Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to Sort through the Noise around Global Warming, the Latest Health Claims, and Other Scientific Controversies

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Overview

“Comprehensive, readable, and replete with current, useful examples, this book provides a much-needed explanation of how to be a critical consumer of the scientific claims we encounter in our everyday lives.”

–April Cordero Maskiewicz, Department of Biology, Point Loma Nazarene University

“Seethaler’s book helps the reader look inside the workings of science and gain a deeper understanding of the pathway that is followed by a scientific finding–from its beginnings in a research lab to its appearance on the nightly news.”

–Jim Slotta, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

“How I wish science was taught this way! Seethaler builds skills for critical thinking and evaluation. The book is rich with examples that not only illustrate her points beautifully, they also make it very interesting and fun to read.”

–Julia R. Brown, Director, Targacept, Inc.

Don’t Get Hoodwinked! Make Sense of Health and Science News...and Make Smarter Decisions!

Every day, there’s a new scientific or health controversy. And every day, it seems as if there’s a new study that contradicts what you heard yesterday. What’s really going on? Who’s telling the truth? Who’s faking it? What do scientists actually know—and what don’t they know? This book will help you cut through the confusion and make sense of it all—even if you’ve never taken a science class! Leading science educator and journalist Dr. Sherry Seethaler reveals how science and health research really work...how to put scientific claims in context and understand the real tradeoffs involved...tell quality research from junk science...discover when someone’s deliberately trying to fool you...and find more information you can trust! Nobody knows what new controversy will erupt tomorrow. But one thing’s for certain: With this book, you’ll know how to figure out the real deal—and make smarter decisions for yourself and your family!

Watch the news, and you’ll be overwhelmed by snippets of badly presented science: information that’s incomplete, confusing, contradictory, out-of-context, wrong, or flat-out dishonest. Defend yourself! Dr. Sherry Seethaler gives you a powerful arsenal of tools for making sense of science. You’ll learn how to think more sensibly about everything from mad cow disease to global warming–and how to make better science-related decisions in both your personal life and as a citizen.

You’ll begin by understanding how science really works and progresses, and why scientists sometimes disagree. Seethaler helps you assess the possible biases of those who make scientific claims in the media, and place scientific issues in appropriate context, so you can intelligently assess tradeoffs. You’ll learn how to determine whether a new study is really meaningful; uncover the difference between cause and coincidence; figure out which statistics mean something, and which don’t.

Seethaler reveals the tricks self-interested players use to mislead and confuse you, and points you to sources of information you can actually rely upon. Her many examples range from genetic engineering of crops to drug treatments for depression...but the techniques she teaches you will be invaluable in understanding any scientific controversy, in any area of science or health.

^ Potions, plots, and personalities: How science progresses, and why scientists sometimes disagree

^ Is it “cause” or merely coincidence? How to tell compelling evidence from a “good story”

^ There are always tradeoffs: How to put science and health claims in context, and understand their real implications

^ All the tricks experts use to fool you, exposed! How to recognize lies, “truthiness,” or pseudo-expertise

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

When judging media reports on science, one person's fact is another person's hooey, and in this brisk little book Seethaler helps readers decide for themselves which is which. Seethaler, a science writer and columnist for the San Diego Union Tribune, begins by explaining how the scientific process works in reality versus popular belief, and then discusses such subjects as how to identify the stakeholders in a scientific controversy and how science and public policy intersect. The author suggests other questions: what advocacy groups are the source for information reported in articles? is a "trend" really just a temporary blip in the data? Seethaler offers concrete advice on how to sort through such matters ("Beware of the 'Lake Wobegon effect' "), as well as useful tables and charts. While science buffs will be familiar with most of the material, news consumers who are puzzled by scientific debates will learn how to make sense of them, and high school and beginning college science students will find the book useful for putting science in a real-world context. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780137155224
  • Publisher: FT Press
  • Publication date: 1/16/2009
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Sherry Seethaler, a science writer and educator at the University of California, San Diego, works with scientists to explain their discoveries to the public. She also writes a column for the San Diego Union-Tribune answering readers’ questions about science. Seethaler holds an M.S. and Master of Philosophy in biology from Yale, and a Ph.D. in science and math education from UC Berkeley.

