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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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What's healthy? What's unhealthy? What's safe? What's dangerous? Watch the news, and it's easy to be overwhelmed by snippets of badly presented science: information that's incomplete, confusing, contradictory, out-of-context, wrong, or flat-out dishonest. In this book, Dr. Sherry Seethaler provides a "bag of tricks" for making sense of science in the news. You'll learn how What's healthy? What's unhealthy? What's safe? What's dangerous? Watch the news, and it's easy to be overwhelmed by snippets of badly presented science: information that's incomplete, confusing, contradictory, out-of-context, wrong, or flat-out dishonest. In this book, Dr. Sherry Seethaler provides a "bag of tricks" for making sense of science in the news. You'll learn how to think more sensibly about everything from mad cow disease to global warming and 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 mere coincidence; figure out which statistics mean something, and which don't. Finally, drawing on her extensive experience as a science journalist, she reveals the tricks self-interested players use to mislead and confuse you, and points you to sources of information you can actually rely upon. Seethaler's 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.


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What's healthy? What's unhealthy? What's safe? What's dangerous? Watch the news, and it's easy to be overwhelmed by snippets of badly presented science: information that's incomplete, confusing, contradictory, out-of-context, wrong, or flat-out dishonest. In this book, Dr. Sherry Seethaler provides a "bag of tricks" for making sense of science in the news. You'll learn how What's healthy? What's unhealthy? What's safe? What's dangerous? Watch the news, and it's easy to be overwhelmed by snippets of badly presented science: information that's incomplete, confusing, contradictory, out-of-context, wrong, or flat-out dishonest. In this book, Dr. Sherry Seethaler provides a "bag of tricks" for making sense of science in the news. You'll learn how to think more sensibly about everything from mad cow disease to global warming and 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 mere coincidence; figure out which statistics mean something, and which don't. Finally, drawing on her extensive experience as a science journalist, she reveals the tricks self-interested players use to mislead and confuse you, and points you to sources of information you can actually rely upon. Seethaler's 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.

30 review for Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to Sort Through the Noise Around Global Warming, the Latest Health Claims, and Other Scientific Controversies

  1. 5 out of 5

    David R.

    Seethaler does a decent job of laying out criteria that can be used to discern the validity of claims, especially in a scientific context. However, she is tone deaf to the corruption of science especially by governmental agencies and thereby creates a mystic vision of truly objective scientists laboring to seek only the truth for the good of all humankind. The resulting book is therefore rather too rose-tinted for my tastes.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Thorough, step-by-step handbook on how to interpret scientific claims, particularly those made in the mainstream media. This is not a book to read quickly - the best application is probably to read a chapter or even just a section within the chapter and take some time to digest the processes and examples she describes. Ms. Seethaler gives her readers the tools to get past the oversimplified perspectives that we as a general public are all-too-often fed, the better to understand the nuances invol Thorough, step-by-step handbook on how to interpret scientific claims, particularly those made in the mainstream media. This is not a book to read quickly - the best application is probably to read a chapter or even just a section within the chapter and take some time to digest the processes and examples she describes. Ms. Seethaler gives her readers the tools to get past the oversimplified perspectives that we as a general public are all-too-often fed, the better to understand the nuances involved in the scientific process and studies' findings. She emphasizes that science is not the black-or-white choice it is often perceived to be, and that critical thinking skills are more important than an in-depth encyclopedic scientific knowledge in deciphering scientific claims. Occasionally a bit dry, but Ms. Seethaler throws in enough off-the-cuff humor to keep you awake and reading. Her examples are particularly compelling - she draws from a wide range of fields including medical, agricultural, archaeological, sociological, and economic. Incredibly useful and empowering book. For more book reviews, visit my blog, Build Enough Bookshelves.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    I was sick all weekend, so I can't quite remember anything useful, but this is a very good and useful book to explain science, science reporting, and skepticism. It is the lengthy and well-explained answer to the question "Why are there no magic bullets?" I was sick all weekend, so I can't quite remember anything useful, but this is a very good and useful book to explain science, science reporting, and skepticism. It is the lengthy and well-explained answer to the question "Why are there no magic bullets?"

