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Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  447 ratings  ·  40 reviews
"Michael Shermer has given a lot of things a lot of thought. If your perceptions have ever rubbed you the wrong way, you'll find Science Friction fascinating." —Bill Nye, The Science Guy

A scientist pretends to be a psychic for a day—and fools everyone. An athlete discovers that good-luck rituals and getting into "the zone" may, or may not, improve his performance. A son ex
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 2004)
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3.54  · 
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 ·  447 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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Aug 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, essays
Some of the essays in this book are excellent, while others are just boring. For example, Shermer takes 19 pages to report on the "Bright" episode in his life. He coined the word "bright" to mean skeptics, or non-believers. Most people reacted critically to the name, and he eventually was forced to drop it. But Shermer organizes page-long lists and tabulations of statistics on the issue--this was a big yawn for me.

Another 22-page essay was about a controversy dealing with a few anthropologists w
Dennis Littrell
Aug 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Clever title; terrific book

This may be a bit esoteric for the general reader, but for those with more than a passing interest in science and its struggles with both the true believers from without and the heretics from within, this is a first class read. Skeptic magazine publisher Michael Shermer addresses the friction within science in 14 well polished essays ranging in subject matter from playing psychic for a day to what to call rational skeptics to an in-depth look at the work of the late St
Vanni Pulé
Sep 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I am a great fan of Michael Shermer, the founder and editor of Skeptic magazine, which I am subscribed to. I also own most of his books and I have read most of them. This is a collection of essays about various topics all related to objectivity and reason. I found some of them extremely stimulating. My favourite has to be the essay about the rift between those who support evolution and those who 'believe' in Intelligent Design. The essay may not be exhaustive because of its limited length and it ...more
Bruce Greene
Feb 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
If you are not familiar with Dr. Shermer then this book is not the place to start. As a fan of Dr. Shermer and his work this book was not his best but it made sense to me having read most of his other works. I would have like to rate it 3.5 but I decided to round up. Science Friction is a collection of essays of not necessarily related topics so you won't find any continuity. His best work is the Science of Good and Evil and a good place to start if you are a skeptic.
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
Some interesting essays, but I put it down mid-way through and couldn't pick it back up before returning it to the library.
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very good, but sometimes a bit confusing, subjects I am not all that familiar with, but overall informative. Good insights too.
Mar 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Many years ago, too far back to remember now, I was watching one of those shows they used to show around Halloween (and are now ubiquitous on cable) about ghosts and ghost hunting or something of that ilk. On that show they interviewed Michael Shermer about why people beleive in mysterious ghosts and aliens and whatnot. He had just published Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, and I was totally entranced by what he had to say.

I ran out
Jim Razinha
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent group of essays. As a psychologist and science historian, as well as founder and editor of Skeptic, Shermer thinks!

This book groups his thoughts into four sections: Science and the Virtue of Not Knowing; Science and the Meaning of Body, Mind and Spirit; Science and the (Re)Writing of History; and Science and the Cult of Visionaries

He begins with an amusing recount of how he played psychic for a day, using tarot, palms, astrology and mediumship to see how well he could fake t
Jon Wilson
Sep 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
Michael Shermer likes his statistics. Man, this book is full of lists and numbers and comparisons ad infinitum between lists and numbers (there is actually an entire chapter just discussing lists!).

I expected to like this much more than I did. Making it to the end was something of an endurance contest. For the most part, Shermer presents compelling arguments, but he engages in too much begging of questions (e.g., "we've evolved for monogamy") without even entertaining the possibility that there
Susan Pearce
Feb 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
Given how many other books are claiming my attention, I'm not sticking with this one. Hopefully it'll earn me some good credit at Arty Bees. I was seduced into buying it by his first excellent chapter on how he passed himself off as a psychic.

Before discovering science, Shermer studied to become an evangelical pastor, and I'd argue that the preaching / teaching -genes that led him to that point still dominate his work, although to a different end. I admire the breadth of his curiosity, his deter
Eoin Flynn
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
I love Michael Shermer's work in general; his debates, his articles in Skeptic Magazine and in Scientific American, his books, etc. However, this book was a let down.

Shermer appears to have been very self indulgent in writing it - spending pages upon pages lost in nostalgia about his own life. This becomes tedious after a while. I did not wish to read a biography.

Another negative point is the fact that very little new material seems to have gone into this book at the time it was written. It is
Patrick Ellard
May 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Science Friction, written by prominent scientist and skeptic Michael Shermer is more of a collection of 14 essays about various subjects than a typical popular science book. The essay topics themselves are extremely varied dealing with religion, sports psychology, psychics, the science of history and many others so whether or not you enjoy this book is almost entirely dependent on whether or not you have an interest in the subject being discussed.

