Tag Archives | Michael Shermer

Why Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?

Michael Shermer wiki portrait4.jpg

Michael Shermer. Photo by David Patton (CC)

Scientific American gives Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society and its magazine Skeptic, a platform to ridicule conspiracy theories and those who believe in them:

President Barack Obama has been a busy man while in office: he concocted a fake birth certificate to hide his true identity as a foreigner, created “death panels” to determine who would live and who would die under his health care plan, conspired to destroy religious liberty by mandating contraceptives for religious institutions, blew up the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig to garner support for his environmental agenda, masterminded Syrian gas attacks as a pretext to war, orchestrated the shooting of a tsa agent to strengthen that agency’s powers, ordered the Sandy Hook school massacre to push through gun-control legislation, and built concentration camps in which to place Americans who resist.

Do people really believe such conspiracy theories?

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Does God Still Belong On Our Money?

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An opinion piece by Skeptic Magazine’s Michael Shermer in the LA Times has stirred up lots of strong opinions amongst Angelenos. What do disinfonauts think?

The House voted 396-9 this week to reaffirm as the national motto the phrase “In God We Trust” and encouraged its pronouncement on public buildings and continued printing on the coin of the realm. The motto was made official in 1956 during the height of Cold War hysteria over godless communism and — in the words of Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper in “Dr. Strangelove” — “Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”

As risible a reason as this was for knocking out a few bricks in the wall separating state and church, it was at least understandable in the context of the times. But today, what is the point of having this motto?

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Maybe We’re All Conspiracy Theorists

Michael Shermer. Photo: David Patton (CC)

Michael Shermer. Photo: David Patton (CC)

Matt Ridley for the Wall Street Journal:

Michael Shermer, the founder and editor of Skeptic magazine, has never received so many angry letters as when he wrote a column for Scientific American debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories. Mr. Shermer found himself vilified, often in CAPITAL LETTERS, as a patsy of the sinister Zionist cabal that deliberately destroyed the twin towers and blew a hole in the Pentagon while secretly killing off the passengers of the flights that disappeared, just to make the thing look more plausible.

He tells this story in his fascinating new book, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. In Mr. Shermer’s view, the brain is a belief engine, predisposed to see patterns where none exist and to attribute them to knowing agents rather than to chance — the better to make sense of the world.

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Will E.T. Look Like Us?

Michael Shermer asks an imponderable question in Scientific American Magazine:
What are the odds that intelligent, technically advanced aliens would look anything like the ones in films, with an emaciated torso and limbs, spindly fingers and a bulbous, bald head with large, almond-shaped eyes? What are the odds that they would even be humanoid? In a YouTube video, produced by Josh Timonen of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, I argue that the chances are close to zero: Richard Dawkins himself made this interesting observation in a private communication after viewing it:
I would agree with [Shermer] in betting against aliens being bipedal primates, and I think the point is worth making, but I think he greatly overestimates the odds against...
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