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The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe: How to Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake Hardcover – October 2, 2018
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"In this age of real and fake information, your ability to reason, to think in scientifically skeptical fashion, is the most important skill you can have. Read The Skeptics' Guide Universe; get better at reasoning. And if this claim about the importance of reason is wrong, The Skeptics' Guide will help you figure that out, too."― Bill Nye
"A lively, engaging, and very timely guide to navigating a world rife with misinformation and pseudoscience. This book will give you the tools to ferret out nonsense and confront your own biases-and hopefully change a few minds along the way."―Jennifer Oullette, author of Me, Myself, and Why and The Calculus Diaries
"A fantastic compendium of skeptical thinking and the perfect primer for anyone who wants to separate fact from fiction."―Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at University of Hertfordshire and bestselling author of 59 Seconds
"In his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World, the great Carl Sagan prophesied a descent into superstition and ignorance. Well, that world has arrived. Fortunately, Steve Novella and his co-authors are here to help us navigate it with critical thinking and scientifically-appropriate skepticism, along the way exposing the antiscience and pseudoscience so prevalent in our public discourse today, from confirmation bias to conspiracy theories, N-Rays to Nessie, the Face on Mars, to Flat-Eartherism."―Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor, Penn State University and co-author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening our Planet, Destroying our Politics, and Driving us Crazy
"A terrific book for anyone who wants a better understanding about the world around them and an essential guide to navigating modern life. The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe will help readers recognize pitfalls in reasoning, combat bad arguments and avoid superstitious thinking."―Simon Singh, Skeptic & Author of Fermat's Enigma
"There are so many ways to be wrong, what we all need is a guidebook to being right. And here it is: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is an invaluable manual to avoiding all of the ways we can fool ourselves and be fooled by others. It's depressing to think of how many ways there are, but at least now we have no excuse for not being prepared."―Sean Carroll, author of The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself
"Steve and the gang have done it again. The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is the best and most popular podcast on science and skepticism out there (I am honored to have been their first guest!). And now this book is the best, soon to be the most popular, guide to what's really real, so far as we can tell."―Massimo Pigliucci, K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York, author of Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
"Using examples ranging from Monty Python to Monty Hall, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe offers the first ever page-turner that teaches you how to think clearly."―Paul A. Offit, MD, author of Bad Advice: Or Why Celebrities, Politicians, and Activists Aren't Your Best Source of Health Information
"There's nothing more riveting, nor more frightening, than the economy-size ability of the citizenry to embrace unscientific explanations for puzzling events. We hardly blink when ordinary folk are seduced by easy-to-grasp--if wrong--explanations for autism or mysterious lights in the night sky. But we should be alarmed. The science may be pseudo, but the grievous consequences are real. Steve Novella and colleagues offer a fascinating collection of the many contemporary phenomena now ascribed to mysterious or even conspiratorial causes. They also point out the logical errors that are repeatedly made by those who claim that the truth is out there--and frequently too far out there! For those who want to know, not merely believe, this book is an essential read. It's also a great one."―Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute
About the Author
He is joined by his co-writers, Bob Novella, Cara Santa Maria, Jay Novella, and Evan Bernstein, each of whom bring their own personality and knowledge to the show and this book. Together they create a dynamic and engaging group of friends who like discussing cutting-edge science, philosophy, and controversial topics.
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My first clue that something was amiss came from the banner reviewer, one Michael Mann who was listed as a renowned scientist. Say what?!? Infamous or perhaps totally debunked would be a better description. If you want to know what the scientific community thinks of Mann may I suggest you read "A Disgrace to The Profession", in which you will learn what over 100 PhD scientists think of this charlatan and his non-scientific work. The book's title sums it up nicely. Why would Novella list this impostor, who once claimed to have received a Nobel Prize (the Nobel Committee disagrees), as a top reviewer?
Scanning “The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe” I begin to find answers to the above question. One lame aphorism after another, statement after statement without any supportive fact, and really telling, political bias throughout. For example, Hillary Clinton's blatant lie about being under fire in Bosnia is fluffed off as just another "misremembrance of events that we all do”. Bull hockey! I've been under fire, US Army Combat Leader, Bronze Star thank you, and you do not misremember whether or not you have been under fire! Video of the “attack” show's young girls handing a clearly unalarmed Madam Clinton flowers. Just another lie from a family notorious for extreme lack of veracity. Look closely if you choose to read this book and you will see numeral instances of what is either political bias or very fuzzy thinking.
Fuzzy thinking, or perhaps political motivation, is also shown in acceptance of “argument from consensus”, i.e. if most people believe it, it must be true. Consensus and the prevailing orthodoxy once informed us that the world was flat and that the sun and stars revolved around the earth. Many were killed for questioning those “consensuses”. Science is not about consensus, it's about the scientific method, peer review, and reproducibility. Any scientist worth their salt knows that the most important scientific breakthroughs and achievements have often been made going up stream against consensus. Consensus is the forte and realm of politics, not science, especially when claim of consensus is used to thwart legitimate questions.
