The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

Shermer on Art Bell Radio Show

Sunday, October 17th, 2004
11 pm—2 am

I will be making my first appearance on Art Bell’s “Coast-to-Coast” radio show this Sunday night, October 17, from 11pm to 2am (ugh!), essentially to discuss my latest book, The Science of Good and Evil. But given the nature of this show and the audience (we will be taking listener calls) I suspect the topics will range all over the paranormal board. The show airs on different networks in different cities, so I suggest logging onto his web page to find out what station to tune into (; however, at that hour I don’t blame you all for choosing sleep instead. The show has a different host for most evenings, but this Sunday it will be Art and I going at it. What fun!

Stem Cell Conference on The Science Network

I am a member of the Board of Directors of the Science Network, which on October 2 launched its first web-based unedited proceedings of a conference held at the Salk Institute in La Jolla on the science and politics of stem cells. The entire unedited proceedings is available at The Science Network website:

Also, there is a link to the schedule for broadcasting the edited programs on UCTV. The first program—90 minutes of the Science presentations—airs this week beginning October 11. The Science Network in general is a worthwhile project. Check it out.

I thought it would be instructive and entertaining this week to share some letters to the editor, the first one responding to my appearance on the PBS series The Question of God (although I received hundreds of letters, the vast majority of which were thoughtful and supportive, this one was the most extreme on the other end, to which I responded and got back an interesting response), the rest in response to last week’s article on the Bush administration’s science policies and actions. —Michael Shermer

The Question of God

a letter in response to Michael Shermer’s
appearance on PBS, followed by Michael Shermer’s reply

The Letter

Dear Mr. Shermer:

I’m sure you have heard every conceivable insult. I’m sure too that you have heard every argument possible that might serve to unseat you from your self imposed realm of the debunker of what in your mind are myths, legends and false beliefs.

You are greatly misguided Mr. Shermer … and every moment I see you on TV I cringe in the knowledge that you will … with your assumed knowledge … misguide another susceptible soul into believing that there is nothing beyond themselves but themselves. You have sir … for a so called scientist … a very tiny mind.

Believe me sir … you will be accountable not just for the foolish and vile that you perceive … but also for that which you convince others to believe … i would not want to be you on the day you die.

with the likes of you in this world … it’s not a wonder why the world is the what it is.
sincerely, [name withheld]

Michael Shermer’s response

(All ellipses in both letters are her own.)

I am just curious to know what specifically you find offensive in my writings. Are you a religious person? Are you a Christian?

Her reply

I certainly am sir and I take offence … when anyone belittles or ridicules that which they clearly do not understand. Faith is ethereal. It cannot be fully understood through analysis or reasoning. Once faith has begun to establish itself in an individual it becomes part of their nature and that belief in something greater than themselves is what opens them up to possibilities once beyond their comprehension.

You behave as though you have all of the answers sir to all that is unfathomable and mysterious in this world but you have yet to present a viable explanation for anything. When an individual assumes to know everything they cease to learn and evolve. I would feel a greater pity for that person than I would for anyone who incurs ridicule and scorn because they are willing to look beyond themselves and the materialism of this world for a greater understanding.

God, UFO’s, telepathy, spontaneous human combustion … There is money in denouncing any validity in these things and that is clearly why you continue.

As I said before … we will all be accountable one day for the things we have done and the things we have said … both good and bad. I am satisfied that I’ve expressed myself to you according to my convictions and my conscience. I hope one day you may be able to look beyond yourself and gain an insight into greater possibilities beyond that which you can touch and see and taste. I’ll pray for you.

Letters to the Editor:
On the Bush Administration’s Science Policy

The following letters are in response to last week’s eSkeptic posting of the article by Dylan Otto Krider entitled “The Politicization Of Science in the Bush Administration: Science-As-Public Relations.” This is the first article in the 12 years we have been publishing Skeptic that had overt political implications. Not surprisingly, we received many letters in response. Here are a few for your interest, first positive, then negative.

Positive Letters

Thanks for the latest e-skeptic on Bush and his scientific hijinks. As an evangelical Christian, I voted for Bush last time because I thought that he would have more of a commitment to the truth than would someone from Clinton’s administration. I also thought that “compassionate conservatism” would be more than a slogan. Well, what a fool was I! We wound up with a “true believer” in charge of things. I can’t say what really is the nature of Bush’s religion, but I’ve always thought that Christians ought to have a commitment to the truth even when it’s not to our liking. But, under Bush, truth has a different quality all its own in how it can be denied or manipulated in the service of a political agenda. After reading this email, it became a lot easier for me to decide whom to vote for in November. This’ll be the first time I’ve voted for a Democrat for President.

