Vodpod videos no longer available.
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 pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members.
Shermer is also the producer and co-host of the 13-hour Fox Family television series Exploring the Unknown. Since April 2004, he has been a monthly columnist for Scientific American magazine with his Skeptic column. Shermer states he was once a fundamentalist Christian, but converted from a belief in God during his graduate studies, and has described himself as an agnostic, nontheist, atheist and advocate for humanist philosophy. He has expressed reservations about such labels, however, as he sees them being used in the service of ‘pigeonholing,’ and prefers to simply be called a skeptic.
Early life, education and career
Shermer was born and raised in Southern California, graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in 1972. He began his undergraduate studies at Pepperdine University, initially majoring in Christian theology, later switching to psychology. He completed his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology/Biology at Pepperdine in 1976.
Shermer’s graduate studies in experimental psychology at California State University, Fullerton, led to many after-class discussions with professors Bayard Brattstrom and Meg White, which is when his “Christian ichthys got away, and with it my religion.” Shermer completed his master’s degree from California State University in Experimental Psychology in 1978.
Shermer began competitive bicycling in 1979, and spent a decade in the sport. During the course of his cycling, Shermer worked with cycling technologists in developing better products for the sport. During his association with Bell Helmets, a bicycle-race sponsor, Shermer advised them on design issues regarding their development of expanded-polystyrene for use in cycling helmets, which would absorb impact far better than the old leather “hairnet” helmets used by bicyclists for decades. Shermer advised them that if their helmets looked too much like motorcycle helmets, in which polystyrene was already being used, and not like the old hairnet helmets, that no serious cyclists or amateur would use them. This suggestion led to their first model, the V1 Pro, which looked like a black leather hairnet, but functioned on the inside like a motorcycle helmet. In 1982, Shermer worked with Dr. Wayman Spence, whose small supply company, Spenco Medical, adapted the gel technology Spence developed for bedridden patients with pressure sores into cycling gloves and saddles to alleviate the carpal tunnel syndrome and saddle sores suffered by cyclists.
During the decade in which he raced long distances, he helped to found the 3,000-mile nonstop transcontinental bicycle Race Across America (along with Lon Haldeman and John Marino), in which he competed five times (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1989), was Assistant Race Director six years, and Executive Race Director seven years. Shermer’s embrace of scientific skepticism crystallized during his time as a cyclist, explaining, “I became a skeptic on Saturday, August 6, 1983, on the long climbing road to Loveland Pass, Colorado” after months of training under the guidance of a “nutritionist” with an unaccredited Ph.D. After years of practicing acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, negative ions, rolfing, pyramid power, fundamentalist Christianity, and “a host of weird things” (with the exception of drugs) to improve his life and training, Shermer stopped rationalizing the failure of these practices. Shermer would later produce several documentaries on cycling.
Shermer earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Claremont Graduate University in the History of Science in 1991 (with his dissertation titled “Heretic-Scientist: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Evolution of Man: A Study on the Nature of Historical Change”). Shermer later based a full-length, 2002 book on his dissertation: In Darwin’s Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace….
Before starting the Skeptics Society, Shermer was a Professor of the History of Science at Occidental College, California. Since 2007, Shermer has been an adjunct professor in economics at the Claremont Graduate University.
Skeptics Society and Caltech Lecture Series
In 1992 Shermer started the Skeptics Society, which produces Skeptic magazine and currently has over 55,000 members. In addition, the group organizes the Caltech Lecture Series which offers speakers on a wide range of topics relating to science, psychology, social issues, religion/atheism, skepticism, etc. Past speakers include Stephen Jay Gould, Jared Diamond, Donald Johanson, Julia Sweeney, Richard Dawkins, Philip Zimbardo, Steven Pinker, Carol Tavris, David Baltimore, Lisa Randall, Daniel Dennett, Tim Flannery, Lawrence Krauss, Michio Kaku, Susan Blackmore, Christof Koch, Alison Gopnik, Ursula Goodenough, Edward Tufte, Bjorn Lomborg, Sam Harris, Jeff Schweitzer and many others. The lectures occur on Sunday afternoons, and are open to the public for a nominal fee.
Shermer is the author of several books that attempt to explain the ubiquity of irrational or poorly substantiated beliefs, including UFOs, Bigfoot, and paranormal claims. In 1997 he wrote Why People Believe Weird Things, which explores a variety of “weird” ideas and groups (including cults), in the tradition of the skeptical writings of Martin Gardner. A revised and expanded edition was published in 2002. From the Introduction:
So we are left with the legacy of two types of thinking errors: Type 1 Error: believing a falsehood and Type 2 Error: rejecting a truth. … Believers in UFOs, alien abductions, ESP, and psychic phenomena have committed a Type 1 Error in thinking: they are believing a falsehood. … It’s not that these folks are ignorant or uninformed; they are intelligent but misinformed. Their thinking has gone wrong.— Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, 1997, 2002, Introduction
In How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, Shermer explored the psychology behind the belief in God. In its introduction Shermer wrote “Never in history have so many, and such a high percentage of the population, believed in God. Not only is God not dead as Nietzsche proclaimed, but he has never been more alive.”
