About 40 years ago, an interest in science fiction prompted Michael Shermer to take his first college astronomy class. Today, he is known worldwide for his efforts to debunk pseudoscientific and supernatural claims as well as for his passion for science.
"Science is the coolest thing going," Shermer said. "It's the basis of Google and iPhones and jet planes and all the cool stuff that we live our lives by. This is where the action is."
The nationally recognized expert plans to share that passion with Randolph College when his keynote address kicks off the 4th Annual Science Festival, which will take place March 22-25.
Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and executive director of the Skeptics Society, has written several books on evolution, science, psychic powers, UFOs, near-death experiences, and other non-sciences. Much of his career is focused on his goal of disproving what he calls "phony science" that is passed off as fact in modern culture.
"Our other job is to promote science, reason, critical thinking, rationality, and the power of science to resolve debates and disputes," he said. "Science is the most reliable method we have for understanding how the world works. We should apply it everywhere we can."
At Randolph's Science Festival, he will discuss beliefs ranging from religion and politics to economics and conspiracy theories related to his latest book, The Believing Brain.
Peter Sheldon, a Randolph physics professor and organizer of Randolph's Science Festival, hopes Shermer's presence will appeal to a larger audience and push the popular event to a new level. "It's something that anyone could be interested in," he said.
The Science Festival, which features a variety of multidisciplinary events during a weekend, uses hands-on experiments and demonstrations to help people of all ages realize that science can be fun, interesting, and even beautiful, Sheldon said. "The excitement and beauty of science is no different than the excitement and beauty of art," he added.
While the Science Festival includes a weekend of activities for all ages, it also features Science Day, a popular program for area elementary and middle school students that was first sponsored by the Randolph Society of Physics Students in 2005. The Science Festival was designed to provide other science-related experiences for all age groups.
Shermer believes the hands-on experiences, such as those provided at Randolph's Science Festival, are the key to helping people see how science can enrich their lives.
"People need to have a deep understanding about the universe and where it came from and where it's going," Shermer said. "Science is the best system we have for answering those questions. That by itself gives life a lot more meaning."