Why People Believe Weird Things
by Michael Shermer
Published in 2002
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
Michael Shermer attempts to explain in this book why intelligent people are more susceptible to bad ideas. I enjoyed reading this book, and recommend it to my superstitious friends.
The book is clear and well written. Shermer begins by listing a number of fallacies that lead intelligent people to believe in stupid things. He proceeds to apply these fallacies to various cases of irrational but plausible sounding beliefs.
First, he tells the readers about his own experience as a professional cyclist. In an attempt to increase his performance, he fell prey to a lot of alternative medicine scams. These scams did more than drain his wallet and endanger his health: they detracted from the real solutions of good diet and exercise.
He then gives examples of how various fringe groups make logical fallacies in their arguments, but nonetheless fail to attract devoted followings of intelligent supporters. His examples are broad and range from alien conspiracy theorists, to creationists, to holocaust deniers.
I particularly found the chapter about holocaust deniers to be interesting. I have more experience with this fringe group than I had with creationists or alien conspiracy theorists because I flirted with the ideas and did research. I noticed many of the same fallacies described by Michael Shermer.
Shermer’s takeaway is to always be skeptical, especially of very credible sounding people. This is a quick read that you can give to family or friends who are intelligent but have irrational beliefs.
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