In early 2002, Shermer’s Scientific American column introduced Shermer’s Last Law, the notion that “any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God.” Shermer’s Last Law is a spin on Clarke’s Third Law.
In 2002, Shermer and Alex Grobman wrote their book Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? which examined and refuted the Holocaust denial movement. This book recounts meeting various denialists and concludes that free speech is the best way to deal with pseudohistory.
Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown was released in 2005 . Then his 2006 book Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, marshals point-by-point arguments supporting evolution, sharply criticizing Intelligent Design. This book also argues that science cannot invalidate religion, and that Christians and conservatives can and should accept evolution.
In June 2006, Shermer, who formerly expressed skepticism regarding the mainstream scientific view on global warming, wrote that, in view of the accumulation of evidence, the position of denying global warming is no longer tenable.
Shermer’s most recent book The Mind of The Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics was released in 2007. In it Shermer reports on the findings of multiple behavioral and biochemical studies that address evolutionary explanations for modern behavior.
In February 2009, Shermer published The History of Science: A Sweeping Visage of Science and its History, a 25-hour audio lecture.
Media appearances and lectures
Shermer has appeared on several television shows and documentaries. In addition, he appears regularly at conferences and other speaking engagements.
Shermer appeared as a guest on Donahue in 1994 to respond to Bradley Smith’s and David Cole’s Holocaust denial claims, and in 1995 on The Oprah Winfrey Show to challenge Rosemary Altea’s psychic claims. Shermer made a guest appearance in a 2004 episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit!, in which he argued that events in the Bible constitute “mythic storytelling,” rather than events described literally. His stance was supported by the show’s hosts, who have expressed their own atheism. The episode in question, The Bible: Fact or Fiction?, sought to debunk the notion that the Bible is an empirically reliable historical record. Opposing Shermer was Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University.
Shermer made several appearances on NBC’s daytime paranormal-themed show The Other Side in 1994 and 1995. After getting to know that show’s producers, he made a formal pitch to their production company for his own skepticism-oriented reality show whose aim would be to present points of view of both believers and skeptics. His proposals were not fruitful, but several years later, one of the executives of that company went to work for the then-newly formed Fox Family Channel, and impressed with Shermer’s show treatment, requested he pitch it to the network. The network picked up the series, Exploring the Unknown, of which Shermer became a producer and cohost. The series, which was budgeted at approximately $200,000USD per episode, was viewed by Shermer as a direct extension of the work done at the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine, and would enable Shermer to reach more people. The equivocal title was chosen so as to not tip off guests or viewers as to the skeptical nature of the show. Various segments from Exploring the Unknown can be found on Shermer’s YouTube channel.
Shermer has been a speaker at all three Beyond Belief events from 2006 to 2008. He also spoke at the 2006 TED Conference on “Why people believe strange things.”
Shermer is a frequent guest on Skepticality, the official podcast of Skeptic. 
He has appeared on the following programs:
- The Phil Donahue Show (1994)
- The Power of Belief (ABC News) (1998)
- Exploring the Unknown Fox Family TV Series (1999)
- Politically Incorrect (December 22, 2000) with Bill Maher
- 20/20 (ABC News) (with John Edward) (December 5, 2003)
- Dennis Miller (May 19 & May 20, 2004)
- Penn & Teller’s Bullshit! on “The Bible: Fact or Fiction?” (2004)
- The Question of God: Sigmund Freud & C.S. Lewis (2004)
- The Eyes of Nye on “Pseudoscience” (2005)
- The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe (October 4, 2006)
- Coast to Coast AM (September 1, 2007)
- Decoding the Past – Doomsday 2012 (2007)
- Larry King Live (July 13, 2007 and January 24, 2008)
- Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008)
- Skepticality (Regular guest)
- “Mr. Deity and the Skeptic” (September 15, 2009)
Shermer lives in Altadena, California, on the edge of a cliff in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains atop which Mount Wilson stands.
Shermer has described himself as a libertarian.
List of books by Shermer
- Sport Cycling: A Guide to Training, Racing, and Endurance 1985 ISBN 0-8092-5244-9
- Cycling: Endurance and Speed (Sportsperformance) 1987 ISBN 0-8092-4775-5
- Teach Your Child Science 1989 ISBN 0-929923-08-1
- Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. (1997, 2nd Revision edition 2002) ISBN 0-8050-7089-3
- Teach Your Child Math and Mathemagics 1999 ISBN 0-7373-0134-1
- The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense 2001 ISBN 0-19-514326-4
- How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science 2001 ISBN 0-613-35413-3
- The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience (ed.) 2002 ISBN 1-576-07653-9
- Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? 2002 ISBN 0-520-23469-3
- In Darwin’s Shadow: The Life and Science of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Biographical Study on the Psychology of History 2002 ISBN 0-19-514830-4
- The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule 2004 ISBN 0-8050-7520-8
- Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown 2005 ISBN 0-8050-7708-1
- Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician’s Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks 2006 ISBN 978-0307338402
- Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design 2006 ISBN 978-0-8050-8121-3
- The Mind of The Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics 2007 ISBN 978-0805078329
- The History of Science: A Sweeping Visage of Science and its History 2009 audio lecture
List of Skeptic columns published in Scientific American