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Michael Shermer, (Gage Skidmore, CCASA3.0 licence)

The Shermer Sham

Has it become time for Scientific American to dump its resident ‘skeptic’ and columnist Michael Shermer? Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic Magazine, and frequently appears in the mass media as the advocate for the ‘skeptical’ viewpoint when it comes to claims of the paranormal. Scientific American gives him the ear of the scientific community, and the weight of its authority to the general public, via his regular column which is simply called “Skeptic”.

The trouble with Shermer is, he is not a skeptic. He is fixated with debunking alternative views, and he is neither objective nor fair in his treatment as a true skeptic should be. Despite warning readers in his book The Borderlands of Science (Amazon US) to be wary of the individual who “consistently ignores or distorts data not for creative purposes but for ideological agendas”, it is quite evident that Shermer himself fits into this category.

In his March 2003 column in Scientific American, Shermer cited a study led by researcher Pim van Lommel as evidence against the ‘Near-Death Experience’ (NDE). Published in the respected medical journal The Lancet, this research had gathered information from cardiac arrest patients regarding their experience (or not) during their life-threatening situation. What is exceedingly strange though is that Pim van Lommel concluded the exact opposite to Shermer. In reply to Shermer’s “Skeptic” article, van Lommel wrote:

Michael Shermer states that, in reality, all experience is mediated and produced by the brain, and that so-called paranormal phenomena like out-of body experiences are nothing more than neuronal events. The study of patients with NDE, however, clearly shows us that consciousness with memories, cognition, with emotion, self-identity, and perception out and above a life-less body is experienced during a period of a non-functioning brain (transient pancerebral anoxia).

One might think it fair enough if Shermer simply interpreted the data differently to the research team (although you would ask why, and on what credentials). However, this so-called ‘skeptic’ failed to even mention in his column that the researchers he was citing had arrived at exactly the conclusion he was trying to disprove. Pim van Lommel’s reply to Shermer shows who is thinking more objectively:

To quote Michael Shermer: it is the job of science to solve those puzzles with natural, rather than supernatural, explanations….for me science is asking questions with an open mind, and not being afraid to reconsider widely accepted but scientifically not proven concepts like the concept that consciousness and memories are a product of the brain. But also we should realize that we need a functioning brain to receive our consciousness into our waking consciousness. There are still a lot of mysteries to solve, but one has not to talk about paranormal, supernatural or pseudoscience to look for scientific answers on the intriguing relation between consciousness and memories with the brain.

In his latest column for Scientific American, Shermer has labelled the independent film on science and mysticism, What the #$*! Do We Know?!, as ‘quantum quackery’. His basis for this conclusion comes from the testimony of University of Colorado physicist Victor Stenger, who says that there is no crossover between the quantum world and consciousness/the brain. In Shermer’s words, therefore, “there is no micro-macro connection.” This despite the fact that earlier in the article he had pointed out that scientists of the calibre of Sir Roger Penrose, the late Sir John Eccles, and Stu Hammeroff, have seriously considered the idea worthy of further research. And yet Shermer feels moved to label such ideas as ‘physics envy’? Indeed, one can only quote his apparently ‘skeptical’ article and ask “what the #$*! is going on here?”.

It’s quite simple to see from the above that Shermer is selecting evidence and opinions that suit his worldview, and quoting them authoritatively, while ignoring or making disparaging comments about any non-conformist views. That is neither objective, scientific, nor skeptical. Then how can Scientific American print this rubbish?

These examples are not the limit to Shermer’s ineptitude at objective and critical thinking. In reaction to Rupert Sheldrake’s recent book The Sense of Being Stared At (Amazon US and UK), Shermer told USA Today that “the events Sheldrake describes don’t require a theory and are perfectly explicable by normal means”. When pushed on the details of his rebuttal, Shermer admitted he hadn’t even seen the book. Sheldrake has since proposed a debate between himself and Shermer on the subject, though Shermer is yet to accept.

In his August 2004 Scientific American column, Shermer attacked respected physicist Freeman Dyson over his comments that paranormal phenomena may actually exist based on the large amount of anecdotal evidence. Rebutting Dyson over his citing of anecdotal evidence Shermer baldly stated:

Either people can read other people’s minds (or ESP cards), or they can’t. Science has unequivocally demonstrated that they can’t – QED.

