Third Culture
Edge 89
  Printer version


The one thing we've learned from the last three decades of research is that science is socially and culturally embedded and thus biased. Still, it's the best system we have for understanding causality in all realms, in all fields. So despite the fact that it's loaded with biases, there is a real world out there that we can know and the best way to know it is through science. The reason for that is because there's at least a method, an attempt to corroborate one's own subjective perceptions. There's a way to find out if you and I are seeing the same colors when we see red. There's actually a way to test these things, or at least try to get at them. That's what separates science from everything else.



Michael Shermer is mainly interested in understanding how science works as a system of thought, as a social system and as a psychology of beliefs. His general field of study is in the social sciences, and particularly how belief systems work. As the man behind SKEPTIC Magazine, and Director of the Skeptics Society, he notes that his "engagement with the paranormal, pseudoscience, fringe groups, cults and all sorts of wacky, X-files stuff is not just to debunk, but to understand belief systems on the fringes work, in order to understand how science works, and how mainstream beliefs work. Shermer works the edges, the fringes, what he calls " the borderlands and the nonsense stuff."

In 1992 he founded Skeptic Magazine with a circulation 1,000, and now it's up to about 40,000. Ultimately Shermer wants to reach half a million readers, like Scientific American, but, he notes, "that's a bit of a reach because selling ideas is much harder than selling personalities and celebrities".

— JB

MICHAEL SHERMER is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Lecture Series at Caltech, and the co host and producer of the 13-hour Fox Family television series, Exploring the Unknown.

Shermer is the author of How We Believe: The Search For God In An Age Of Science; Why People Believe Weird Things; and Teach Your Child Science. He is the coauthor of Denying History: Who Says The Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? and Teach Your Child Math And Mathemagics.

He has appeared on such shows as 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, Tom Snyder, Donahue, Oprah, Sally, Lezza, Unsolved Mysteries, and other shows, as well as on documentaries aired on A & E, Discovery, and The Learning Channel.

LINK: The Skeptics Society

Click Here for Michael Shermer's Bio Page

THE REALITY CLUB: Helena Cronin, Piet Hut respond to Michael Shermer


EDGE: Why are you playing the edges; why bother to debunk, why spend your time exposing people that are outright frauds, phonies, or who are merely self deluded?

MICHAEL SHERMER: Because it gives us better insight into Karl Popper's discussion of the demarcation problem; that is, where do we draw the line between science and non- or pseudoscience?

It turns out that it's a very complex problem. Popper's answer to that question was that of false viability, what is the result when you put something to an empirical test? Well that's nice, but what do you do with string theory then? It's never been tested, probably can't be tested, yet it's mathematically elegant and theoretically beautiful. Is that science? How about consciousness research? The kind of thing that people like Dan Dennett and Pat and Paul Churchland do — is that philosophy, metaphysics, or science? That kind of research is in a gray, borderland area. How about hypnosis? There's a whole range of claims that people don't really question as to what they are and analyzing those claims helps us gain insight into how science works.

| Top |