The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


Can’t These People Read?

I keep seeing things that make me wonder, “Can’t these people read?” I get emails from people who say they liked what I had written about various subjects that I have never written about; for instance, food customs in other countries. Can’t these people read? What are they thinking? And when I write my weekly […]

Massimo Pigliucci — How to Live a Good Life and Create a Just Society

Shermer and Pigluicci discuss: his journey from Rome to New York • evolutionary biology • stoic philosophy • can there be a science of meaning and morality? • ultimate questions • desire, action, depression, suicide, anger, anxiety, love, and friendship • practical spiritual exercises • how to react to situations • teaching virtue to politicians • philosophy and politics • character and leadership • the nature of evil.

You’re Not That Big a Star: Using the Science of Crowd Estimation to Debunk Extraordinary Estimates of Mega-Concerts

When people estimate the size of large crowds—from presidents and their inaugural addresses to rock stars and their concert audiences—we know that there can be a lot of blue sky exaggeration in the numbers. But how do professionals estimate crowd sizes using the latest tools of science and mathematics? In this article John D. Van Dyke reveals the secrets to estimating how many people are gathered in any one space.

Suzie Sheehy — The Matter of Everything: How Curiosity, Physics, and Improbable Experiments Changed the World

Shermer and Sheehy discuss: what it’s like being a female physicist in a mostly male field • Does science progress through falsification, confirmation, consensus, or Bayesian reasoning? • atoms, light, Higgs Boson, time, gravity, dark energy, dark matter, string theory, radioactivity • Gold Foil Experiment • cloud chambers • particle accelerators • splitting the atom • Is there a place for God in scientific epistemology? • Is math all there is? Is math universal? • other universes, dimensions, and the multiverse.

Dacher Keltner — Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life

Shermer and Keltner discuss: the death of his brother and how this led to his study of awe • an operational definition of awe • the reliability (or unreliability) of self-report data in social science • how to quantify and measure the experience of awe • What are emotions and how can they be measured? • How has the scientific understanding of emotions changed? • predictors of awe: nature, music, art, dance, movement/exercise, love & friendships • awe in moral beauty • how to train yourself to experience awe • how awe helps heal traumas, grief, and loneliness • mystical experiences, spirituality, and awe restorative justice and awe.

Wisdom of the SkepDoc: Harriet Hall, MD (1945–2023)

All of us at Skeptic magazine—along with those in the larger skeptical and scientific communities—are sad to announce the passing of Harriet Hall, M.D., widely known as the SkepDoc. Michael Shermer always looked forward to editing Harriet’s SkepDoc column, not only because she was such a lucid writer and critical thinker, but because he learned so much from her…

Martin Rees — Can Science Save Us?

Shermer and Rees discuss: existential threats • overpopulation • biodiversity loss • climate change • AI and self-driving cars, robots, and unemployment • his bet with Steven Pinker • his disagreement with Richard Dawkins • how science works as a communal activity • scientific creativity • science communication • science education • why there aren’t more women and people of color in STEM fields • verification vs. falsification • Bayesian reasoning and scientific progress • Model Dependent Realism and the nature of reality Fermi’s Paradox • why he’s an atheist but wants to be buried in the Presbyterian church in which he was raised • mysterian mysteries.

Matthew Cobb — As Gods: A Moral History of the Genetic Age

Shermer and Cobb discuss: objections to genetic engineering (political, religious, cultural) • selective breeding • recombinant DNA • the ethics of genetics • patenting life • gene therapy • gene editing • CRISPR • literature and films on the dangers of genetic engineering • bioweapons • 3 Laws of Behavior Genetics and what people fear about it.

Abducted! Scientific Explanations of the Alien Abduction Experience

Alien abductions are among the most curious and interesting of all human psychological phenomena, and this article explores the different theories that explain from a scientific perspective what, exactly, is going on in someone’s brain when they feel like they’ve been abducted by aliens (assuming, of course, that they’re not actually being abducted by aliens).

Testicle Tanning and Perineal Sunning

Harriet Hall, M.D. examines the evidence that “testicle tanning” or red light therapy increases testosterone levels. She also discusses a related fad: butthole tanning, also known as butt-chugging, but better described as perineal sunning. Why do people fall for these fads? The answer is complex.

