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Skepticism 101: How to Think like a Scientist Lecture

Skepticism 101: How to Think like a Scientist

Despite our best efforts, we're all vulnerable to believing things without using logic or having proper evidence—and it doesn't matter how educated or well read we are.
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Publisher's Summary

Despite our best efforts, we're all vulnerable to believing things without using logic or having proper evidence—and it doesn't matter how educated or well read we are.

But there is a method for avoiding such pitfalls of human nature, and it's called skepticism. By using rational inquiry and seeing subjects from a scientific perspective, we can approach even the most sensitive claims with clear eyes to ultimately arrive at the truth.

During 18 lectures that will surprise, challenge, and entertain you, you will learn how to think, not just what to think—and you'll come to understand why extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

You'll discover how skepticism can help differentiate between real science and pseudoscience, as well as between "scientific" history and pseudohistory—distinctions that have serious educational and political implications.

Fascinating case studies illustrate how you can apply the methods of skepticism to detect specious claims and faulty logic in any scenario you encounter such as:

  • The methodology employed by Holocaust deniers
  • Arguments made by proponents of creationism
  • The biology of near-death experiences and the sensed-presence effect
  • Psychic abilities and other "paranormal" phenomena.

As you learn how our brains work to form beliefs, you'll examine the classic fallacies of thought that lead us to experience mistakes in thinking and to form bad arguments in favor of our beliefs.

Is there a God? Is there life after death? Is there a basis for morality without God? Skepticism 101 doesn't shy away from controversial questions, nor does it give final answers. What it offers are methods and hard evidence for rationally evaluating various claims and positions, and an opportunity to understand why you believe what you believe.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2013 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2013 The Great Courses

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  •  
    Feisty Donut USA 11-11-13
    Feisty Donut USA 11-11-13 Member Since 2007

    Son of Sam I Am

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    "A good start to critical thinking"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Skepticism 101: How to Think like a Scientist to be better than the print version?

    I've never seen the print version.


    What did you like best about this story?

    I liked each section delving more in depth with a good amount of background information.


    What about Professor Michael Shermer’s performance did you like?

    At the end he refers those more interested in the subject to checkout the magazine and even contact him with questions, which I've done and he responds. Even with the dumb stuff .


    What did you learn from Skepticism 101: How to Think like a Scientist that you would use in your daily life?

    I'm still going to get nailed with my own cognitive biases but it's always good to remind yourself that they exist which is a good way to minimize the effect.


    Any additional comments?

    I've read some of the books he mentions, Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World was amazing and my first introduction to his baloney detection. This started out a bit of a rehash on those themes so I expected to not learn a whole lot of new information. A few sections in and the material was much more expanded upon with more background. I'm a fan of VS Ramachandran and Oliver Sacks so if you like those books I think this is a good diversion whilst waiting for their next. I would love to see volume 2 eventually.

    23 of 29 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Heizenberg Wisconsin 09-14-13
    Heizenberg Wisconsin 09-14-13 Member Since 2012
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    "One Truely Great Course"

    Wow was this a great lecture! Shermer is an interesting speaker and I found it hard to stop listening. This course should be on the list of required freshmen courses for all college students. As a skeptic in training myself, this course helped equip me with some important new tools that I know I'll be able to use at home in everyday life and in business.

    16 of 21 people found this review helpful
  •  
    drlcartman 05-02-15
    drlcartman 05-02-15 Member Since 2016
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    "Great course, the applauselines are weird"

    I enjoyed this course very much. The only downside to it would be the weird applause lines that occur between lectures. I believe he is in a booth recording it, which works out fine, but do they really need to pretend he is talking to people?

    10 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CARL V PHILLIPS Houston, TX United States 04-15-16
    CARL V PHILLIPS Houston, TX United States 04-15-16 Listener Since 2002
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    "By far the worst "Great" Courses I have listened"

    This is the only "Great Courses" recording I have listened to that I found to be bad; indeed, it is terrible. Perhaps I am biased by being more expert in the material than I am for history or literature courses I have listened to, though I do not think that is it. Unlike the other lecturers, that delve into interesting points with a good balance of deep insight and humility, this came across more like a Malcolm Gladwell book of just-so stories and sloppy reasoning. I suppose if you are a fan of that approach, and you know absolutely nothing about scientific reasoning, you might find this worthwhile. But if you are looking for something more insightful (a genuine great course!), this is not it.