Well done on the Bush article. I am rethinking my position on Bush as a result of that one article. It is indeed very serious stuff. If unchecked this kind of attitude can progress to the kind of McCarthyism mind set of the fifties without our realizing it is happening. The one thing you learn about History is that people rarely learn from History. Especially where it involves the blindness associated with human megalomania, even when initially intended from a virtuous standpoint. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, none of these guys started out with the intention of turning to evil, they were misguided in their thinking and one choice led to another and before long you have the whole administration taking on a life of its own with like minded underlings carrying out the policies and adding their own signature with whatever it takes actions to achieve the objectives. Just when I was beginning to despair that the Skep community had given itself over whole-hog to internet flame-fights, public taunting of astrologers and UFO contactees, and the jolly-time economic propaganda of John Stossel, Michael Shermer (publisher of Skeptic) sets his sights on a real problem created by pseudoscience. I’m a critic of the Skep movement in general, but this development calls for the Slaying the Fatted Calf. Three cheers (none of them of the Bronx variety)!

I just read your brilliant article reprinted in the E-Skeptic. Right on! Thanks for the great ammo for talking to knuckleheads who support Bush.

Negative Letters

I have long been a fan of the writings of Mr. Randi, Mr. Shermer and in general. However, I must say that the article on Science in the Bush Admin goes too far beyond just criticizing his science policies. You give way to your own political agenda by providing so much digital ink to bashing Bush, without offering counter viewpoints, or much actual science to refute the Krider opinion. As a libertarian, I am no fan of Bush politics, nor of his religious agenda with regard to science. But I am very disappointed that Skeptic has knowingly drawn itself into politics using the wedge of science to get the foot in the door.

This piece raises some good points, but frankly, I have trouble taking anything seriously that repeatedly quotes left-wing newspapers such as the NY Times and Washington Post. The NY Times has become a pro-DNC, pro-Kerry organ, and I’m not just talking about the editorial page. Ditto for the notoriously lefty Union of Concerned Scientists. Krider even quotes the socialist Mother Jones magazine. These are not fair and unbiased sources.

I am concerned about the politicization of the Skeptics Society, and I feel alienated as a Republican/Libertarian person, not affiliated with any particular religious persuasion, especially the “religious right.” I do not agree with the President’s religious persuasion, but I support him for other reasons. I do not trust John Kerry farther than I can spit. But my political views are a personal thing, something that I would not normally bring up at a skeptics function.

If you are fair-minded, I would encourage you to read the Bush Administration’s very specific responses to some of Krider’s baseless charges (, and click on the second link). You have every right to run the Krider piece in your honorable newsletter, but I believe it is propaganda, in large part.

I would have hoped that the one place I could be free of election year politics was in your magazine. I would appreciate it if you would reconsider sending out things like this during election season. It just makes me skeptical of Skeptic.

I have been reader of Skeptic for many years, and have not only learned a great deal, but enjoyed the hell out of it as well. Imagine my disappointment in the latest e-Skeptic when it turned out to be a blatantly partisan attack piece. I feel that this is entirely inappropriate.

Scientists are very good in what they do, which is whatever field, usually narrowly defined, that they specialize in. In addition, their very specialization and expertise necessarily comes from being very devoted to their studies, and one can only imagine how much time is truly left over for gaining perspectives and understanding of politics and social issues. In many cases a sense of intellectual superiority may be present, and lead to ‘infallible’ judgments on matters well outside their areas of expertise, I’m sure. At any rate, I fail to see what qualifies scientists as judges or juries in regard to the issues mentioned, especially in light of present circumstances. Truthfully, I believe that the words of Bernard Lewis have far more weight and relevance to this election than the biotech crowd’s opinions do.

I have spent a number of years working in and around the middle-east, which I think we can all reasonably agree is the source of almost all terrorism. The causes may seem to be complex, and it is certainly easy to follow the current fashions and blame the U.S., but I can assure you that the truth is much closer to being exactly as it appears, and exactly as the terrorists themselves have stated numerous times. In fact, to their credit, these people have gone out of their way to be absolutely clear in regard to their intentions. Negotiated peaces, or sensitive solutions are definitely not included in or even compatible with their goals.

While I agree that the issues mentioned in your article are very important, and perhaps even critical, they all must take a back seat to the mortally dangerous ‘War on Terror’. I personally am most concerned about the perceived reduced availability of federal funding for stem cell research. However, I am all too aware that these subjects, including others as diverse as gay marrige and even social security, will all matter very little if we fail to eliminate the threat posed by the radical Islamists. This may take many years, as the current administration clearly stated in the past and in the present, and it is critical to note that in order to prevail, we must show a great deal more resolve than we currently are.

It would be very nice if you found it in yourselves to produce in a notable way a response to this latest piece, else I’m not sure I will find the Skeptic experience enjoying for much longer.

Sigh. It is at least instructional when a presumably objective organization—indeed an organization whose Raison d’Être is objectivity—sends out a political editorial and asks everyone to “pass it along”—three weeks before an election. Such is the intensity of the opposition to Bush that it makes his opponents do the most foolish things. It is, in it’s way, a service—lowering the veil on those who would falsely present themselves as honest brokers of the truth. Dan Rather and CBS News come to mind.

