Customer Review

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spurious reasoning beware!, October 28, 2004
This review is from: How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life (Paperback)
In this book, How We Know What Isn't So, Thomas Gilovich takes us through the facts behind spurious reasoning, anecdotal evidence, and incomplete analyses. In the current climate of fad diets, herbal remedies, and other pseudoscientific claims, it is an important book, laying bare the faulty reasoning that can lead to errors in judgement or to falling for some con artist's story.

The primary focus of the book is an analysis of how the human mind tends to bring order from randomness. For example, early chapters deal with random events, and Gilovich points out how seemingly ordered random events can be. For example, when flipping a coin, you should expect to see 4 or 5 heads (or tails) in a row at some point when flipping the coin 100 times. This seems obvious, but he then moves to "real life" examples to show how such randomness can lead to a belief in hot streaks when gambling, for example.

Similarly, he tackles and explains studies that clearly show the importance of anecdotal evidence - we'll take information at face value if we hear it from someone we trust, even if we don't know where that person got the info. Likewise, people tend to more closely scrutinise evidence that contradicts their beliefs in an attempt to find a fault with the evidence. However, they are also likely to "mindlessly" accept anything that seems to support a belief. This is human nature, of course, but it means that it's human nature to not evaluate evidence objectively, and that is what leads to spurious reasoning and belief in concepts that have no scientific evidence (the efficacy of many herbal medicines, belief in ESP, etc.)

In a year with a particularly acrimonious election, this book seems doubly important. With the mudslinging and misrepresentations taking place in both the Kerry and the Bush camps, it's tough for the average person to sort it all out. Gilovich's book points the way to how to ask the right questions on the way to finding the truth, which is something everyone needs to be able to do in a democracy.
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