The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense

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Oxford University Press, May 17, 2001 - Science - 368 pages
As author of the bestselling Why People Believe Weird Things and How We Believe, and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer has emerged as the nation's number one scourge of superstition and bad science. Now, in The Borderlands of Science, he takes us to the place where real science (such as the big bang theory), borderland science (superstring theory), and just plain nonsense (Big Foot) collide with one another. Shermer argues that science is the best lens through which to view the world, but he recognizes that it's often difficult for most of us to tell where valid science leaves off and borderland science begins. To help us, Shermer looks at a range of topics that put the boundary line in high relief. For instance, he discusses the many "theories of everything" that try to reduce the complexity of the world to a single principle, and shows how most fall into the category of pseudoscience. He examines the work of Darwin and Freud, explaining why one is among the great scientists in history, while the other has become nothing more than a historical curiosity. He also shows how Carl Sagan's life exemplified the struggle we all face to find a balance between being open-minded enough to recognize radical new ideas but not so open-minded that our brains fall out. And finally, he reveals how scientists themselves can be led astray, as seen in the infamous Piltdown Hoax. Michael Shermer's enlightening volume will be a valuable aid to anyone bewildered by the many scientific theories swirling about. It will help us stay grounded in common sense as we try to evaluate everything from SETI and acupuncture to hypnosis and cloning.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Razinha - LibraryThing

I like Michael Shermer and find his skeptical approach to be extremely fair, tending to the understated. The title attracted me, but I found this book to be uneven and tedious, which is disappointing. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - dw0rd - LibraryThing

Not so much a book as a collection of essays. At least, it seems that way. The level of detail and purpose vary from chapter to chapter, making for a bumpy ride. It's all worthwhile but a reader ... Read full review

Contents

Blurry Lines and Fuzzy Sets The Boundary Detection Problem in the Borderlands of Science
1
Borderlands Theories
35
Borderlands People
127
Borderlands History
239
Notes
321
Bibliography
339
About the Author
353
Index
355
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Page 125 - There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.
Page v - The proper study of mankind is man. Placed on this isthmus of a middle state, A being darkly wise, and rudely great : With too much knowledge for the sceptic side, With too much weakness for the stoic's pride, He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest; In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast; In doubt his mind or body to prefer...
Page 155 - Sans check, to good and bad: but when the planets In evil mixture to disorder wander, What plagues, and what portents, what mutiny, What raging of the sea. shaking of earth, Commotion in the winds, frights, changes, horrors, Divert and crack, rend and deracinate The unity and married calm of states Quite from their fixture!
Page 277 - IN Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree : Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. So twice five miles of fertile ground With walls and towers were girdled round : And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
Page 96 - Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate : I am the captain of my soul.
Page v - Created half to rise, and half to fall; Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all; Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl'd; The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
Page 276 - The author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines...
Page 72 - Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.
Page 47 - I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.
Page 273 - I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gambolling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by repeated visions of this kind, could now distinguish larger structures, of manifold conformation: long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together; all turning and twisting in snakelike motion. But look ! what was that?

About the author (2001)

Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com) and the Director of The Skeptics Society. He is a Visiting Associate at the California Institute of Technology, and hosts the Skeptics Lecture Series at Cal Tech. He has authored several popular books on science, scientific history, and the philosophy and history of science, including Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science, and Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? (with Alex Grobman). Shermer is also a radio personality and the host of the Fox Family Channel's Exploring the Unknown. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

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