Monday, August 10, 2020

Book Report "Why People Believe Weird Things"

     For most of my life, I have always shook my head at conspiracy theorists. I never understood what was going on in their heads that made them so convinced about weird things. That is why the title of this book caught my eye and made me want to read it. In the first part of the book, the author, Michael Shermer, discusses the meaning of skepticism and why it is so important. He cited a personal experience on when he first became a skeptic. He was advised to use a mega vitamin therapy program during Race Across America by a trained nutritionist in a P.H.D. program. However, it caused negative effects for him and then he found out that the nutritionist had not been trained by an accredited school and lacked real research data and scientific training. He had just made claims that it would help him win. He then goes on to talk about how skepticism is an important part of the scientific method, and how all facts in science are provisional and can be challenged. Also, the process of making factual claims relies on self correction from scientists and strong evidence. 

    Throughout the rest of the book, Shermer uses science and evidence to attempt to debunk different beliefs and conspiracies. Some of these paranormal beliefs include alien abductions, UFOs, creationism, and denial of the Holocaust. Also throughout the book, Shermer explains why people, including smart and normal people, believe these things. He describes these people as those who had their thinking just go wrong. When describing smart people who believe weird things, he says that they are "skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons." 

    The most interesting section of the book to me was the part about the deniers of the Holocaust. I honestly did not even know that there were people out there who deny it, so it was interesting for me to learn about the claims that they make. I have met people who believe in some pretty insane conspiracies, but I can not remember meeting any Holocaust deniers. 

    Shermer cited the arguments made by the Holocaust deniers. There are three main points that they deny. First, they deny that there was intentionality of genocide based primarily on race. Next, they deny that a highly technical and well-organized extermination program was implemented using gas chambers and crematoria. Third, they say that between 300,000 and 2 million Jews died instead of 5-6 million. Shermer goes to great lengths to debunk these deniers. He also criticizes their methodology. He says that they only focus on their opponent's weak points instead of helping their own argument, they treat one error as if it negates all other conclusions, they take quotes out of context, and they focus on what is not known instead of what is known. To me, based on this, it sounds like these deniers completely lack the fair-mindedness that is required to be a fair minded thinker.  

    Overall, this book relates to the class because it is about people believing things without having any real evidence. Examples that have been covered in the class include alien abductions, the Jersey Devil, and the end of the world. People want to believe these things, and they find ways to justify it, despite lacking real evidence. They believe witnesses even though they very well may have been hallucinating. I think this was a good book that highlights the importance of skepticism and science. I think it also encourages critical thinking, which is unfortunately lacking in society today.

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