Why People Believe Weird Things Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time

Michael Shermer; Foreword by Stephen Jay Gould

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

384 Pages



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Why do so many people believe in mind reading, past-life regression therapy, abductions by extraterrestrials, and ghosts? What has led to the rise of "scientific creationism" and the belief that the Holocaust never happened? Why, in this age of supposed scientific enlightenment, do people seem to be more impressionable than ever?

With a no-holds-barred assault on popular superstitions and prejudices, science historian Michael Shermer debunks these extraordinary claims and explores the very human reasons people find otherworldly phenomena, conspiracy theories, and cults so appealing. But Shermer also reveals the more dangerous side of such thinking, including the recovered memory movement, satanic rituals, modern witch crazes, and ideologies of racial superiority.

Shermer concludes by describing his own confrontations with those who take advantage of people's gullibility to advance their own, often self-serving agendas. In a brand-new chapter to this 2002 edition, he explores the trend among major, respected researchers to corrupt the scientific process in support of their own nonscientific belief systems. Why People Believe Strange Things is not only an insightful portrait of our immense capacity for self-delusion but, ultimately, a celebration of the scientific spirit.


Praise for Why People Believe Weird Things

"For a very soundly documented and reasoned set of specifics, I know of no better single volume than this one. Give it to everyone you know whose head and heart you respect, but who is flirting with irrationality."—The Baltimore Sun

"Why People Believe Weird Things is a tour de force and a literary delight, and it should be required reading for anyone who celebrates intellectual integrity."—Frank Sulloway, author of Born to Rebel

"Brilliant, informed, and incisive dissections of bogus science and history are a major contribution to what one dares hope is a backlash against the still-rising tide of New Age nonsense and public gullibility."—Martin Gardner, author of Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus

"This is a book that deserves to be widely read. Skeptics and critical thinkers can learn from it, but more importantly, it's a book to give those who maybe aren't as skeptical as you, those who need some clear and reasonable arguments to gently push them in a more critical direction. Read this book yourself: buy it for someone whose mind you care about."—Independent Thinking Review

"Shermer equips you with a valuable antidote to the waves of irrationality that come drifting in your windows or onto your television set."—Orange County Register

"This sparkling book romps over the range of science and anti-science."—Jared Diamond, author of The Third Chimpanzee

"This book is a ray of light in a nation befogged by pseudoscience and psychobabble."—Carol Tavris, author of The Mismeasure of Woman

"The perfect handbook to thrust on anyone you know who has been lured into the comforting paranoias that circulate amid the premillennial jitters."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Shermer makes clear that virulent credulousness is more on the march in our world than virulent skepticism, and shows that his chosen profession is a valuable one."—Brian Doherty, Reason

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Science is founded on the conviction that experience, effort, and reason are valid; magic on the belief that hope cannot fail nor desire deceive.
—Branislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science,...

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  • Michael Shermer; Foreword by Stephen Jay Gould

  • Michael Shermer, Ph. D., is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com), the director of the Skeptics Society, the host of the Skeptics Lecture Series at the California Institute of Technology, and a contributing editor and monthly columnist for Scientific American. He is the author of How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, Denying History and The Borderlands of Science.

  • Michael Shermer Jeremy Danger
    Michael Shermer


    Michael Shermer Stephen Jay Gould

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