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From: Larry Klaes (
Date: Thu Jun 07 2001 - 06:28:40 PDT

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Copyright 2001 Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine,
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Sorry for the late notice, but Thursday night, June 7, from 5:30-6:30pm I
will be lecturing on Prayer and Healing (and, in a larger context, faith and
health, religion and science), at the Commonwealth Club at 595 Market St.
between 1st and 2nd street in San Francisco. It is being organized by Wally
Sampson at

I hope that those of you in the Bay Area can make it.


With a little more notice...I'll be lecturing this Sunday at Caltech on THE
BORDERLANDS OF SCIENCE: Where Sense Meets Nonsense, based on my new book
released by Oxford University Press of the same title. The book is now
available at all bookstores, at, and at

Here is a description of Sunday's lecture, plus a description, table of
contents, and an excerpt from the Introduction to the book.

2:00pm Sunday, June 10
Baxter Lecture Hall, California Institute of Technology (directions below).

The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense

In a lecture based on his newly released book of the same title, Dr. Shermer
explores the fuzzy fringes and blurry edges between science and
pseudoscience, science and nonscience, normal science and revolutionary
science, and between sense and nonsense. Shermer turns his critical thinking
from the pseudoscience he has investigated in his previous works, to that
gray area between science and pseudoscience, where it is not clear whether a
claim will turn out to be the next great revolution in science or the next
big hoax in pseudoscience.

Examples of borderlands science include superstring theory, inflationary
cosmology, theories of consciousness, grand theories of economics, SETI,
hypnosis, chiropractic, acupuncture, cryonics, and Omega Point Theory.
Shermer introduces the "Baloney Detection Kit" that can be applied to any
claim that lies in the grey borderlands, and a fuzzy logic solution to
determining where the line should be drawn for any particular claim. Book
signing follows lecture.

Directions: Off the 210 freeway south on Lake Ave., east (left) on Del Mar,
right (south) on Michigan, which dead ends into the faculty parking lot
(parking here okay on Sundays). Baxter is to the southeast of the large
round building on the south end of the faculty parking lot. From the 110
freeway follow to the end (it becomes the Arroyo Parkway), right on Del Mar,
following directions above.

By Michael Shermer
New York: Oxford University Press, May, 2001

The Borderlands of Science is about the fuzzy fringes and blurry edges
between science and pseudoscience, science and nonscience, normal science
revolutionary science, and between science and nonsense. In this book Dr.
Michael Shermer, the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Director of the
Skeptics Society, the host of the Fox Family television series Exploring the
Unknown, and one of the world's best known and most respected skeptics,
his critical thinking from the pseudoscience he has investigated in his
previous works, to that gray area between science and pseudoscience, where
is not clear whether a claim will turn out to be the next great revolution
science or the next big hoax in pseudoscience. Shermer is at his literary
best as he takes readers along with him in his personal odysseys into the

Praise for The Borderlands of Science:

"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."

--Dr. Gregory Benford, Professor of Physics, U.C. Irvine, author of Deep

"In The Borderlands of Science, Michael Shermer plunges right into the murky
territory between orthodoxy and heresy, offering guiderails 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: How do we
draw the lines between solid science, pseudo-science, 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

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

"The good, bad, and ugly pass before our eyes in a whirlwind tour of
Shermer has a mission: to convey the thrills of science while warning for
imposters who sell mere fantasies. Enthusiasm for science combined with a
unshakable commitment to the truth mark the ultimate skeptic."
--Frans de Waal is the author of Good Natured (Harvard, 1996) and The Ape
the Sushi Master (Basic Books, 2001).

Table of Contents

Introduction. Blurry Lines and Fuzzy Sets: The Boundary Detection Problem in
the Borderlands of Science

Part I: Borderlands Theories
1. The Knowledge Filter: Reality Must Take Precedence in the Search for
2. Theories of Everything: Nonsense in the Name of Science
3. Only God Can Do That?: Cloning Tests the Moral Borderlands of Science
4. Blood, Sweat, and Fears: Racial Differences and What They Really Mean
5. Paradigms and Paradoxes: Punctuated Equilibrium and the Nature of Rev
olutionary Science

Part II: Borderlands People
6. The Day the Earth Moved: Copernicus' Heresy and Sulloway's Theory
7. Heretic-Personality: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Nature of Borderlands
8. A Scientist Among the Spiritualists: Alfred Russel Wallace in the
Borderlands of Science
9. Pedestals and Statues: Freud, Darwin, and the Hero-Myth in Science
10. The Exquisite Balance: Carl Sagan and the Difference Between Orthodoxy
and Heresy in Science

Part III: Borderlands History
11. The Beautiful People Myth: Why the Grass is Always Greener in the Other
12. The Amadeus Myth: Mozart and the Myth of the Miracle of Genius
13. A Gentlemanly Arrangement: Science at its Best in the Great Evolution
Priority Dispute
14. The Great Bone Hoax: Piltdown and the Self-Correcting Nature of Science

