flipping Point". Scientific American. Retrieved 2006-12-11. 
  36. ^ Alison Smith, The Amazing Meeting 5. SkepticReport, 1 March 2007
  37. ^ a b "The Bible: Fact or Fiction?" Penn & Teller: Bullshit! Season 2
  38. ^ Michael Shermer. The Borderlands of Science; 2001; Oxford University Press; Pages 10–13.
  39. ^ "Skeptic (Michael Shermer)". YouTube. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
  40. ^ Michael Shermer: Professional Skeptic, TED Conference November 2006
  41. ^ "The Great Debate:Deepak Chopra v. Michael Shermer". Skeptic. September 28, 2005
  42. ^ Shermer, Michael (April 5, 2011). "The Woo of Creation:My evening with Deepak Chopra". Skepticblog.
  43. ^ Harris, Dan (March 23, 2010) "'Nightline' 'Face-Off': Does God Have a Future?". ABC News.
  44. ^ "The IIG Celebrates its 10th Anniversary". Independent Investigations Group; Accessed September 5, 2010
  45. ^ Shermer, Michael (2007). "The Skeptic's Chaplain: Richard Dawkins as a Fountainhead of Skepticism". Skeptic. Vol. 13. p. 47.
  46. ^ Michael Shermer (Sep 16, 2014). "Anomalous Events That Can Shake One’s Skepticism to the Core". Scientific American. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  47. ^ Shermer, Michael (November 2004). "Who's Getting Your Vote?". Reason. 
  48. ^ Shermer, Michael (October 2013). "When Science Doesn’t Support Beliefs". Scientific American. michaelshermer.com.
  49. ^ "Michael Shermer and Out of Body Experiences" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, July 23, 2007, originally broadcast on a news program, August 1983
  50. ^ "Michael Shermer on How to Fake UFO Photographs" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  51. ^ "Michael Shermer on Spoonbending" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  52. ^ "Michael Shermer Firewalking Across Hot Coals" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, June 2, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  53. ^ "Michael Shermer Tests the Polygraph and Lie Detection, Part 1" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  54. ^ "Michael Shermer Tests the Polygraph and Lie Detection, Part 2" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  55. ^ "Michael Shermer Learns the Art of Con Games, Part 1" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  56. ^ "Michael Shermer Learns the Art of Con Games, Part 2" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  57. ^ "Michael Shermer Decodes the Bible Code" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  58. ^ "Michael Shermer Explores Graphology/Handwriting Analysis, Part 1" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  59. ^ "Michael Shermer Explores Graphology/Handwriting Analysis, Part 2" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  60. ^ "Michael Shermer Remote Viewing Experiment Part 1" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official YouTube channel, July 9, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  61. ^ "Michael Shermer Remote Viewing Experiment Part 2 " on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, July 23, 2007, Originally broadcast on Exploring the Unknown, Fox Family, 1999
  62. ^ "Michael Shermer Abducted by Aliens in Race Across America" on YouTube, Michael Shermer's official channel, June 19, 2007, Originally broadcast on television news segment, August 1983
  63. ^ "Does God Have a Future?", Nightline, ABC, March 23, 2010, Full debate on YouTube
  64. ^ "What Were You Thinking?", Dateline NBC, MSNBC, April 25, 2010
  65. ^ "Did You See That?", Dateline NBC, MSNBC, July 16, 2010
  66. ^ "Show Summary". Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  67. ^ "Mr. Deity and the Skeptic" on YouTube. September 15, 2009.
  68. ^ "Mr. Deity and the Believing Brain" on YouTube. August 3, 2011.
  69. ^ Shermer appeared in Skepticality on 29 January 2013, May 24, 2011 and July 13, 2005

External links[edit]