Stephon Alexander — Fear of a Black Universe: An Outsider’s Guide to the Future of Physics

Shermer and Alexander discuss: his journey from Trinidad to the Bronx to professor of physics • what it’s like being Black in a mostly White and Asian field of science • systemic racism and misogyny • how to be an outsider inside a science • how to tell the difference between revolutionary and worthless new ideas • how do laypeople understand whether something is good science or not? • the double-slit experiment • superposition • connections between quantum physics and Eastern mysticism • creativity • What banged the Big Bang? • Are we living in a matrix? • Deepak Chopra’s mind monism • consciousness and the universe.

Neil deGrasse Tyson — Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization

Shermer and Tyson discuss: why he decided to write about social, cultural, and political issues now • conflict and resolution in science and society • moral progress in society and why it happens • meatarians and vegetarians • race and gender • law and order • the principle of interchangeable perspectives • conflicting rights and how to resolve them • Rationalia (Neil’s hypothetical country whose laws are based on rationality) • life and death • how long Neil would like to live • the meaning in life.

Abortion: The Case for Choice

The Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice positions on the contentious abortion issue outline the terms of the debate. In this article Michael Shermer defends the position of choice and women’s reproductive rights as the most moral and rational position, even while acknowledging that Pro-Life proponents have good arguments. Ultimately this issues comes down to conflicting rights, namely those of the unborn fetus to live and those of the mother to choose what is best for her life. As in most matters in life, there are no perfect solutions, only compromises.

The Science of Abortion 

The issue of abortion has never been more polarizing and much of the controversy surrounds medical claims about the procedure which Harriet Hall, MD (aka the SkepDoc) addresses in this article for our special issue on Abortion Matters. What does medical science say about when life begins? When can a fetus survive outside the body of the mother? When does the fetal heartbeat become detectable? What are the short-term and long-term consequences of undergoing an abortion? What are the risks of not undergoing an abortion and carrying to term a fetus? These and other such crucial questions are answered to the best of science’s knowledge.

Sabine Hossenfelder — Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions

What is time? Does the past still exist? How did the universe begin and how will it end? Do particles think? Was the universe made for us? Why doesn’t anyone ever get younger? Has physics ruled out free will? Will we ever have a theory of everything? To examine these ideas, Shermer speaks with Sabine Hossenfelder, a research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Germany. She has published more than eighty research articles about the foundations of physics, including quantum gravity, physics beyond the standard model, dark matter, and quantum foundations.

Inequality & Rejection: A Data-Driven Look Into Men’s Attitudes Toward Abortion

Although abortion is often framed as a women’s issue, men make up half of the electorate and are more often pro-life. In this study the Skeptic Research Center report on men’s attitudes toward abortion is considered in the larger context of the national abortion debate, which has intensified since the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing women a Constitutional right to choose abortion.

WiFi Woes: The Rollout of 5G Reawakens Wireless Fear

With the widespread use of cell phone towers and internet technology, concerns have arisen over health effects of wireless energy, most notably with the recent introduction of Fifth Generation (5G) wireless network technology. Public health expert Raymond Barglow reviews the epidemiological data and science behind these concerns and shows that there is, in fact, nothing to worry about.

Bobby Azarian — Life, the Universe, and Cosmic Complexity

Shermer and Azarian discuss: laws of thermodynamics and directionality • how complexity formed after the Big Bang • laws of nature: discovered or created or both? • Stephen Jay Gould and contingency vs. necessitating laws of nature • convergent evolution and directionality in evolution • the left wall of simplicity • leading theories for the origin of life • complexity theory and emergence • consciousness, the self, and other minds • free will, determinism, compatibilism, panpsychism • Is there purpose in the cosmos?

Michael Strevens — The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science

Shermer and Strevens discuss: irrationality and how it drives science • the knowledge machine • the replication crisis, what caused it, and what to do about it • verification vs. falsification • the iron rule of explanation • Bayesian reasoning vs. falsification • climate/evolution skeptics • model dependent realism • humanism • theistic arguments for: God, origin of life, morality, consciousness • known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns • how to evaluate media sources of science.

Nature’s God: Why Christians Should Accept the Theory of Evolution

If you give Christians a choice between Jesus and Darwin by telling them that the theory of evolution means you have to be an atheist, they’re going to pick Jesus every time. In this article, Larry Arnhart argues that Christians should accept the theory of evolution not only because it’s true but also that it does not mean they have to give up their religion.

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