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Read an Excerpt

Praise for Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to Sort through the Noise around Global Warming, the Latest Health Claims, and OPraise for Lies, Damned Lies, and Science

“Comprehensive, readable, and replete with current, useful examples, this book provides a much-needed explanation of how to be a critical consumer of the scientific claims we encounter in our everyday lives.”

April Cordero Maskiewicz, Department of Biology, Point Loma Nazarene University

“Seethaler’s book helps the reader look inside the workings of science and gain a deeper understanding of the pathway that is followed by a scientific finding—from its beginnings in a research lab to its appearance on the nightly news.”

Jim Slotta, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

“How I wish science was taught this way! Seethaler builds skills for critical thinking and evaluation. The book is rich with examples that not only illustrate her points beautifully, they also make it very interesting and fun to read.”

Julia R. Brown, Director, Targacept, Inc.Preface

Be very, very careful what you put into that head, because you will never, ever get it out.

—Thomas Cardinal Wolsey (1471-1530)

My goal in writing this book is to help people make sense of the science-related issues that impact their daily lives. Lies, Damned Lies, and Science provides an enlightening approach for contemplating scientific issues, and brings these issues into focus the way new glasses sharpen one’s vision. In other words, the book is a new lens through which to view the world. Eachchapter reveals a unique set of elements that need to be taken into consideration when reasoning about a complex science-related issue. In addition to bringing these elements into focus, the book shows how they fit together into something greater than a sum of parts.

Most of the messages that bombard us everyday are carefully selected to present just one of a kaleidoscope of possible perspectives on technological, environmental, economic, and health issues such as global warming, mad cow disease, nanotechnology, genetically engineered food, who should take cholesterol-lowering drugs, and what are the merits of banning plastic bags. Oversimplified black-and-white perspectives of issues come from those who have a vested interest in convincing others of their point of view, or who are simply relaying information without thinking critically about it. This book explores ways to achieve more nuanced and balanced perspectives on a wide range of issues.

In a society in which science and technology drive the economy and infiltrate every aspect of daily life, it is dangerous for an elite few to make the decisions about how technology is used, who will be given access to it, and how money is spent to research scientific solutions to societal problems. Ironically, those with the power to make these decisions rarely have any background in science. Therefore, they are especially vulnerable to being hoodwinked by those who hold stake in an issue and have the money to get their voices heard. Yet, we too can make our voices heard through sound, evidence-based political, consumer, and medical decisions. To do this, we need to be armed with the knowledge that makes it difficult for clever stakeholders to deceive us.

Too many people lost confidence in their ability to understand science because they did poorly in science class in high school. However, even folks who excelled in high school science classes and majored in a scientific discipline in college are rarely adequately prepared to think critically about the science they encounter in their daily lives. High school and even college science tends to be focused on facts, formulae, and experiments with known outcomes. In the real world, there is much more uncertainty and interpretation. Decisions about contemporary scientific issues often must be made on the basis of incomplete information, and conflicting viewpoints are the norm rather than the exception. This book unravels the complexity of such issues to help scientists and nonscientists alike identify hogwash and balance tradeoffs to make well- reasoned decisions about science in everyday life.

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Potions, plot, personalities: understand how science progresses and why scientists sometimes disagree 1

Ch. 2 Who's who?: identify those who hold stake in an issue and what their positions are 29

Ch. 3 Decisions, decisions: elucidate all the pros and cons of a decision 43

Ch. 4 Compare and contrast: place alternatives in an appropriate context to evaluate tradeoffs 59

Ch. 5 What happens if ... ?: distinguish between cause and coincidence 73

Ch. 6 Specific or general: recognize how broadly the conclusions from a study may be applied 89

Ch. 7 Fun figures: see through the number jumble 99

Ch. 8 Society's say: discern the relationships between science and policy 113

Ch. 9 All the tricks in the book: get past the ploys designed to simply bypass logic 139

Ch. 10 Fitting the pieces together: know how to seek information to gain a balanced perspective 161

Conclusion: twenty essential applications of the tools 177

Acknowledgments 183

About the Author 184

Index 185

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Preface

Praise for Lies, Damned Lies, and Science

“Comprehensive, readable, and replete with current, useful examples, this book provides a much-needed explanation of how to be a critical consumer of the scientific claims we encounter in our everyday lives.”

