John Krivacic, NorCal Tea Party, Truth In Science Committee
To Evaluate Claims Based on Science
If you have ever felt confused, frustrated or needed more information on scientific issues discussed in the news, emails or magazines, then you need to read “Lies, Damned Lies, and Science” by Sherry Seethaler, (FT Press Science, 2009) to learn how to evaluate those issues carefully.
Purpose of Review
The reviewer presents this book as a set of tools to be applied to considering claims based on science. The readers are encouraged to read the book for application of the tools. This review provides justification to reading the book.
Review of the Book
The book is a presentation of a set of tools to use in considering science claims. The tools are presented with examples of application. The level of detail discussed is not at the fundamentals of efficient thinking level, but is at a supportive level for efficient thinking. The author prefaces by stating “My goal in writing this book is to help people make sense of the science-related issues that impact their daily lives.” She realizes this goal through discussion and application of the tools. There are ten chapters, each describing a tool with the final tool #10 describing how to decide which of the nine tools to use for a particular issue.
Science consists of collecting data from observations, experimentation, or both; analyzing this data; developing interpretations; and validating the conclusions with other observations. The author’s approach is to discuss the reasons for the tools and for applying them to each of these science stages. The author provides tables and charts to further clarify the use of the tools and try to provide the reader with understanding under what principles or gaps the tool would expose.
Seethaler discusses many subjects affecting the evaluation of scientific issues: models, experimentation, credibility of results obtained by new techniques, the spin zones of stakeholders, the need to identify correct choices, including alternatives, risks, benefits, trade-offs and nuances, the need for careful thinking about cause and effect by the most important process of distinguishing between experimental data and observational data in reaching a conclusion, understanding statistics that are presented in support of a conclusion; understanding how the science is used to support political and social decisions; and how ploys are used to “simplify or bypass logic.”
In agreement with an earlier reviewer, I recommend that readers start with the Conclusion at the end of the book to get a framework for reading the book. This can be a helpful hint, and is a common step in reading any serious book.
The book provides value to the readers who have been introduced to some principles and/or tips on efficient thinking. Some aspects of tools usage can be agreed with and others cannot be recommended. To those readers not familiar with formalizing their thinking processes, I recommend a more thorough reading of the book, taking notes, and summarizing each chapter before continuing.
Readers can condense the tools to action items for thinking tips worksheets. The reader will be able to formulate the questions for understanding the issues. For advanced readers, e.g. with scientific training, this book may be a refresher. Though considering what was taught as science even as late as the ‘90s, the advanced reader may find this book enlightening rather than refreshing.
The author makes the reader aware of how science progresses and that disagreement among scientists is part of the process and is due to any number of reasons. In chapter 1 (tool #1), Sherry does not discuss the history and evolution of the scientific method, but does acknowledge that it is taught in schools as a “simplified, incomplete set of discrete steps.” The chapter does achieve its goal of making the reader aware of the complexity of science and that it is understandable.
In Chapter 2 (tool #2), Seethaler convinces us that spin zones by various stakeholders do exist. Some of these zones are deliberate, conscious spins on scientific issues; and others are unintentional, ignorant interpretations of those issues.
In Chapter 5 (tool #5): “. . . distinguish between Cause and Coincidence”, Sherry describes the need for careful thinking about cause and effect. The most important process is distinguishing between experimental data and observational data in reaching a judgment. Sherry is careful to name and define her concepts.
In chapter 7 (tool #7) Interpreting statistics, Seethaler addresses the consequences of collecting and interpreting statistical data, including types of surveys (participant type), biases, survey wording and definitions of data collected.
In Chapter 10 (tool #10), Seethaler provides example test cases of applying the tools. She also illustrates which tool to select. But also, of great value is the section on information sleuthing.
This book is recommended for the insights into the tools and how they are used. She is thorough in her investigations and provides examples with discussion in sufficient detail to expose the gaps in understanding scientific claims. The emphasis of her book is on using her tools to validate science claims. She does not directly address making the thinking process efficient, only by implication that her tools, if used frequently, will help. She does not discuss induction in science or other epistemological principles such as concept-formation. That is material for another book and time.
You can order a copy of this book from Amazon by clicking on the thumbnail at the left side of this page.