I am still scratching an itch for science and science fiction, both in books and on the screen. Over the weekend I read A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age, on inculcating scientific habits of mind. It’s rather like The Demon-Haunted World, in presenting the virtues of the scientific method and skepticism, but is much more detailed. The author hails from a technical profession, astronomy, and in addition to teaching the reader to think critically about numbers and fault-check claims, he attempts to guide readers through interpreting statistics and reading graphs. It thus combines more general practices (scrutinizing a claim to see how it might be falsifiable) with training in more detailed analysis. The skills involved have much broader use than just in thinking critically about science journalism; they apply just as well to evaluating economic charts. I am not nearly as optimistic as the author that people can be prompted to start giving news reports more scrutiny, but even learning that million, billion, and trillion are not synonyms for “a lot” would be a help. He ends the book with an argument for a scientific claim that uses the mental ‘apps’ taught prior. His passionate for science will carry over well, even if readers don’t respond to the challenge of breaking out paper and pencil to break down every graph for what the data really means.
The weeks to come will see more science and science fiction, though I’ll throw in other material as well –as I did this weekend, with Lost to the West, a brief survey of the eastern Roman empire. I just received The Asimov Chronicles in the mail; it’s an anthology of Asimov’s first fifty years of storytelling, one story for each year. Surely there’s one in this 832 pg book I haven’t read.