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

    The glib title of the book does not do justice to the clarity and thoughtfulness the author brings to the material. Excellent overview of logical fallacies, manipulation of statistics, cultural influences, and other factors that confound clear understanding of scientific data.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Book

    Lies, Damned Lies and Science: How to sort through the noise around global warming, the latest health claims, and other scientific controversies by Dr. Sherry Seethaler "Lies, Damned Lies and Science" is a book about critical thinking in the everyday use of science. The book helps lay people understand how science works and how to put scientific claims in the proper context. This 224-page book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. Potions, plot, personalities: understand how science prog Lies, Damned Lies and Science: How to sort through the noise around global warming, the latest health claims, and other scientific controversies by Dr. Sherry Seethaler "Lies, Damned Lies and Science" is a book about critical thinking in the everyday use of science. The book helps lay people understand how science works and how to put scientific claims in the proper context. This 224-page book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. Potions, plot, personalities: understand how science progresses and why scientists sometimes disagree, 2. Who's who?: identify those who hold stake in an issue and what their positions are, 3. Decisions, decisions: elucidate all the pros and cons of a decision, 4. Compare and contrast: place alternatives in an appropriate context to evaluate tradeoffs, 5. What happens if...?: distinguish between cause and coincidence, 6.Specific or general: recognize how broadly the conclusions from a study may be applied, 7. Fun figures: see through the number jumble, 8. Society's say: discern the relationships between science and policy, 9. All the tricks in the book: get past the ploys designed to simply bypass logic, and 10. Fitting the pieces together: know how to seek information to gain a balanced perspective. Positives: 1. A well-written and accessible book that teaches us how to think critically about scientific claims. 2. Dr. Seethaler explains the basics of science and does so with ease. It's a testament to her prodigious knowledge of science and most importantly her ability to relay such knowledge to the masses. 3. As an accomplished educator, Dr. Seethaler makes use of multiple tools to convey her thoughts: graphs, charts, lists and accessible prose backed by supporting references. 4. The "true" scientific method. 5. Climate models. 6. Great practical examples throughout. 7. An interesting look at how scientific disputes are resolved. 8. The understanding of "pseudosymmetry of scientific authority" which is the fallacy committed by the media in which they portray scientists evenly divided between two points of view, when in reality that is not the case. 9. The all-important peer-reviewed scientific process. 10. Many hot political topics involving science discussed: Global warming, genetically engineered food, mad cow disease...to name a few. 11. Putting things in proper scientific context. 12. The differences between experimental and non-experimental studies. 13. Why certain animals and even fruit flies are studied. 14. A lot of interesting tidbits throughout the book. 15. The Gambler's Fallacy. 16. Confirmation bias... 17. Beware of vague claims and why you should. 18. Honestly where would science be without evolution? 19. How to be critical without being cynical. Excellent point. 20. The truth about why DDT was banned. 21. An excellent chapter on the twenty essential applications of the tools. 22. Links worked great! 23. Very helpful and useful list of links. Thank you. Negatives: 1. Risk factors were not defined to my satisfaction. 2. Scientists will find this book fairly basic because it is intended for the masses. 3. I would have liked a summary chart of sorts that listed the main scientific topics and what the scientific consensus is versus the perception. In summary, I highly recommend this book to the general public but in particular to science educators. This is a very useful and important book. Dr. Seathaler accomplishes her goal of educating the public by providing a useful toolkit to critically assess science information obtained from the media and other popular sources. Recommendations: "Merchants of Doubt..." by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, "Science Under Siege..." Kendrick Frazier, "Why People Believe Weird Things..." by Michael Shermer, "Science Matters..." Robert M. Hazen and James Trefil, and "and "Idiot America..." by Charles P. Pierce.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (JC-S)

