A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age by Daniel J. Levitin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
As if I need any more book suggestions, I have a couple of feeds I’ve voluntarily signed up for and this popped up on one of them some time ago and I’ve just now gotten around to reading it. I eat up the good stuff on critical thinking and this just appealed. Sure, there were few revelations for me, but the composition was refreshing and even though Levitin seems to churn out variations on a theme, this is my first by him, so gets a good nod from me. It gets an extra star because I like his coverage.
Levitin covers a lot. And he covers it well. His writing makes for easy reading and easier digesting if you’ve never read anything on the subject. for those who have, it’s a nicely packaged compendium with quotable sound bites. He addresses the usual numbers game, … and also words. Lies, damn lies and…
Statistics are not facts. They are interpretations.
All right. Important safety tip. (and spot on). And when he talks about infographics? (“…often used by lying weasels to shape public opinion” [my emphasis]) He’s also spot on that “they [the weasels] rely on the fact that most people won’t study what they’ve done too carefully.” Rather disparaging to the much maligned weasels, similizing the ilk to them. Advising the reader, wisely, when encountering just about any claim: “…ask yourself: How could anyone know such a thing?” Intuitively obvious to the most casual observer? Well, of course, but equally obvious…advise so needed and ignored.
On authority, he also advises (obviously) sagely:
The first thing to do when evaluating a claim by some authority is to ask who or what established their authority. If the authority comes from having been a witness to some event, how credible a witness are they?
And in a discussion later in the book he notes that “Experience is Typically Narrow” I recalled a discourse I had on The Petition Project…appeals to an “authority” beg the question as to the source of the authority; does the authprity have any pedigree at all on the subject in question? (Great pop culture reference in mind is the television show West Wing’s character President Bartlet eviscerating a sham talk radio host for masquerading her PhD in English as some authority in divinity or psychology…)
On things like Academy Awards – something I question when I actually take an interest – he makes a very good observation that
The award system is generally biased toward ensuring that every winner is deserving, which is not the same as saying that every deserving person is a winner.
There’s a lot more here. I made a lot of electronic highlights and notes (that I should remember to save in event of another device glitch…) and though I like James Morrow’s “Science has all the answers. We just don’t have all the science”, Levitin notes, “Science doesn’t present us with certainty, only probabilities.” I might need to adjust my thinking.
Highly recommended for the beginner and veteran.
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