    Shermer (who is a fine narrator/speaker -- credit for that) grossly oversimplifies almost everything he talks about. He gets many scientific points out-and-out wrong. He plays it well, so you might not realize that (I have studied and taught a lot of the same material for decades), which makes it all the more hazardous. I suspect this is the result of him being accustomed to talking to people who deny or do not understand the most basic principles of scientific inquiry. The problem is that he is trying to replace their simplistic view with another simplistic view, which might be fine for an airport book or a grade-school class, but this is not supposed to be one of those.

    I kept listening for two reasons. The first is the delicious irony of someone who claims to be teaching about skepticism reciting simplified interpretations of the science (e.g., lab psychology experiments) as if it were indisputable truth, and that the single interpretation of the results that is convenient for his story is the only possible interpretation. The second is to get inspiration to write a book about debunking the debunkers who recite a simplified view of scientific inquiry that may indeed help protect people against utter woo (which is Shermer's mission in life) but that create a layer of more subtle problems that can be just as dangerous.

    Needless to say, neither of those upsides is worth getting this listen for most people.

    Some examples for those familiar with the topics: He lists many of the standard "heuristics and biases" reasons for people drawing erroneous causal conclusions. But for about half of them he describes them incorrectly. For most all of them, he asserts they are real phenomena based on one or two artificial psych experiments whose results have many possible interpretations. Some of them he spins into just-so stories about why we have that bias, which is fine, except that he presents these as facts rather than the reasonable speculations that they are. He refers to "the scientific method" even though there is no such "the", which he actually acknowledges in passing at a few points. But this does not stop him from basing most of what he says on a notion that scientific inquiry is always about following a particular script (e.g., that particular research methods trump others, or that particular statistical rules-of-thumb are natural laws rather than just a different kind of heuristic).

    I suspect that Shermer has a more sophisticated understanding than he presents here. But his approach in these lectures is to infantilize the listener and present a grade-school-level lesson. Even apart from the the out-and-out errors, this is a terrible way to teach a college-level course, telling people what to think rather than exploring the topic. It is completely out of place in the "Great Courses" series.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    P. Adlfinger 03-27-16 Member Since 2008
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    "Skepticism?"

    I thought this would be a study of the disciplines of skepticism. It should have been titled "An Argument for the Authors Point of View of God as Myth, with a Rehash of Old Phycological Studies."

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sam Motes Tampa 02-10-14
    Sam Motes Tampa 02-10-14 Listener Since 2009
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    "Don't be deceived, this is a great listen"

    I had a true since of déjà vu moment while listening to this course by Shermer until I realized he was the author of "The Believing Brain" which I read a few months ago and this course was covering much of the same ground with many of the same stories. Shermer attacks reasons for bad thinking such as via confirmation bias, availability bias, the hind sight fallacy, and others that challenge our ability to think logically like a Scientist. The Feynman quote that went something along the lines of first you must not be deceived and you are the easiest to deceive summed up the premise of the course very well.

    18 of 27 people found this review helpful
  •  
    mc2 Monument, CO, US 03-06-15
    mc2 Monument, CO, US 03-06-15 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Dogmatic with little critical thought"

    There were a couple of good chapters, but for the most part full of inconsistencies and fallacies.

    His delivery is mostly wooden, like he is reading a script. Otherwise, he is smug, condescending and arrogant. He assumes evolution is absolute truth, so much for critical thinking.

    My background is science and engineering and his errors drove me crazy.

    Bottom line: He does not address why people would take shortcuts in reasoning and critical thought. He misses on incentive analysis. A real waste of time

    Read Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics. It is much better at critical thought and the means of investigation. Sowell is fair, entertaining and presents based on evidence and not wild conjecture and speculation like this guy.

