The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer

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Factiness

Are we living in a post-truth world?

Scientific American (cover)

In 2005 the American Dialect Society’s word of the year was “truthiness,” popularized by Stephen Colbert on his news show satire The Colbert Report, meaning “the truth we want to exist.” In 2016 the Oxford Dictionaries nominated as its word of the year “post-truth,” which it characterized as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In 2017 “fake news” increased in usage by 365 percent, earning the top spot on the “word of the year shortlist” of the Collins English Dictionary, which defined it as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.”

Are we living in a post-truth world of truthiness, fake news and alternative facts? Has all the progress we have made since the scientific revolution in understanding the world and ourselves been obliterated by a fusillade of social media postings and tweets? No. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker observes in his resplendent new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (Viking, 2018), “mendacity, truth-shading, conspiracy theories, extraordinary popular delusions, and the madness of crowds are as old as our species, but so is the conviction that some ideas are right and others are wrong.”

Even as pundits pronounced the end of veracity and politicians played loose with the truth, the competitive marketplace of ideas stepped up with a new tool of the Internet age: real-time fact-checking. As politicos spin-doctored reality in speeches, factcheckers at Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, and OpenSecrets.org rated them on their verisimilitude, with PolitiFact.com waggishly ranking statements as True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire. Political fact-checking has even become clickbait (runner-up for the Oxford Dictionaries’ 2014 word of the year), as PolitiFact’s editor Angie Drobnic Holan explained in a 2015 article: “Journalists regularly tell me their media organizations have started highlighting fact-checking in their reporting because so many people click on fact-checking stories after a debate or high-profile news event.” (continue reading…)

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Michael Shermer and Dave Rubin: Skepticism & Conspiracy Theories

Michael Shermer (author, skeptic) and Dave Rubin discuss skepticism, morality, conspiracy theories, political issues like gun control, abortion, libertarianism, and more.

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Michael Shermer—The Rubin Report: Conspiracy Theories

Michael Shermer (author, skeptic) joins Dave Rubin (The Ruben Report) to discuss conspiracy theories (9/11, vaccines, and more.) Watch the full interview about skepticism, morality, conspiracy theories, and politics.

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The Electric Universe Acid Test

Discerning science from pseudoscience
magazine cover

Newton was wrong. Einstein was wrong. Black holes do not exist. The big bang never happened. Dark energy and dark matter are unsubstantiated conjectures. Stars are electrically charged plasma masses. Venus was once a comet. The massive Valles Marineris canyon on Mars was carved out in a few minutes by a giant electric arc sweeping across the Red Planet. The “thunderbolt” icons found in ancient art and petroglyphs are not the iconography of imagined gods but realistic representations of spectacular electrical activity in space.

These are just a few of the things I learned at the Electric Universe conference (EU2015) in June in Phoenix. The Electric Universe community is a loose confederation of people who, according to the host organization’s website, believe that “a new way of seeing the physical universe is emerging. The new vantage point emphasizes the role of electricity in space and shows the negligible contribution of gravity in cosmic events.” This includes everything from comets, moons and planets to stars, galaxies and galactic clusters. (continue reading…)

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Conspiracy Central

Who believes in conspiracy theories—and why
magazine cover

President Barack Obama has been a busy man while in office: he concocted a fake birth certificate to hide his true identity as a foreigner, created “death panels” to determine who would live and who would die under his health care plan, conspired to destroy religious liberty by mandating contraceptives for religious institutions, blew up the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig to garner support for his environmental agenda, masterminded Syrian gas attacks as a pretext to war, orchestrated the shooting of a tsa agent to strengthen that agency’s powers, ordered the Sandy Hook school massacre to push through gun-control legislation, and built concentration camps in which to place Americans who resist.

Do people really believe such conspiracy theories? They do, and in disturbingly high numbers, according to recent empirical research collected by University of Miami political scientists Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent and presented in their 2014 book American Conspiracy Theories (Oxford University Press). About a third of Americans, for example, believe the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama is a foreigner. About as many believe that 9/11 was an “inside job” by the Bush administration. (continue reading…)

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