Why and how to become a skeptic.
Steven Novella (Clinical Neurology/Yale Univ. School of Medicine), a founding fellow of the Institute for Science in Medicine and host and producer of the titular science and critical thinking podcast, pulls no punches in his attack on the misinformation, myths, and biases that surround us. Aided here by several writing associates, the author demonstrates his vast experience explaining the mechanisms of deception and the tactics used by pseudoscientists. To prepare readers, Novella first shows the ways in which our memories are faulty and our perceptions fallible, the glitches in our brains that trip us up, and the many logical fallacies that screw up our thinking. In lively, highly accessible prose, he helps readers understand these peculiarities and limitations and learn how to recognize deceptive claims. Science, he writes, is “the process of making our best effort to know what’s really real.” His chapters are filled with examples of pseudoscience and deception, some of which are old chestnuts, such as the “Clever Hans” effect. Others include intelligent design, pyramid schemes, exorcism, conspiracy theories, ghosts, and witches. Inevitably, some of Novella’s examples will challenge some readers’ treasured beliefs, but their inclusion here makes the challenges especially effective. As the author makes clear, some false beliefs come around again and again; new ones, however, confront us daily. A section on skepticism and the media, which looks at the difficulties of reporting science well, is rich with examples of science journalism gone wrong in the age of the internet and social media. Of special interest is the chapter on false balance, the common practice of TV news programs and documentaries giving equal coverage to two points of view that do not, in fact, have equal credibility; his prime example is climate change scientists debating climate change deniers.
Presented as “one giant inoculation against bad science, deception, and faulty thinking,” the book succeeds superbly.