Synopses & Reviews
Properly analyzed, the collective mythological and religious writings of humanity reveal that around 1500 BC, a comet swept perilously close to Earth, triggering widespread natural disasters and threatening the destruction of all life before settling into solar orbit as Venus, our nearest planetary neighbor.and#160;Sound implausible? Well, from 1950 until the late 1970s, a huge number of people begged to differ, as they devoured Immanuel Velikovskyandrsquo;s major best-seller, Worlds in Collision, insisting that perhaps this polymathic thinker held the key to a new science and a new history. Scientists, on the other hand, assaulted Velikovskyandrsquo;s book, his followers, and his press mercilessly from the get-go. In The Pseudoscience Wars
, Michael D. Gordin resurrects the largely forgotten figure of Velikovsky and uses his strange career and surprisingly influential writings to explore the changing definitions of the line that separates legitimate scientific inquiry from what is deemed bunk, and to show how vital this question remains to us today. Drawing on a wealth of previously unpublished material from Velikovskyandrsquo;s personal archives, Gordin presents a behind-the-scenes history of the writerandrsquo;s career, from his initial burst of success through his growing influence on the counterculture, heated public battles with such luminaries as Carl Sagan, and eventual eclipse. Along the way, he offers fascinating glimpses into the histories and effects of other fringe doctrines, including creationism, Lysenkoism, parapsychology, and moreandmdash;all of which have surprising connections to Velikovskyandrsquo;s theories.and#160;Science today is hardly universally secure, and scientists seem themselves beset by critics, denialists, and those they label andldquo;pseudoscientistsandrdquo;andmdash;as seen all too clearly in battles over evolution and climate change. The Pseudoscience Wars
simultaneously reveals the surprising Cold War roots of our contemporary dilemma and points readers to a different approach to drawing the line between knowledge and nonsense.
"What is the difference between science and pseudoscience? As the publisher of Skeptic
magazine and the 'Skeptic columnist for Scientific American
I am frequently asked this question. Believe it or not, it'a a hard question to answer. Michael Gordin's The Pseudoscience Wars
is the best single volume I have come across in my vast reading on the topic. He clearly and succinctly captures all sides on the debate, is rigorous in his research and fair to both believers and skeptics, and his narrative reconstruction of the Velikovsky affair makes for gripping reading. The Pseudoscience Wars
is destined to become a classic in science literature."
and#8220;Few issues loom more important today than the boundaries and authority of scientific expertise. How do the boundaries get created and reinforced, and what work do terms like and#8216;pseudoscienceand#8217; do in the debates? By delving deep into one of the earliest border skirmishes of the modern ageand#8212;the fascinating, beguiling case of Immanuel Velikovsky, his heterodox theories of human history and cosmic evolution, and the firestorm of protest they elicited from the scientific communityand#8212;Michael Gordin offers us a roadmap of the modern fringe. Scouring extraordinary sources with his keen analytic eye, Gordin reveals the roots of today's pseudoscience wars. Engrossing and illuminating.and#8221;
"Gordin . . . is remarkably evenhanded. . . . This won't put an end to the debates that rage between legitimate scientific research and other fringe doctrines, but it does lay the Velikovsky affair to rest with fairness and clarity and will help to put into perspective many of the controversies swirling around today's scientific landscape. A good read for those interested in the history of science or pseudoscientific theories."
and#8220;Those who are interested in how bad ideas start, how they diffuse, how they covet and resist confrontation, and how they wax and wane in popularity over time will find much food for thought in this gripping book.and#8221;
"Scholarly and highly readable. and#160;. . . Gordin's historical analysis of pseudoscience remains disturbingly relevant."
"A slyly funny writer. . . . Make no mistake:and#160;Gordin's sympathies are not with the occult.and#160;His fascination with pseudoscience is more like a negative method: the experts define the boundaries of their domain by fending off the quacks. For Gordin, pseudoscience is an instrument by which he takes the temperature of the past. . . . . The Pseudoscience Wars is a relatively slim volume, but Gordin siphons into it an overwhelming amount of information."
Synthesizing thirty years of research, psychologist and science historian Michael Shermer upends the traditional thinking about how humans form beliefs about the world. Simply put, beliefs come first and explanations for beliefs follow. The brain, Shermer argues, is a belief engine. Using sensory data that flow in through the senses, the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning, forming beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, accelerating the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive-feedback loop.
In The Believing Brain, Shermer provides countless real-world examples of how this process operates, from politics, economics, and religion to conspiracy theories, the supernatural, and the paranormal. And ultimately, he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not our beliefs match reality.
About the Author
MICHAEL SHERMER is the author of Why People Believe Weird Things, The Science of Good and Evil, and eight other books on the evolution of human beliefs and behavior. He is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the editor of Skeptic.com, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University. He lives in Southern California.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Bad Ideas
1and#160;The Grand Collision of Spring 19502and#160;A Monolithic Oneness3and#160;The Battle over Lysenkoism4and#160;Experiments in Rehabilitation5and#160;Skirmishes on the Edge of Creation6and#160;Strangest Bedfellows
Conclusion: Pseudoscience in Our Time
Abbreviations and ArchivesNotesIndex