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Why People Believe Weird Things

Pseudoscience, Superstition and Other Confusions of Our Time

By Michael Shermer
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  • Contains 10 key ideas
Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer

Why People Believe Weird Things provides an overview of the most common pseudoscientific and supernatural theories. It’ll teach you why so many people believe in them, why they’re wrong, and what methods proponents of pseudosciences use to assert their incorrect theories. It also offers both rational arguments for science, and rational arguments against pseudoscience.

Key idea 1 of 10

Science is based on facts – pseudoscience is based on belief.

What separates real science from pseudoscience? Pseudosciences like astrology or creationism claim to be “scientific,” but they actually reject scientific laws and methods.

Science is based on laws that can be measured. A scientific law describes an action in nature that can be proved by tests. Once we’ve determined a certain law, we can use it as a basis for further theories and research.

Consider the law of gravity. We can test it again and again, and confirm that it’s always true. Scientists can research the physical world further, knowing that the law of gravity will always be a part of it.

A scientific theory can also be tested, but it’s different from a law, because it’s possible to prove a theory wrong. The fact that theories don’t have to be correct is actually one of science’s greatest strengths. Anyone can research a theory, and correct and improve it if necessary.

Pseudoscientific theories, however, aren’t based on facts. They’re based on belief, which also means they can’t be proven wrong, because you can’t disprove someone’s subjective belief.

Unlike science, pseudosciences don’t involve any sort of laws or evidence. Instead, they’re based on intangible ideas or assumptions.

Divination, for instance, is based on the assumption that certain people have innate psychic powers. Yet throughout human history, no one has ever been able to prove that psychic powers exist. Because divination isn’t based on evidence, it can’t be tested.

Ultimately, pseudosciences can never be proven wrong – or right – which is where they differ from science. A scientist would say, “x is true because I can prove that x is true,” whereas a pseudoscientist would say, “x is true because you can’t prove that x is wrong.”

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