Author: Michael Shermer

Giving the Devil His Due: Why Freedom of Inquiry in Science and Politics is Inviolable

In the 1990s I undertook an extensive analysis of the Holocaust and those who deny it that culminated in Denying History, a book I coauthored with Alex Grobman.1 Alex and I are both civil libertarians who believe strongly that the right to speak one’s mind is fundamental to a free society, so we were surprised to discover that Holocaust denial is primarily an American phenomenon for the simple reason that America is one of the few countries where it is legal to doubt the Holocaust. Legal? Where (and Why) on Earth would it be illegal? In Canada, for starters, where there are ‘anti-hate’ statutes and laws against spreading ‘false news’ that have been applied to Holocaust deniers. In Austria it is a crime if a person “denies, grossly trivializes, approves or seeks to justify the national socialist genocide or other national socialist crimes against humanity.” In France it is illegal to challenge the existence of “crimes against humanity” as they were defined by the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg “or in connection with any crime within the …

How Classical Liberalism Can Heal the Bonds of American Affection

As I write these words—on April 18, 2018—Starbucks has just announced it would temporarily close more than 8,000 cafés so that 175,000 employees may undergo sensitivity training for the “implicit racism” that, apparently, everyone in the company unconsciously harbors. This follows an incident in Philadelphia, in which a Starbucks store manager called the police on two African-American men who wanted to use the bathroom despite not being paying customers. Setting aside the contentious issue of whether it is possible even to reliably detect and correct such a nebulous concept as unconscious bias (of which I, and others, have expressed skepticism), how is it that the hidden motives of an entire corporate collective can be inferred from the actions of a single employee? Traditional bigotry operates by mapping a stereotype of a collective onto an individual. Within Starbucks, the process has been inverted, with the vector of prejudice emanating from the one to the many. Stories such as this now clutter our news feeds daily. The details change from one controversy to the next, but they …

Would You Opt for Immortality?

Before the 7.6 billion people alive today, demographers estimate that about 100 billion people lived and died. This is the reality of the human condition. Memento mori, as medieval Christians reflected—Remember that you have to die. What if it didn’t have to be this way? There are, in fact, organisms whose bodies steadily and reliably replace cells with healthier cells, and whose tissues and organs self-repair and maintain their vigor. They’re called children. And there are cells in adults that divide indefinitely. They’re called cancer. What if there were a way to genetically re-engineer and chemically reprogram our cells to divide indefinitely like they do in children, and to continue this process throughout adulthood without becoming cancerous? Could we become immortal? “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work,” Woody Allen once said, “I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.” There are today well-funded groups of scientists who believe we can do just that. If …