A collection of 75 of the Scientific American columns by author and gadfly Shermer (The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom, 2015, etc.).
The author turns a critical eye toward questions big, small, and trivial. One of the biggest: is religion a good thing? Studies and statistics give the answer: it depends. Though Western nations with high rates of religious belief and church attendance also have higher incidents of suicide, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted disease, as individuals, religious people are healthier, friendlier, happier, and more charitable. Simple math, not science, proves that extraordinarily rare events occur regularly. Despite 1 in 200,000,000 odds, someone must win the lottery, yet the winner never doubts that it’s a miracle. Those with low opinions of eyewitness testimony, tabloid science, quacks who write bestsellers, paranormal phenomena, alien abductions, and folk medicine will find plenty of supporting arguments in this book. Most readers do not yearn for proof that actual events (9/11, the Holocaust, the moon landing) really happened, but deniers exist, and Shermer refutes them at every turn. Satanic cults, Bigfoot, and hermit geniuses who disprove Einstein turn out to be extremely difficult to find, and Shermer explains why. He admits that, sadly, most people admire science and the advancements that result from experimentation, but only a minority believe that a phenomenon is probably true if backed by evidence and unlikely if it isn’t. Two-thirds of Americans prefer creationism to evolution, and 60 percent believe in extrasensory perception. Worse, belief in reason is uncool. In movies and TV, the skeptic is always wrong.
Dense with facts, convincing arguments, and curious statistics, this is an ingenious collection of light entertainment for readers who believe that explaining stuff is a good idea.