Science Friction Where the Known Meets the Unknown

Michael Shermer

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Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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A scientist pretends to be a psychic for a day—and fools everyone. An athlete discovers that good-luck rituals and getting into "the zone" may, or may not, improve his performance. A son explores the possibilities of alternative and experimental medicine for his cancer-ravaged mother. And a skeptic realizes that it is time to turn the skeptical lens onto science itself.

In each of the fourteen essays in Science Friction, author Michael Shermer explores the very personal barriers and biases that plague and propel science, especially when scientists push against the unknown. What do we know and what do we not know? When does theory become accepted fact? As always, Shermer delivers a thought-provoking, fascinating, and entertaining view of life in the scientific age.


Praise for Science Friction

"Meaty accounts of such interesting problems as counterfactuality and complexity in history and of recent controversies in evolutionary theory; entertaining discussions of the most famous episode of Star Trek and the causes of the mutiny on the Bounty . . . well worth having."—The Washington Post Book World

"[Shermer's] main obsession is the truth . . . amateur skeptics will learn from his matter-of-fact dismissals of astrology and creationism."—Psychology Today

"You may disagree with Michael Shermer, but you'd better have a good reason—and you'll have your work cut out finding it. He describes skepticism as a virtue, but I think that understates his own unique contribution to contemporary intellectual discourse. Worldly-wise sounds wearily cynical, so I'd call Shermer universe-wise. I'd call him shrewd, but it doesn't do justice to the breadth and depth of his inspired scientific vision. I'd call him a spirited controversialist, but that doesn't do justice to his urbane good humor. Just read this book. Once you start, you won't stop."—Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The Ancestor's Tale

"It is both an art and a discipline to rise above our inevitable human biases and look in the eye truths about how the world works that conflict with the way we could like it to be. In Science Friction, Shermer shines his beacon on a delicious range of subjects, often showing that the truth is more interesting and awe-inspiring than the common consensus. Bravo."—John McWhorter, author of The Power of Babel and Losing the Race

"Shermer challenges us all to candidly confront what we believe and why. In each of the varied essays in Science Friction, he warns how the fundamentally human pursuit of meaning can lead us astray into a fog of empty illusions and vacuous idols. He implores us to stare honestly at our beliefs and he shows how, through adherence to bare reason, the profound pursuit of meaning can instead lead us to truth—and how, in turn, truth can lead us to meaning."—Janna Levin, author of How the Universe Got Its Spots

"Whether the subject is ultra-marathon cycling or evolutionary science, Michael Shermer—who has excelled at the former and become one of our leading defenders of the latter—never writes with anything less than full-throttled engagement. Incisive, penetrating, and mercifully witty, Shermer throws himself with brio into some of the most serious and disturbing topics of our times. Like the best passionate thinkers, Shermer has the power to enrage his opponents. But even those who don't agree with him will be sharpened by the encounter with this feisty book."—Margaret Wertheim, author of Pythagoras' Trousers

"From breast implants to Captain Bligh, Shermer examines the way we humans perceive news and history. He's given a lot of things a lot of thought. If your perceptions have ever rubbed you the wrong way, you'll find Science Friction fascinating."—Bill Nye, The Science Guy

"[Shermer] offers a collection of 14 essays that discuss science 'on the edge between the known and the unknown.' With chapters anchored by skepticism, the author argues that 'science is the best tool we have' to distinguish what we know and do not know . . . Recommended for general and popular science collections."—Garrett Eastman, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Library Journal

"The author of several books and a columnist for Scientific American, Shermer here gathers a dozen of his articles from other sources, such as Skeptic, the magazine he founded. Eclectic in range, the pieces can be personal (an account of his mother's death), formidably theoretical (a deep dive into historical causation), or playful (an essay about top-10-type lists of great persons, events, or inventions). The predominant subject, though, is the one that has garnered Shermer such a loyal readership: confronting unscientific thought. Shermer delights in debunking superstition and ignorance about science and considers it a worthy vocation since 45 percent of Americans, according to a 2001 Gallup survey Shermer cites, believe that God created humans a few thousand years ago. In one piece, the author illustrates how easily a poseur—himself—can give convincing psychic readings, and another exposition disputes so-called intelligent design theory, a species of creationism. Homages to his heroes, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, conclude the collection and indicate its variety."—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

"Shermer, a skeptic by nature and trade (he founded Skeptic magazine), reveals how scientific reasoning can remove blinders in any field of study and why some biases are, nevertheless, unavoidable. The book's first essays are highly engaging and will have readers re-examining their own ways of thinking about the world. The introduction, for instance, demonstrates with optical illusions and anecdotes how the mind can be tricked into believing the untrue. 'Psychic for a Day' has the author using psychology and statistics to become a medium. 'The New New Creationism' refutes the claim that intelligent-design theory is a bona fide scientific theory. When Shermer makes his essays personal, as in 'Shadowlands,' in which he describes trying unproven treatments to help his dying mother, he draws readers in . . . Shermer furthers the cause of skepticism and makes a great case for its role in all aspects of human endeavor."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



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  • Michael Shermer

  • Michael Shermer is a columnist for Scientific American and the author of the bestselling Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Believe, and The Science of Good and Evil. He is also the publisher of Skeptic magazine, the executive director of the Skeptics Society, and the host of the Skeptics Lecture Series at the California Institute of Technology. He lives in Los Angeles.

  • Michael Shermer Jeremy Danger
    Michael Shermer


    Michael Shermer

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