Skeptic: Viewing the World with a Rational Eye
By Michael Shermer
Review by David Wineberg
Skeptic is a collection of 75 articles Michael Shermer contributed to Scientific American, where he has written a column of the same name since 2001. In the articles, he probes, jabs, stabs and eviscerates a wide variety of cows, both sacred and profane. The articles run two to three pages, so they are bite-sized, succinct, and to the point. The topics run the gamut: hoaxers, charlatans, bad science, bad medicine, religion, extraterrestrials – pretty much anything where a skeptic can add light rather than just heat.
There is a perverse sort of joy throughout Skeptic. Shermer clearly loves declawing, denouncing, and debunking. He does it mercilessly and seemingly effortlessly. He gives the impression he is in full command of the facts. He doesn’t have a horse in these races, so he can dispense wisdom to all in a laid back, easygoing style of tossing off facts and doubts without fear of repercussion.It is a refreshingly fearless approach. As I read, I kept wishing I could send the article at hand to someone who clearly needed to see it.
Shermer collected the articles in ten sections: science, skepticism, pseudoscience/quackery, paranormal/supernatural, aliens/UFOs, borderlands science/alternative medicine, psychology/brain, human nature, evolution/creationism, and science/religion/miracles/God. So there are insights for pretty much anyone.
I have two wishes for Skeptic. One is an index so anyone can use it as a research tool. The other is more depth, because the book doesn’t build to anything. Just as Shermer gets me intrigued, he wraps up. And while the articles are never incomplete (or dull), there’s nothing like kicking a victim when he’s down.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.