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Does the moon exist if there are no sentient beings to look at it?

by Michael Shermer, Mar 23 2010

In my last True/Slant post I explained why it is that quantum effects do not apply to the macro world because of the size difference between sub-atomic particles and (say) chemical reactions inside the neurons in your head, concluding:

During the debate Deepak claimed that the moon is nothing more than a soup of teaming quantum uncertainty. No. Subatomic particles may be altered when they are observed, but the moon is there even if no one looks at it.

Deepak wrote a thoughtful response to this blog (on his Blackberry while running on a treadmill with his agile thumbs no less!): Continue reading…

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A Skeptical Triumph Over Medical Flim-Flam

by Michael Shermer, Nov 03 2009

Skeptic Bruce Flamm, M.D. is vindicated in his drawn-out court case

On Friday, October 24, 2009, a California Court of Appeals vindicated Dr. Bruce Flamm, an OBGYN physician and professor at the University of California, Riverside, and member of the Skeptics Society, by throwing out a defamation lawsuit filed against him by a man who claimed to have proven that prayer can increase pregnancy rates in women trying to conceive.

Back in 2001, the Journal of Reproductive Medicine published a study by three Columbia University researchers claiming that prayer for women undergoing in-vitro fertilization resulted in a pregnancy rate of 50 percent, double that of women who did not receive prayer (i.e., a 100% increase in pregnancy rates!). Media coverage was extensive. ABC News medical correspondent Dr. Timothy Johnson, for example, reported, “A new study on the power of prayer over pregnancy reports surprising results; but many physicians remain skeptical.” One of those skeptics was a University of California Clinical Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics named Bruce Flamm, who not only found numerous methodological errors in the experiment, but also discovered that one of the study’s authors, Daniel Wirth (AKA “John Wayne Truelove”), is not an M.D., but an M.S. in parapsychology who has since been indicted on felony charges for mail fraud and theft, for which he pled guilty. Continue reading…

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An Open Letter to Bill Maher on Vaccinations

by Michael Shermer, Oct 20 2009

(Note: this post originally appeared on the Huffington Post on October 16, 2009)

Dear Bill,

Years ago you invited me to appear as a fellow skeptic several times on your ABC show Politically Incorrect, and I have ever since shared your skepticism on so many matters important to both of us: creationism and intelligent design, religious supernaturalism and New Age paranormal piffle, 9/11 “truthers”, Obama “birthers”, and all manner of conspiratorial codswallop. On these matters, and many others, you rightly deserved the Richard Dawkins Award from Richard’s foundation, which promotes reason and science.

However, I believe that when it comes to alternative medicine in general and vaccinations in particular you have fallen prey to the same cognitive biases and conspiratorial thinking that you have so astutely identified in others. Continue reading…

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Capitalism—A Propaganda Story

by Michael Shermer, Oct 13 2009

Capitalism - A Love Story (movie poster)

Michael Moore is the Leni Riefenstahl of our time. Or, perhaps he would be better characterized as a Bizzaro World Leni Riefenstahl, because while she propped up with propaganda the political powers of her time, Moore uses the same techniques to bring down the powers of our time, be it GM (Roger and Me), the gun lobby (Bowling for Columbine), the government (Fahrenheit 911), the health care industry (Sicko), or free enterprise (Capitalism: A Love Story).

In this latest installment in his continuing series of what’s wrong with America, Michael Moore takes aim at his biggest target to date, and the result is a disaster. The documentary is not nearly as funny as his previous films, the music selections seem contrived and flat, and the edits and transitions are clumsy, wooden, and not nearly as effective as what we’ve come to expect from the premiere documentarian (Ken Burns notwithstanding) of our time. And, most importantly, the film’s central thesis is so bad that it’s not even wrong. Continue reading…

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The Revolution Will Be Tweeted

by Michael Shermer, Oct 06 2009

At the Atheist Alliance International conference this past weekend in Burbank, California, the Skeptics Society had a booth in the vendor’s section of book sellers and the like, the latter of which included a table full of bumper stickers. One struck me as a poignant proxy for what I predicted will happen at the end of my book, The Mind of the Market: the Internet as a form of trade will enable freedom to find a way. The bumper sticker reads: The Revolution Will be Tweeted. I presume the reference is to the Iranian elections, the suppression of the protests of the corruption of which were tweeted.