In actual fact, Shermer here is inventing the truth. There are many scientific studies which have shown positive results for ESP, and Shermer would be well aware of these (see Dean Radin’s The Conscious Universe – at Amazon US and UK – for a summary). Instead, he chooses to ignore them and blatantly lie. Shermer’s inability to argue on facts is a blot on the credibility of Scientific American.

Shermer is scheduled to appear in January 2005 at the ‘Amazing Meeting‘ in Las Vegas with uber-‘skeptic’ James “the Amazing” Randi. Together, they will be giving a workshop on “How to Communicate Skepticism to the Public”. Considering the history of both men involved, ‘skepticism’ is in bad shape and heading for worse. Critical thinking is a must in any alternative claims. But Shermer displays no ability to think critically or objectively, and it is high time that Scientific American questioned his credentials to talk authoritatively on such issues.

Further information concerning Michael Shermer’s ‘skeptical’ history is available at the Skeptical Investigations website – including some statements by critics of the substance and style of his arguments.

Update: Stuart Hameroff has responded to Shermer’s critique of his ‘quantum consciousness’ research.

Update #2: Rupert Sheldrake has responded to Shermer’s critique of his research in the November 2005 issue of Sciam.

  1. RE –
    Hi GREG — dificult for me to say ” To be or not to be ”

    the ” American scentific ” + british ” Nature ” = conservatisme ;

    or better = SCENTISM

    regards pavel

  2. Skeptic Versus Cynic
    Bravo, Greg!
    these are the sorts of distinctions — skeptic or cynic —
    that need to be made in the case of Shermer and many other
    obsessive-compulsive debunkers.
    Cynic is, by some dictionary definitions, “a sniveling disbelief
    in virtue.” Skeptic is classically an ‘open-minded questioning
    without preconceived notions of truth.’
    Shermer is clearly a cynic, questioning motives, ignoring evidence to
    propagandize his agenda, and acting dishonestly while being self-
    –Randall Fitzgerald

  3. Shermer is like Phil Klauss
    News like that makes me mad….makes me feel like I do not like this Shermer guy.

    Boy, a convention in Las Vegas:……to quote from your article: Shermer is scheduled to appear in January 2005 at the ‘Amazing Meeting’ in Las Vegas with uber-‘skeptic’ James “the Amazing” Randi. Together, they will be giving a workshop on “How to Communicate Skepticism to the Public”.

    That is truly bizarre. I hope people are smarter than that.

    Rupert would be great to have in debate with that Shermer guy.
    Shermer obviously is declining becuse he probablly knows he will be whooped!

    I also like what you quoted:
    Either people can read other people’s minds (or ESP cards), or they can’t. Science has unequivocally demonstrated that they can’t – QED.

    “They” must really think that humans are really stupid,. I mean I know some of us are, but, how in the world can they think they can get away with all of this, unless the audience they are addressing are deliberately the uneducated people about such things and “they” are trying to brainwash them. Obvious to you and me and a bunch of others, but what about the people they are trying to get to. Maybe Shermer and his exploits will continue to make such asses out of themsleves that even the uneducated people will be able to figure it out. Most people can see the difference between a donkey and a dove.

    Dr. Colette M. Dowell ND
    Circular Times
    Moving Forward Publications

    1. People are not really smarter than that
      Where they so, the likes of Shermer and Randi would have no ground to occupy.

      The near totality of humanity is conditioned to adhere to a set of belief and is indoctrinated with particular thought patterns that prevent objectivity by tying an impression of subjectivity and imaginary control over concepts they are prisoner of both individually and collectively.

      In other words, we do not chose our camp, we are born into it.

      This is like cancer, you are either already predisposed to it or you are not. Thought trends and values are not any different.

      If one is already a witch hunter in essence, one will gladly accept the view of a witch hunter in action. This is why these people get recognition against all odds, as figured by those that have a minimum of objectivity in their mind.

      This level of objectivity is directly related to the experience of the soul which translates in a potential for self-spirit. Young souls are too easily lied to because they do not have a secure view on their experience and the experimental medium they are soaked into.

      A measure of this would be the difference between justification and explanation. Never trust someone who always needs approval through justification. These people are falsificators hiding behind the umbrella of appearances.

      1. Where you bin Richard?
        Missed you Richard.
        I agree and also feel that for some people it is a career path.Debunking comes easily to people to whom proving that something is true would be a challenge.
        It is much easier to say it is a fraud than to say it could be true then have to set out to prove it.


