cover image Skeptic: Viewing the World with a Rational Eye

Skeptic: Viewing the World with a Rational Eye

Michael Shermer. Holt, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62779-138-0

Shermer (The Moral Arc) makes a strong case for the value of the scientific endeavor and the power of rational thinking in these 75 brief essays, reprinted from his monthly column for Scientific American. His subjects include an exploration of the nature of science and a discussion of the principles of skepticism, with a particular focus on the appropriate interplay between data and theory. Among Shermer’s more engaging pieces are his thoughts on why so many intelligent people believe so many irrational ideas, the relationship between religion and science, and ways to distinguish science from pseudoscience. Shermer is not shy about expressing his opinions clearly and forcefully, as when he invokes Pauli’s Proverb, named after the physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who once critiqued a manuscript by saying, “This isn’t right. It’s not even wrong.” Degrees of wrongness are important to Shermer: “If you think that thinking science is unbiased is just as wrong as thinking that science is socially constructed, then your view is not even wronger than wrong.” Each entry is insightful, informative, and entertaining, though all are too brief to do more than whet the appetite. The most frustrating problem with this collection is that Shermer’s language, which might be evocative in a monthly column, wears thin when several pieces are read in quick succession. B&w images. (Jan.)