Critical thinking, science and pseudoscience

Monday 28 March sees the release of Critical Thinking, Science, & Pseudoscience: Why You Can’t Trust Your Brain, co-written by Caleb Lack and me. Caleb is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Central Oklahoma, who I met at TAM 2013 in Las Vegas.

As Caleb notes in his announcement of the book (where much of the text below is copied and pasted from),

it is based largely around the critical thinking courses that Jacques and I have been teaching at our respective universities. The book is designed to teach the reader how to separate sense from nonsense, how to think critically about claims both large and small, and how to be a better consumer of information in general.

Although it’s being mostly advertised towards the academic market, we have purposefully written it to be highly readable, entertaining, and great for anyone wanting to sharpen (or build from scratch) their critical faculties.

South African readers will be alarmed at the price of the book, which is a factor of exactly the point Caleb makes above – that it’s been pitched at the textbook market by the publisher. We are hoping to arrange a local distributor, which should bring the price down substantially.

And if you’re planning to attend the Franschhoek Literary Festival this year, I’ll be in conversation with John Maytham about the book and its themes on Sunday, May 15 at 10am.

The early reviews we received are gratifyingly positive. Michael Shermer (Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and Presidential Fellow at Chapman University) said:
Michael Shermer

This is the best collection of ideas on critical thinking and skepticism between two covers ever published.

Lack and Rousseau have put together the ideal textbook for students who need to learn how to think, which is to say every student in America.

I plan to assign the book to my Skepticism 101 course at Chapman University and recommend that every professor teaching critical thinking courses at all colleges and universities do the same. Well written, comprehensive, and engaging. Bravo!

Elizabeth LoftusElizabeth Loftus, past president of the Association for Psychological Science, Distinguished Professor at the University of California – Irvine, and one of the foremost memory researchers in the world, wrote:

What’s wrong with believing in pseudoscientific claims and why do so many people do it? Lack & Rousseau take us on a fascinating excursion into these questions and convincingly show us how junk science harms our wallets and our health.

Importantly, they teach us tips for spotting true claims and false ones, good arguments and bad ones. They raise awareness about our “mental furniture” – a valuable contribution to any reader who cares about truth.

Carol Tavris is a social psychologist, and Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. She is the coauthor of the textbook Psychology and the (highly recommended) trade book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). After reading our book she wrote that:

Teachers and students will find this comprehensive, well-written textbook to be a helpful resource that illuminates the principles and applications of critical thinking–a skill that is crucial in our world of bombast, hype, and misinformation.

Russell BlackfordFinally, we have Russell Blackford, noted (and prolific) author (most recently of The Mystery of Moral Authority and Humanity Enhanced) and philosopher.

He’s a Conjoint Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle, a Fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Evolution and Technology, a regular op.ed. columnist with Free Inquiry, and a Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism.

An entertaining introduction to clear thinking, science, and the lure of pseudoscience. Lack and Rousseau clearly explain the principles of logical reasoning, together with the human tendencies that all-too-often undermine it. They show how easily motivated reasoning can prevail over clarity and logic; better, they offer tools to think more critically, whether in science, policy, or our everyday choices.

For those instructors interested in using this in their class, we have also constructed full lecture slides for the book and an instructor’s guide with sample assignments, recommended videos, and more. Feel free to let our publishers know if you’d like to be considered for an adoption copy.

  • Hilton Rossenrode

    The price is indeed alarming to me as a South African, now out of University. I’d be interested in purchasing the book if or when you do arrange that alternative publishing route locally. Do keep us informed, as I’m excited to read it.

    Is this along a similar vein as Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science?

    • Bad Science has to count as an influence, but the books aren’t very similar, no. I’d say ours is a bit more theoretical, and perhaps – as incongruous as it might seem – a little less serious. See the Amazon page for a more detailed description.

      I hope we’ll be able to get it to you at a better price, and will certainly keep everyone informed!

  • An Ardent Skeptic

    I just finished reading Chapter 1 which is excellent! I got a huge laugh from the statement “I know my name is Bill”. Here’s an anecdote which proves the importance of justifying our beliefs.

    My husband’s father grew up in a small town and at a time where you didn’t have to prove who you are. People knew him so he was never required to show proof of his identity. At the age of 22, he applied for a marriage license and the woman who processed the application finally took the time to look for his birth certificate in the record books. She couldn’t find it, so the marriage license application got rejected. That’s when my husband’s father discovered that his name wasn’t what his mother had told him it was. She had lied about marrying his father (whom he never knew), so his surname was his mother’s maiden name not the married surname she claimed. He had never seen his birth certificate but had trusted what his mother had told him, so it was quite a shock to learn that his name wasn’t what he believed it was and had been calling himself for 22 years. As all of his school records and his driver’s license were under the wrong surname, he went to court and had his name legally changed to match his mother’s fiction about her marriage to a milkman.

    • Glad you’re enjoying it – thanks for letting me know! (And, that’s a fine story.)