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Michael Shermer (born 1954) is an American historian of science, writer, professional skeptic, and ex-professional cyclist.

He is a noted "skeptical agnostic non-theist," the author of many writings on skepticism, and the founder of the The Skeptics Society.

A modern Paul

Like Paul, Shermer found his way on the long (bike) road to Damascus Mt. Elbert, in Colorado, when he realized that all the prayer, New Age pyramids, meditation, and homeopathy would not take the pain of 10 years of cycling away, and that these remedies and the philosophies behind them were all bunk. Like Paul, Shermer began to preach and teach, writing for Scientific American in the Skeptics column, writing books like Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time[1] (as well as the far more exciting Cycling: Endurance and Speed[2]), and lecturing across the US on topics ranging from Holocaust denial to creationism (which he aptly calls Evolution Denial).[3]

Spooky radio

Shermer wrote that in 2014, he tried unsuccessfully to restore a transistor radio that had belonged to the deceased grandfather of his new wife and among other things, installed fresh batteries. He stashed it in their bedroom, located at the back of their home. Three months later, the radio "inexplicably" started playing just when his wife needed grandfatherly reassurance. This mysterious event 'shook [Shermer's] skepticism', he appeared to hint that he was "keeping an open mind" about the possibility of supernatural influence. Later Shermer tried to back track over the supernatural. [4]

Shermer knows that intelligent people can be good ar finding rationalizations for weird beliefs, he wrote.

—Michael Shermer 2002 [5]

For those lacking a fundamental comprehension of how science works, the siren song of pseudoscience becomes too alluring to resist, no matter how smart you are.

Did Michael Shermer and his wife carefully weigh up the evidence and follow the Scientific method over the radio? Below are some points that both could do well to consider.

Explanations

To vintage electronics geeks, old transistor radios with "intermittent" circuits are no mystery at all. Varying humidity, temperature and mechanical movement on old copper contacts found in switches and battery compartments, as well as the effect of aging capacitors and resistors on circuits, are well-known causes of maddeningly intermittent functionality. Tiny temperature-induced contractions or expansions of small metal or plastic parts over time can cause otherwise dead circuits to come to life suddenly.[6][7] Yet, to the uninitiated, this well-understood but arcane electronic quirk resembles magic.

  1. But what about the spooky timing of this one? Again, there's a boringly conventional explanation. According to Shermer's account, he and his wife would not have discovered the radio playing had they not retreated to the bedroom located at the back of the house where the radio was stored. Equipped with fresh batteries and left "on"[8] with the volume slightly turned up, Shermer's radio had very likely already been playing by itself, probably during rising daytime temperatures, but not when anyone was nearby to hear it. That the Shermers happened to first discover the radio playing at a particularly emotional moment was a remarkable coincidence, but well within the realm of pure chance. [9]
  2. But what about the spooky way the radio happened to be tuned to a station playing love music? [8] That's harder to explain unless we haven't been told the whole story. Modern radios sometimes tune in automatically to a strong station but 1970's radios weren't up to this.
    1. It's possible to speculate that the radio could have been altered, for example modern components could have been put into the casing of the 1970's radio.
    2. It's possible to speculate that the radio could have been altered so for example a remote signal could start it.

Jerry Coyne regrets that Shermer made no attempt to get more evidence, for example by looking into the radio. Coyne further reprints a post which includes, "It would be mildly interesting to have an electronics expert determine exactly what is wrong with the radio."[10] Since Shermer and his wife haven't provided the radio for investigation we'll quite likely never know if there was or wasn't more to it than a 1970's vintage radio.

Readers are left to apply Occam's razor. Which is more likely?

  1. That the story we've been told isn't complete or isn't fully accurate.
  2. That the radio wasn't entirely the way it seemed.
  3. That spooky things really happen like the dead communicating with the living.

Readers are invited to answer that for yourselves. If the radio was altered to simulate a spooky event Michael Shermer fdoesn't have to be the person who did it. Many people at the Center for Inquiry know how Supernatural events are simulated. Many people at the CFI may have as motive to encourage Michael Shermer to stick to his new wife and Avoid causing them further embarassment.

Accusations of sexual misconduct

People who originally thought highly of Shermer have come to despise him. [11]

On August 8, 2013, PZ Myers posted a message on his Pharyngula blog at Freethought Blogs from an unnamed woman later identified as Alison Smith claiming that Michael Shermer had raped her.[12] Smith alleged, "at a conference, Mr. Shermer coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me." She also stated that "I reached out to one organization that was involved in the event at which I was raped, and they refused to take my concerns seriously," that "5 different people have directly told me they did the same to them," and that she was sharing this information in order to warn others. Myers' later updated his blog entry with an account from another woman, who claimed that Shermer plied her with drink at an atheist event and "was very flirty."