    ‘The most important product of knowledge is ignorance.’ And this book is aimed at providing the tools to reduce ignorance. How can a non-scientist make sense of science when so much science-related information is poorly presented, incomplete, contradictory or wrong? What tools can we use in order to assess and make sense of what is presented as fact? So much of the ‘information’ we receive is packaged and presented in a format which makes it difficult to understand let alone analyse the underlying ‘The most important product of knowledge is ignorance.’ And this book is aimed at providing the tools to reduce ignorance. How can a non-scientist make sense of science when so much science-related information is poorly presented, incomplete, contradictory or wrong? What tools can we use in order to assess and make sense of what is presented as fact? So much of the ‘information’ we receive is packaged and presented in a format which makes it difficult to understand let alone analyse the underlying facts. In this book, Dr Seethaler covers topics such as the use and misuse of statistical data; identifying logical fallacies; uncovering the difference between cause and coincidence; and how to identify both the relevant stakeholders in any particular issue and their motivations. In short, this book is a guide to the techniques of critical thinking and evaluation applied to science. Dr Seethaler reminds us how science really works, and how progress can involve disagreement between scientists. There are a number of examples discussed in this book: including BSE (Mad Cow Disease); global warming, genetic engineering of crops, and drug treatments for depression. I enjoyed this book. The tools of critical thinking and evaluation discussed here are used in a number of different fields - including health, science and public policy more generally. These tools are not just restricted to these fields: we each have to make decisions based on science, and live with the consequences of such decisions made by others. It makes sense that we seek to understand the material presented so that we can make informed choices. Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  7. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    I had this, i guess, on my wish list. I must have head a review or something. Its not a huge surprised, really, because the business of science writing and communication is one that i think and care about. Additionally, the question of how to increase the overall scientific literacy of our nature is one that i care about. So, here is a book that is written to help non-scientists understand how to evaluate scientific ideas. I felt like the book was a bit simplistic to me, but, then, i think about I had this, i guess, on my wish list. I must have head a review or something. Its not a huge surprised, really, because the business of science writing and communication is one that i think and care about. Additionally, the question of how to increase the overall scientific literacy of our nature is one that i care about. So, here is a book that is written to help non-scientists understand how to evaluate scientific ideas. I felt like the book was a bit simplistic to me, but, then, i think about this an awful lot and have a STEM background. I wasn't entirely sold on the examples that were given - i felt like there could have been more, and in some cases, they could have been explored more completely (in the last chapter specifically). I also felt like every highschool student should have a course taught on this book. Essentially, it was an introduction about how to think critically about information that is presented to you, and since we all need to make decisions that should be based on facts, critical thinking is a must. As for me, i do enjoy thinking about the problem. The book gave me one or two shortcuts for finding the weak points in piece of science writing (that i knew, but not quite so explicitly), and the names of one or two blogs that i might like to check out...

  8. 4 out of 5

    HBalikov

    What a handy book! In a world where many lobby us each day with their "facts and statistics" how do we make informed choices. Seethaler gives us a nice collection of tools for critical thinking. The examples she chooses including: global warming, mad cow disease, brain cancer from cell phones are all relevant and interesting. She shines in help us to detect and dissect the interests of parties and how to get what each of us needs to know. Pitched to the lay person, this gem provides something fo What a handy book! In a world where many lobby us each day with their "facts and statistics" how do we make informed choices. Seethaler gives us a nice collection of tools for critical thinking. The examples she chooses including: global warming, mad cow disease, brain cancer from cell phones are all relevant and interesting. She shines in help us to detect and dissect the interests of parties and how to get what each of us needs to know. Pitched to the lay person, this gem provides something for everyone to use. It makes me wonder why we don't provide this to every high school student as part of their preparation for going out in the world

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    After the disappointing experience with Counterknowledge, I was a little skeptical. Sherry Seethaler, though, does an excellent job writing the book that Counterknowledge could have been. Rather than burning through chapters picking on easy targets, she does the hard work of explaining how the practical business of science works, how it interacts with the media and popular culture, and how we can tease understanding from the mountain of technical claims we see on a daily basis. Two big thumbs up.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Judith