>From the Introduction: Blurry Lines and Fuzzy Sets

The Boundary Problem and its Fuzzy Solution

Here's the rub: how do we know if a claim is sensical or nonsensical? How do
we tell the difference between science and pseudoscience, or between science
and nonscience? Can we always and clearly distinguish between reality and
fantasy, fact and fiction? The opening line of every episode of Exploring
Unknown, dramatically read by actor Mitch Pileggi (who plays FBI Assistant
Director Skinner on X-Files, a show that itself explores these themes in a
dramatic format, albeit with far less skepticism) is: "Things are not always
what they seem when you are exploring the unknown." Things are not always
what they seem because we do not live in a black and white world of
unambiguous yeses and noes. We are faced here with a "boundary
do we draw the boundary between orthodoxy and heresy, between orthodox
science and heretical science, or between science and pseudoscience, science
and nonscience, and between science and nonsense?

The boundary is the line of demarcation, or the border to be drawn between
these geographies of knowledge, these countries of claims. The problem with
this geographical/political analogy is that it does not fully hold. Where
rivers and mountain ranges, and deserts and seas help geographers and
politicians demarcate (however artificially) the boundaries between
geographical areas and countries (necessarily cleanly drawn for legal
and sometimes right down the middle of a featureless landscape), knowledge
sets are fuzzier and the lines between them are blurry. It is not always, or
even usually clear where to draw the line. Whether a particular claim should
be put into the set labeled science or pseudoscience will depend on both the
claim and the definition of the set. Here fuzzy logic, as opposed to
Aristotelian logic, may help us resolve this classic problem for
of science.

Aristotelian logic says that A is A. A cannot be non-A. A male is defined by
a set of characteristics--XY chromosomes, a penis and testicles, high levels
of testosterone, a deep voice, beard and body hair, and so forth--and thus
defined cannot also be a non-male. Yet even this classic and simple example
runs aground in the fuzzy borderlands between the sets male and non-male.
Granted, most individuals falling into these two sets are clearly and
distinctly either male or non-male (female). But there are individuals who
are not clearly in one or the other set and who, in fact, may even be
represented by a third set called transgender. There are also
There are males with an XXY genetic condition (Klinefelter's syndrome) that
makes them sterile and significantly more feminine in physical appearance.
the other extreme there are XYY "supermales" who allegedly exhibit high
levels of violence and aggression.15 There are some males whose levels of
testosterone are so low that their bodies are soft, their skin smooth and
hairless, and their voices effeminate. Correspondingly, there are females
whose levels of testosterone are so high that they do not qualify as females
as defined by the International Olympic Committee's gender criteria, where a
simple chromosomal check for an XX or XY will not suffice for their
competitive definitions. (For example, in the bicycle Race Across America,
which I co-founded, raced in five times, and directed or co-directed for
thirteen years, we used the IOC drug lab at UCLA to test for drug and
use. One year we had a close call when our female winner tested dangerously
close to male levels of testosterone, which would have disqualified her as a
female in the race. She was not taking testosterone; he levels were just
naturally high.) And these examples only include physical definitions of
maleness. There are behavioral examples as well, such as males who
cross-dress as females and enjoy playing the role of female more than male.
Such social and psychological factors blur the boundaries even more.

The fuzzy logic solution to this problem is to avoid the binary sets
altogether and assign subjects a fuzzy fraction. USC engineering professor
and fuzzy logic pioneering guru Bart Kosko uses the color of the sky as an
example.16 Aristotelian logic demands that it must be either blue or
non-blue, but not both. Yet the sky cannot properly be characterized as
either-or. By fuzzy logic reasoning, depending on the time of day and the
patch of sky to be evaluated, a fuzzy fraction is a more accurate
description. At dawn on the sunrise horizon the sky might be .1 blue and .9
nonblue (or, say, .9 orange). At noon overhead the sky might be .9 blue and
.1 nonblue (or, say, .1 orange). At dusk on the sunset horizon the sky might
be .2 blue and .8 nonblue (or, say, .8 orange). Likewise, most males could
assigned a fuzzy fraction of, say, .9 or .8. But, depending on the criteria
used in a definition of maleness, we all know men who would be better
classified as .7 or .6 males, and even a few who would be best described as
.2 or .1 males.

