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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 Hardcover – January 23, 2009

39 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 007-6092044659 ISBN-10: 0137155220 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

About 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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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

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.


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.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: FT Press; 1 edition (January 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0137155220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0137155224
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #301,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sherry Seethaler is a science writer and educator at the University of California, San Diego. She also writes a weekly column for the San Diego Union-Tribune in which she answers readers' questions spanning nearly every imaginable science topic from "Why do I sneeze when I look toward the sun?" to "Is a lightsaber possible?" to "Is one horsepower really equal to the power of one horse?" to "Why do lizards do push-ups" to "What causes out-of-body experiences?" That last question really does fall under the purview of science! You can read the answers to these and 345 other questions in Seethaler's books, Curious Folks Ask: 162 Real answers on amazing inventions, fascinating products, and medical mysteries (FT Press Science, 2010) and Curious Folks Ask 2: 188 Real answers on our fellow creatures, our planet, and beyond (FT Press Science, 2011).

Seethaler earned a bachelor of science in biochemistry and chemistry from the University of Toronto, a Master of Science and a Master of Philosophy in biology from Yale University and a Doctor of Philosophy in science and mathematics education from the University of California, Berkeley. She has studied theories of learning and the extensive literature on people's alternative ideas about mathematical and scientific concepts. Her dissertation research examined how eighth-grade students and undergraduates make sense of scientific controversy, with a focus on the genetic engineering of food.

Her passion is to help people rediscover the wonder about science that we all shared as children, before we had concluded that science meant facts to be memorized from a textbook. Back then science meant bugs and slugs, trees and seas, stars and scars, rocks and... (well, you get the picture). Science is also a way of approaching problems and a way of thinking about the world that we can each apply to making better reasoned health, political and consumer decisions. Unfortunately, precollege and even college science classes often fail to teach us how to do this. To fill that gap, her book Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to sort through the noise around global warming, the latest health claims, and other scientific controversies (FT Press Science, 2009) is an empowering yet palatable set of tools for making sense of the health and science-related issues we encounter in our daily lives.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Dr H on March 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book will not tell you what to think; it will teach you how to evaluate what others -want- you to think. If I were teaching a course on Critical Thinking, I would use this book as the central textbook; never before have I seen such a concise, readable coverage of the topic in a single volume. Each component of the process is identified, described, and presented with real-world examples.
At a time when everyone is trying to sell us something -- be it material goods or strange new ideas -- critical thinking is essential for survival. Whether you are trying to figure out where to take a stand on global warming, or how to not get ripped off by the local used-car salesman, this book will help. *Everyone* should read this book: I can only give it five stars here, but it rates many more. Excellent job!
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Gaetan Lion on April 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
A good way to read this book is to start with the conclusion where the author shares twenty thinking tools to evaluate findings. This is an abstract of the entire book including all the critical thinking processes the author covers.

This is an excellent book that provides the qualitative critical thinking necessary for making better rational decisions regarding purchases, health care, and lifestyle. Many books impart the statistics to differentiate what is truly different from what is not. But, few books focus on framing the question correctly, understanding the biases of the stakeholders, and how to evaluate the findings. Ultimately, the qualitative thinking the author imparts is as important as the quantitative knowledge imparted by math books.

The author does an excellent job explaining how science works. It is a constant feedback loop of battling hypothesis and rebuttals that confuse the public. But, if you make an effort to understand the issue, you will grasp the evolving nuances of the arguments. Through this process our knowledge invariably advances.

Some highlights of the book include the matrix of stakeholders issues on page 34 regarding Global Warming, Drug approval, Genetically engineered food, and Mad cow disease. This matrix succinctly fleshes out all stakeholders positions on those four complex issues. The table of evidence being studied to understand climate change on page 83 is really thorough. Also, the concept of "pseudosymmetry of scientific authority" as explained on page 16 is interesting. It means the Media sometimes allocates as much print to both sides of an issue when the vast majority of the scientific community is on one side (that's why it is called pseudosymmetry).
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44 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Science Goddess on March 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Length: 7:23 Mins
Hi, this is Joanne, a bioengineering instructor at the University of Illinois. I read science books and review them. See more at my youtube site [...]

The review for Dr. Seethaler's book begins several minutes in.
This book is a fabulous manual to help readers learn how to think critically about scientific information we are bombarded with via the news.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 2, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.

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.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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
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