USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

Spotlight on X-STEM Speaker Dr. Michael Shermer!

X-STEM - presented by Northrop Grumman Foundation and MedImmune - is an Extreme STEM symposium for elementary through high school students featuring interactive presentations by an exclusive group of visionaries who aim to empower and inspire kids about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). These top STEM role models and industry leaders are sure to ignite your students’ curiosity through storytelling and live demonstrations.

Our spotlight on our X-STEM Speakers continues with Author and Publisher of Skeptic Magazine Dr. Michael Shermer.

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In this world of pseudoscience, conspiracies, superstitions and other unsubstantiated – even downright weird – beliefs, Michael Shermer is out to convince all of us that we could benefit from a healthy dose of skepticism.

In fact, consider him America’s skeptic in residence, a title that is well-earned. For starters, he is the founding publisher and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine, an international publication boasting more than 50,000 subscribers which has exposed the fallacies behind everything from 9/11 conspiracies and intelligent design to low-carb diets, space aliens and paranormal sightings. His resume also includes serving as director of the Skeptics Society (one of the nation’s leading skeptic organizations), and penning popular books on how and why we believe the things we do.

Through his work, he strongly proposes that we avoid groundless, misinformed beliefs, and instead attempt to better understand our world by merging good theory with good science and sound reasoning.

“In the absence of good science,” says Michael, “incomplete information can work to our detriment, especially when combined with the power of suggestion” –for example, helping us hear Satanic lyrics when the song “Stairway to Heaven” is played backwards. In fact, he adds, a common thread that runs through beliefs of all sorts is our tendency to convince ourselves that what we are experiencing is indeed true and valid. “We overvalue the shreds of evidence that support our preferred outcome, and ignore the facts we aren’t looking for,” he says.

Michael, who grew up in Southern California, began developing a keen interest in the origins of belief systems while completing his graduate studies in experimental psychology at California State University, Fullterton, where after-class discussions with professors and lessons in ethology and cultural anthropology led him to questions some of his own beliefs.

In addition to founding the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine, Michael also serves as Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University and Chapman University, writes a monthly column for Scientific American, and hosts the popular Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech University. He and his work have been featured on such shows as: The Colbert Report, 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, Larry King Live, Oprah, PBS, A&E, Discovery, The History Channel, and The Science Channel. He also was the co-host and co-producer of the 13-hour Family Channel television series, Exploring the Unknown.

His list of authored books include: The Believing Brain (his latest work); The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience; How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God; Why People Believe Weird Things, and Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown.

Michael received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, his 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, teaching psychology, evolution, and the history of science at Occidental College, California State University Los Angeles, and Glendale College.