The Revolution will be Tweeted. Continue reading…

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Chill Out — An economic triage
for global climate change

by Michael Shermer, Sep 29 2009

Are you a global warming skeptic, or are you skeptical of the global warming skeptics? Your answer depends on how you answer these five questions:

  1. Is the earth getting warmer?
  2. Is the cause of global warming human activity?
  3. How much warmer is it going to get?
  4. What are the consequences of a warmer climate?
  5. How much should we invest in altering the climate? Here are my answers.

Global warming is real and primarily human caused. With questions 3 and 4, however, estimates include error bars that grow wider the further out we run the models because complex systems like climate are notoriously difficult to predict. I provisionally accept the estimate of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the mean global temperature by 2100 will increase by 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and that sea levels will rise by about one foot (about the same as they have risen since 1860). Moderate warming with moderate changes. Continue reading…

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A Skeptic Among the Paranormalists

by Michael Shermer, Sep 15 2009

On Saturday, September 12, after flying 17 hours from Cluj, Romania to Budapest, Hungry to Zurich, Switzerland to L.A.X., I drove straight to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, where there was a big paranormal conference hosted by Dave Schrader of Darkness Radio. Dave is a very open-minded fellow, in the sense that he thought it might behoove his flock to have them hear what scientists think some plausible natural and normal explanations there are for the various supernatural and paranormal phenomena that his members tend to believe in and talk about at such conferences (there was even a ghost hunting expedition on the Queen Mary later that night, but I was wasted from flying for so long and passed on being spooked on the ship). Continue reading…

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Mixing Science and Politics (and Economics)

by Michael Shermer, Jul 28 2009

So many of you have taken the time to respond to my blogs thoughtfully that I feel I should comment in kind. In looking through the many comments, however, I see that most of what I would say has already been said by people who responded to my critics. Nevertheless…

First of all, why is it okay to mix science and religion (with atheists eagerly do in debunking religious claims) but not okay to mix science and politics/economics? Why is it okay for liberal atheists to stick it to religious believers and twist the knife slowly, but when it comes to getting your own (political/economic) beliefs challenged, that’s off limits — NOMA (nonoverlapping magisterial) for science and politics? I don’t see how they are different in principle. Skeptic is a science magazine, not an “atheist” magazine; nevertheless, we routinely deal with religious claims and no one ever complains about that. The closest we have come to political/economic issues is environmentalism (Vol. 9, No. 2 — sold out), overpopulation (Vol. 5, No. 1), and global warming Vol. 14, No. 1). For all three we published several articles; in Vol. 14, No. 1, for example, we published articles both skeptical of global warming and accepting of global warming. So I don’t see what would be wrong with publishing articles pro, con, and neutral on political and economic claims. Continue reading…

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The Other ‘L’ Word: Why I am a Libertarian

by Michael Shermer, May 12 2009

In a nutshell, I am a libertarian because conservatives are a bunch of gun-totting, Hummer-driving, hard-drinking, Bible-thumping, black-and-white-thinking, fist-pounding, shoe-stomping, morally-hypocritical blowhards, and liberals are a bunch of tree-hugging, whale-saving, hybrid-driving, sandle-wearing, bottled-water-drinking, ACLU-supporting, flip-flopping, wishy-washy, Namby Pamby bedwetters. There’s a better way. Libertarianism. Continue reading…

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How I Became a Libertarian

by Michael Shermer, May 05 2009

In reading through the many critical comments in response to my occasional foray into issues political and economic, readers seem to think that there are two Michael Shermers: Mr. Rational Skeptic and Mr. Kooky Libertarian. I will respond to the specific comments, but let me say at the outset that I do appreciate your skepticism of my libertarian beliefs (hey, we should be skeptical of the skeptics, or else we’re not true skeptics, right?!). Perhaps if I provided some background to how I became a Libertarian you can see that there is just one Michael Shermer, and even if you still disagree with my economics, you’ll at least understand where I’m coming from. And do remember that we libertarians are social liberals just like you (I’m presuming that the vast majority of readers of Skeptic, eSkeptic, and Skepticblog are liberals, which itself is a troubling bias in our readership that I’ll address another time). In the meantime… Continue reading…

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