    The problems with this lecture are too numerous to mention but let me list a few.

    He predominately falls into several logical fallacies and hypocrisies. His favorite fallacies are the Appeal to Authority, Appeal to Expertise, Bandwagon and Appeal to Ignorance and he maddeningly misuses the term Begging the Question. In addition, he does not have the same skepticism for evolution, climate change as he does UFOs, creation, etc. Nobody should get a pass. Otherwise, all they have to do is exclaim peer review and science and you salivate like Pavlov’s dog.

    Error 1 - He conflates experimental with observational science as if the quality of the data is the same. Experimental science allows for control of the variables and repeatability. This allows for reruns to correct for critiques and errors. Observation science has no such control and is left to speculations and assumptions on the data collected.

    Error 2 - Dogmatic respect for science and scientists surprisingly without any skepticism

    For example, given the Climate Science data, models and prediction, a cursory review would raise huge red flags. Clues? Notice that any outcome cold weather, hot weather, more snow, less snow is always evidence of Climate Change? It is thus irrefutable, untestable and NOT science.

    The same is true for macro evolution which he assumes is true. Anything that is found is attributed to evolution. Thus, how can it be refuted? So – not science.

    He had a segment on the “god helmet” which uses magnetism to induce various experiences such as out of body experience and demons. This is to support that there is no soul, angels, or supernatural. Of course it really doesn’t. It is like saying that we found the parts of the brain that process vision so there is nothing external that imparts the images but simply a manifestation of the brain.

    Taken to its conclusion, how do we know that a more sophisticated helmet does not induce our entire life experience?

    This is a manifestation of Barkley philosophy where our experience is nothing but mind? Hmmm

    He spends most of his time on arguments against UFOs, aliens, etc but very little on the important stuff. He assumes evolution is absolute truth, i.e. dogma. This is his religion, which he uses to explain and discount the other religions.

    107 of 174 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ang Docklands, Australia 11-11-13
    Ang Docklands, Australia 11-11-13
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    "The first Audible book that makes taking notes"
    What other book might you compare Skepticism 101: How to Think like a Scientist to and why?

    Dan Ariely's book, shares few similar stories


    What about Professor Michael Shermer’s performance did you like?

    Quite well, and he promoted his company/organization few times


    What did you learn from Skepticism 101: How to Think like a Scientist that you would use in your daily life?

    You will need to note down a list, and remember them, try to keep use them all the time to overcome biases, useful


    10 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alessandro 11-17-14
    Alessandro 11-17-14 Member Since 2014

    46, father of two, son of two continents. A skeptic in Rome. That's me bathing, next time please knock...

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Teaches to see what should be obvious!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Absolutely. The topics are interesting, the delivery is clear and the reasoning is... absolutely sound. It would be wonderful to be able to always think this way when addressing an apparently "unexplainable" problem or when challenged by any radical thinker.


    Any additional comments?

    The best result of this lesson is the underlined motto: IF (and that's big "if") it's really true then there very probably is a natural explanation, just think harder.

    8 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    R. Shi 05-10-16
    R. Shi 05-10-16 Member Since 2015
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    "Should be required book for all college students"

    Great book! More than just explaining "skepticism" and scientific beliefs. It explores far more important philosophic subjects and presents answers to deep questions.
    I will listen to the book again in a few months.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • Patrick
    London, London, United Kingdom
    3/31/15
    Overall
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    "Highly recommended."
    Would you consider the audio edition of Skepticism 101: How to Think like a Scientist to be better than the print version?

    It is not yet available in print, but perhaps it should be to gather a wider readership.


    What did you like best about this story?

    This is a succinct and comprehensive run through of rational and scientific thinking and understanding as it is today. I would highly recommend it to every and anyone.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No. Too much information to concentrate on and absorb .


    Any additional comments?

    It would be a shame if those of strong relgious faith were put off listening to (reading) this, but that would only prove some of the variuous cognitive biases contained therin.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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