The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Filter by Categories
Articles
Media
Scientific American

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the host of the podcast The Michael Shermer Show, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101. For 18 years he was a monthly columnist for Scientific American. He writes a weekly Substack column. He is the author of New York Times bestsellers Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain, Why Darwin Matters, The Science of Good and Evil, The Moral Arc, Heavens on Earth, Giving the Devil His Due: Reflections of a Scientific Humanist and Conspiracy: Why the Rational Believe the Irrational. Follow him on Twitter @michaelshermer.

Conspiracy: Why the Rational Believe the Irrational

This book is a must read for understanding conspiracy theories, who believes them and why, and how to counter them.

When author Michael Shermer saw the video of a middle-aged man named Kevin Seefried walking across the rotunda in the Capitol Building dome on January 6, 2021, proudly waving a large Confederate flag representing bigotry and hate, he could not help but wonder, “What went wrong with this man's beliefs?”

With the legacy of January 6th and the conspiracy theory of a stolen election still plaguing the country (two-thirds of Republicans believe President Biden is illegitimate), the problem of today's conspiracism is more pressing than at any time in our history. In Conspiracy: Why the Rational Believe the Irrational (Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 9781421444451; On sale October 25, 2022; $29.95), best-selling author Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, presents his own original theory to explain why people believe conspiracy theories, and in an engrossing analysis shows how we can determine which conspiracy theories are likely true or false, and how we can break their power.

Conspiracism has been part of the fabric of society for centuries; we evolved to detect external threats of dangerous coalitions. Many conspiracies are real. For instance, the most consequential conspiracy of the 20th century was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, resulting in a war costing tens of millions their lives. And conspiracies often grow up around a shared traumatizing event, like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the death of Princess Diana, or the events of 9/11. But the conspiracy theories that have gained popularity of late are markedly different from those in the past, in that they require little to no proof for their adherents. Mere assertion of a conspiracy claim suffices—“fake news” or “rigged” or “people are saying” is all the evidence many people need to be convinced of their veracity.

Historically, popular American conspiracy theories tended to reside on the fringes of society, but today conspiratorial thinking has gone mainstream. Shermer cites Skeptics Society polling research showing that, for example, a remarkable one in five Americans believe that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the United States are controlled by Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation" (QAnon), and one in four believe that 9/11 was an “inside job” by the Bush administration.

While the impulse to see conspiracies might be a natural human trait, it is not necessarily healthy, especially not for a diverse society and a liberal democracy that depends on institutional trust. How might we combat the rise in belief in conspiracies? One answer is education. Shermer notes that 42% of people without a high school diploma score highly in having conspiratorial predispositions, compared with those holding postgraduate degrees, who come in at 22%. Another is transparency: the checks and balances in the institutions that make up a liberal democracy must be immune to conspiracies.

In Conspiracy, Michael Shermer provides an urgently needed model to explain who believes in conspiracy theories, why, and how to debunk them when they are false. As former president Barak Obama wrote in 2020, "If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what's true from what's false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn't work. And by definition our democracy doesn't work.”

Praise for Giving the Devil His Due
“Imagined conspiracies claim one implausible explanation for many real problems. But some conspiracy claims are true, and more were true in our tribal past. How can you tell actual conspiracies from crazy theories? Once again, Michael Shermer has written a sparkling, irresistible, astonishing romp through one of today’s biggest problems.”

—DR. JARED DIAMOND, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel

“Searingly smart and fascinatingly informative, Conspiracy is also an exhilarating read. With his trademark flair, brilliance, and hawk-eyed clarity, Michael Shermer helps us make sense of a world run amok.”

—AMY CHUA, Yale Law Professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

“Conspiracists are often dismissed as fools or psychopaths, but Michael Shermer shows we are all susceptible: left and right, old and young, educated and illiterate. In this erudite account of the history and mystery of conspiratorial beliefs, he explores the devastating social consequences conspiracies can create—along with their powerful psychological and evolutionary benefits.”

—CAROL TAVRIS, coauthor of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)

“I enjoyed reading this book tremendously. Seeking to debunk some common yet irrational conspiracy theories, Shermer explains what drives people's belief in them while also acknowledging that real conspiracies do occur. Along the way, he delves deeper into a range of other interesting questions, examining what the evidence says about a Kennedy or 9/11 conspiracy, how to detect if conspiracy theories are likely true or false, how to talk to conspiracy theorists, and the details of the real conspiracy that ultimately gave rise to World War I. Shermer does a terrific job making this complex yet interesting research field accessible to any reader.”

—JAN-WILLEM VAN PROOIJEN, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, editor of The Psychology of Political Polarization

Order the book
Buy the Audible Audio edition of Conspiracy by Michael Shermer Buy Conspiracy by Michael Shermer at Amazon Buy the Kindle edition of Conspiracy by Michael Shermer at Amazon
Learn about Dr. Michael Shermer's new Audible Original Course on Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories

What We Should and Shouldn’t Believe — and Why

Audible Inc., the world’s largest producer and provider of downloadable audiobooks and other spoken-word entertainment, in conjunction with The Great Courses, is creating audio-only, non-fiction content for Audible’s millions of listeners. The first three titles include Dr. Michael Shermer’s new and original course on: Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories: What We Should Believe and Why.

Learn more about this new course

Michael’s Articles

Anterior Cervical Discectomy & Fusion (ACDF)
or, My Big Bike Crash and Surgical Adventure

The following is a PSA-type video for anyone contemplating having this type of surgery, as well as to those who have inquired why I have a slash across my neck. No I didn’t have a run-in with ISIS or Dr. Frankenstein. I had a near-catastrophic cycling crash whose injuries triggered CT scans and an MRI, which revealed a chronic degeneration of three of my neck vertebrate and ensuing surgery.

Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories:
What We Should and Shouldn’t Believe—and Why

Audible Inc., the world’s largest producer and provider of downloadable audiobooks and other spoken-word entertainment, in conjunction with The Great Courses, is creating audio-only, non-fiction content for Audible’s millions of listeners. The first three titles include Dr. Michael Shermer’s new and original course on: Conspiracies & Conspiracy Theories: What We Should Believe and Why. Order […]

Free to Inquire

A book chapter for the The Palgrave Handbook of Philosophy and Public Policy (December 26, 2018), edited by David Boonin.

Read more…

Michael’s “Skeptic” column in Scientific American

Stein’s Law and Science’s Mission

January 2019: In his 214th consecutive and final ‘Skeptic’ column for Scientific American, Michael Shermer reflects on what science brings to the human project.

Kids These Days

In his December 2018 ‘Skeptic’ column for Scientific American Michael Shermer discusses how to avert a looming crisis among today’s youth.

The Fallacy of Excluded Exceptions

In his November 2018 ‘Skeptic’ column for Scientific American Michael Shermer explains the allegedly spooky coincidences associated with some famous films like Poltergeist, The Exorcist, The Omen, and The Crow.

Read more…