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Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  9,020 ratings  ·  451 reviews
Revised and Expanded Edition.

In this age of supposed scientific enlightenment, many people still believe in mind reading, past-life regression theory, New Age hokum, and alien abduction. A no-holds-barred assault on popular superstitions and prejudices, with more than 80,000 copies in print, Why People Believe Weird Things debunks these nonsensical claims and explores the
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 1st 2002 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 1997)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  9,020 ratings  ·  451 reviews

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I finished this book and came to the conclusion, the same as the Amish have, if you get someone young enough and you deny them a scientific education they will believe almost anything. In other words, brainwash them young when they don't know the difference between reality and fantasy and the big frightening man that will come and get them if they bite their nails is as real in their heads as their mother or father.

Not that you can't brainwash adults though. Look at the 8 glasses of water a day
Jun 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Like many people, I could hardly believe my eyes when Donald Trump, in the wake of the Orlando shooting, actually went as far as to insinuate that President Obama could in some way have been complicit in causing this appalling hate crime and act of terrorism. The idea is so offensive and absurd that you hardly know where to start. A common reaction has been to point out that, if Obama is on the side of the terrorists, you'd have to explain why he'd want to invest so much effort in killing Osama ...more
Jul 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Having spent a fair amount of time on my spiritual path believing things that at best had no evidence and at times were quite outrageous, I’ve become very interested in the question that forms the title of this book. A former born-again Christian who is now head of the Skeptic society, Michael Shermer has written a very readable and compelling exploration of the cognitive thinking errors humans regularly make that support belief in ideas that can often be very detrimental to our overall ...more
This guy is in Australia at the moment for Science Week and I was thinking of going to see him, but this is not really a week in which I can engage in such optional behaviours – so, I thought I’d get out one of his books instead.

And look, it was very good and if it had been the first book I’d ever read on scepticism (which I think it was written to be) than I really would have been impressed. But it wasn’t the first book I’d read on this subject and so that in itself gave the book a bit of a
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a joint review of this book and How We Believe

Shermer postulates that humans have evolved a belief module that helps us find patterns in what appears otherwise to be a meaningless universe. (Why we feel compelled to find meaning in everything continues to puzzle me.) Until about four hundred years ago, when the process of science gave us a method to determine the difference between patterns that are real and those that are mere illusion, the tautologies myth and religion, (a tautology)
May 14, 2019 rated it liked it
I don't think I learned why people believe weird things, just that they do (which I already knew).

It also mentions how these beliefs don't listen to reason, because that was never the point, but the author also proceeds to tell you how to logically refute every moronic argument of creationists or Holocaust denials. As if the lack of logical counter-arguments was ever the problem.

I did enjoy the history of the evolution theory denialism in the US which from the European perspective is really
Audiobook - Abridged - 3.5 hours
-- Note this is not the Revised and Expanded edition (if there even is one for audio). I listened to the original audio from '98.

Shermer is the founder of The Skeptics Society and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic. He knows his stuff. In this book, he explores alien abductions, Holocaust denial, the legal history of creationism in science classrooms, and some other things. These are all interesting and covers Shermer's experiences with all of them.

Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nbtr
Why People believe weird things is something I have also wondered a lot when I hear people talking about ghosts or astrology or God. Things are different here in India and you wouldn't find people shouting for creationism or Holocaust deniers here as you neither have prominently christian people here and not too many Jewish people but still we in India have our own laundry list of weird things people believe in. It was a fun read and shocking though I already knew that still so many people ...more
Jul 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I have read many of Shermer's articles for Skeptics Magazine but this was the first book by him that I've read. It was probably a good one to start out with. He appears to be setting out his basic ideas on why people often lean to unscientific and illogical beliefs. He goes through these reasons and also describes the basis of scientific inquiry well. However he also gives specific examples of pseudo-science and outright erroneous thinking including Holocaust denial, aliens abductions and ...more
Nov 06, 2007 rated it liked it
This book seems to hold great promise from the outset. It's a book (as the author would confess) that values reason, science, knowledge and the examination of beliefs. Nothing wrong with that. However, the book seems to ramble on a bit and takes on the feel of the author's personal musings instead of objective examination of the material. A couple of the chapters could be condensed into one chapter that contains more focus and sticks to the topic. For instance, in one chapter Shermer drones on ...more
Jul 28, 2013 rated it did not like it
There have been enough positive reviews of this book that I'm sure it won't hurt the author's self-esteem if I say this: This book is dumb. It was on my to-read list forever, so maybe my expectations were a little high. But fair warning to anyone planning to read this, it's not what you think it is. It doesn't even address the question in the title directly until a final chapter, which I gather was added after the first edition was published.