Bloggers in the atheist/skeptic/feminist community reacted quickly and took sides, it soon became the blogosphere's drama of the week, rehashing many of the divisions endemic in the atheist community since the "Elevatorgate" affair.[13]

Shermer denied any wrongdoing and issued a cease and desist order against Myers, threatening defamation action unless Myers removed the offending blog entry and issued a full retraction and apology.[14]

Shermer got legal funds without asking on a fundraiser page built by Emery Emery, the “Ardent Atheist”.[15] The fundraser included a rape joke with generous contributors offered a bottomless glass of wine, with Emery “who will not be drinking but keeping your glass full.” This was a reminder that one woman complained Shermer repeatedly refilled her glass. Myers also got an offer of legal help from Popehat who is experienced with online libel trouble.[16]

The fundraiser for Michael Shermer’s legal action raised a total of $8,289. Emery Emery stated that Shermer “has no choice” but to sue PZ because the post was still up. By August 9th, 2014 the statute of limitations in California ran out without Shermer suing Myers.[17]

Things blew up after 11-Sept-2014, when New York Times contributor Mark Oppenheimer wrote a very long, detailed highlights-reel on the harassment campaigns being run within the atheist and skeptical movements, including naming three victims of Shermer’s alleged predations. This piece alone contains several bombshells which had not been public before Oppenheimer's article appeared, including:

  • The person in the “Grenade” post by Myers was Alison Smith, a known figure in the skeptical community.
  • Shermer has actively changed his story from what he reported at the time in his rebuttal statement:
    • Original statement: Two unknown people (one with “dreadlocks”) were upset that Shermer was talking with Smith and was preventing them from “getting into her pants”, so they started spreading rumors.
    • Later statement: Shermer and Smith had had sober consensual sex that night, initiated by a cold proposition by Smith in a bathroom.
  • Ashley Miller apparently had a several-minute-long conversation with Shermer while he was actively massaging his thing through his jeans, and trying to arrange himself such that she had to see it and notice.
  • James Randi was aware of complaints, and because Shermer wasn’t violent, ignored them:

James Randi

Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that[.] I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference. His reply, […] is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing … I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.

Adam Lee accused Randi and others of working to silence Shermer's critics, further Lee accused some of trying to pressure victims into silence. Lee compared this to |Roman Catholic and other religious organizations that seek to cover up other wrong doing, notably predatory sex by their members. Lee accuses some atheists who condemn religiously motivated cover ups while acting similarly of Double standards. [18] Note:

  • Randi's statement that Shermer aparently was drunk also contradicts Shermer's statement that the two had sober consensual sex.
  • Emery Emery gave the money from the fundraiser to Shermer’s lawyers, which, since they didn’t sue Myers, leaves the fate of those funds in question. What did they pay for, and/or how much was returned to Shermer or Emery? Was any returned to the donors?

Quotes

  • "On the deepest level, our brains are wired up to believe just about everything we encounter..."[19]
  • "Science is the best tool we ever devised. It's the only hope we have," he said. But "it's counterintuitive. People are not naturally inclined to think skeptically and scientifically."[19]

Shermer as a scientist

Shermer has been accused of overlooking important evidence in his attempt to analyse 'homo naledi'.[20]

See also

External links

Footnotes

  1. Why People Believe Weird Things
  2. Cycling: Endurance and Speed (Sportsperformance)
  3. MichaelShermer.com
  4. I just witnessed an event so mysterious that it shook my skepticism
  5. Smart People Believe Weird Things
  6. UK Vintage Radio Repair and Restoration Lots of reasons radios play or don't play by themselves. Notice how it's never caused by a ghost?
  7. Is Michael Shermer becoming a believer??
  8. 8.0 8.1 Do Anomalies Prove the Existence of God?
  9. For how people come to imagine there is agency behind something like an old radio turning itself on see The pattern behind self-deception. That has a very good explanation which Shermer could do well to note.
  10. Shermer has a woo experience, admits there may be something to it
  11. I have read many of "Skeptic" magazine editor Michael Shermer's books over the years. I thought they were fair, well-documented, and well-reasoned. I also have regularly picked up "Skeptic" magazine. But now, I hate the guy.
  12. PZ Myers, "What do you do when someone pulls the pin and hands you a grenade?", Pharyngula, August 8, 2013.
  13. Some examples: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]
  14. A copy of the cease and desist letter
  15. [6]
  16. [7]
  17. [8]
  18. The Wall of Silence Around Michael Shermer
  19. 19.0 19.1 Taking life with a grain of salt
  20. Michael Shermer: Murdering the facts about Homo naledi?


Adapted from RationalWiki where they're condsidering removing part

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