    Five stars If you've ever wondered why seemingly contradictory recommendations pop up in the media every day this book will help you understand why. It will also give you a set of tools you can use to dig up the real results so that you can apply them to your own decision making. A worthwhile read directly written to those of us that have only a basic science education. Five stars If you've ever wondered why seemingly contradictory recommendations pop up in the media every day this book will help you understand why. It will also give you a set of tools you can use to dig up the real results so that you can apply them to your own decision making. A worthwhile read directly written to those of us that have only a basic science education.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Maikel

    This book explains some of the basic things going on in scientific research, drawing from numerous case studies. While I could see some people benefit from this book, it was too basic for me. I would recommend Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" over this one. This book explains some of the basic things going on in scientific research, drawing from numerous case studies. While I could see some people benefit from this book, it was too basic for me. I would recommend Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" over this one.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    Read for a class. Mostly boring. Did have some good examples.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    The author begins by noting that (Page xvii): "My goal in writing this book is to help people make sense of the science-related issues that impact their daily lives." The following ten chapters try to show how science as an enterprise works, how disagreements develop, and how they are resolved. The book also addresses how to make sense of scientific disagreements. The conclusion notes 20 applications of what went before. Among examples: Legitimate criticism can be distinguished from science bash The author begins by noting that (Page xvii): "My goal in writing this book is to help people make sense of the science-related issues that impact their daily lives." The following ten chapters try to show how science as an enterprise works, how disagreements develop, and how they are resolved. The book also addresses how to make sense of scientific disagreements. The conclusion notes 20 applications of what went before. Among examples: Legitimate criticism can be distinguished from science bashing; Beware of the self-declared revolutionary who claims to be unappreciated by the scientific community; The meaning of statistics can be distorted by the data collection procedures. At any rate, a useful volume that helps readers make sense of the enterprise of science and evaluate scientific debate. Well written. . . .

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    This is a very well written book about science, statistics, and the presentation of both. It is a great review since I had my research and statistics classes decades ago. The up-to-date and current descriptions of policy, science, and sound bites was entertaining and informative. There was really nothing new about the research process and statistics, but it was nice to read such well-described concepts such as anchoring sampling, and generalizability. This is a good book for an overall depiction This is a very well written book about science, statistics, and the presentation of both. It is a great review since I had my research and statistics classes decades ago. The up-to-date and current descriptions of policy, science, and sound bites was entertaining and informative. There was really nothing new about the research process and statistics, but it was nice to read such well-described concepts such as anchoring sampling, and generalizability. This is a good book for an overall depiction of research and its caveats for a novice curious about this statistics. It is obviously a good review, also. While I didn't really learn anything new, I give it 4 stars since it is so well written. It ends with questions one should ask about presentation of facts, emphasizing how difficult it is to see a true cause and effect.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Pauline Ross

    I'm not quite sure who the intended audience is for this one. It's a serious and deeply worthy look at how to make sense of the scientific and pseudo-scientific claims in the media, which is probably too heavy for the average curious Joe Public, and not news for anyone already scientifically minded. There are a lot of interesting examples in here, and it's well researched, but the text in-between which explains the general principles is very dry and I often found myself skipping paragraphs. It w I'm not quite sure who the intended audience is for this one. It's a serious and deeply worthy look at how to make sense of the scientific and pseudo-scientific claims in the media, which is probably too heavy for the average curious Joe Public, and not news for anyone already scientifically minded. There are a lot of interesting examples in here, and it's well researched, but the text in-between which explains the general principles is very dry and I often found myself skipping paragraphs. It would suit a teacher looking for real-world examples to explain statistics or psychology or even aspects of politics (the book touches on all of these). I got it for free, somehow (it's quite expensive now), so I'm inclined to be charitable; three stars.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is a book written for the non-science reader discussion how to evaluate non-science writing on science. Perhaps I could put that more simply by saying in is a critique of how the popular press writes about scientific issues. While I don't think most of you will learn something that you didn't know, you will be reminded to apply much of what you do know and to pay attention to the many ways you can be mislead. The writing is, at times, repetitious but the information is valuable and the repe This is a book written for the non-science reader discussion how to evaluate non-science writing on science. Perhaps I could put that more simply by saying in is a critique of how the popular press writes about scientific issues. While I don't think most of you will learn something that you didn't know, you will be reminded to apply much of what you do know and to pay attention to the many ways you can be mislead. The writing is, at times, repetitious but the information is valuable and the repetion does serve to drive home the point. If you, like me, are a lay reader who enjoys reading about science I think you will find this worthwhile.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dee Renee Chesnut