If you want to read about the history of holocaust
Anuradha Gandhy
Nov 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, atheism
I am very much interested in the question that forms the title of this book. A compelling exploration of the cognitive thinking errors humans regularly make that support belief in ideas that can often be very detrimental to our overall well-being.In the beginning Shermer goes through the logical fallacies that people often make when they believe in such things as alien abduction or spiritualism. Even as an introduction to logical fallacies it is worth reading.Shermer being the founder of The ...more
Apr 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, reviewed
Why People Believe Weird Things is a meticulously researched and presented deep-dive into the causes and explanations of human irrationality. It probably deserves four stars but I'm leaving it at three because it's easily the most depressing book I've ever read (and there's no way to "really like" that). Shermer explains that our brains are hardwired to look for patterns as a way of making sense of our world. Sometimes the patterns we detect are genuine (which we either accept or reject as ...more
Sep 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting read, enlightening a bit.
The book does answer the question, to a satisfying degree at least.
The weird things referred to are mainly: psychics, aliens, creation, holocaust denial, but many others are mentioned. The author provides arguments against those things and refutation to the arguments for them, relying on critical thinking and science.
Honestly, I was not very satisfied with this book, as I somewhat expected more.
The information presented is not mindbending or hard to wrap
Jul 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008
Michael Schermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and a contributing editor of Scientific American. In this book, an update of an earlier version, with a foreword by Stephen Jay Gould, he takes on a number of worthy targets, including:

* believers in the paranormal and extra-sensory perception (ESP)
* near-death experiences and those who channel "past lives"
* alien abductions
* witch-hunting and the recovered memory movement
* Ayn Rand and the cult of objectivism
* anti-evolutionism and
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Why People Believe Weird Things is kind of a modernistic blend of Martin Gardner’s pioneering Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science and Carl Sagan’s masterpiece, The Demon-haunted World. Author and prominent skeptic Michael Shermer begins with a recollection of his own conversion from evangelical Christian to skeptic, and generalizes from his personal experiences in an overview of the difference between science and pseudoscience/superstition starring the 25 Fallacies That Lead Us To Believe ...more
Sep 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
The final four pages of the book summarizes why people believe in weird things quite well. Funnily, the other 270-odd pages deal argues in an orthogonal manner to these propositions made by the author himself. Let me elaborate in my own words.

The author says that as a culture, we seem to have trouble distinguishing science from pseudo-science, history from pseudo-history and sense from nonsense. He gives the underlying motivations for this shortcoming as follows:
1. Atheists and skeptics are
Jun 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I have always felt like the books I read intertwine themselves into my memories of that point in my life, but this book, more than any other, stands out as one that isn't just a part of my experience in a time and place but a book that actually changed how I think and view the world, in a meaningful way.

Why People Believe Weird Things is a great first book for exploring the basics of critical thinking and gives one a chance to see real life examples of how faulty reasoning can lead one to
“ testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish.” - David Hume

What kind of person could deny that the holocaust actually happened? Who could argue against the evidence for evolution? And how do smart people believe such outlandish claims as ESP, alien abductions, and haunted houses? In his book, Michael Shermer explains the logical fallacies and cycles of
Celena O'brien
Jun 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
“Why People Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer is a primer on skepticism, written by an author whose once strong religious faith, gave way to down right dubitation. Shermer does his best to explain why people have the propensity to believe in things that cannot be proven (alien abductions, ghosts), and others that can be proven but are controversial such as holocaust denial, repressed memories, and psychic powers.

His third chapter “How Thinking Goes Wrong,” points out 25 ways in which
Mark Hartzer
Jun 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
As much as I liked this book, I can't give it a full 5 star review because it is too dated. Yes, 'holocaust denial' folks are pretty much a fringe idiot band, but that was a long time ago comparatively speaking. There is nothing about global warming whatsoever. Nor is there anything about "Scientology".

