Shermer - Borderlands Cover

Shermer - Borderlands

Where Sense Meets Nonsense

Michael Shermer

Oxford University Press, 2001, 319 pp, ISBN 0-19-514326-4. Counter page views.

About the Book

Quick-witted, shrewd, open-minded—these barely describe Michael Shermer's latest confection of intriguing stories, arguments and insightful observations. His cruise through the shadowlands of science makes a fascinating expedition of the mind.

Gregory Benford
Professor of Physics, University of California, Irvine, and author of Deep Time

How do our emotions and cultures shape the way we understand science, history and ourselves? Where lies the fractal boundary between science and pseudoscience? What is genius? With his awesome wit and wisdom, Michael Shermer tackles a fantastic range of important questions. No one else does science writing better than Shermer. The Borderlands of Science is sure to be an instant classic.

Clifford A. Pickover
author of Wonders of Numbers: Adventures in Mathematics, Mind and Meaning and Dreaming the Future: The Fantastic Story of Prediction

Why now? At a time when science is transforming the world, daily finding cures for diseases that have tormented our species for all of history, finding ways to peer into the farthest reaches of the universe and putting all this knowledge at the finger tips of ordinary people, why is so much unscientific nonsense embraced by so many people? Michael Shermer began a search for answers in Why People Believe Weird Things, using cool logic and calm prose to expose nonsense in even the most sacred beliefs. Now, in The Borderlands of Science, he takes on the most difficult part of the problem: What of that fuzzy area that lies just beyond establishment science? This may be the frontier where new discoveries are waiting, but all too often it's a land of wishful thinking. Shermer tells us everything we need to know about the borderlands: how to spot them, famous residents and the myths created. It's a book everyone offended by pseudoscience should read.

Robert Park
Professor of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park, and author of Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud

In The Borderlands of Science, Michael Shermer plunges right into the murky territory between orthodoxy and heresy, offering guide-rails to keep us on track in the search for frequently shifting ideas of truth. Whether the issue is alternative medicine or environmental threats, cloning or race, cosmology or hypnosis, he keeps his focus on the central question: Where do we draw the line between solid science, pseudoscience and the untamed territory in between? This is a detailed, multi-faceted exploration of these ever-shifting borderlands, as well as the fascinating people who populate them.

K.C. Cole
author of The Hole in the Universe: How Scientists Peered Over the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything

As author of the bestselling Why People Believe Weird Things and How We Believe, and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer has emerged as the nation's number one scourge of superstition and bad science. Now, in The Borderlands of Science, he takes us to the place where real science (such as the big bang theory), borderland science (superstring theory), and just plain nonsense (Bigfoot) collide with one another.

Shermer argues that science is the best lens through which to view the world, but he recognises that it's often difficult for most of us to tell where valid science leaves off and borderland science begins. To help us, Shermer looks at a range of topics that put the boundary line in high relief. For instance he discusses the many "theories of everything" that try to reduce the complexity of the world to a single principle, and shows how most fall into the category of pseudoscience. He examines the work of Darwin and Freud, explaining why one is among the great scientists in history, while the other has become nothing more than a historical curiosity. He also shows how Carl Sagan's life exemplified the struggle we all face to find a balance between being open-minded enough to recognise radical new ideas but not so open-minded that our brains fall out. And finally, he reveals how scientists themselves can be led astray, as seen in the infamous Piltdown Hoax.

Michael Shermer's enlightening volume will be a valuable aid to anyone bewildered by the many scientific theories swirling about. It will help us stay grounded in common sense as we try to evaluate everything from SETI and acupuncture to hypnosis and cloning.

About the Author

Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine ( and the Director of The Skeptics Society. He hosts the Skeptics Lecture Series at Cal Tech. He has written several popular books on science, scientific history and the philosophy and history of science, including Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition and Other Confusions of Our Time, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science and Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? (with Alex Grobman). Shermer is also a radio personality and the host of the Fox Family Channel's Exploring the Unknown. He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London.