You may agree with them. You may find no fault with their reasoning, but it’s a done deal; they have politicized themselves and thus have utterly abjured their claim of impartial detachment. I cannot imagine what Michael Crichton would say about this. Sorry you had to find out that the Skeptics Society is a sham, but they are, after all, like their religious counterparts, only human.

Why did I get sent a political statement with my skeptic newsletter? Skeptics are apolitical, even if the info is right, it is irrelevant, all administrations try to legislate their own view, even if is contrary to current scientific theory or better yet, acting like something is true when the evidence isn’t there (see global warming) I am a true skeptic which means politics too. I don’t want political rags, don’t send it to me if this is going to continue.

I have always been pleased that Skeptic magazine and the Society have avoided politics and political and defense policy, neither of which can be determined by scientific study. I hope this does not mark a change. I don’t agree with Bush on stem cell research either, but this is a minor issue compared to the “aid and comfort” Kerry gave to the enemy when he returned from his four months on the battlefield (one in training) and his back and forth opinions on the war in Iraq, esp. his contradiction about whether we should be there or not and whether this nation (full of foreign fighters) is part of the war on terror or not. This skeptic is a proud conservative Republican and Bush supporter. If Bush wins, I may even change my view as to whether there is a god or not. Meanwhile, stay out of politics, if you please.

Sir: your article regarding Bush’s treatment of science and scientists cannot be granted any validity. You omit EPA distortions; cite the already disgraced Union of Concerned Scientists, and arrange data to support unreliable data generally and further ignore that scientists can be wrong as evidenced by their support global cooling and what they believed in before oxygen was discovered and accepted.

Positive/Negative letters

While I agree in general with the points raised in Dylan Otto Krider’s piece, I have a few quibbles. He describes White House interference with the EPA as “government meddling,” even though the EPA is itself a government agency. I think it would be more accurate to describe the situation as allowing partisan politics to interfere with scientific conclusions.

Krider also refers to Spinsanity, which he calls “a self-described government watchdog website.” That is a somewhat misleading description that I haven’t ever seen on their site and cannot find now. is a nonpartisan site that evaluates public political dialogue in the U.S., primarily as it appears in the mass media, and documents examples of deceptive “spin.” Its principals are not Bush supporters, and their excellent book, All the President’s Spin, contains a well-documented chapter that is highly critical of Bush’s abuses of science. As the book carefully documents, what he has done to science is just a small part of his PR activity, using “a willingness to engage in day-to-day dishonesty on nearly ever major issue he has addressed.”

Finally, Krider complains about the Bush administration “letting National Park Service gift shops sell books with the alternative view that the Grand Canyon was formed in seven days.” The NPS does not run the Grand Canyon gift shops, they are run by a private organization under contract with the NPS, the Grand Canyon Association, which has operated since 1932.

Mr. Krider’s examination of political government finds no proper regard for science. If he himself had a dispassionate understanding of science and its practice, he would not be surprised, let alone offended. Looking to government for scientific leadership is like looking for reason where there isn’t any.

Is it fair to title Krider’s article “Political Science?” His title is “The Politicization Of Science in the Bush Administration: Science-As-Public Relations.” In view of his open anguish, however, he probably doesn’t realize how well his treatment of the subject illustrates the Machiavellian tradition, which is the application of prototype political science. His results certainly agree with Machiavelli’s conclusion that the Prince will seize upon any opportunity at hand to hold on to his power. The physical and biological sciences offer such opportunities, and the scientists and technicians in those fields are merely well-paid pawns in the larger racket of the regime to maintain and extend conquest of the population. They protest because they are innocent, and ignorant.

The problem is that there is yet no authentic social science and no science can justify coercing the population no matter how good the physics and biology is.

Krider’s Response

Thanks for taking the time to read the article and to respond. I did realize people would fault the article if I relied solely on the UCS. That is why I listed only a few of the examples noted in their report, and independently validated those with my own independent research gathered from other sources. The editors of the magazine also addressed this issue in the sidebar entitled “Political” Science:

We are aware that the Union of Concerned Scientists has historically championed what many would consider to be left-leaning or liberal causes, and we are also sensitive to the fact that the political climate of this election year 2004 is an emotionally-charged one; nevertheless, either the Bush administration has taken actions to steer science in a direction parallel to its political agenda, or it has not. This is a factual question that can be answered with facts. The UCS documents are extensive, so the following are just highlights. Readers should check the facts for themselves.

None of the information in the article came directly from the EPA. My endnotes can lead you to many of the sources I used. There are others I relied upon from Scientific American, New York Times, The Washington Post, as well as personal interviews with some of the scientists involved in alleged abuses by the administration. You will also notice that pretty much every person I quote in the article is either a Republican or current or former member of a Republican administration.

As far as global warming is concerned, my problem with the administration is that they suppressed scientific research that didn’t come to the conclusions they liked. If they suppressed research that showed global cooling, I would have criticized them for that as well.

I recognize that scientists can be wrong, but flawed as they are, it is scientists who should determine what data is valid using the scientific process, not politicians. I think that is something we can all agree on, no matter what side of the political aisle we belong.

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