      2. Camps…
        THat was good what you wrote Richard. Yes, I understand some people go to conferences to research others….some go to conferences and want to just hear, some go to be led all of the way, some are able to see what is going on and pick and choose what they want to adhere to or what ever it is they are looking for , for particular validation. I expeirenced mnay people thinking that if they were just near a speaker , or jsut toucheded them, that they would be gifted with everything that speaker knew, like osmosis….what was in the speaker’s mind and soul is now transported to the seekers mind…bull…….It is like people do not want to do their own homework to elevate. They take the easy route and go, go , go , go until they have totally lost all ability to discrimate. No walls up what so ever. It is like they are hypnotized and gullible and just accept everything as truth. It is easy to do it that way, you don’t have to think for yourself, just hopefully remember. I am afraif that is happening more and more with the world population. They are being led in to directions, pinned in…society is changing very rapidly and it is queer to think it is so negative when epeople are supposedly spiritual….Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is not even acceptable today….Most people do not know or even understand what the Golden Rule is, or they have such low self estem that they allow themselves to get crpped on, so they crap on other people and it just groes and crows like the Blob in that old movie with Steve McQueen….

        I need to hang loose….I want the ability to choose what is good and bad for me…

        Dr. Colette M. Dowell ND
        Circular Times
        Moving Forward Publications

        1. Perhaps most rather than some
          Otherwise, I pretty much agree with you.

          It is much easier to bring others down or render them into a relative state of slavery through domination which as for effect of giving us the relative impression that we are above and them below, so that we can afford to believe that the proper order of things is as it should be.

          We like to believe that we are special and that others are accessory to our own sentiment of well-being. This has led the Western cultures to plunder seemingly less able continents to their benefit. It is no different within our own societies. He who can manage to grasp and hold onto an advantage will tend to see it as a natural condition of his person, not a programmed condition of karmic relationships. They will link their own situation to their ability to use their impression of free will and put the others’ failures to their inability to use their own free will.

          Likewise, it is much easier to believe that control and manipulation of the environment, whether nature or other people, is the solution to our own heightening. This tendency is much more related to one not being part of evolution but being part of controlled behavior for the benefit of the progression of the race’s attributes. A man who is on the path of evolution, in other words he who is of life and not a walking dead anymore, has no choice but to evolve. This is not anymore a question of free will for him but a state of control of his destiny, since he has become that destiny and there is no more any difference between him and his life.

          Such a person cannot seek to dominate since he does not need this psychological falsification to create an impression of superiority. Such a man cannot live through impressions, he can only see.

          The reflex that brings most to adhere to what others say, leaders either spiritual, political or other, are reacting in relation to having forfeited their own identity for the right to belong to a group. This makes them part of a pyramid and such will seek to climb the levels of this pyramidal psychic architecture. Yet, no matter where they are as a number within that pyramid, they do not gain any more reality within their failed mentation of their own identity. They belong to a structured energy that is supported by karmic links; they do not belong to themselves. They will therefore adopt what the guru, chief, leader, will say and they will talk as one. This of course precludes all objectivity while it will promote a total subjectivity of consciousness based on a totally pre-organized thought paradigm that leaves no real place for the individual’s autonomy and replaces it with the promise of free-will and self elevation that is secluded within the confines of this pyramidal architecture of lost souls.

          The Golden Rule is ‘Integral Respect’ it demands that we set others free. We rather would set them slave of psychological ties that make us feel good about ourselves. This taints even the way we live the energy of love. It is more the neuronal and hormonal excitation that we seek while others must be tied to this mechanism through sentiments than the absolute and unconditional good of the other.

          Society and its principles will never lead evolution. Man must exit this energy grid to escape his karmic condition so that he needs not the illusion of free-will to feel he has a say on what happens to his life even though he is absolutely powerless about it, not knowing where he came from and where he is going because he does not have sufficient capacity to support the energy of what he knows but would rather not know because it would go against his programmed aspirations.

          1. MATRIX
            I have never seen the movie Matrix. I watched it last night….weird, there was some good writing i that script for content….I wonder soemtines if we aren’t “hooked” up somehow and we really do not have self will….free will. that we are jere doing for “others”…Did you ever see the movie THEY LIVE….oooh , that was a great low bedget sci fi flick, but had truths embedded in it…I oved it…
            I liked hat you wrote Richard, THank you.

            Dr. Colette M. Dowell ND
            Circular Times
            Moving Forward Publications

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