Stringy'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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's review
Apr 20, 12

bookshelves: religion
Read in April, 2012 — I own a copy

An excellent primer on some common weird beliefs and the reasons people get started believing in them. Several reviews here have said that Shermer doesn't get into the reasons *why*, but I think this was more than adequately dealt with.

There's a chapter on cognitive errors, broken up into sections on scientific errors, pseudo-scientific errors, logical fallacies and psychological biases. Each major section (paranormal experiences, pseudo-science, witch hunts, pseudo-history, etc) explains the motivation and methods of maintaining the belief in spite of disapproval from the believer's peers. Shermer concludes this edition with a new chapter on how research shows that weird beliefs have nothing to do with intelligence, and are much more closely related to psychological traits such as openness, conscientiousness, perception of control, and so on.

I found the information on Holocaust deniers fascinating, as I hadn't looked into it much before. The witch hunt/Satanic panic section was also good, although I'd love to see an updated version. I skimmed the pseudo-science section as I was quite familiar with those topics already, having read books specifically about them. I also would have liked the cults section to deal with more 'traditional' cults than Objectivism, but perhaps Shermer covers that in his later book on religions.

This is a great book for people beginning to learn about skepticism. Long-time skeptics will most likely have read in-depth on their areas of specific interest already, so would be less likely to get a lot out of it.
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