There is no doubting Shermer's writing ability an
Jun 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
A collection of articles written for various magazines, Michael Shermer shows off a surprising range of topics in this single volume. Shermer's essay are meticulously researched, and he always has an interesting point to make, whether posing as a psychic, explaining scientific causes of historical drama, or refuting creationism.
Shermer's range is so great that there is something to satisfy the interests of almost any reader. Therein lies the one major problem with this book: every reader is boun
Jul 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Shermer's books are usually quite good. This particular volume is a bit of a catchall, incorporating a number of his essays into a single book but failing to find a single theme. There is a lengthy exposition and analysis of the writings of Stephen Jay Gould, a study of the Mutiny on the Bounty, a discussion of the Yanomamo controversy, a defense of the term "brights", a quick look into a week spent pretending to be psychic, and an unfocused description of the way both contingency and inevitabil ...more
Jesse Markus
Jan 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I was disappointed because I thought this book was going to be more about challenging scientific taboos. I wasn't looking for something that validated fringe science. But I expected it to tackle the divisive controversies of science. Instead, this is a collection of essays that Shermer has written over the years, on topics as diverse as Creationism, the Mutiny on the Bounty, and his mother's struggle with cancer. I give the book five stars because it was still an excellent fucking book, it just ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: sleep-of-reason
This is a collection of mostly previously-published essays and is a little uneven, like most anthologies. I found at least one essay, "The Big 'Bright' Brouhaha" (about re-branding atheism), to be pretty irrelevant, and there are portions of this book that I have seen in Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things.

However, the third section, "Science and the (Re)Writing of History" is fascinating and challenging. Schermer's chaos theory of history is stunning, and his analysis of the causes of th
Vince Gotera
Dec 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
In this collection of entertaining and thought-provoking essays, Science Friction, Michael Shermer turns a skeptical eye towards all sorts of science-related topics, including the so-called "anthropology wars"; Gene Roddenberry and Harlan Ellison's Star Trek tiff; the vicissitudes of evolution in contemporary life; the scholarly reputation of Stephen Jay Gould; and the current skeptic movement, among many fascinating subjects. A great read ... check it out.

On my blog, I recently wrote a post abo
Jul 01, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: nobody
This book is not my cup of tea. I thought it would be, it seems like it would be, but it's not. The tone is pompous, smug and unbearable and more often than not I found myself reading through an article and asking myself, "Yeah? So what?" There is an occasional good point made, an occasional moment of insight, but on the whole the text is little more than masturbatory, hardly worth its weight in packing peanuts. A collection of essays and articles about skepticism, beliefs, science and Star Trek ...more
Dec 03, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-at-library
I got this book from the library because I loved Michael's column in Scirentific America. The book is a collection of essays on varying topics, and sounded like a good read for an upcoming airplane trip.

I read the intro, but never made it back to the book before it had to be returned to the library. The topics sounded interesting, but its doubtful I will re-rent this book from the library. However, I do intend look up what other books by Shermer my library has available.
Apr 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed Why People Believe Weird Things, but this collection was dull in comparison. I felt like I was reading more about the author than the ideas, which was not what I was looking for.
h. jane
The first half of this book was interesting. The author is really annoying and it's hard to take him seriously when he obviously takes himself SO SERIOUSLY. There are some good points in this book.

This author writes about how we use "scientific fact" to explain and understand things and how problematic that can be.
Milan Žila
Feb 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
I am glad I went for the abridged audiobook. As stated in reviews before, some parts were very interesting while others dragged on a little. Overall I liked Shermers discussions and presentations available on Youtube a little better than this book.
Apr 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Compilation of essays Michael Shermer has written in the past. Interesting topics, but at times the style of writing leads much to be desired, e.g., instead of referring to notes, he explains his sources in the text which detracts from the flow of the work at times.
David R.
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, unclassified
This is an uneven collection of essays by the author. The tone is a bit too self-congratulatory and high handed: about the sort of thing one could expect from one who proudly labels his circle of allies as "The Brights".
Jan 28, 2009 rated it liked it
Series of essays written by a leading "Skeptic." Some are interesting about philosophy of science, and some anti-non-science (like Intelligent Design). But some are just listing data that doesn't seem to go anywhere.

(Really 3.5)
Jim Good
Dec 17, 2009 rated it liked it
A series of Shermers essays written and published elsewhere. At its best puts thought into critics of new age spiritalism and intelligent design advocats. Can get lost as with the closing historical review of Steven Gould’s life work.
Jenny Schmenny
May 24, 2008 rated it did not like it
I haven't been able to finish this. I wanted to love it, but I found the first chapter to be a little boring and smug. I think there are some great ideas in here and someone else should have written about them.
Christopher Carbone
Apr 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Variety of stories and essays that really provide the reader with a lot to think about. And on top of all that a touching essay about Shermer's mom who passed away a few years ago. It talks about how an atheist says goodbye to a loved one. It was great.
Sep 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Michael Shermer is the founder of Skeptic magazine, a tiny voice for reason in the constant clatter of sensationalism. This book makes the point that some bias is inevitable, but we can at least know our biases and reduce their ability to blind us to evidence.
Kirsten Uhler
Aug 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shermer writes a collection of interesting essays that cause one to think more critically. Aside from his going into exhausting and seemingly unnecessary detail at times, he does a good job confronting unscientific thought.
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Michael Brant Shermer (born September 8, 1954 in Glendale, California) is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating and debunking pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members.

Shermer is also the producer and co-host of t