Saturday, April 25, 2020

Why People Believe Weird Things Book Report

In order to gain a better understanding of Pseudoscience and why people are so easily fooled into
believing claims with no real scientific evidence, our group was tasked with reading the book Why
People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer. Several different superstitions and pseudoscientific
claims are explored and debunked by Shermer, who we learn became a skeptic after his own
experiences. Early on in the book, we find out that the author started out as a competitive cyclist who
interestingly became a skeptic after hallucinating during a race following training under a false
nutritionist. The remainder of the book goes on to discuss the different sides and ideas behind certain
topics that are considered pseudoscience such as near death experiences, witches, and even alien
encounters.Overall, it can be said that Shermer manages to find entertaining ways to explain not only
why such theories exist, but more importantly the necessary background information that can help
the reader make an educated decision about such claims.

After examining the different topics and ideas presented in Shermer’s book, it was clear that
there were a few chapters that stood out to me. For one, the second chapter, which was titled “The
Most Precious Thing We Have”, was one of the best in my opinion. This is primarily due to the fact
that it does an excellent job of explaining pseudoscience versus science, and provides necessary
information to help the reader differentiate between the two for the remainder of the book. The
chapter basically begins by discussing the exponential growth of scientific change and research, and
questioning why many nonscientific beliefs still exist. Other important topics of this chapter include
Pirsig’s Paradox, which explains the internalist-externalist problem, and the idea that there is not only
pseudoscience, but also pseudohistory (this is also covered in some chapters of the book). In general,
I liked this chapter because it does a good job of providing a brief explanation about content that will
be in the book, and it also defines how pseudoscience is full of claims that are presented so they
appear scientific but are actually not because they lack evidence.

Another one of my favorite chapters in the book would have to be the chapter titled “Abducted!”
because it not only provides information about the pseudoscientific idea of alien encounters, but it
also talks about a personal experience that the author had. The author starts by explaining why and
how this “alien abduction” experience occurred, which I enjoyed because it gives you an idea of how
sleep deprivation breaks down the wall between reality and dream. Michael Shermer then goes on to
explain how it was the inaugural 1982 race, and tells the story of how he hallucinated after only
getting about 3 hours of sleep. Next, the chapter discusses some people’s alien beliefs and how some
believe that aliens were actually on film in the “Roswell Incident”, where aliens apparently crash
landed near Roswell, New Mexico. 

Roswell alien autopsy

Towards the end of the chapter, an interesting section called “Encounters with Alien Abductees” talks
about a show that explored claims people had of alien abductions. It was compelling to see how
these claims differ, like how one woman said they took her eggs for a breeding experiment, or how
some have been “beamed up” through their ceilings.

I also liked the chapter “Epidemics of Accusations” because I felt that the topic of witch crazes was
one of the more unique and entertaining ones to read about. A major topic of this chapter is how
although witch crazes are not exactly a thing anymore because people do not believe in witches, the
components of these crazes are still present in many “modern” pseudoscientific claims. The author
then goes into detail about how a “feedback loop” exists, and this causes suspicions and accusations
to build upon one another in these similar cases. The remainder of the chapter goes on to consider
different witch crazes in the past, and how this feedback loop existed in each of them. For example,
the chapter talks about the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, in addition to the recovered memory
movement. In the case of the recovered memory movement, it was intriguing to read about how a
book practically began the feedback loop, and the loop was eventually reversed by occurrences such
as a trail deciding that false memories were planted.

An image depicting an early european witch craze trial

To conclude, I am able to say that I would recommend the book Why People Believe Weird
Things by Michael Shermer primarily to anyone interested in science or anyone looking to be
informed about pseudoscience and why certain claims should not be believed. I feel that I chose the
correct book out of the possible options because most of the chapters were actually interesting to me.
With that said, there were clearly many things that I liked about this book, including how it contained
a lot of information instead of simply stating why such ideas are not real science. However, there
were also a few things that I did not like, but they are mostly just minor details that would not really
change the book much. For one, I found that the chapter that simply listed fallacies was somewhat
boring because of its list format and because we have already heard about certain fallacies from class.
Also, I feel that more images could be included in certain parts of the book, as long as they would
provide extra insight to the topic being discussed. Overall, I think that Why People Believe Weird
Things is definitely a book worth reading and it truly fits the topics of discussion in pseudoscience.

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