When we move away from such simple sets as skies and males and into much
complex and socially influenced phenomena as knowledge claims, the sets
overlap considerably more, the borderlands between them are wider and
fuzzier, and the boundary lines of demarcation are much more difficult to
draw. Fuzzy logic is critical to our understanding of how the world works,
particularly in assigning fuzzy fractions not only to the knowledge sets and
their inhabitants, but to the degrees of certainty we hold about those
individuals and claims. Here we find ourselves in a very familiar area of
science known as probabilities and statistics. In the social sciences, for
example, we say that we reject the null hypothesis at the .05 level of
confidence (where we are 95 percent certain that the effect we found was not
due to chance), or at the .01 level of confidence (where we are 99 percent
certain), or even at the .0001 level of confidence (where the odds of the
effect being due to chance are only one in ten thousand). This is fuzzy
at its best, and such fuzzy thinking (in the good sense) will help us solve
the boundary problem in science.

With this boundary detection kit we can expand the fuzzy logic heuristic
three sets that I will call normal science, borderlands science, and
nonscience--a trinary system instead of the restrictive two-set binary
Here are some examples from my experience of asking these questions in the
process of studying in considerable detail a number of claims that fuzzily
fall into one of these three categories, along with my own subjectively
assigned fuzzy fractions (.9 highest, .1 lowest, in relation to their level
of scientific validity).

Normal science. On the science side of the boundary:

--Heliocentrism, .9
--Evolution, .9
--Quantum mechanics, .9
--Big Bang cosmology, .9
--Plate tectonics, .9
--Neurophysiology of brain functions, .8
--Punctuated equilibrium, .7
--Sociobiology/evolutionary psychology, .5
--Chaos and Complexity theory, .4
--Intelligence and intelligence testing, .3

Nonscience. On the nonscience, pseudoscience, or nonsense side of the

--Creationism, .1
--Holocaust revisionism, .1
--Remote viewing, .1
--Astrology, .1
--Bible Code, .1
--alien abductions, .1
--big foot, .1
--UFOs, .1
--Freudian psychoanalytic theory, .1
--Recovered memories, .1

Borderland science. In the borderlands between normal science and

--Superstring theory, .7
--Inflationary cosmology, .6
--Theories of consciousness, .5
--Grand theories of economics (objectivism, socialism, etc.), .5
--SETI, .5
--Hypnosis, .5
--Chiropractic, .4
--Acupuncture, .3
--Cryonics, .2
--Omega Point Theory, .1

Since these categories and fractional evaluations are fuzzy it is possible
for them to be moved and reevaluated with changing evidence. Indeed, all of
the normal science claims were at one time in either the nonscience or
borderland science categories. How they moved from nonscience to borderland
science, or from the borderlands to normal science (or how some normal
science claims slipped back into the borderlands or even into nonscience),
one of the most important aspects of the study of the history and philosophy
of science.

SETI, or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, for example, is not
pseudoscience because it is not claiming to have found anything (or anyone)
yet, it is conducted by professional scientists who publish their findings
peer-reviewed journals, it polices its own claims and does not hesitate to
debunk the occasional signals found in the data, and it fits well within our
understanding of the history and structure of the cosmos and the evolution
life. But SETI is not normal science either because its central theme has
to surface as reality. Thus far no aliens have phoned in and, as much as I
support the search, this still seems to me to belong in the borderlands.
UFOlogy, by contrast, is nonscience (and sometimes pseudoscience) pure and
simple. Proponents do not play by the rules of science, do not publish in
peer-reviewed journals, ignore the 90-95 percent of citings that are fully
explicable, focus on anomalies, are not self-policing, and depend heavily on
conspiratorial theorizing about government coverups, hidden spacecraft, and
aliens holed up in Nevada caves.

Likewise, superstring theory and inflationary cosmology are at the top of
borderlands science, soon to be either bumped up into full-scale normal
science or abandoned altogether, depending on the evidence that is now
starting to come in for these previously untested ideas. What makes them
borderlands science instead of pseudoscience or nonscience is that the
practitioners in the field are professional scientists who publish in
peer-reviewed journals and are trying to discover ways to test their
theories. By contrast, creationists who devise cosmologies that they think
will best fit the book of Genesis are typically not professional scientists,
do not publish in peer-reviewed journals, and have no interest in testing
their theories, except against what they believe to be the divine words of

Theories of consciousness are borderlands science, whereas psychoanalytic
theories are pseudoscience, because the former are being tested and are
grounded in sound facts of neurophysiology, whereas the latter have been
tested, have failed the tests again and again, and are grounded in
discredited nineteenth-century theories of the mind. Similarly, recovered
memory theory is bunk because we now understand that memory is not like a
video tape that one can rewind and play back, and that the very process of
"recovering" a memory itself contaminates it. But hypnosis, by contrast, is
tapping into something else in the brain, and there may very well be sound
scientific evidence in support of some of its claims, so to that end we will
wrap up this treatise on blurry lines and fuzzy boundaries by exploring in
detail this borderlands science.

Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Director of the
Skeptics Society, host of the Skeptics Science Lecture Series at Caltech,
columnist for Scientific American, and author of Why People Believe Weird
Things, How We Believe, and The Borderlands of Science.

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