Rupert Sheldrake

Michael Shermer’s Attacks, Updated


Michael Shermer’s Attacks, Updated


by Rupert Sheldrake


From:   Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home
by Rupert Sheldrake, Broadway Books, 2011.

Michael Shermer is a professional skeptic rather than a scientist, although he often claims to speak for science. He is the publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Director of the Skeptic Society, the host of the Skeptics’ Lecture Series at the California Institute of Technology, and the author of a regular column in Scientific American called “Skeptic”.

Shermer started out as a Christian fundamentalist as well as being an enthusiast for pyramid power and other New Age fads.

In his own words, “My academic background is embarrassing compared to that of most successful intellectuals… I scraped together a master’s degree… and finally gave up hope for an intellectual life and raced bikes for a decade. By the time I earned a Ph.D. [in history of science] … I discovered there were next to no jobs, especially for someone with an intellectual pedigree such as mine. Since teaching as an adjunct professor is no way to make a living (literally), I founded the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine.”

One of Shermer’s favourite sayings is that “Skepticism is a method, not a position.” However, I soon discovered that he does not practice what he preaches. In 2003, USA Today published an article about my book The Sense of Being Stared At, describing my research on telepathy and the sense of being stared at. Shermer was asked for his comments and was quoted as saying. “{Sheldrake] has never met a goofy idea he didn’t like. The events Sheldrake describes don’t require a theory and are perfectly explicable by normal means”.

I emailed Shermer to ask him what his normal explanations were. But he was unable to substantiate his claim, and admitted he had not even seen my book. I challenged him to an online debate. He accepted the challenge, but said he was too busy to look at the experimental evidence and said he would “get to it soon”. Several months later he confessed, “I have not gotten to your book yet”. Despite repeated reminders, he has still failed to do so.

It only takes a few minutes to make an evidence-free claim to a journalist. Dogmatism is easy. It is harder work to consider the evidence, and Shermer is too busy to look at facts that go against his beliefs.

In November 2005, Shermer attacked me in his Scientific American “Skeptic” column in a piece called “Rupert’s Resonance.” He ridiculed the idea of morphic resonance by claiming that I proposed a “universal life force”, a phrase I have never used. He also referred to fallacious, partisan claims by other skeptics about my experimental work, which had already been refuted in peer-reviewed journals, and even in the Skeptical Inquirer itself.

I wrote a brief letter to Scientific American to set the record straight, but it was not published, nor even acknowledged, and Shermer himself ignored it. Other scientists whom Shermer has misrepresented have had the same experience. The disciplines of science do not apply to media skeptics.

The readers of Scientific American would be better served by a fair and truthful presentation of the facts than by Michael Shermer’s misleading skepticism.

Meanwhile, Shermer continues to flatter himself with fine sounding words. In 2010, he contrasted his kind of skepticism with denialism, as in climate change denial or holocaust denial or evolution denial:

“When I call myself a skeptic, I mean I take a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims… A climate denier has a position staked out in advance, and sorts through the data employing ‘confirmation bias’ – the tendency to look for and find confirmatory evidence for pre-existing beliefs and ignore or dismiss the rest… Thus one practical way to distinguish between a skeptic and a denier is the extent to which they are willing to update their positions in response to new information. Skeptics change their minds. Deniers just keep on denying.”

By Shermer’s own criteria, he is a perfect example of a denier.

Excerpted From:

Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home
Rupert Sheldrake. Broadway Books; Fully Updated and Revised:
April 26, 2011.

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