April Cordero Maskiewicz, Department of Biology, Point Loma Nazarene University

“Seethaler’s book helps the reader look inside the workings of science and gain a deeper understanding of the pathway that is followed by a scientific finding—from its beginnings in a research lab to its appearance on the nightly news.”

Jim Slotta, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

“How I wish science was taught this way! Seethaler builds skills for critical thinking and evaluation. The book is rich with examples that not only illustrate her points beautifully, they also make it very interesting and fun to read.”

Julia R. Brown, Director, Targacept, Inc.

Preface

Be very, very careful what you put into that head, because you will never, ever get it out.

—Thomas Cardinal Wolsey (1471-1530)

My goal in writing this book is to help people make sense of the science-related issues that impact their daily lives. Lies, Damned Lies, and Science provides an enlightening approach for contemplating scientific issues, and brings these issues into focus the way new glasses sharpen one’s vision. In other words, the book is a new lens through which to view the world. Each chapter reveals a unique set of elements that need to be taken into consideration when reasoning about a complex science-related issue. In addition to bringing these elements into focus, the book shows how they fit together into something greater than a sum of parts.

Most of the messages that bombard us everyday are carefully selected to present just one of a kaleidoscope of possible perspectives on technological, environmental, economic, and health issues such as global warming, mad cow disease, nanotechnology, genetically engineered food, who should take cholesterol-lowering drugs, and what are the merits of banning plastic bags. Oversimplified black-and-white perspectives of issues come from those who have a vested interest in convincing others of their point of view, or who are simply relaying information without thinking critically about it. This book explores ways to achieve more nuanced and balanced perspectives on a wide range of issues.

In a society in which science and technology drive the economy and infiltrate every aspect of daily life, it is dangerous for an elite few to make the decisions about how technology is used, who will be given access to it, and how money is spent to research scientific solutions to societal problems. Ironically, those with the power to make these decisions rarely have any background in science. Therefore, they are especially vulnerable to being hoodwinked by those who hold stake in an issue and have the money to get their voices heard. Yet, we too can make our voices heard through sound, evidence-based political, consumer, and medical decisions. To do this, we need to be armed with the knowledge that makes it difficult for clever stakeholders to deceive us.

Too many people lost confidence in their ability to understand science because they did poorly in science class in high school. However, even folks who excelled in high school science classes and majored in a scientific discipline in college are rarely adequately prepared to think critically about the science they encounter in their daily lives. High school and even college science tends to be focused on facts, formulae, and experiments with known outcomes. In the real world, there is much more uncertainty and interpretation. Decisions about contemporary scientific issues often must be made on the basis of incomplete information, and conflicting viewpoints are the norm rather than the exception. This book unravels the complexity of such issues to help scientists and nonscientists alike identify hogwash and balance tradeoffs to make well- reasoned decisions about science in everyday life.

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 15 of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2011

    Well written and easily understood

    I found this book to be fairly well written and easily understood. It's basically the same stuff we learned about critical thinking in my high school physics class. But, it was nice as a refresher.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 24, 2011

    Currently FREE as NOOK book - worth paying for to me

    Excellent and meaningful help for all of us who want to find out what's real and what's hype, especially in health and other scientific news and claims. Also, the author helped me to assess when I've done enough checking into claims - since nobody has unlimited time. I already had skills in this area but found new methods and ideas in this book. A keeper for me.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2012

    Dry, very dry reading

    Although reviews said that this would be humorous, I didn't think so. Although the writer was knowledgable about the subject, she often went into lengthly explanations of the same material given in tables. Rather than using different examples of each area, she repeats the same material over and over again. 200 pgs, but I just couldn't finish it. I picked up all I needed to know in the introduction.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 9, 2012

    I decreased my carbon foot print by not giving this book the burning it deserved!!!

    Much like the journey men who service Al Gore's fictious solar grid that heats his home, this author should be unemployed. Save a tree, don't buy the paperback. Cut down on low level radiation in your home by NOT down loading this to your NOOK or other internet device. Stay home, lock the doors and watch SIMPSONS re-runs until the pizza delivery guy will no longer except your maxed out credit cards. Be afraid, be very afraid.

    1 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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