In short, I believe it is an insult to Carl Sagan to mention the likes of Michael Mann on the same page at a truly renowned scientist. If Sagan were alive today I believe he would take Novella, Mann, and unfortunately Tyson also, (Neil you know better!), out behind the woodshed for a serious talk about the scientific method, valid skepticism, and the need to contain their our own biases.
"The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe" has been returned for full credit. My mistake, I should have known better to seek truth and logic from an MD. Next time I will be sure the author is from one of the “hard” sciences, preferably physics, and not just another political biased hack.
If I could snap my fingers and have everyone in the world read a single book, it would be this one.
It takes a more encyclopaedia approach to scepticism and critical thinking, so it’s very much a book for future reference.
Anyway. I was amused when Steve Novella was discussing ‘zebras,’ and mentioned the patient with ‘palpitations, headaches, sweating, and high blood pressure,’ my first thought (after having trained as an anatomical pathologist) was ‘phaeochromocytoma,’ which I admit is rare - I think I’ve seen one case in 30 years of practice. I was surprised that its hormone was given as ‘adrenaline,’ which is what the rest of the world calls it (it’s secreted by the adrenal glands) instead of ‘epinephrine,’ which is what Americans prefer to call it.
Does this mean that Steve Novella is about to agree with the rest of the world and advocate that America adopts a rational system of measurement including Celsius?
I also listened to the audiobook at the same time, so I actually ‘read’ the book twice. The two versions are equally good.
Top international reviews
I have listened to the related podcast for several years and feel that it was a mistake to have the reading of the book done by Steve Novella. There have been increasing signs that the SGU is developing something of the 'echo chamber' mentality that they rightly condemn in conspiracy theorists. The tone adopted in the said podcast is frequently one of preaching; Steve himself is often guilty of this, to the detriment of the argument that he is making. Unfortunately, that tone has been adopted for the reading, making it appear that he is speaking to the converted.
The organisation perhaps needs to turn its attention from proselytising to active and much more visible lobbying to effect the changes in policy that it espouses and which are clearly needed.
So, while this book has lots of good, well-argued & interesting content (& I recommend it for those reasons), it is best read rather than listened to. That reading also needs to be done in stages; this greatly aids assimilation.
The book comprehensively lays out the basics of critical thinking in an easily accessible form with proper sources. It seems to cover everything you would want from an introductory book to the topic. For example, it contains introductions to basic terminology, psychology, biases, fallacies, philosophy of science, demarcation between science and pseudoscience, example cases from the past and today, challenges of media, and the "what's the harm" question. Furthermore, it provides a reflection on how to apply everything you learn to living a good skeptical life.
From the start, the book is aimed especially at those first familiarizing themselves with the epic quest of exploring the world with our fallible human faculties. The introduction and some of the sections in the book are semi-autobiographical, bringing a very relatable, human element to the book. And, as a whole, it delivers: this is your definitive skeptics' guide to the universe for the 21st century.
The book reminded me somewhat of Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things – a book not too dissimilar to this one.
If more people read books these, then we’d have fewer bizarre claims of alien abduction, out of body experiences and belief in the supernatural. In short, I enjoyed Steven Novella’s book and would recommend it to others. It also introduced me to his podcasts of the same name.
I hope you find my review helpful.
This book is a fantastic resource: a good, entertaining read; a great reference book; and slightly ;-) quicker than catching up with the entire 700+ back catalogue of podcasts. The podcasts are even more fun that the book though.
Now more than ever, being able to see through the scams, lies and fake news we are exposed to daily is of great benefit.
More importantly the books constant warning to think about your own thinking is probably the most useful idea I took away from it.
The book reads like a reference, which did initially surprise me, but as it happens the format isn't as jarring as you might expect.
Each section covers one aspect of critical thinking from the ground up. If you've been listening to the podcast for any amount of time, you probably won't find many surprises, but nonetheless I found it interesting as a refresher. If you've not listened to the podcast, then I imagine you'd really enjoy hearing about the weird and wacky world of logical fallacies, subconscious bias and pseudo-science.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on dealing with pseudoscience among friends and family. We've all been there.
I have four criticisms:
1) I didn't enjoy the opening chapter. It made me feel like I was being inducted into the cult of skepticism. As it happens, I don't like the term "skeptic" and wouldn't identify this way. I just like critical thinking and hearing about pseudo-science.
2) I found the AI chapter very cheesy. Perhaps this is due to my line of work (I'm a computer scientist). I also don't find AI all that interesting, so I'm probably biased. I'm also a techophobe. It seems that the more you learn about how computers work, the less you trust them to make decisions about human life. I'll probably have to retract this comment at the time of the singularity...
3) It would have been nice if citations had been linked inline among the prose of the book, so that I could follow up a statement into the corresponding source. E.g. "One study  showed...". The citations for the whole book are listed at the back, but there is no parity with the statements in the book.
4) The book ended abruptly.
All in all. A fun read, but not quite 5 stars.
I hope Steve releases a 'name that logical fallacy' exercise book in the future. I'd enjoy that.
In my opinion the book excels especially as an introduction to skepticism at a fairly high level.
Many many thanks!
Having said that, if you are a listener of the skeptics guide to the universe podcast, you will find that you have already heard much of the content presented in this book