This is not to say this book is not worthwhile. It is. I'm afraid it is difficult to keep up with the various crackpot things with our ratings driven media, but i would enjoy an updated version
Scott Lerch
Feb 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
This book helped me understand why there are so many people in the world that believe creationism, ESP, ghosts, UFOs, and other supernatural phenomena, and most importantly, why normal intelligent people will believe these weird ideas. After this book and Shermer's subsequent books I began to solidify my scientific worldview, and why I only accept naturalistic explanations. I became a skeptic and learned to truly question everything, but still hold on to provisional truths in science because of ...more

Description: In this age of supposed scientific enlightenment, many people still believe in mind reading, past-life regression theory, New Age hokum, and alien abduction. A no-holds-barred assault on popular superstitions and prejudices, with more than 80,000 copies in print, Why People Believe Weird Things debunks these nonsensical claims and explores the very human reasons people find otherworldly phenomena, conspiracy theories, and cults so appealing. In an entirely new chapter, "Why Smart
Shhhhh Ahhhhh
Oct 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a good book but I wish the author had not injected quite so much of his personal beliefs into it. He follows the trope of the wounded believer, someone who was once fully into a poorly supported belief or system of belief and, upon being disabused of that illusion, became somewhat irrationally skeptical. I say this because, though his reasoning generally seems sound, he has closed himself off to understandings of certain practices as something more than woo, sometimes in cases where that ...more
Tanja Berg
Michaels Shermer is my favorite skeptic - I've been reading his column in "Scientific American" for years and years. Only lately have I discovered that he has written books as well. I don't know where I've been. Sadly a whole book of Shermer so far hasn't been as astute and to the point as his columns generally are. I'm still not quite sure what to think of this.

The basic point can be summed up in one sentence though: "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending
Michael P.
This is a good book and is probably worth your time, but I hoped for more, that more being subjects that Shermer leaves out. The weird things covered are the ravings of Edgar Casey and his followers, near-death experiences, alien encounters, literal witch hunts, Ayn Rand and the cult of Objectivism, Intelligent Design, Holocaust denial, and those who claim that physics prove the existence of one god or another. This is a lot of subjects, but there are few stranger beliefs than Scientology or ...more
Caitlin Bronson
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, sociology
In my head, I've been a skeptic for a while but in my heart, I've always looked at skeptics as a bunch of humorless buzzkills.

Michael Shermer's book didn't completely alleviate that, but he makes a pretty stirring defense of skepticism as both a desirable personal attribute and a worldview. He explains the methodology of science and skepticism and then spends each chapter debunking a particular "weird" belief, pointing out how various inputs and desires can cause thinking to "go wrong," leaving
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Why People Believe Weird Things is a great introduction to the cognitive psychology of beliefs. Even 17 years after this book was originally published, the core concepts explained by Shermer are still fascinating and relevant. A lot of it is somewhat depressing (it would have pleased me more to hear about how culture is moving away from pseudoscience, even if that's not happening) or frustrating (the entire section on the Holocaust deniers), but why people believe weird things - and why they are ...more
Apr 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is a starter book for anti-supernatural beliefs. Talks a tiny bit about the wide range of types of beliefs, the arguments they use for them, the reasons the author thinks they are wrong, and some personal stories thrown in there too. All in all, not a bad book. Just doesn't really hold its own against the heavier works put out by the Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and the like. My issue with this book is that I read it *after* those others.
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book a few years ago, but just started reading it. I wanted a better understanding of how people can believe in certain things such as creation-science, but then deny other phenomena such as climate change. The author does a good job discussing how cults gain popularity, and how pseudoscience and pseudo-history are perpetrated. In light of today's hype of "alternative facts", and fake news, this book underscores the ever-growing importance of critical thinking.
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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
“Checking a box on a form for race—"Caucasian," "Hispanic," "African-American," "Native American," or "Asian-American"—is untenable and ridiculous. For one thing, "American" is not a race, so labels such as "Asian-American" and "African-American" are still exhibits of our confusion of culture and race. For another thing, how far back does one go in history? Native Americans are really Asians, if you go back more than twenty or thirty thousand years to before they crossed the Bering land bridge between Asia and America. And Asians, several hundred thousand years ago probably came out of Africa, so we should really replace "Native American" with "African-Asian-Native American." Finally, if the Out of Africa (single racial origin) theory holds true, then all modern humans are from Africa. (Cavalli-Sforza now thinks this may have been as recently as seventy thousand years ago.) Even if that theory gives way to the Candelabra (multiple racial origins) theory, ultimately all hominids came from Africa, and therefore everyone in America should simply check the box next to "African-American.” 15 likes
“The “hypocrite” is the critic who disguises his own failings by focusing attention on the failings of others.” 9 likes
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