Judy's Reviews > Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time

Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer
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May 07, 12

bookshelves: audiobooks, great-gift-idea, my-2012-books, non-fiction
Recommended for: everyone
Read from May 03 to 07, 2012, read count: 1

This is a highly readable and fascinating look at why seemingly "normal" and "rational" people believe weird things. Michael Shermer provides many examples of strange things people believe and also the reasons why they should not believe them. He takes aim at very specific things that are believed by some people with absolutely no evidence at all in favor of the belief and all kinds of good evidence against it. "More than any other, the reason people believe weird things is because they want to." Clearly people believe many of the things they believe, like supernatural religious beliefs, because it is appealing and comforting to do so. Many of these beliefs are simple, satisfy some moral needs, give life meaning, and are gratifying to the believer. People believe weird things because weird things give them hope. I can certainly understand it, the desire for hope and meaning. I guess I just never had the ability to believe in things that have no scientific evidence.

Shermer has personally experienced many forms of weirdness. He's been abducted by aliens (that's a great story) and walked on coals barefoot. He has partaken of many new age therapies and challenged psychics. He explains that people have a tendency to forget the "misses", where the psychic or therapy does not work at all, and remember the "hits" only.

One of the most interesting and serious sections of the book deals with denial of the Holocaust. He goes step by weird step through the beliefs of those who deny the Holocaust occurred, or who deny much of it occurred the way the evidence says it did. For example, some people deny that ~6 million Jews were exterminated, that the real number was around 600,000, and that those missing Jews are all living somewhere in the world (Boca Raton, maybe?). I also enjoyed the section in which he discusses cults and uses Ayn Rand as an example of a cult of personality.

He also talks a great deal about the scientific method and evolution vs creationism. I like the fact that throughout the book he is not just saying what is true; he goes thoroughly through the details of the weird claims in order to elucidate point-by-point why they do not hold up to scrutiny.

Excellent book, I'm so glad I read it. Highly recommended.
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message 1: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Gallup Sounds good. Shakespeare wrote that "the wish is father to the thought," and I think we all have a tendency to try and make reality conform to what we suppose ought to be true. I'm seeing a lot of that in this election year.


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