    This was free when I downloaded it from BN.com. In less than 200 pages, Seethaler teaches her readers to better understand what information might be missing from a news story about scientific results and also about the governmental policies affecting innovation. She hopes to have us better engaged in forming opinions, instead of ignoring information just because stakeholders may want to manipulate our opinions. While this is a book about science, its information is helpful in sorting through adv This was free when I downloaded it from BN.com. In less than 200 pages, Seethaler teaches her readers to better understand what information might be missing from a news story about scientific results and also about the governmental policies affecting innovation. She hopes to have us better engaged in forming opinions, instead of ignoring information just because stakeholders may want to manipulate our opinions. While this is a book about science, its information is helpful in sorting through advertisements and political haranguing. I recommend it to all readers.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    The information here is quite useful, but Seethaler's writing is dull, labored, and full of redundancies. This could have been trimmed to a quarter of its length and run as a magazine piece -- or plumped back up again with fascinating anecdotes. It's still a good primer on critical thinking about science in the news, should you need one. The information here is quite useful, but Seethaler's writing is dull, labored, and full of redundancies. This could have been trimmed to a quarter of its length and run as a magazine piece -- or plumped back up again with fascinating anecdotes. It's still a good primer on critical thinking about science in the news, should you need one.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Scott Smith

    I was hoping based on the title for a more incendiary, anti-science book so that I could have an example of science paranoia for my paper, but it is really just more of a "science explained" thing. Still, it does a fair job of helping people who may not be familiar with the whole science thing to think a bit more critically about what things mean. So i guess thats good. I was hoping based on the title for a more incendiary, anti-science book so that I could have an example of science paranoia for my paper, but it is really just more of a "science explained" thing. Still, it does a fair job of helping people who may not be familiar with the whole science thing to think a bit more critically about what things mean. So i guess thats good.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    I need to remember this book for when the kids are a little older. It's a good primer for critical thinking as it applies to science reporting. It's not so very useful for your already reasonably well-informed adult. I need to remember this book for when the kids are a little older. It's a good primer for critical thinking as it applies to science reporting. It's not so very useful for your already reasonably well-informed adult.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Marvin

    Excellent primer on using intellect and logic to decipher scientific claims, whether they relate to global warming or the newest diet fad. This should be essential reading for all high school and college science classes.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    A book everyone should read for the concepts. The author walks you through the process of thinking about how science and reporting about science happens and how you can understand the what is said and what in not stated.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    A wonderful treatise on methods to evaluate scientific studies. Dr. Seethaler writes in a very accessible manner and provides a lot of great critical examination techniques of scientific studies. I highly recommend this book!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Well constructed examination of several tricks and tools needed to understand the strengths and drawbacks of popular medical and scientific debates. Nothing groundbreaking provided one has always approached these topics with logical discernment.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Daniel DeLappe

    Fantastic book. People should read this book for science basics and learn what science is and is not. Good refresher if you have not had a science class or read a science book in years.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Devereaux Library SDSM&T

    Thorough, step-by-step handbook on how to interpret scientific claims, particularly those made in the mainstream media.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rachelle

    Pretty heavy reading.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bj Atchley

    Great book. A well written textbook for analyzing scientific claims outside of your own field of expertise.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    Brief and basic. Free Kindle download.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kamas Kirian

    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. 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.

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