Better Know a Notable Skeptic: 10 Questions for Michael Shermer

With the success of the “better know a skeptic” series of articles, I decided to extend the idea a little bit to see if a few “notable skeptics” would answer my questions.  Where better to start than with Dr. Shermer.  If there is someone you would like me to try to contact, let me know via the forums.

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine (, the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Claremont Graduate University.
Dr. Shermer’s latest book is The Mind of the Market, on evolutionary economics. His last book was Why Darwin Matters: Evolution and the Case Against Intelligent Design, and he is the author of Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown, about how the mind works and how thinking goes wrong. His book The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Share Care, and Follow the Golden Rule, is on the evolutionary origins of morality and how to be good without God. He wrote a biography, In Darwin’s Shadow, about the life and science of the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace. He also wrote The Borderlands of Science, about the fuzzy land between science and pseudoscience, and Denying History, on Holocaust denial and other forms of pseudohistory. His book How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God, presents his theory on the origins of religion and why people believe in God. He is also the author of Why People Believe Weird Things on pseudoscience, superstitions, and other confusions of our time.


Dr. Shermer received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University (1991). He was a college professor for 20 years (1979-1998), teaching psychology, evolution, and the history of science at Occidental College (1989-1998), California State University Los Angeles, and Glendale College. Since his creation of the Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, and the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, he has appeared on such shows as The Colbert Report, 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, Larry King Live, Tom Snyder, Donahue, Oprah, Lezza, Unsolved Mysteries (but, proudly, never Jerry Springer!), and other shows as a skeptic of weird and extraordinary claims, as well as interviews in countless documentaries aired on PBS, A&E, Discovery, The History Channel, The Science Channel, and The Learning Channel. Shermer was the co-host and co-producer of the 13-hour Family Channel television series, Exploring the Unknown.


1) Briefly describe yourself.  What do you do for a living, etc.
I’m a professional skeptic, a writer, a publisher, an editor, a researchers, and a lecturer.

2) Why are you a “skeptic”?  Was there a “wow” moment?
Because I publish a magazine by that name, so I damn well better be, right?

3) What are your hobbies/interests?
Cycling, cycling, and cycling. And hanging out with my kidlet.

4) What are you passionate about at the moment?
I’m passionate about passion, which is to say about life itself.

5) Do you have a hero?  Why him/her?
Carl Sagan. You know why.
Stephen Jay Gould. Because he was also a good and loyal and supportive friend when I needed one.
Ayn Rand. For living out the courage of her convictions.

6) If you could have dinner with 5 people, dead or alive,  who would they be and why?
Wolfgang Puck, because we want to eat well, right?
Thomas Jefferson, because he is the smartest person to dine at the white house since Kennedy hosted a dinner for all living Nobel laureates.
Thomas Paine, because he was the true author of the American Revolution.
H. L. Mencken, because we want the conversation to be witty.
Christopher Hitchens, because we want to drink well, right?

7) Do you have a favourite: album, musician, sports team, movie, TV show, book? (Feel free to list one, some, or all.)
Song: Stairway to Heaven, greatest rock and roll song of all time.
TV show: Star Trek, first and second generations.
Book: Atlas Shrugged, Demon Haunted World

8) What grinds your gears?
Cycling, literally and figuratively.

9) Tell me something I don’t know about you.
I like chocolate chip/walnut cookies, and anyone who doesn’t has drain bramage.

10) Why are we here?
We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here…and that’s good enough. Now, get out and live.

13. March 2009 by Pat
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