Michael Shermer debunks myths, superstitions and urban legends — and explains why we believe them. Along with publishing Skeptic Magazine, he's author of Why People Believe Weird Things and The Mind of the Market.

Why you should listen

As founder and publisher of Skeptic Magazine, Michael Shermer has exposed fallacies behind intelligent design, 9/11 conspiracies, the low-carb craze, alien sightings and other popular beliefs and paranoias. But it's not about debunking for debunking's sake. Shermer defends the notion that we can understand our world better only by matching good theory with good science.

Shermer's work offers cognitive context for our often misguided beliefs: In the absence of sound science, incomplete information can powerfully combine with the power of suggestion (helping us hear Satanic lyrics when "Stairway to Heaven" plays backwards, for example). In fact, a common thread that runs through beliefs of all sorts, he says, is our tendency to convince ourselves: We overvalue the shreds of evidence that support our preferred outcome, and ignore the facts we aren't looking for.

He writes a monthly column for Scientific American, and is an adjunct at Claremont Graduate University and Chapman University. His latest book is The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. He is also the author of The Mind of the Market, on evolutionary economics, Why Darwin Matters: Evolution and the Case Against Intelligent Design, and The Science of Good and Evil. And his next book is titled The Moral Arc of Science.

What others say

"Michael Shermer, as head of one of America’s leading skeptic organizations, and as a powerful activist and essayist in the service of this operational form of reason, is an important figure in American public life." — Stephen Jay Gould

Michael Shermer’s TED talks

Michael Shermer on the TED Blog
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Live from TED2014

Lies, sex, an even freer Wikipedia and Sir Ken at a slaughterhouse: A recap of “The future is ours,” All-Stars Session 5 at TED2014

March 20, 2014

By Kate Torgovnick, Morton Bast, Thu-Huong Ha The future. When it comes down to it, it’s not about flying cars, flashy robots, jetpacks, or awesome sunglasses. It’s about the little things we can do to advance healthcare, better education, create opportunities, improve connections between each other, and make lives just a little bit easier. In […]

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Culture

TED Weekends asks: What do Santa Claus and UFOs have in common?

February 2, 2013

Santa Claus and UFOs may indeed have something in common. As Michael Shermer shared at TED2010, they are two things that engage the “belief engine” that is also known as our brains. In his talk, “The pattern behind self-deception,” Shermer debunks superstitions and urban legends and shares why we are prone to believe in them […]

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Science

The pattern behind self-deception: Michael Shermer on TED.com

June 14, 2010

Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills. He explains what they are, and how they get us into trouble. (Recorded at TED2010, February 2010 in Long Beach, CA. Duration: 19:01) Watch Michael […]

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Quotes from Michael Shermer

‘Are science and religion compatible?’ It’s like [asking]: ‘Are science and plumbing compatible?’ They’re just two different things.
Michael Shermer
TED2006 • 3.4M views Nov 2006
Funny, Persuasive
Science is not a thing. It’s a verb. It’s a way of thinking about things. It’s a way of looking for natural explanations for all phenomena.
Michael Shermer
TED2006 • 3.4M views Nov 2006
Funny, Persuasive
Belief is the natural state of things. It is the default option. We just believe. We believe all sorts of things. Belief is natural; disbelief, skepticism, science, is not natural.
Michael Shermer
TED2010 • 1.7M views Jun 2010
Informative, Fascinating